Ovaltine days stir warm memories in Abbots Langley

PUBLISHED: 17:59 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:48 20 February 2013

The Ovaltine factory in Abbots Langley

The Ovaltine factory in Abbots Langley

Sue Armstrong discovers Hertfordshire's link with a family favourite

'WE are the Ovaltineys, little girls and boys...' is a familiar song to millions who used to tune into Radio Luxembourg on Sunday afternoons to listen to the Ovaltineys - one of the best-loved children's programmes of the mid-20th century. And a warming drink of nourishing Ovaltine, containing eggs, milk and cocoa, will still be very welcome as the autumn days start to make their mark - particularly appropriate after exploring the village of Abbots Langley, once home to the Ovaltine Dairy Farm.

This malted barley drink was originally known as Ovomaltine. It was devised by a Swiss chemist, Dr George Wander, and was first launched in the UK in the 1900s. Containing essential vitamins and minerals, it became a regular bedtime drink for Wartime Britain and was thought of as internal central heating.

In 1929 Wander Ltd bought Parsonage Farm in Abbots Langley, with its attractive thatched buildings, white walls and black timbers, to use as the Ovaltine Dairy Farm. It was modelled on a farm created by the French King Louis XVI for Marie Antoinette. Numbers Farm at neighbouring King's Langley was also bought and used as the Ovaltine Egg Farm. The Ovaltine factory was built close by, fronting the Grand Union Canal. At its peak, the company employed some 1,400 staff and the lives of most local people were influenced by it.

A visit to Abbots Langley would not be complete without a stroll along Dairy Way to see the old Dairy Farm buildings. The prize-winning pedigree Jersey cattle, at one time imported from the Channel Islands, are now a distant memory as these distinctive properties were converted into private houses in 1982 and are known as Antoinette Court.

The Dairy Farm operated here for more than 30 years. Doreen Cooper, who has lived in Abbots Langley for more than 50 years, remembers all the comings and goings very well during her working days there. Doreen explains, 'In the summer we had three coach parties visiting the farm daily. They first toured the factory where they saw Ovaltine, rusks, biscuits and malt extract being prepared and packed. Then they would drive on to the farm and watch the milking and see the calves being fed. The dairy work and feeding of the young calves was taken care of by the head dairymaid, while I weighed and recorded the milk from each cow and carried the full buckets to be strained and cooled.'

During the 1930s Wander Ltd became involved in broadcasting for children on Radio Luxembourg. The 'League of Ovaltineys' was formed and members were expected to follow a code of conduct and moral principles. There were riddles, coded messages, special badges and a weekly advertisement for Ovaltine, helping to make sales of this wholesome drink soar. Each week the Chief Ovaltiney, whose identity was never divulged, transmitted secret messages.

Article taken from September issue of Hertfordshire Life

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