|My Dad found this empty packet wedged behind a door frame|
Woodbine's history begins in Castle Street, Bristol in 1786 when Henry Overton Wills set up a partnership in tobacco rolling with a Samuel Watkins; when Watkins later retired three years later the company was renamed Wills and Co.
With strong manufacturing foundations in the south-west (Wills had factories in both Bristol and Swindon) and also in London, Newcastle, Glasgow and Dublin, the company went from strength to strength. The brands produced included 'Bristol' cigarettes made in 1871 until 1974, 'Three Castles', 'Gold Flake', 'Embassy' and also 'Woodbine', first made in 1888. The unfiltered Wild Woodbine cigarette (Wills introduced a filtered version in 1948) with its strong tobacco blend soon became the market leader, being seen as 'the working man's cigarette'. The popularity of the Woodbine cig continued into the twentieth century, being the preferred smoke for troops in both World Wars and no doubt for many boys wishing to both emulate their silver screen heroes and collect the brightly coloured cigarette cards.
|Some of Husband's grandfather's collection of Woodbine cigarette cards; the illustrations are wonderful|
Last, but definately not least is the 1973 jacket design of Keith Waterhouse's Billy Liar, a wonderful play on the Woodbine packaging by the amazing (and one of my favourites) artist Tony Meeuwissen.
Woodbines have also made their mark throughout popular culture, from being included within fiction such as E.M. Forster's Howards End and George Orwell's Coming up for Air: "A pink-faced kid of about eight would walk up to a knot of us wounded men sitting on the grass, split open a pack of Woodbines and solemnly hand one fag to each man, just like feeding the monkeys at the zoo"; to song lyrics in the form of Van Morrison's 'Cleaning Windows':
- I went home and listened to Jimmie Rodgers in my lunch-break
- Bought five Woodbines at the shop on the corner
- And went straight back to work.