Henry Heath, born Harry, was born in 1919 in Penkridge in Staffordshire. His father was a farmer – dairy, beef and arable – and his mother kept chickens, geese and turkeys.
Henry was educated at King Edward VI School in Stafford, where he excelled in Chemistry, Physics and Maths. However, he left after completing his School Certificate in 1936, and with no intention of going into farming, started a three-year apprenticeship with Eymer Brothers, a Pharmacy in Stafford. He worked 5½ days a week and on Thursday afternoons, went back to school to do ‘practicals’ in the school labs. He then studied for his Higher School Cert in his spare time. This was all done by oil and candlelight because, before the war, there was no electricity of gas on his parents’ farm.
In his spare time, Henry was a Rover Scout and, latterly, in the TA. While on an annual TA camp in the summer of 1939, War was declared, and Henry never went back to complete the final three months of his apprenticeship.
After OCTU training in Colchester, Henry was posted with the North Staffs Regiment to guard the east coast around Cleethorpes. It was there, during an air raid, that he met the woman who was, some six years later, to become his wife. However, he eventually became an Artillery Officer and, after an almost farcical journey through Africa, found himself setting up what was to become the 82nd West African Division, with soldiers from Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast.
That Regiment was shipped to Burma, where Henry, by now an Artillery Major, fought in the Arakan until the end of the War.
Henry already had a place waiting at University College Nottingham to do his Pharmacy Degree and, even from Burma, he managed to organise his acceptance onto the course for the autumn of 1946.
The 1946 intake was unusual because half the students were in their mid-twenties, having fought in the War and Henry, like so many others, was not prepared to put up with some of the more petty rules and regulations imposed upon the students. When his Hall Warden threw a party for the great and the good of Nottingham, allegedly using students’ food coupons, Henry was part of the plot to smoke out the party by the application of bags to the chimneys on the roof. On another occasion, he was among a group of Chemists who placed a small charge beneath the gavel on the High Table, causing the Warden some alarm when he struck it. The lake in front of the University glowed fluorescent green for some time after they had introduced a compound into the spring that fed it. He often said that he really couldn’t criticise students of later generations.
Under the eye of Mr Eymer
At the end of his first year, he married and then, in his second year, he was Union President, going on to graduate in 1949. His first job was working for Boots, but realising that there were younger Pharmacists, those who had graduated during the War, above him, he realised that a change of direction was called for. While at University, he had visited a company called Stafford Allen in Long Melford and was fascinated by what they did. When in 1950, he spotted a job vacancy for a Pharmacist in the Long Melford factory, he applied and got the job. The company need a Pharmacist because the products were pharmaceuticals and food-grade extracts, oils and essences, so Henry was in charge of quality. When he wasn’t at work, he and his wife ran a small hotel in nearby Sudbury.
After ten years in Long Melford, Stafford Allen, who already had a presence in London, wanted to set up new laboratories there, so Henry was moved to oversee the new development. Henry described this phase as being at the cutting edge of how flavours were being developed and used. Not only were Stafford Allen developing and manufacturing flavours, but they also began to work out into the food, drinks and confectionery businesses to show them how to use the products. What might now be taken as the norm was, it seems, new in the 1960s.
Showing students round the lab in London.
During this period, Henry travelled the world to work with producers – ginger in Australia, pepper in India, chilli peppers in South America, as well as lavender and mint closer to home. All the while, he was writing articles in journals and educating a new generation of food scientists and flavourists.
Stafford Allen merged with A Boake Roberts and WJ Bush in 1966 to form Bush Boake Allen and a decade later, Henry was relocated to run their Canadian Company in Montreal. He remained there for about 5 years before returning to the London office. During that period, BBA had become a part of Albright and Wilson. Henry finally left the company in the early 80s and spent several years working in Consultancy. He completed the major text book ‘Source Book of Flavors’ in 1981 and collaborated on several other books as well.
Having been instrumental in founding the British Society of Flavourists in the early 1970s, he gave the Bill Littlejohn Memorial Lecture in 1979, became president 1982-84 and was made an Honorary Member in 1987 when he retired.
Henry and Eileen moved to live in Shrewsbury where Henry became very active in St Chad’s Church. Eileen died in 1999 but Henry continued to devote time to painting, walking and Church. In 2017, he moved into a retirement home but still talks about his life as a Food Scientist. Among other stories, he remembers being part of the team that developed the fondant filling for the After Eight Mint!
by Chris Sweeney (nephew of Henry)
(photographs reproduced with the kind permission of the Heath family)