Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Allen, Alfred Weaver (Alf) (1870–1925)

by John Lack

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Alfred Weaver (Alf) Allen (1870-1925), manufacturing confectioner, was born on 18 June 1870 at Emerald Hill, Victoria, seventh and youngest child of English-born parents Joseph Weaver Allen (d.1886), a photographer, formerly a publican and councillor for the municipality of Sandridge, and his wife Rebecca Martha, née Cox. The family lived at Dunedin, New Zealand, where Joseph had a portrait and general photographic business, until returning to Melbourne about 1885. Employed by the confectioner (Sir) Macpherson Robertson from the age of 17, Alf gained repute as 'a tiger for work'. He was injured in a fall at MacRobertson's; after he entered the confectionery business on his own account in 1891 he was severely scalded.

Allen made sweets at the rear of his Fitzroy confectionery shop, supplied a brother's North Fitzroy shop and Eastern Market stall and, prospering, took over the premises of two North Melbourne confectionery manufacturers in 1896-99. He married Bridget Mary Dunn, a dressmaker, at St Jude's Church of England, Carlton, on 2 September 1897. They had three daughters; later a son was stillborn.

In 1903 Allen took A. J. Burroughs as a partner, and by 1909 theirs was the third largest confectionery business in Melbourne, after those of MacRobertson and Abel Hoadley. In 1911 Allen and Burroughs travelled to Britain and Europe, inspected modern processes and plant and returned with machinery for milk-chocolate making. The outbreak of World War I disrupted imports and placed them in a position to enlarge their market share. Allen induced eight established confectionery makers and a dentist, including Long & Smith, Clark Luke Pty Ltd, Tuckett Obbinson & Co. Pty Ltd, Amazon Confectionery Co. and National Candy Co., to amalgamate in 1917 as A. W. Allen Pty Ltd. Holding the major, although not a controlling, interest, Allen became chairman and managing director. The company concentrated production in North Melbourne, then moved to the city, and finally transferred to South Melbourne where, launched as a public company in 1922, A. W. Allen Ltd acquired a site across the Yarra River from Flinders Street Station. Allen also held shares in and directorships of Maize Products Pty Ltd and Federal Milk Pty Ltd. In November 1922 he visited the United States of America, inspecting factories and ordering new machinery. 'Cure-'Em Quick' and 'Irish Moss Gum Jubes' were then among the firm's popular products.

A keen cyclist in his youth, Allen was an early member of the Automobile Club. Photographs of him in middle age showed him as moustached, with a sturdy figure and a full head of hair. An oil portrait (1909) by F. E. Bawden captured his astuteness. He was an employer representative on the Confectioners Wages Board in 1904-17. In 1918 he bought a mansion at Brighton Beach, and in 1924 he took his family to Europe. Allen died on 5 October 1925 in St Andrew's Private Hospital, Brighton, following surgery for acute appendicitis, and was buried with Anglican rites in Brighton cemetery. His wife and their three daughters survived him, inheriting an estate valued for probate at £41,142.

About the time of Allen's illness and death the company's fortunes declined and, reducing production, it abandoned chocolate making. During and after World War II, however, A. W. Allen Ltd flourished as one of Australia's biggest manufacturers and distributors of confectionery. In 1985 the firm was sold to overseas interests. Two years later the spectacular Allen's Sweets neon sign, Melbourne's largest, was dismantled.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Knight, Photography in New Zealand (Dunedin, NZ, 1971)
  • E. Downard, The Sweetest of Them All: The History of the Allen’s Neon Sign (Melb, 1987)
  • R. Fitzgerald, Rowntree and the Marketing Revolution, 1862-1969 (Cambridge, UK, 1995)
  • Australasian Confectioner and Soda Fountain Journal, 24 Oct 1925, p 14, 24 Nov 1925, p 82
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 22 Nov 1922, p 21
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 Oct 1925, p 10
  • Herald (Melbourne), 1 Aug 1972, p 17
  • Age (Melbourne), 28 June 1985, p 21
  • private information.

Citation details

John Lack, 'Allen, Alfred Weaver (Alf) (1870–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/allen-alfred-weaver-alf-12771/text23039, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 19 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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