Pimm’s No.1 has firmly established itself as one of the nation’s favourite summer time drinks. Based on gin, its dark red citrus and spice flavour, when blended with tonic or lemonade and a selection of summer fruits, has become a firm favourite at picnics and outdoor events.
It seems that we have strong connections to our favourite summertime tipple as its founder James Pimm was a local man born in Newnham in 1792, a neighbouring village to our home town of Faversham in Kent which is also home to Britian’s oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame. James Pimm was part of a farming family who worked the land throughout the Syndale Valley.
James met and married Chatham-born Mary Southernden Mallery whose family worked in the fishing industry around the county. James Pimm formed a plan to take shellfish to London, selling them at Billingsgate market. So successful was this venture it wasn’t long before he had opened up a restaurant close to Buckingham Palace which sold fresh oysters for the capital’s hoi polloi to enjoy as a snack.
It’s believed that on one of his journeys from Kent into London that Pimm came up with the idea to offer a drink as his patrons knocked back his oysters.
Gin was often the tipple of choice at the Pimm’s Oyster House, but because of its bitter taste, it was knocked back and not savoured.
So, in 1840, Pimm created a tonic containing a secret mixture of herbs, fruit and liqueurs as an aid to digestion, serving it in a small tankard known as a “No. 1 Cup” – the name which remains today.
Within 10 years, the Kent-born creator had five restaurants and the Pimm’s drink was being produced on a far larger scale before it was sold commercially. James Pimm went on to extend the range with the addition of new varieties, using the same secret recipe changing only the spirit base for new “cups” (varieties). Pimm’s No. 2 Cup (based on Scotch Whisky and currently phased out) and Pimm’s No. 3 Cup (based on brandy. Phased out, but a version infused with spices and orange peel marketed as Pimm’s Winter Cup is now seasonally available) were introduced in 1851
Pimm’s wife, Mary, died in 1864, aged 68, leaving behind their seven children.
A year later, Pimm sold the business and the right to use his name to businessman Frederick Sawyer and retired in his beloved Kent.
James Pimm died just two years after his wife on August 16, 1866, in East Peckham and was buried at the nearby Holy Trinity Church, where you can still see his headstone.
In 1880, the business was acquired by future Lord Mayor of London Horatio Davies, and a chain of Pimm’s Oyster Houses was franchised in 1887.
After World War II, Pimm’s No. 4 Cup was invented (rum based), followed by Pimm’s No. 5 Cup (based on rye whisky) and Pimm’s No. 6 Cup in the 1960s (vodka based and still produced in small quantities).
The brand fell on hard times in the 1970s and 1980s. The Oyster House chain was sold and Pimm’s Cup products Nos. 2 to 5 were phased out due to reduced demand. Pimm’s has since become a brand known across the world, but the secret recipe created in Kent remains exactly that, a secret, with only a handful at the company’s owners, drinks giant Diageo plc, knowing how the drink is made.
Amazing to think the Pimm’s brand which is synonymous with Britishness was invented by a local lad just down the road from us and is still being enjoyed 175 years after its conception.