A brief history of fizzy drinks and Ashburton’s own bottlers

Pshhhhhhttttt. Click. Riiiiiiiiiiiip. There are many sounds of summer but the one I remember with childhood fondness is the treat of opening a cold can of soda on a blistering hot day. The history of beverages spans centuries, cultures and many ingredients. However, the advent of that fizzy carbonated sweet drink stored in a sealed bottle or can that many of us know as fizzy drink or soda (among its many other names) is the rabbit hole we are going down today. 

A brief history of soda

While drinks containing fizzy properties existed before the 18th century, they were mostly mineral waters siphoned from a spring or made through a process of fermentation. This limited the idea of drinking bubbly beverages to geographic locations. Today however, if you have ever enjoyed the tongue tingling sensation of bubbly water (sweetened or not), you most likely owe a bit of gratitude to Joseph Priestly, inventor of artificially carbonated water or ‘aerated water’. While Priestly was unsuccessful in turning his invention into profit, another fellow whose name might be more familiar, Jacob Schweppe, was successful in engineering a machine that could aerate water reliably. 

So, dear reader, what does the history of soda have to do with anything?  

Milsom’s cordial bottle with label (Object reference 05.2009.0053)

Well, as a human born and bred abroad, I have to say that one of the easiest topics to talk about with anyone from anywhere is food and drink. And so, it is perhaps quite a natural thing that I find items in the museum’s collection relating to food and drink fascinating.  The particular items that grabbed my interest this week were a selection of Codd-neck bottles bearing the name HY & Milsom. 

The Codd-neck bottle, for those of you who are unaware, was named after Hiram Codd, who designed a bottle that is sealed by use of a rubber gasket and glass marble. This method was much more reliable in keeping sweet drinks full of sparkling carbonation than cork with a wax seal. You may already know of a modern example, if you’re of a younger generation. I grew up drinking a soda called Ramune that was sold at the local Japanese supermarket in a similar glass bottle.

Local fizz wizards

The Milsom family set up several businesses selling aerated waters and cordials both within and outside the Canterbury region. Ashburton’s own piece of the story is noted several times in the Ashburton Guardian.

It appears that Hitchings and Milsom set up shop on Moore Street from roughly 1897 to 1900, and there was an H Milsom listed as a soda manufacturer, later adding cordial, on West Street from 1902-1920. Earlier than this, there was a J Milsom & Co which operated as early as 1878 on Cameron Street.

Building that was once Milsom’s factory, mid-to-late 1990s (Archive reference 06.2017.1587)
Soda siphon with ‘Hitchings & Milsom, Ashburton’ etched/inscribed/printed? on it (Object reference 01.1980.0073)

In 1904, a certain Harry Paget Milsom found himself in a bit of trouble. He was raided by local Ashburton Police who found several boxes of beer and whiskey in his residence. Mr. H Milsom was charged with the illegal sale of liquor in the no license district of Ashburton on March 9th and 12th. Milsom wasn’t the only one; another local cordial manufacturer by the name of Alfred Bray was also charged with the same offence.

While soda, fizz and pop might all sound like modern drinks, many people may not realise that variations of these drinks actually have a long (and in some cases sordid) history, even within our own district.

By Natalie Liverant

Unless otherwise stated, photographs and research materials on this page are owned by the Ashburton Museum & Historical Society Inc. This post was modified for this blog and was originally published in the Ashburton Guardian, 29 January 2022.


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