The gift of Goya, a perennial Christmas favourite manufactured in Amersham
From a new article by Alison Bailey written for Bucks Free Press, December 2021
Perfume is still a favourite gift at Christmas time and for nearly 40 years one of the best-known British fragrance brands was manufactured in Amersham. Iconic Goya perfumes included Gardenia, Heather, and Love affair. Black Rose, a seductive fragrance that epitomised 50s glamour and Aqua Manda, the 70s classic scent of mandarin and spice are still available today. Following a Facebook campaign, they were relaunched with the help of Christopher Collins, the former managing director, and Amersham Museum which has the original recipes in their collection.
Of course, for the staff, Christmas was a particularly busy time. In 1968 the unusual sight of the boss working on the factory floor was reported in the local press: “The factory is working flat out because of unexpectedly heavy Christmas orders and even Mr. Christopher Collins helped out in the despatch department last weekend. Production bonuses have been temporarily doubled and overtime rates increased. The factory rarely closes before 10 pm and the despatch department is working Saturdays and Sundays. Even office staff have put on overalls and transferred to the factory floor, and 50 temporaries have been roped in for evening and weekend work. “There’s no chance that any of our orders will not be met. We’ve got to do them and we shall,” said Mr Collins.”
The holiday job of choice, Goya was always a popular employer in the town. It offered a superior benefits package, including three weeks holiday when most companies only offered two.
Many women worked there, particularly in the packing department. A white overall was the usual working uniform unless you were employed in the lipstick department where the overalls were red for practical reasons! A night shift in the powder section was one of the most lucrative as you earned extra “danger money”. The powder was so fine that it had the potential to explode, although it is not recorded that this ever happened!
In 1955 the BBC radio light entertainment programme, Workers Playtime was recorded at the Goya canteen in Raans Road with nearly 400 employees in the audience. Actor Jon Pertwee, who later found fame as Dr Who, was the star turn but the programme also featured actor Terry Scott, singer Bruce Trent, famous for his matinée idol good looks, and a three-piece band consisting of Bruce Weedon on guitar, James Moody on piano and Max Abrahams on drums. The Goya staff clapped, stamped, and cheered their approval.
Originally called Lafontaine, Goya was founded in London in the early 30s by Christopher Collins’ father, Douglas, when he was just 19. He started manufacturing brilliantine and hair cream but changed to perfumes after discovering that he had a rare talent for creating fragrances. In his 1963 autobiography A Nose for Money – How to Make a Million he described the creative process as “like a tune in the imagination… results are not achieved by long periods of scientific research – they are achieved by long periods of confused trial and error, or by occasional pieces of luck”.
In 1938 Collins received an order from a beauty editor for 200,000 tiny samples to be given away as a circulation booster with the Woman’s Journal magazine which really launched the brand. In 1945 larger premises were needed and the factory, and later the offices, moved to the site of the former Badminton Court Hotel in Church Street, Old Amersham. This had been the Weller Brewery and the large brew house, more recently used as a badminton courts, became the new factory.
After the war the cosmetic market boomed, and sales increased from £53,000 to £222,000 in 1945. By 1951 sales had increased to £661,000 and the company was exporting perfumes, powders, lipsticks, bath cubes and hand lotions around the world. Collins recognised the importance of marketing from the start. In-house artists designed the bottles and the distinctive packaging and Goya invested in advertising campaigns to create the glamourous brand identity. The bestselling products were small affordable perfume bottles that could fit into a lady’s handbag, with special gift sets produced for the Christmas market. In 1952 a second factory was opened in Raans Road, and a third later opened in Rotherham.
New perfumes were formulated in the “organ” room in Old Amersham using a blend of essential oils and a fixative, such as ambergris, by the Perfumer, Monsieur Millon and his successor Eric Joyner. Once established, the formula was scaled up for manufacturing in the specially built compounding laboratories in the garden behind Badminton Court.
Collins sold the company for £1.5 million to Reckitt and Colman in 1960, buying it back for £800 thousand in 1968. Four years later Douglas Collins died at the age of 59 but Goya continued to manufacture in Amersham, with Christopher Collins at its head until the 1980s. After a steady decline in sales the company was sold again and the factories in Amersham were closed. Badminton Court was later converted to apartments and offices.
After opening the factory in Amersham, Douglas, his wife Una and their children moved from Chelsea to Old Amersham, before settling at Hawthorn Farm in Hyde Heath in 1953. Douglas Collins was a keen sailor and skier, but his son’s passion was horses. He owned and rode a string of successful racehorses, flying around in a helicopter from factory to racecourse. Christopher Collins was portrayed in the newspaper columns as a debonair, sophisticated man about town, which was perfect for the image of Goya. Collins also supported women’s racing and their demands to ride under Jockey Club Rules, sponsoring races such as the Goya Stakes, a ladies’ flat race at Kempton and the first ladies’ open race point-to-point championship at Garthorpe in 1972.
After retiring from racing, Collins became a successful competitor in three-day events, representing Great Britain from 1974 to 1980 with Princess Anne and her first husband, Captain Mark Phillips. Both attended Collins’ society wedding to Susan Lumb in Nottinghamshire in 1976.
Later Goya Christmas Ad
“Goya Girls” packing lipstick
Acqua Manda the iconic 70s fragrance