Express Dairies has been one of the biggest names in milk around the capital for more than a hundred years. An exhibition which will look at the history of the original depot in Bloomsbury, London, opens next month. ELAINE OKYERE takes a look at the famous company and the man behind it.

THIS morning when you had your cereal you probably took it for granted the milk you were drinking was clean.

But in the early 20th century householders were often supplied with adulterated milk and complained of finding Thames Tiddlers - or small fish - in their morning glass.

Milk, a source of strength, could also be a carrier of disease at that time.

But the person who changed all that was Sir George Barham, of Sudbury Lodge, Wembley, who campaigned for cleaner and better quality milk.

Sir George, the son of a dairyman, set up the Express Country Milk Supply Company in Museum Street, near Kings Cross Station, in 1864.

He was concerned about the quality of milk and transformed the way it was produced. He invented the milk churn and developed methods of chilling the produce to keep it fresh.

The company grew substantially when a disease struck London cattle and Sir George became the only person in a position to be able to provide a fresh milk supply to the capital.

He started to transport fresh milk into London by rail, and by 1885 express locomotives were taking 30,000 gallons into the capital each night. This led to the name Express.

In 1890 the business expanded again, buying College Farm, in Finchley, and it became part of Grand Metropolitan in 1969.

It changed hands numerous times before Arla Foods UK took over in 2003.

Express Dairy floats were a common sight in Harrow and Brent in the 20th century. Martin Verden, chairman of the Harrow Heritage Trust, remembers them well.

He said: "When I was 10, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, I used to ride in the milk floats and help deliver bottles. If I was lucky I used to get a chocolate cupcake at the end."

John Corner, who used to live in Mount Stewart Avenue, Kenton, worked as an accountant for Express Dairy in Ruislip for 47 years. He said: "It was a great company to work for. They always took care of their staff. At one point Express produced most of the yoghurt in the UK, like Ski and Eden Vale later.

"We always had our milk delivered but milk floats are a dying trade now with the advent of supermarkets."

The Barham family lived in Sudbury from around 1880 and in 1895 Sir George purchased Sudbury Lodge, which stood on the Harrow Road.

The Lodge, which was later renamed Barham House, stood next to Crabs House, also known as the Old Court. Titus Barham, George's son, inherited the estate after the death of his father in 1913.

Titus renovated the grounds, laying a new rock garden and holding regular 'rose Sundays' during which he opened the park to the public.

Across the road from the estate was a model dairy farm, which was famed for its pasteurising equipment. In 1928 the World Dairy Congress took place at the farm and was attended by 1,000 people.

The site of the farm now houses flats. Geoffrey Hewlett, a local historian and author of A History of Brent, believes the Barhams were pivotal in raising the profile of Brent.

He said: "George Barham's claim to fame was his cleaning of milk. He was a man of varied interests, he set up a museum and he also gave considerable amounts of his time and energy to make Wembley a special place.

"You do not get that as much today - people don't put in as much energy when they set up schools, or are involved in something as a benefactor."

Titus was active in local politics and served on the Wembley Urban District Council. He would have been the borough's first mayor, but he died aged 77 on July 8, 1937 - the day he was to be sworn in.

He left the mansion and the grounds to the citizens of Wembley and in 1938 the area was renamed Barham Park and opened to the public.

During the Second World War the mansion was used by civil defence personnel, but it became neglected and was blown up in an air raid precaution exercise around 1956.

But Crabs House remains standing to this day and houses Barham Park Library. The surrounding park is the third most visited park in the borough.

Such was the influence of the Barhams and their milk empire that some believe a museum in the area should be set up. Local resident Dilwyn Chambers, of Turner Road, Edgware, said: "It would be nice to have a museum or even a few milk floats from the time.

"A lot of boroughs have local milk floats and information about dairies in their area. It is an interesting story for Brent."

The exhibition The Diary of a Derelict Dairy at the old Express Dairy Depot, in Wakefield Street, Bloomsbury, London will be held between noon and 7.30pm from July 4-13 .