Friday, 28 August 2020

Walking on Exeter's heritage

Walking on Exeter's heritage 

As you follow the walking trail round lockdown Exeter you might like to follow an I-Spy trail at the same time and see how many points you can score. Manhole covers reveal a rich heritage of local foundries, all of which now ceased to operate, with covers increasingly being replaced by other non-local products with no attempt to place any distinctive mark of ownership upon them. This is common across England unlike in many other countries in Europe where opportunities are taken, when improvements take place, to commission specially designed covers to add interest and local character to the streetscape. Here are a selection of covers for you to spot. 

Bradbeer. 20 points.
Bradbeer & Co., contractors, Exeter

Damerel. 20 points.
Damerel & Son, Exeter
Devon Trading. 20 points.
The Devon Trading Co Ltd, Exeter. 
Down and Baker. 20 points.
Down & Baker, Sanitary engineers, Exeter. 
Garton & King. 10 points. 
Garton & King, Exeter.

Garton and King Ltd are listed at the Exeter Foundry, Waterbeer Street in Kelly's directory for 1939. The firm can be traced back to 1661 when John Atken, former apprentice ironmonger to Thomas Dixe, ran an ironmonger's shop at the top of Fore Street at the sign of the Golden Hammer. On his retirement in 1698 John Southcombe from Chudleigh took the business. In 1706 he took as apprentice Lewis Portbury who married Elizabeth, Southcombe's niece in 1708. Southcombe purchased ironware from Abraham Darby who from 1709 produced higher quality iron in a coke-fired furnace at Coalbrookdale using a new process which produced thinner castings that rivalled brass for the manufacture of pots and other hollow ware. Southcombe died in 1724, and left Lewis Portbury his business. Portbury served a number of offices in the City and on his death in 1732 was succeeded by his son, also named Lewis. He sold basket-grates for burning coal and by 1740 hob-grates with a roasting spit as well as coffee pots, urns, tea-kitchens, cast iron plough-shares and agricultural tools. Like his father he served several offices, including sheriff in 1746 and mayor in 1748. On his death in 1766 the business at the sign of the Golden Hammer, four doors above the Conduit in Fore Street was sold to William Britnall who became bankrupt within a year. In 1768 Samuel Kingdon took over the business, opening a warehouse in Theatre Lane in 1787 and issuing a halfpenny token in 1792. His widow Jane continued his business after his death in 1797 being joined by sons Samuel and William as Kingdon & Sons in 1804. The manufacture of iron products was increased in a building in Waterbeer Street known as the Old Guildhall. The foundry introduced a steam engine to drive the bellows, producing higher temperatures and better quality. Gas lighting was introduced in the premises in 1813, two years before the general introduction of gas to the City. In 1816, Jane Kingdon died leaving the business in the sole charge of her two sons. In October 1826 the foundry was destroyed by fire, the insurance payment from the West of England Insurance Company being £1,500. The foundry was re-established in the former Episcopal Charity School, also in Waterbeer Street. Samuel Kingdon ("Iron Sam") was Mayor of Exeter in 1836, and William, Sheriff in 1842. In 1849 on the retirement of Samuel and William Kingdon, the business was sold to the partnership of Ambrose Parker Jarvis and John Garton, trading as Garton & Jarvis. Since 1836 they had specialised in wrought-iron work, gates, railings, grates, and fenders. At the time of the sale, Kingdon & Sons had developed an expertise in greenhouse heating. At the Great Exhibition of 1851, Garton & Jarvis won two bronze medals for their stoves, and a commendation from Prince Albert, who had installed ‘Cottage’ stoves in his Model Cottages in Hyde Park. They now were able to use the arms of Royal Appointment. Many wrought iron gates and railings from Garton & Jarvis were installed around Exeter, including the Cathedral Green, the Royal Clarence and the Deer Stalker statue in Northernhay Park until the 1939-45 War when much was removed. They were also pioneers in the production of coil and cast-iron radiators. In 1865, after the death of Ambrose Jarvis, John Gould King from Barnstaple became a partner and the firm continued as Garton & King. John Garton died two years later - a new partner named Munk briefly joined the firm creating King & Munk, but the partnership was soon dissolved, and the Garton & King name reinstated. When in 1898 Hugo Holladay from Kent joined into a partnership with John King the name of the firm remained unchanged. When John King died in 1900, he was joined by his brother Edgar Holladay. The output of the foundry dwindled but the business survived the 1914-18 War and in 1924 was registered as a limited liability company. In the 1920s the foundry expanded once more, producing parts for gas stoves and contract work for small builders and councils.

Otton. 20 points.
W Otton, Iron merchant, Exeter. 

Parkin. 10 points.
Parkin & Sons, Bonhay Foundry, Exeter.

Parkin's Bonhay Foundry began in 1897. Francis Parkin and Sons are recorded at the Bonhay and Eagle Foundries in Exeter in Kelly's directory for 1902. By 1939 they are listed as F. Parkin & Sons Ltd, Bonhay & Eagle Foundries, Bonhay Road, Exeter. They can be found in 2007 as Parkins Industrial Supplies at 20 Trusham Road, Marsh Barton Trading Estate, Exeter EX2 8QG, and are known as PIS for short.

Shepherd & Son. 20 points.
Shepherd & Son, Albion Foundry, Exeter. 

Taylor & Bodley. 10 points. 
Taylor & Bodley, Exeter.

Taylor and Bodley are recorded at Northams Foundry, Commercial Road and also Bodley Brothers & Co. in Commercial Road in Kelly's 1902 directory. Bodley's Foundry cast the workings of Cricklepit Mill in Exeter.

Willey. 10 points. 
Willey & Co. 

Willey's Foundry was the largest employer in Exeter during the late 19th and 20th century, at times employing over 1,000 workers in their foundry in Water Lane, which produced the majority of gas meters in the country. The firm was established by Henry Frederick Willey, who was born in 1830, the son of a boot and shoe maker in a poor part of St Sidwells. He joined Vicary's, an Exeter ironfounder working for the woollen industry and later for the newly developing gas industry. When Vicary died in 1868, Willey went into partnership for a short time with a Mr Ford and started Willey and Ford, based at Shilhay, manufacturering gas-stoves and gas-meters, which had been invented by Julius Pintsch in 1847. Soon Willey was on his own, trading as Willey and Co. The factory prospered and Willey became Mayor of Exeter in 1892-3. In 1894 he died aged 64, leaving £21,000. By the early 20th century the company was producing a wide range of products - gas holders and meters, iron roofs and bridges. They were enlightened employers, starting in 1903 the house magazine Willey's Weekly, introducing profit sharing, training schemes and other initiatives. Isca Road, the first council estate in Exeter was constructed between 1904 and 1907 on land donated by Henry Willey. The 1914-18 War saw Willey's employed in munitions work, using many woman workers. In the years around 1930 many of their workers moved from the poor West Quarter, close to the foundry, to modern council housing in Burnthouse Lane. In 1935, Willeys constructed the Trews Weir pedestrian suspension bridge to help their workforce in Burnthouse Lane to get to work. During the 1939-45 World War Willeys employed 1,300 workers, including 400 women. Refurbishing machinery used for the 1914-18 War they produced submarine equipment, parachute containers, weapons and aircraft parts. In the 1942 blitz the factory roof was blown off and work conted under tarpaulins. For D-day, Willey's manufactured the massive steel floating tanks for the Mulberry Harbours, used on the Normandy beaches. After the 1939-45 war, Willey's resumed the production of gas appliances and general engineering work. They became a subsidiary of United Gas Industries. In 1980 it was announced that the engineering wing, which had produced gas-meters, was to close down. The foundry continued, and in 1981 a new facility designed to produce 6,000 tons of products per year, was opened at a cost of £250,000, but this was too late to reverse their declining fortune. United Gas Industries closed the Water Lane plant in the 1980s and in 1991 the factory building in Water Lane was demolished for redevelopment. The firm's name is perpetuated only by the street name Willeys Avenue, and the Willey's Athletics and Sports Club in Water Lane - and a blue plaque erected by Exeter Civic Society to Stephen Simpson, managing director of Willey's for his work in restoring Exeter Cathedral. . 

Note where you have seen manholes by these companies (there are many variants) and, if you have scored more than 100 points, send the list to Big Chief I-Spy at Wigwam-by-the-Water, EC4 to get another feather for your head-dress. This offer may have been withdrawn following the difficulties recently faced by Exeter Chiefs.