Not the North – Hampshire’s Industrial Heritage

Henry Cort, Hampshire ironmaster

Hampshire may not have slag heaps, coal-mines and blast furnaces but it still has a substantial industrial heritage. Iron ore was smelted at Sowley at Beaulieu Manor from about 1600 to 1820. In the 1780s the process of ‘puddling’ pig iron to lower carbon levels and make wrought iron was revolutionised at Fontley, near Fareham, by ironmaster Henry Cort. But when heavy industry moved north, industrial ingenuity did not in any way desert Hampshire.

The dockyard at Portsmouth alone led the way to production line methods for making the huge numbers of blocks required to rig ships. Much else was done within the walls of the dockyard, where thousands of local people learnt the skills required to make wooden ships, then ships of steel, propelled by steam and later diesel engines. Electronics has been the Navy’s main weapon since WWII and has left a legacy of a world-leading IT and the design and production of satellites.

At Southampton and around the Solent there has long been a culture of invention involving ships and pleasure yachts that later fed into aviation, with some of the earliest aeroplanes trialled at sea. Before WWI the world’s yachting elite came to sail J-Yachts and after the war the area hosted the Schneider Trophy which eventually spawned the Spitfire (see E. Edward. The Schneider Trophy Story. Shrewsbury, UK, 2001).

On the Waterside at Hythe high-speed motorboats were developed and the beginnings of global air travel were based, until the nascent airline industry forsook water for land and moved to Heathrow. It was in the Solent that Sir Christopher Cockerell developed the first practical air-cushion vehicle or hovercraft. Even the windsurfing board has credibly been claimed as a Hampshire invention, when in 1958 as a boy Peter Chilvers, later to be an engineer, made a sailboard on Hayling Island. A patent claim in the 1980s supported the evidence and set a precedent in patent law termed ‘the windsurfer test’.

Another Hampshire invention is the incredibly simple Gosport Tube! In the early years of flying it was difficult for instructors to talk to trainee pilots over noise of the engine. At first single-tube ‘audiophones’ were tried and experiments made with electrical devices. Flying instructor Sidney Parker solved the problem whilst working with Major Robert Smith-Barry (1886-1946) at the School of Special Flying, opened in Gosport in 1917. Instead of using one tube he used two, with an earpiece and speaking funnel at opposite ends of each. The new equipment proved successful in test flight over the Solent on 20 June 1917 and was quickly adopted.

Elsewhere in Hampshire there are many examples of ground-breaking industry that has often been lost to view. And then there is Farnborough, an aviation legend. Fortunately, the stories of many of these enterprises are preserved in the archives. Foundries, for example, were often the start of a much more complex business.

In many places, a foundry grew up alongside the traditional blacksmith, where metals were melted and poured into moulds for use in making machines, especially those required by farmers.  A search of the Hampshire Record Office archives yields information on a large number of ironworks in the county. One of the most successful was Taskers at the Waterloo Ironworks in the Anna Valley, near Andover (L.TC. Rolt, Waterloo Ironworks: A History of Taskers of Andover, 1809-1968, 1969).

Founded by the son of blacksmith Taskers started with relatively straightforward projects, like the iron bridge of 1843 at Upper Clatford that still spans the River Anton. Later the company specialised in bespoke steam vehicles including the ‘Little Giant’ and in WWII built trailers for fighter aircraft.

Elsewhere, in Basingstoke, the firms of Wallis & Steevens (originally Wallis & Haslam; see R. A. Whitehead, R.A., Wallis & Steevens, A History, Farnham, 1983) and later the Thorneycroft Steam Carriage and Van Company produced huge numbers of a wide range of vehicles in peacetime and at war. The Milestones Museum in the town and the archives of the Hampshire Cultural Trust offer rich pickings for enthusiasts.

There were many other smaller ironworks, like the one at, Kingsley, near Alton, which developed a prize hop-bagging machine and the Test Valley Ironworks, lodged in a former temperance hall. And there were others at Finchdean, nr Rowlands Castle, Ringwood and Droxford. On Church Green, Kings Worthy, stands an example of a hydraulic ram, for pumping water uphill, developed at the village’s Vulcan Ironworks and exported around the world. Attempts were also made to develop industry in Bishops Waltham by Sir Arthur Helps (1813-1875), who was a most unlikely figure to do so. He lived at Vernon Hill, north of the town (named after Admiral Vernon) and whilst there discovered a vein of clay with which he made fine Bishops Waltham ware, some examples of which are in the Victoria & Albert Museum and can also be seen in the Bishops Waltham Museum . In 1863, to get goods to market he founded the Bishops Waltham Railway Company, which ran to Botley. The passenger service ended in 1932, but it survived as a freight line until 1962, and a footpath now follows the route.

Elsewhere, the railway was a great stimulus to industry and meant that places like Eastleigh became major centres of railway engineering, whilst better transport links transformed the ‘old cloth town’ of Basingstoke.  One of its great success stories was that of Thomas Burberry, who bought a draper’s shop there in 1856 . He realised that working people needed breathable waterproofs and experimented to produce a cloth that did the job. This led to Gaberdene and an industry that eventually outgrew Hampshire and went upmarket to the ‘huntin’, fishin’ and ridin’ set’. Burberry was one of those entrepreneurs who realised that a brand was worth more than a factory. He sold the latter, but held on to the former and eventually had an HQ in London and offices in Paris, New York, Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

Hampshire’s industrial heritage has much more to tell at the sites linked above and in the Journal of the Hampshire Industrial Archaeology Society (back issues held by the HRO), which for the past 60 years has patiently recorded much more of the county’s claim vis-a-vis the North!

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