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Samuel Elliott - centenary of his death

Prominent Newburian in Victorian times

Jackie Markham

Reporter:

Jackie Markham

Samuel Elliott established the Albert Steam Joinery and Moulding Mills - one of Newbury's largest employers in the 1870s

Last month marked the centenary of the death of one of Newbury’s best known residents – craftsman, builder, entrepreneur, inventor and businessman, Samuel Elliott.

The name of Samuel Elliott and Sons came to be associated with the town of Reading. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the main industry in Caversham and one of the major local employers was Samuel Elliott’s firm. But Elliott only moved to Caversham in 1902 – before that he had lived and worked in Newbury for nearly forty years.

In the 1860s he was a builder in Newbury’s West Street. Some 120 properties were built in Newbury at a time when there was a great need for such housing.  These included Speen View Terrace (now part of Russell Road) and Salisbury Terrace (in Craven Road). The development of West Fields as a residential suburb was largely due to Elliott’s great speculative enterprise as a builder.

 By 1875 he had established the “Albert Steam Joinery and Moulding Mills”, producing high-quality woodwork both practical and ornamental. The large site off Strawberry Hill is now home to pharmaceutical giant Bayer’s UK headquarters.

Newbury architect and historian Walter Money, writing in his 1887 “Popular History of Newbury” commented that “two firms employ a sufficiently large number of hands to give the town a ‘manufacturing air’ at certain times of the day”.

 One of these was the well-known engineering works of Messrs Plenty and Co; the other was the Albert Moulding and Joinery works, “which possesses machinery of the most perfected description, whilst its productions are of such high repute that the business transactions extend to all parts of the Globe, and among their patrons are some of the most distinguished architects of the day, both at home and abroad.”

These included architect of the Natural History Museum Alfred Waterhouse, whose Berkshire country estate was at Yattendon Court; as well as Norman Shaw, George Gilbert Scott, CFA Voysey and Edwin Lutyens.

Elliiott’s firm provided doors and joinery for some of the foremost public buildings of the Victorian age, including Manchester Town Hall.   Locally he worked on Speenhamland Church, Greenham Church and vicarage, and was responsible for the fantastic oak woodwork in Mill Hall, now Mary Hare Primary school for deaf children in Pigeons Farm Road.

 He was also something of an inventor – during the 1890s his “Elliott’s Smoke Annihilator” was often mentioned in the columns of the Newbury Weekly News, though it failed to gain backing in the commercial world, despite being demonstrated successfully before a gathering of scientists in Newbury. Ultimately losses sustained from the development of the smoke annihilator, combined with the financial effects of a serious factory fire, led to Elliott’s bankruptcy in 1895.

Later that year, NWN reported that a new company, Elliott’s Joinery and Moulding Company Ltd, was to take over the Albert Joinery Works. Samuel was not a director, but he and his eldest son Albert were appointed manager and assistant manager.  Relations between the Elliots and the new company directors became strained over the next few years and in 1904 Edward de Vere Buckingham succeeded Samuel Elliott as manager of the new company.

The rest, as they say, is history – the Buckinghams went on to run Elliotts as a successful Newbury business until 1974, ceasing joinery manufacture in 1919 in favour of furniture, and making a major contribution to the war effort in both world wars. During the First World War, they manufactured ammunition cases, and during the Second World War concentrated on aircraft components, including the Horsa Gliders used in the D-Day landings.

But back to Samuel Elliott – he moved with his family to Caversham, and in 1902 began joinery manufacture on a seven acre site by the Thames. After a few years Samuel stepped back from the management of the business and left his three sons to run it. This firm went on to fit out many prestigious buildings at home and abroad, among them Bush House in Aldwych, London, for many years the home of the BBC World Service.

Despite being almost blind for the last two years of his life, the aged Samuel Elliott maintained his characteristic vitality almost to the end. He died peacefully at home on 12 December 1915, aged 77 having lived a full and active life. The NWN obituary which followed described him as “a remarkable man, with wonderful energy, untiring perseverance and considerable inventive genius”.

“Samuel Elliott and Sons”, an interesting history of the Reading company, was written by Alan Beardmore in 2006. It is available from public libraries.

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