A Brief History of Abbotts from the picture the past website:
In Abbott & Co’s sales catalogue for 1888, the ‘Handy Hoist’ was described as ‘a most valuable little appliance for every trade where small weights require lifting. The arrangement of the handle (in front or back, instead of at the side) makes it suitable for fixing in spaces too confined for the ordinary hoist, and the very low cost enables anyone to fix a separate hoist in different parts of his establishment.’ Produced in five models, prices ranged from £1. 5 shillings to £2. 5 shillings. Founded by Thomas Abbott (a native of the Nottinghamshire village of Lowdham) in 1870 the company became the first business to take on the manufacture of steam boilers in Newark. At that time the business was located between Lincoln Street and Northgate, and it was not until 1884 that they moved across the railway line to their present three acre site off Beacon Hill. Steam engines, of course, provided the motive power behind Britain’s massive economic growth in the 19th century, and Abbott’s boilers found a ready market wherever steam engines were in use: charging up and down the country’s rail network on high speed express trains, powering ships of the Royal Navy, and helping to turn the wheels of industry in hundreds of factories across the land. Under these conditions Abbott’s prospered, with the factory in full-time work and an office open in Walbrook Street, London. In 1886, however, only two years after the move to their enlarged premises off Beacon Hill, the Newark Advertiser reported ‘The failure of a Newark engineer ‘when Thomas Abbott’s business appeared to be in trouble. Mr Abbott attributed the collapse to bad trade, over-stocking, and losses made on a patent draining machine. All, however, was not lost. Whilst no report of the meeting of the company’s creditors can be found in the newspaper, it would appear that, with only a relatively small shortfall between the value of Abbott’s assets and his liabilities, his friends in Newark clubbed together and made good the deficit. The business continued to operate with apparently no loss or break in production. A year after the bankruptcy, however, Abbott’s works manager of 16 years left to set up a boiler manufactory on his own account. (His name was Alfred Farrar, and with new premises constructed off Northgate beside the River Trent, Farrar’s boiler works traded successfully in Newark for many years before becoming a subsidiary of the Swiss company, Hoval). In 1898 Abbott’s became a private limited liability company with Thomas Abbott, J.C. Wright and George Asbury as its first directors. The 1890s saw a broadening of the company’s business with new contracts being won from the Admiralty to supply 100 ‘Pinnace’ and ‘Cutter ‘boilers for the new breed of steam driven warships. Other prestigious commissions followed and, in 1901, the Newark Advertiser newspaper included a lengthy account of the company’s most far flung commission to date as an Abbott boiler was sent off to Africa to power a steamship in Tanzania. Christened the ‘Chauncy Maples ‘the steamship was commissioned by British missionaries operating amongst communities who lived along the shores of the 350 mile long Lake Nyasa. The ship was to be manufactured in England, but transported to Africa in pieces where it would be re-assembled in situ on the lakeside. Whilst the ship itself cost £9,000, with the cost of transporting it to Lake Nyasa adding a further £5,500. Abbott’s’ won the contract to supply the ships’ boiler, which weighed 11 tons and was similar to those built for railway locomotives. Shipping the boiler to Africa was a relatively straightforward affair, but from the port side at Chinde there still remained a 350 mile trek across Africa by river and road. Towing the boiler on barges on the first leg of the journey up the Zambesi presented no real problems. When waterfalls or rapids blocked the river, however, the barges had to be unloaded and the boiler carried overland. A special carriage with traction engine wheels had been constructed, and at various points on its journey as many as 450 Angoni tribesmen were enlisted to pull it up the steep hills and across boulder strewn river beds. They averaged about three miles a day. Triumphantly, in May 1901, two years after leaving England, the boiler and other parts of the ‘Chauncy Maples ‘reached the shores of Lake Nyasa and were successfully reassembled. The ship remained in service with the missionaries for many years with the Abbott boiler being finally replaced in 1921. Back at Abbott’s in Newark, meanwhile, other notable events were taking place in connection with the running of the works. Thomas Abbott, the founder of the firm, retired from the business in c.1907, and moved to live at No.18 The Square, East Retford in Nottinghamshire. He subsequently moved to Stevenage where, in February 1928, he died aged 80. The company was taken over by his son, Robert, who was to continue at the helm for over 50 years. By the mid 1920s Robert Abbott calculated that, since its inception 50 years earlier, the company had made over 13,000 boilers for clients all over the world. An account of the factory published in the local press at this time makes for interesting reading. Steel plate for making up the boilers, it says, arrived at the factory via the company’s private siding from the Northgate railway station. Once inside the factory the plates were cut to size by an electric planing machine before being rolled into a cylindrical form to create the basic boiler shape. The edges of the plates were then joined together either by rivets (hydraulically inserted through previously drilled holes) or welding using one of three methods: lap welding, electric welding, or oxy-acetylene. The techniques of Electric and Oxy-acetylene welding are still generally understood today, although lap welding – a process in which overlapping metal surfaces, raised to white heat, were fused together by pounding with sledge hammers – has long since disappeared. Once the main cylinder shape of the boiler had been made, circular flanged pieces were riveted to the cylindrical body, and the whole vessel tested for pressure by force filling it with water – usually to twice the pressure it would sustain in normal use. With the wheels of industry still largely reliant on steam power right up to the 1950s, Abbott’s works were seldom short of contracts. When a hiatus did occur, however, the company had one other product that could be brought into production at a moment’s notice. Abbott’s Handy Hoist was a patent hand-operated worm geared lifting device capable of lifting loads up to 5cwt. They were made by the company as early as the 1880s and continued in production until quite recently. Over the years they sold in their thousands finding a ready market with such diverse organisations as farms, shops, schools, theatres and zoos – anywhere, in fact , where small weights needed lifting. On the boiler side of the business, meanwhile, the 1950s and 60s proved to be an era of great change. With the decline in the use of steam power on the railways and in industry, Abbott & Co. reduced their production of boilers, and moved into the more modern, but related, field of pressure vessel manufacture – an area of business with which the firm is still very much involved today. In 1965 Robert Abbott, who had been Managing Director of the firm since 1908, died at his home in Fiskerton near Newark in Nottinghamshire aged 89. His son, Evelyn Thomas, who had previously pursued a career with an engineering firm in Bombay, succeeded him. During the Second World War Evelyn Thomas had joined the Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners, serving with them as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Middle and Far East with the 14th Army. After the war he had returned to Newark to join the family firm, first as a Director and later (following the death of his father, Robert) as Managing Director. Evelyn Thomas remained at the helm, however, for only four years before his own death in 1969 at the age of 73. The death of Evelyn Thomas Abbott brought to an end 100 years of family ownership of the Newark company. With no further Abbott’s, Asbury’s or Wright’s (members of the original shareholding families) available to take over, the business was ultimately acquired in 1974 by Mr John Price of Morton Grange near Southwell in Nottinghamshire. Mr Price had already pursued a successful career in the textile industry, founding and developing a knitwear manufacturing business in Arnold in Nottingham and serving on the Board of two of his family’s lace businesses. It was following the sale of his interest in the Arnold company that Mr Price took over at Abbott’s. Under Mr. Price’s management Abbott’s moved from strength to strength, developing, modernising and broadening the product range to supply expansion vessels to the water industry. In 1994 an additional 50% of production area was brought into being and, coupled with improvements in techniques, helped to ensure that Abbott’s continues to enjoy a healthy order book to this day. John Price retired as Managing Director in 1995 leaving the business in the hands of his son, Henry, who, having gained a degree in Engineering, continues at the helm today. *In compiling this article Picture The Past is indebted to Mr J.H. and Mr H. Price, current owners (2006) of Abbott’s in Newark, for their invaluable assistance.