Fowell and Son

EXTRACT FROM “Trades and Industries of St Ives” by S G Jarman 1893

Messrs Fowell & Son, Engineers

One of the most important industries of St Ives is that described by the above head-line, inasmuch as some forty persons find constant employment at Messrs Fowell’s works, in the Station Road and New - Road adjoining. The business dates from 1876, in which year Mr J G Fowell purchased from the late Mr Herbert of Huntingdon, a plot of meadowland fronting Station Road, which was used for cattle lairs. Building operations were at once commenced, and a large engineering and general workshop was presently erected, 100 feet long by thirty feet wide, a proceeding which naturally occasioned much interest among St Ivians.

Orders came in gradually but surely, and two years afterwards an extension had to be made, and Mr George John Fowell was joined in the business by his father, Mr Joseph Fowell, who brought with him an experience extending over forty years. The new firm soon earned a reputation for good solid thorough work, and as years passed by further additions were made to the buildings and environment, and even now Messrs Fowell are contemplating further alterations and improvements, having recently purchased the site of Mr Arthur Bunting’s store, close at hand.

The speciality of the firm is that of building and repairing traction engines, but no kind of engineering or general work seems to come amiss to them - that is our impression after going over the extended establishment and witnessing with great interest the various branches of labour employed.

We commence with the office - not an unimportant portion of the establishment, as here the drawings of engines &c are made, everything being arranged on paper as a preliminary step. Here are the drawings of engine no 66, which some four months since attracted so much attention on the Market Hill, and a photograph of which we see framed on the wall. It was built from a new design, somewhat light in construction (that is, comparatively speaking) as being more suitable for its destination, Warboy’s Fen.

From here we proceed to the store and gaze with wonder on the multitudinous nuts, bolts, brass castings, taps, valves, belts &c. Here also are many of the patterns, cut in wood, which give their shape to various parts of an engine, from the small smooth ball, to the segment of an immense cog-wheel for a fen traction engine. (Incidentally, we here learn that the firm have a large fen connection).

We next enter the large workshop, which is in reality a series of departments, and here the noise is deafening, with wheels whirring, and huge machines performing their allotted work. At the same time order reigns supreme - there is a methodical system apparent that is somewhat striking. Here patterns are being carefully made, with the aid of a band saw and lathe, and - brains; there are other lathes at work, seven altogether we noted, the largest of which weighing some five tons, was trimming or paring a large traction engine wheel. There are also several planing machines where the massive iron is levelled or rounded as required. At the end of the shop is the fitting department, where an immense variety of parts of engines are in the course of construction, every piece being marked with the distinctive number of the engine of which it will ultimately form a part.

The open or centre portion of the shop is utilised for building or repairing the engines, straw elevators, chaff cutters, &c. Thus we see two or three receiving attention, and more than one in the course of construction. There is a vast quantity of steel here there and everywhere, and we learn that more weight of steel is used in a traction engine than iron.

Leading from here is the smith’s and boiler shop, where the forge fires are burning brightly, thanks to the constant current of air provided for them by a huge fan. An important feature of this department is the powerful steam hammer, by the aid of which we see a red hot mass of steel quickly flattened to the required size. Other machines which aroused our interest were: A punching machine, by means of which holes an inch across are instantaneously struck out of iron and steel an inch thick; a shearing machine, which will cut iron and steel plates as readily as we cut a piece of cardboard with ordinary scissors; and a rolling machine for bending steel boiler plates.

We next visit the engine shed, where a twelve - horsepower engine provides the power for driving all the machinery, distributed by a main shaft about 180 feet long, running through both shops, and which also provides the steam for the hammer already mentioned. There is no idleness on this establishment: the engine driver utilises his spare time in making large screws with the aid of a kind of lathe, no less than 180 of one size being used in a traction engine boiler.

Outside these workshops is a large open space - at least it was open at one time, but it is now almost covered with traction engines, elevatord, implements &c, there being no less than twelve of the former in sight!

On the opposite side of this yard is the furnace and foundry, and we are singularly fortunate on the occasion of our visit in being enabled to witness the casting of a large wheel for a traction engine. The pattern being carefully moulded in fine black sand, the molten iron, nearly a ton in weight, is drawn from the furnace into huge caldrons and then poured into the spaced reserved for it - seemingly an important, even delicate, operation, but performed with a skill and despatch born of long experience.

Before concluding our tour of inspection we passed through the show room which fronts ~Station Road: here we are shown a new straw elevator (made in the works) and two hay presses of a pattern which is becoming well known. Although somewhat of a novelty, being of a different style from the ordinary article, it is well-claimed for it that it is the simplest and best in the market, and we congratulate the makers on the fact that it is becoming so popular.

Mr Joseph Fowell is still at the head of affairs, but the practical management of the business is in the hands of Mr G J Fowell, who is assisted by his two capable sons - hence the firm is likely to long retain its present name or style. We also note with satisfaction that most of the leading hands of the machinery, engine, boiler and foundry departments, have been with the firm from its commencement.

With regard to their connection with town affairs, it may be noted that Mr Joseph Fowell has been a member of the St Ives School Board since its formation, and Mr G J Fowell has just been returned a member of the Town Council.