BUSINESSES IN KINGTON: BUTCHERS, BAKERS AND CANDLESTICK MAKERS
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Kington was a hive of industry. You could buy pretty much everything you needed in Kington and a lot more besides!
As today, Kington has always had a strong tradition of independent businesses, and we have had our fair share of entrepreneurs – iron founders and ice cream makers to name but two. Kington was the major source of all day to day requirements for a substantial population in the town and its hinterland. Businesses ranged from light industry, retail, manufacturing, and food supply as well as more unusual businesses such as the ice works, the ice cream factory and the shoe polish factory. Like many small market towns, Kington had to be self sufficient, and all day to day requirements were made locally. Fuel for the town’s lighting was produced by the gasworks, stone for its buildings came from Bradnor Hill, and iron for its street furniture was made by Meredith’s Foundry – you can still see much of this today.
Before 1700 it appears that there had been one craftsman for each manufacturing trade. There was, for example, one baker, a cooper and a blacksmith, as well as a gunsmith and a cutler. However, because of the raw materials available and the ready market, three trades were prominent: those of the glover, weaver and bootmaker.
Glove making was an important industry in the 17th and 18th centuries employing many cottagers (outworkers), the number of principal manufacturers rising from on in 1665 to seven in 1700. Production carried on until 1820 when the trade was no longer able to compete with cheap gloves imported from France
Weavers used local wool for their cloth, and ‘Keynton Broadcloth’ was well known in the 17th century. The importance of the industry carried on into the 18th century with the weaving of a worsted type of a narrow grey cloth. Unfortunately the quality of the product appears to have degenerated to such an extent that production eased in 1790. However, cloth making was revived in 1830 by the Swain family and they continued to weave blankets and cloth, and manufacture mops, at their premises in MillStreet.
Boots and Shoes were usually made for local use and in 1687 there was one boot maker working; as the population slowly increased to four by 1700. By 1851 some 29 boot makers were listed in the trade directory. This huge increase in craftsmen was undoubtedly mainly due to the opening around 1830 by William Beavan of a tanneryon the banks of the River Arrow. William died in 1873, and the business passed to his sister and through her to Ernest Frederick Mitchell. However, as can be seen in the photograph, the tannery was in a sorry state by the 1896, and there is no entry for a tanner in Kelly’s Directory for 1909.
By the middle of the 19th century the number of different trades in Kington had reached thirty-three. From tailors, hatters and dress makers, to umbrella makers, coach builders, candle makers, trunk makers and straw bonnet makers, the list reflected the prosperity of Kington and its self sufficiency.
Many of these businesses were small enterprises, but there were also larger concerns who provided employment for many Kington people. Meredith’s Foundry, is probably the most well known industrial business of size in Kington.
About 1763, the Meredith family moved into Kington from Presteigne and at that time were successful wool staplers. Kington’s interest in the family starts with Richard Meredith (1712-1779) a wool-stapler by trade, who inherited an ironmongery business in Kington from his father-in-law. On is death in 1779, being predeceased by his wife and having no heirs, his assets valued at £100,000 were left mainly to his nephews.
John Meredith (1758-1823) was 21 when is uncle died, and was left the ironmongery business, inheriting further property, a wool stapling business and cloth company on the death of his father a few years later. In 1811 he extended the ironmongery side of the business by setting up a nail-making shop behind the old Lion Inn, and in 1815 established a small foundry in an adjoining barn. With increasing business the premises soon became too small, and in 1820 he erected a purposes built foundry with offices and workshops at the eastern edge of town. Power for the machinery was supplied by a water-wheel driven by Back Brook.
He was assisted in his enterprise by his three sons: John, James and Henry, and on his death in 1823, the continued the business, building a complex of ten stone cottages and eight forges in 1826, where their nail-makers lived and worked. James died at the early age of 34 and the two remaining brothers continued the business as a partnership. John died in 1848 and Henry in 1865, but his sons continued to manage the flourishing business until 1901 when it was finally sold. The foundry continued to work for a further 25 years in the hands of Alexander Duncan and Co, a business still in existence today although now based in Leominster.