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Llewellins & James, Castle Green, Bristol | by brizzle born and bred
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Llewellins & James, Castle Green, Bristol

image above: Some of the staff of Llewellins & James who attended the works-outing to Totnes in Devon. (1938)


At the beginning of the eighteenth century a small group of foundrymen and machinists started a business in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, and in 1735 they moved to 81 Temple Street. By 1832, ownership transferred to Peter Llewellin, and in 1846 the business moved to Castle Green. In the mid-1850s, the name of the business became Llewellins & James. Following a severe fire in 1875, the Georgian Castle Green premises were extensively rebuilt within two years in the Bristol Byzantine style. By 1889 the company was the largest brass foundry in Bristol and in 1906 it became a limited company.


By the 1930s the workforce was approximately 200 (in 1940, there were only two female employees, both teenage typists) and the company was involved in a varied type of work. At their own premises this included the manufacture of beer pumps, hose fittings, taps, copper milk-condensing tanks (6ft diameter, 8ft high thick), hemispherical copper double-skinned pans used in jam-making, tar and bitumen spraying machines used for road maintenance, tanks called 'mash tuns' used in sauce-making and vats for breweries (at one time the company had a vat department at 41 City Road).


During their quiet periods employees made 'foreigners', such as candlesticks, brass ornaments and jewellery' for their own use. As well as work at the premises, the company was involved in a considerable amount of work away: maintenance work at breweries, pubs, dairies and ships (at Bristol and Swansea docks).


During the Depression of the 1930s, employees only worked two days one week, one day the next. Employees were not paid for holidays or when the premises were closed for its annual shutdown (usually the first week in August). Pay days were on Fridays when the money was issued in a round tin (3in in diameter), with the employee's clock number on the lid.


The names of some of the staff in the 1930s included Henry Wethered (Director, brother of Judge Wethered), Charles Palmer (Director), Norman Driver (Salesman), Charlie Candlin (Coppersmith), Bill Kease (Furnaceman), R. Green-Armitage (Director), Doris Johnson (Typist), Myra Luton (Typist), Len Hawkes (Warehouseman), Ken Pettier (Apprentice Draughtsman), William Caple and the brothers Bill and Jim McKeown.


Work undertaken by Llewellins & James of particular local interest was the repair (or possible recast) of one of the nails outside the Corn Exchange in Corn Street and the casting of replacement quarterjacks which flank the clock on Christ Church in Broad Street.


Llewellins & James operated an unusual form of employment - when the company was asked to quote a price for a job, the Director responsible would ask particular senior employees to give their price, and the job was awarded to the successful senior employee, who then 'employed' the relevant staff to do the job.


Within the Castle Green premises there was living accommodation for the caretaker, who at the time of the blitz in November 1940 was Charlie Lovell (his brother, Tom, and two sons, Gordon and Douglas, also worked for Llewellins & James). This was above the haulingway off Cock and Bottle Lane (opposite the Star pub), the entrance being through a separate door next to a double-wooden door entrance to the foundry. Beyond this door was a hallway with stairs which led to the accommodation (three bedrooms, lounge, dining room, kitchen and bathroom) on the first and second floors.


From here there was the access to the whole roof area of the main building and you could overlook Castle Street. It was provided rent free, gas and electricity also being included free of charge.


Like many buildings in Castle Green the outside of the premises of Llewellins & James never appears to have been photographed, only tantalising glimpses of parts appearing in pictures of other buildings. From these glimpses, old plans and the recollections of former employees, it has been possible to piece together orthographic elevations which represent, as accurately as possible, the building in 1940 — In 1940, each floor of the premises was occupied as follows:


Basement — This contained the foundry, a large steam-driven engine (which drove machinery on the floor above) and a stockroom. Two wells, which originally belonged to Bristol Castle, supplied water used for cooling the molten metal. The ceiling was just above ground floor level and there were small windows (above 1ft high) which, outside the building, were at pavement level, enabling people to look into the basement (they were protected by metal grilles or bars). Rats were plentiful in the basement and it was not unusual for staff to encourage them into the molten metal!


Ground - The main entrance was in Castle Green, two large sliding doors allowing vehicle access. All staff entered here, the clocking-in machine being near the sales office on the left. There was also an entrance in Cock and Bottle Lane, again with two large doors (both opening inwards). The machine shop and store for goods awaiting dispatch occupied most of this floor.


First — This floor (and the floor above) extended over the shops at 12—14 Castle Street and is where the drawing office was situated. The machine shop (where the apprentices worked) and welding shop were also on this floor, together with the main offices (immediately above the sales office). The offices appeared very Dickensian with high desks and chairs.


Second — The pattern-making shop (above the drawing office) and brass-turning shop were on this floor.


With regards to bellfounding, it appears that until about 1874 church bells were cast by other foundries in the UK with the name of Llewellins & James on them. Llewellins & James were only involved in the specialised business of bell hanging but, by 1874, they appear to have accumulated sufficient expertise to take on bellfounding themselves.


At the turn of the century they were one of seven bellfounders in the UK (reduced to three by the outbreak of the Second World War) and in the company's heyday (1875-1925) approximately 25% of their turnover was in respect of bellfounding and hanging.


This type of work tailed oft dramatically by 1930 and, in the next ten years, it appears that only a few small single bells were cast, the final one in the autumn of 1940 for All Hallows Church, Easton. The heaviest bell cast was a 31cwt tenor for Holy Trinity Church in Bradford-on-Avon. Although very few bells were cast in the 1930s, the formula for calculating the shape of the bell (this varied in accordance with the tone required) was guardedly kept by a senior employee, Mr Nolan.


Bell hangers who worked for Llewellins & James included some of the well-known bell-ringers of their day, the Tyler family providing four such employees. William Adkins Tyler was the foreman bell hanger, who worked for Llewellins & James from about 1904. He had previously been employed by Taylors of Loughborough and was involved in the hanging of a peal of twelve bells at St Paul's Cathedral in London in 1878. He was a high-profile ringer and Llewellins & James were no doubt pleased to have him to supervise their expanding bell hanging business.


William Tyler had two sons, Frederick and Jesse, who were also employed as bell hangers at Llewellins & James. The former succeeded his father as foreman bell hanger and Jesse moved to London to work for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Both Frederick and Jesse died during the 1930s, although Frederick's son, Ernest, continued the tradition by joining the company for a few years in the early 1920s.


Sadly, most of the building at Castle Green were severely damaged following the blitz of 24 November 1940. The old, original Georgian part of the building fronting Peter Street was swiftly repaired, and approximately twelve staff kept the copper shop in existence, thus enabling the company to continue trading. Apart from temporary offices in Queen Square and Merchant Street, the company only traded from Peter Street until permanent premises for all activities were obtained in a new purpose-built building in Princess Street, Bedminster, in August 1954. This building included a foundry, but this closed due to the lack of demand for cast-iron and copper products — these had been replaced by stainless steel.


By the 1960s, the company's main activities were in connection with the brewing and printing industries. Between 1970 and 1972 they worked on two vessels built at Charles Hill shipyard (both for the Guinness Group) fitting huge storage tanks and associated pipework. This was the last main contract for Llewellins & James and in 1972 they were taken over by Braby Ltd (still in business today in Winterstoke Road) and it was the skilled labour at Llewellins & James they required, employing about 33% of the workforce. These start worked in the 'Llewellins & James Department' within Brabys, but apart from this the name disappeared.


When Llewellins & James left the Peter Street premises in 1954, the Bristol Evening Post used it as a garage/store until its demolition in 1969. While all trace of the building has gone today, the sound of some of the church bells cast by the company can still be heard in Castle Park - the tenor at St Thomas Church in Victoria Street and the 6th and tenor at SS Philip and Jacob Church in Narrow Plain.


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Taken on March 29, 2009