Marshall History Pt.1 Britannia News 1958

The following is taken from the works newsletter ‘Britannia News Vol.1 No.1’ dated February 1958 with images courtesy of the Gainsborough Heritage Centre and additional notes by their Chairman Andrew Birkitt.

It is thought that there are many comparatively new employees of the Company who know very little about its early history and associations, and it is intended to supply this information, in suitable instalments, in the pages of this journal.

The records have been examined with this object in view, and this month we shall cover the years 1848 to 1862.

The exact date on which Marshalls was founded is not known, but it was sometime in the year 1848, when Queen Victoria was 29 years of age; and many events were occurring which were to have far reaching consequences for Great Britain and the rest of the World.

However, these matters of World history must be left to students, and it must suffice to say that our country was in the midst of a period of great industrial expansion, and our contractors, engineers, artisans and monetary resources were to be found everywhere.

01 Calling CardGreat Britain was building Mills, Railways, Docks, Harbours, Waterworks, etc., etc., throughout the world.
It was sometime during the year 1848 that William Marshall purchased the small engineering business of William Garland & Son, which came on the market because of the death of the proprietor.

The position occupied by this works was in North Street, and after a time was transferred to a site in Beaumont Street, eventually moving to the present site, where a part of the old Works is still preserved in one corner of the present Smiths Shop. This is appropriate, because originally the Marshalls were Smiths, and their first orders were forgings for steam engines and boilers.

Before purchasing this business, William Marshall had for six years been the St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) agent of William Fairbairn & Sons, Millwrights of Manchester.

How far he can have foreseen the future developments of the business that he founded, it is impossible to say. His experience in Russia must certainly have made him aware of the potentialitites of British agricultural machinery in overseas markets. Yet it is related that when his two sons, James and Henry, urged him to start building portable engines—which afterwards proved to be, more than any­thing else, the foundation of the firm’s international fame, William at first regarded the proposal as fanciful and finally agreed to it only from good nature, remarking: “Well, lads, do as you like’’. Whereupon James and Henry proceeded to convert—with truly momentous consequences—a boiler purchased in Lincoln.

Whether deliberately or by chance, however, William Marshall was one of those countless British industrial pioneers who, arriving on the scene of history just at the right moment, set this country on the road to an industrial power and predominance such as the world had never before seen. The town of Gainsborough, in particular, owes much to William Marshall. Before his arrival here, its chief trades were milling, the building of small ships, and shipping; and of these the last two were in decay owing to the extension of the railways. But for William Marshall, Gainsborough might today be a village!

It appears that William Marshall was occupied for the first seven or eight years with Millwrights’ work for the local flour and oil mills and with the manufacture of threshing machines, and that the award of a prize of £25 at the Norwich Royal Show in 1849 related to a portable threshing machine.

Original Factory 1There is some doubt as to the date of the production of the first Marshall portable engine, but it appears to have occurred in about the year 1856, on which date he purchased one and a half acres of land and had there erected a new works, on the site of the present Britannia Works (see above), in which a portion of William Marshall’s original buildings is still incorporated. Now the corner of Tescos superstore next to Marshalls Yard, known as the ‘Old Smithy’ I remember the edge of this building as a child.

It is known that a portable engine made by Marshall’s in 1861 bore the serial number 52, and that in this year the first electric lighting ever used in a coalmine was provided by a Marshall’s portable engine.

Before this time, Marshall’s had begun the manufacture and export of boilers.

It is remarkable that in the year 1857, only a year after the end of the Crimea War, Marshall’s supplied a number of cylindrical boilers for the heating of passenger coaches on Russian railways.

William Marshall’s two sons, James and Henry, were born in 1836 and 1841 respectively, and they both entered their father’s business. It is related that in the early days of the business James was the smith, and Henry was the fitter. The first employee taken on from outside the family was Mr. J. E. Shrive, who later was famous at Marshall’s as the man who painted the first portable engine.

He was employed by Marshall Sons & Company until his death at a good old age.

James Marshall was taken in to partnership in 1857 and Henry Marshall in 1861. A few months later William Marshall died, and the two sons became joint proprietors.

By this time the business already enjoying a nation wide reputation, having won prizes for exhibits of portable and fixed engines and threshing machines, corn mills and saw benches, at Agricultural Shows all over England, from Taunton to Carlisle. It was left to James and Henry to extend this reputation throughout the World.

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