Having explored the story behind Crump Ironworks in Alvin Street, Gloucester, in a companion article on this website, my attention was drawn to the Butt Ironworks, an even older establishment located in Sweetbriar Street, just below the legend “Kingsholm Ward” on the map reproduced left.
J.M.Butt & Co were one of three companies – the others being Barron and Danks – located at Kingsholm Foundry which was described by the publication “Industrial Gloucester 1904” as being the oldest and largest such undertaking in Gloucestershire. It was certainly an important employer for many people living in the nearby streets of Clapham.
Reader Simon Wright has also kindly been in touch to point out that one of the iron pillars in Stroud Congregational Church – built from 1835 to 1837 – has been cast with the legend “Jackman and Cooke, Kingsholm Foundry”.
John Michael Butt was from a long established Severnside family and his father, Richard Butt, operated the candle and tallow factory close to today’s Folk Museum in Westgate Street. On Richard’s death another son ran this business until its closure in 1861.
John’s mother, Deborah Acton (nee Hair) had family connections with a wine merchant in Bromley, Kent, and, with the development of Gloucester Docks, established a similar business in Gloucester. The 1841 Census shows that Deborah was living in a large house called Greenfields on the corner of Kingsholm Road and Sandhurst Lane and John was living opposite at “The Bijou”.
Both properties, which would have been in quite a rural location in 1842 when the foundry was established although both dwellings have now been replaced by blocks of flats.
Much of the production of the foundry was such practical items as rainwater pipes, guttering, bollards and drain covers, of which 90 survive in Gloucester alone.
However, a number of sources suggest that J.M. Butt & Company built the first railway carriage in Gloucester in 1852 – eight years before the foundation of the Gloucester Wagon Company Limited, later better known as The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited.
Although this vehicle has long since disappeared, J.M. Butt did cast the unusual pillar box which still remains in use at Barnes Cross, south east of Sherborne in Dorset and illustrated below courtesy of Mr Adrian Steel. Constructed between 1853 and 1859 for the Gloucester and Western District of the Post Office, the non-standard polygonal post box has a moulded plinth, a collecting door with inset for collection time display below the crown flanked with the initials VR and a vertical letter slit. Also moulded in cast iron are a cornice and peaked top.
Located at 50.9046 lattitude and -2.4378 longitude (Ordnance Survey reference ST 693 118) this box was listed as Grade II* on 16 September 1987 and is believed to be the oldest in public service.
Three other pillar boxes of a different design by J.M. Butt and Company survive. One is located at the National Postal Museum, London, the second at Haverfordwest town museum and the third is a private posting box at Stonehouse Hospital, Plymouth. All four only slightly post-date the very first British pillar boxes erected on Jersey in 1852.
Hexagonal Victorian pillar boxes are often referred to as Penfold boxes after designer John Wornham Penfold. They first appeared made of cast iron in the late 1860s and continued in production until the late 1870s when they were superceded by the more familiar cylindrical pillar box. There are still over 100 Penfold boxes extant in Britain, the majority in London but eight are in Cheltenham ( with one stored serviceable for future use) and four can be found in Wales. Bath and Oxford and Jersey have pairs with a single Penfolds still in use in Truro. One is also in a museum in Northern Ireland, two of the Grade II listed structures remain in Eire while others can be found as far afield as India and New Zealand. In 1988 Machan Engineering in Scotland produced a new version of the Penfold and Windsor used to have a Machan and an original Penfold within 100 yards of each other – virtually identical! A similar pair are now in the Isle of Wight Postal Museum and the Penfold is used as the logo of the Letter Box Study Group.
Back in Gloucester, John Michael Butt had a showroom in Market Parade by 1863 to display agricultural ironmongery to farmers visiting the nearby cattle market and when he died suddenly at the age of 68 in 1886 his elder son Harley Kingford Butt took over Kingsholm Foundry in Sweetbriar Street before selling the concern to Danks in 1917. The site of Kingsholm Foundry is nowadays occupied by Kingsholm Church of England Primary School.
John Michael Butt’s younger son John Acton Butt became an accomplished artist and married Clara Nicks of the renowned Gloucester timber family while John Michael Butt’s daughter Rosa married Sir James Bruton of Reynolds Flour Mill in Gloucester Docks who later became both Mayor and MP for Gloucester.