Robert Bridson and Son
(based on information from and using photographs provided by G. Bridson with additional information from Ian L. Norris. N.B. All photographs are the property of G. Bridson and may not be copied for commercial use without permission)
The name Bridson is a familiar one in Neston and although the firm of Robert Bridson and Son is no longer in operation the name continues to be associated with certain locations in Neston: Bridson’s Hill and Bridson’s ravine. At the time of writing (2017) the last remaining storage shed belonging to Bridson’s has only recently been demolished. Many living Nestonians remember the steam roller which was stored in Bridson’s yard and a fair few remember riding on the back of it. The Bridson most of them will remember as proprietor was Tom Bridson (1902 – 1967). However, the firm was first established by his grandfather, Robert Bridson (1837 – 1911) in1870. It was taken over by Robert’s son, George Weir Bridson (1866 – 1931) and then by George Weir Bridson’s son Thomas Bridson.
Robert Bridson. (1837 – 1911)
Robert Bridson served an apprenticeship as a ships carpernter but during the course of his life he followed various occupations; mechanic, miller, shop keeper, timber merchant and traction engine owner. Evidently he saw the business opportunities which advances in steam power offered. They affected not only transport and industry but also farming and replaced horse, water and man power. Steam traction engines were used in agriculture for threshing and tree pulling. They were too expensive for most individual farmers to buy for their own use so contractors were hired who travelled from farm to farm. Road locomotives were used for heavy haulage on public highways. There were also ploughing engines which could plough up to 30 acres per day. Steam tractors were small road locomotives which could be operated by one man if the engine was less than 5 tons. They were used in particular by the timber trade.
He was born in Malew on the Isle of Man on 7th November 1837, the son of Robert Bridson, a farmer, and his wife Sarah (nee Kelly). He had a brother, Thomas, and a sister, Esther (1829 – 1868). Their mother died in May 1840 and in October 1842 their father married Esther Quine. In 1851 Robert’s sister Esther was working as a nurse in the household of the recently widowed Elizabeth Brock Lyon who was living with daughters Sarah, Elizabeth, Maria and Mary, in the house next to Neston Parish Church (see Neston Female Friendly Society – Lady Patronesses and Creches in Nineteenth Century Neston).
On 13th November 1856 Esther married Thomas Scott, son of George Scott (1806 – 1871) a farmer of Ness Colliery Farm and his wife Susan/Susannah (1807 – 1895). Thomas and Esther had at least five children but Esther died in 1868, when their youngest child, Robert, was born, leaving Thomas with a young family. He then married Elizabeth Cottrell, daughter of neighbour, Daniel Cottrell who was also an agricultural worker, and had eight more children.
Robert Bridson married Thomas Scott’s sister ,Mary Anne Scott, the youngest of George Scott’s children and the only daughter, in 1866 when he was 28 and she was 21.
Robert Bridson was a ship’s carpenter by trade and in the early years of their marriage he appears to have worked away from home as the 1871 census shows Mary living with her mother and father on the Colliery farm with her three children, George Weir Bridson, Susan Bridson and Sarah Bridson. Mary Anne’s occupation is listed as ‘mechanic’s wife’. It is around this time that he first began to operate as a steam engine contractor.
Ten years later in 1881 Robert and Mary Ann were living in Leighton Road where Robert was working as a miller. Mary Ann’s mother, now a widow, was living with them and the family had grown to include 4 daughters, Esther, Isabella, Elizabeth and Frances, and 1 son, Oliver. Two of their children, Frances and James, died in childhood but 3 sons and 4 daughters lived to adulthood. He also had a shop on the High Street and premises in Bridge Street.
The Scott Family
George Scott and his wife, Susan (nee Johnson) moved from Klive in Northumberland to take over the tenancy of the Colliery Farm at Ness at some point before the 1841 Census which records the family as living in Ness. Mary Ann Scott had five brothers: Andrew born in 1828, Thomas born 1830, Richard born 1832, George born 1836 and James born in 1837. She was born in 1845 after the family moved to Ness. A brother, John, born in 1841 died in infancy. Three of Mary Anne’s brothers, Andrew, George and Thomas, continued to earn their living by farming although George eventually emigrated to Canada with his family. Richard and James, however, were engine fitters and moved away from Neston. Both worked for some time in York as railway engine fitters though James later moved to Wolverhampton where he died in 1909.
A Bone Mill
In 1889 Robert tried to establish a steam operated bone mill in Bridge Street, which would have provided local farmers with fertiliser. He was eventually refused permission even though he had attempted to demonstrate that its operation would not cause any nuisance to immediate neighbours. Newspaper reports record the progress of his application to the Neston and Parkgate Local Board.
It appeared at first that his application might be successful.
Cheshire Observer – Saturday 12 January 1889
…and a plan of a bone mill which is to be erected for Mr Bridson in Bridge Street was submitted. Mr Bridson attended and explained the proposed works, which he asserted would not be offensive in any way. It was decided to pass the plan subject to Dr Kenyon’s approval…
However by this time some letters had been received objecting to the proposal and approval seemed unlikely.
Cheshire Observer – Saturday 09 February 1889
NESTON AND PARKGATE LOCAL BOARD
Mr Bridson’s application to be allowed to build a new bone mill in Bridge-street, Neston, was again brought forward. The medical officer sent in a special report upon the matter in which he stated that the proposed method would obviate all nuisance from boiling the bones, but that a nuisance might arise from carrying the bones through the street in an offensive condition, or from storing them in an offensive condition. Under the circumstances he recommended the Board to make a legal agreement with Mr Bridson before sanctioning the proposed business.— A letter was read from the Rev. J. Lyon, a trustee of certain lands adjoining the proposed works, objecting to them on the ground that they would probably become a nuisance, and a similar objection was read from Mr Reynolds, solicitor, on behalf of the owners of Eldon Terrace. After thoroughly discussing the matter and obtaining the opinion of their clerk, the Board came to the conclusion that it would not be advisable to sanction such works near the dwelling-houses. Several members were of opinion that the works would have proved a boon to the local farmers, and that a nuisance was not likely to arise.—…
When the matter was raised yet again in the following month after Robert Bridson had demonstrated how the mill would operate permission was finally refused.
Cheshire Observer – Saturday 09 March 1889
NESTON AND PARKGATE LOCAL BOARD
The question of permitting Mr Bridson to use a steam digester and bone mill which he bas erected in Bridge- street again came before the Board, and a letter from Mr J. Gamon, solicitor, asking the Board to give his client the requisite permission, was read. It appears that since last meeting Mr Bridson has used the mill by way of experiment, and has invited members of the Board to attend. Several of the members who witnessed the operations expressed themselves as satisfied that no nuisance would arise; but another letter from the Rev J. Lyon objecting to the works on the ground that they would depreciate the value of certain lands adjoining, of which he is the co-trustee, was put in, and additional letters of objection from Mr Allen, of Burton-road, and Mr L. Brookes, of Moorside, were read. Ultimately the members, while expressing sympathy with Mr Bridson, who has incurred consider- able expense, decided to withhold the required permission. Several members urged that Mr Bridson should be allowed to work the mill for two months, so as to give them a better opportunity of forming an opinion in the matter, but the Clerk pointed out that the Board must give an absolute sanction or none at all….
The 1891 Census records that Robert was by then a widower, his wife Mary Ann having died the previous year, and that he was living in Church Lane. His occupation is given as timber merchant. Also living with him were daughters, Susan, Sarah, Isabella and Elizabeth and sons Oliver and Walter. His youngest son, Walter was 6 years old at that time. His mother-in-law was still living with the family.
George Weir Bridson does not appear on the 1891 Census. On 3rd October 1891, at the age of 24, he left England, departing from Southampton for South Africa. He worked as an engineer in the gold mines near Johannesburg and was living there at the time of Leander Starr Jameson’s ill fated ‘raid’ in December 1895 to January 1896. He was one of the ‘uitlanders’ or foreign workers whose grievances against Boer government was the pretext for Jameson’s entry into the Transvaal. It was intended to coincide with
an uprising of the, mainly British, workers in the Transvaal but no such uprising occurred and Jameson’s men were defeated. A letter published in the local newspaper ‘from the son of a well know Neston resident’ is almost certainly George Bridson’s.
Cheshire Observer – Saturday 29 February 1896
A NESTON MAN AT JOHANNESBURG. INTERESTING LETTER Some interesting correspondence relative to affairs in the Transvaal has been received from the son of a well-known Neston resident, who has for some years been successfully prosecuting his fortunes in South Africa, and has taken an active part in the recent stirring events in Johannesburg. In a previous letter he referred to the fact of his being six days under arms, and writing on January 31st last, he says: ” I know you will have seen a great deal about the trouble here, and a rotten job it was. The two letters sent you previously I wrote while doing duty in the trenches with the butt of my rifle for a desk, and the reason we laid down our arms was that we were requested to do so by Sir Hercules Robinson, the High Commissioner, through Sir Sydney Shepherd, and Sir Jacobus De Wet, the British agent to the Transvaal, and by no means through cowardice. That we could have beaten the Boers there is little doubt, as we outnumber them in addition to being better armed, but to save Dr. Jameson we laid down our arms and we are ready to take them up again at an hour’s notice if we don’t get our grievances redressed. The Boers would have no chance with us, good shots as they are. They must lie hidden behind the rocks, waylaying their enemy, and that they would find little chance of doing with us. It is supposed that Dr. Jameson was decoyed down here by the Boers under the impression that the war had broken out, so that they would have a chance at him before they were required at Johannesburg. Thus the trouble would not come in such a rush, and they would have a better opportunity of dealing with it, but those 480 Bechuana police held their own against 4,000 Boers was something marvellous. They had no right to cross the frontier of course, but the false message sent them did all, and blood is thicker than water. I was more proud of my countrymen than ever. When the insult was flung at us the way they mustered — the ” counter-jumper ” from his shop and the miner from his mine — and as our men stood to arms, settled the question as to whether British pluck is on the wane or not.’
Although Bridson’s had operated in Neston since 1870 but it was only in the early 1890s that advertisements appeared for steam operated farm machinery.
In 1898 Robert married widow, Ann Siddall/ Leddall. His son, George, returned to England to help with the family business, marrying Esther Elizabeth Hulme of Gayton in 1899. In 1901 George was living in Church Lane with his wife and young daughter Isabella. Robert Bridson and his wife Ann were then living in Chester Road with Robert’s son, Walter now aged 16, who was an apprentice joiner.
Oliver Bridson, however, was no longer living in with them. He served his apprenticeship as a carpenter and he may have left for South Africa as early as 1896, when he was only 19. In September of that year his trade union membership was transferred from the Neston branch to the Johannesburg branch so it seems likely that he went to work with his brother George in Johannesburg. He may have returned to Neston with his brother and then gone back to South Africa around in 1900. He was certainly for part of the South African War (Second Boer War) which began in October 1899 and continued until the Boer surrender in May 1902. During this conflict he served in Lord Kitchener’s bodyguard but in May 1901 was with General Dartnell’s column. An extract from a letter to his family in Neston appeared in the Cheshire Observer.
Cheshire Observer 4th May 1901
NESTONIAN AT THE FRONT. An interesting letter has been received by Mr. Robert Bridson, of Neston, from his son Oliver, who is on Lord Kitchener’s bodyguard, but is at present serving with General Dartnell’s column. Writing from Vryhied on March 25th, he states: “We have just arrived, but how long we are going to stay I don’t know. I believe we will soon leave either for Natal or Zululand. I have been in good health all the time, but we are terribly short of rations. You want to know what kind of a life we lead? Well, I may tell you it is terribly rough and hard. We are chasing the enemy all the time. Perhaps you will have seen in the papers an account of the fight we had at Intombi River a couple of weeks ago. We were in that and lost three killed, six wounded and twelve prisoners, but have since captured the scoundrels that did the damage, the leader of whom we shot the next day. We are burning most of the farms and bringing the families along with us. We joined with General French this morning. I saw him to-day for the first time as he passed. He looks much older than his photograph. You would also see about us finding a Hotchkiss gun. I was there when it was dug up in a garden. In fact I got the pencil and this paper out of the same house. I can’t put all on paper that we see, but I could tell you better if I had the time. I will do so as soon as I get back to civilisation if I get through this lot all right.” In a letter written a few weeks previous to the foregoing Mr. Bridson remarked: “We have been short of rations for some time. We have had nothing but mutton and mealie meal to live on, but a large convoy has just arrived. I hear Botha is in Pretoria arranging for a complete surrender, and that we are to be disbanded in Johannesburg on 1st May.”
Oliver was not the only Nestonian to serve in South Africa ; there were at that time letters from other men, members of the local Volunteer corp and others who volunteered with the Cheshire Yeomanry, published in the local newspapers giving a first hand account of the War. However Oliver continued to live in South Africa after the War ended and to send letters home. In 1903 he was living in Potchefstoom, a town to the north west of Johannesburg.
Chester Courant 28th January 1903
“CRONJE A GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL. Mr. Oliver Bridson. son of Mr. Robert Bridson, of Neston, who, like many other enterprising Englishmen, is pushing his fortune in South Africa, and is at present at Potchefstroom wrote an interesting letter to his home on Christmas Eve. It contained the following interesting extract:” This is the old capital of the Transvaal. It is also the prettiest place in the whole colony. It is here where Cronje killed those men after peace was declared in 1881. By the way, I saw the ‘old bounder’ here on Saturday last. He has now a good berth under Government, and leads the life of a gentleman. The graveyard where his victims were buried and the old fort are only a few yards from where I live. There are any number of graves along the line, of men who were murdered by the train-wreckers, and the next station up from here there is one hole with nineteen Boers in it who, they say, were killed by one shell. That I can’t vouch for, but anyhow they are safe enough, which is the principal thing. It will be news to many that our old and apparently implacable enemy. Cronje now fills the role of a sleek official in the pay of the once hated “rooineks.”
In August 1902 Walter Bridson, Robert’s youngest, son also departed for South Africa to work in the Johannesburg area. He is probably the W. Bridson who served with the Umvoti Rifles and the Barberton Town Guard and was awarded the Natal Medal in 1906. (http://www.angloboerwar.com/name-search). It is certain, however, that he remained in South Africa for some time and his name appears in the list of members of the Denver Lodge of the Freemasons in the Transvaal, his membership dating from 1909 where his profession is recorded as carpenter.
With George’s return to Neston the business began operating as Robert Bridson and Son in 1898 and in the years that followed the business expanded to include steam traction engines for road haulage as well as agricultural machinery and by 1911 they owned around ten machines. Some of the workers employed by Robert Bridson and Son were from the Isle of Man and possibly relatives of some sort. One of these was William Samuel Cooil who, in 1911, lived with his wife Annie and their four children in Woodwards Cottages.
By this time Robert Bridson had retired. He was still living in Chester Road with his wife, Anne while George, who had taken over the business, was living at Park Vale, Hinderton Road with his wife and young family; 2 sons, Thomas and Robert, and 3 daughters, Isabella, Irene and Marion.
Always quick to see the business possibilities of new technologies, Robert Bridson and Son started another local enterprise around 1909, Neston Car and Taxi Garage which offered a car repair service and taxis for hire. This operated until the outbreak of war in 1914, but was not resumed afterwards. When Robert died in 1911 George Weir Bridson continued to run the family business.