Spring Gardens Mill, Frome
in Frome, Somerset
Proprietors: George Sheppard, William Sheppard, Byard Sheppard, and George [Wood?] Sheppard.
William Sheppard, a producer of woollen cloth, bought an existing mill near Bradford's Bridge at Spring Gardens, Frome c.1788. By c.1793 he also occupied the Rodden Factory, and a range of workshops at Pilly Hill by 1800.
In 1833 Messrs Sheppard recorded that they built three factories at Spring Gardens, built in 1809, 1815 and 1824. Together, the various factories had a total of four steam engines producing 96 HP, and water wheels producing 30 HP.
The business continued until the late 1870s. The machinery at Spring Gardens and Pilly Vale was advertised for sale in 1879. The Spring Gardens factory, with three five-storey stone-built blocks, was advertised for sale in 1883. Some of the buildings had been ruined by fire.
Fatal Accident, 1829
'Fatal Accident.— On Tuesday inquests were held at Frome on the bodies of Joseph Hooper and Peter Papps, two workmen who had been in the employ of Messrs. Sheppard at the Spring Garden factories. It appeared in evidence, that at about 8 o'clock on the evening of Friday the 19th inst, the above-named individuals were, as usual, attending to a cistern, which is used for the lately invented process of heating and steaming clothes. The cover of the cistern having been removed, and Joseph Hooper sitting on its side, letting off the water, he was unintentionally pushed by Peter Papps, by which he lost his equilibrium, and, in attempting to recover himself, laid hold of and they both fell together into the cistern which contained hot water, about 18 inches deep, heated to 150 Fahrenheit; and were both dreadfully scalded. They instantly extricated themselves, and every possible assistance was rendered them : but both, of them died in the course of Monday. It is but justice to notice, that Messrs. Sheppard sent their own medical friends, Messrs. Millars and Slade, to the sufferers, and bestowed upon them every requisite assistance that sympathy could suggest. Verdicts, Accidental Death.' 
1853 Sale Notice
'MILL PROPERTY TO BE LET. THE IRON MILLS, in the Parish of Orchardleigh, near Frome, with Immediate Possession. Power consists of a Steam Engine, Two Waterwheels, driving Four Gigs, Stocks, Washer, &c. &c, capable of Manufacturing 20 Pieces of Cloth per Week. For further particulars apply to W. B. & G. SHEPPARD, Spring Gardens, Frome.'
1879 Sale Notice
'FROME, SOMERSETSHIRE. To Woollen Cloth Manufacturers, Dyers, Iron Founders, Metal and General Dealers, and others. Sale of the Valuable MACHINERY, large copper Dye and iron Scouring Furnaces, 13 carboys of Spirits and Dyehouse Plant, large wrought iron Steam Boilers, Steam Chests, Cisterns, &c.; heavy cast and wrought iron Steam and Water Pipes, of various dimensions; Hydraulic Presses, donkey and other heavy Pumps, with lead and other Pipes ; Blacksmith Forge and Bellows, and the contents of the Gasfitters Ironfounder's, Carpenter’s and Blacksmith’s Shops; a large quantity of old Iron, new and old Brass and Copper; 7-ton Weighing Engine (by Cockey), wood Granary, Ladders, Trucks, and numerous other Effects, being the Furnish of the Spring Gardens, Mills, and Pilly Vale Dyehouses, &c.'
'Some Reminiscences of Frome Worthies.
MR. GEORGE SHEPPARD, of the Firm of George, William, Byard, and George Sheppard; Born 1773; Died 1855.
Mr. George Sheppard was truly a Frome worthy, for it was in his time and through him that the staple trade of Frome reached its greatest height and prosperity, and during his guidance that the greater part of the factories at Spring Gardens were built, as when Mr. Sheppard commenced his career, towards the end of the last century, only the large factory, driven by water power, was to be seen there, the other buildings being erected as the trade increased, or as machinery was introduced. For in his early days there was no machinery driven with power, as now seen, almost everything being done by hand. There was no Factory Act, no Free Education, and thus, at least, up to 1810, and even afterwards, a large number of boys and girls worked at Spring Gardens when not more than seven or eight years of age. There was no objection to it, as there were no schools. The work was of the easiest kind, many of the processes being only to take the yarn in the form it had been worked and place it in a certain direction and place. The wages for such children were 1s. a week.
'Mr. Sheppard bought Spring Gardens of a person named Adams, and it was then called Wind Ash ; but he changed the name to what it is now known as. He also bought Rodden factory, which was then a flour mill, the earliest works of this firm having been carried on since 1680 at Pilly Vale. He also bought Fromefield House to reside in on his marriage. Mr. Henry Sheppard, of Nunney, was first associated with Mr. George Sheppard, but after a time be retired, Mr. William Sheppard, of Keyford House, joining the firm, and he built what was called the "top factory," in which they put the gigs, scribblers, and tuckers. When his factory was opened be gave each workman going there 20s., and each woman 5s., to celebrate the event. All the workpeople at his time always received 5s, each at Christmas.
'For a very long time Mr. G. Sheppard was the ruling spirit of the firm, and I was told by a man who worked there as a boy in that Mr. Sheppard rode down to the factory on his brown horse nearly every morning before six o'clock, and if the boys did not sharply go up the steps leading to the factory he would give them a taste of his stick. At the period just named there was only water power at the factory, and thus the boys and girls would often have in summer time to play when there was not water enough to drive the wheel. They then ran about the yard singing the couplet— "Slade's and Napper's are shut down. There's no water up to town." This alluded to the next two mills higher up the stream, as a lower mill could not often work when the upper ones were stopped. Mr. Slade was the father of Dr. Slade, formerly of North Parade, and he worked Leonard's Mill, now the Sewage Works. Mr. Napper was of the family once living in Gentle-street, and he had a small factory at Welshmill.
'At this time the demand for child labour was so great that the boys and girls who then lived in the Workhouse at Welshmill would be sent every morning to spend the day at Spring Gardens. The Importance of water power was so great before steam was used that an old person now living informed me that she worked at Spring Gardens about 1809, when not eight years old, her parents living in the yard there. She tells me that all those living near were called at 12 o'clock on Sunday night so as to use the water that had collected on the previous day ; that they then worked on till about 10 o'clock a.m., when the water would be low in summer, causing them to play perhaps until 5 o'clock; they would then go on again working as long as there was any water, keeping on thus through all the week, sometimes working, often not, there being men there to regulate the work, and for whom, as "piecers up", they had to serve. Sometimes they went home to lie down in the day-time, but if they lived some distance away often slept on the cloths. Yet she assured me that all the girls there doing such work took off their clothes during the week, excepting on Saturday and Sunday evening, when their mothers changed and washed them, the necessity of the work preventing this being often done, this only applying to those working by water power, and before steam was used, the first engine having been erected about 1811.
'At this time boys had no India-rubber balls, as every one now has ; balls were all made of yarn, which in most cases had been filched improperly. Thus any boy at a factory seen with a ball would be questioned how he came with it. A kind old man told me that he worked at the factory, and one day gave his breakfast to a boy for the ball he was playing with. The boy was asked about it by the foreman, and taken before Mr. G. Sheppard, receiving from the master a good caning for being in possession of what might have been wrongly taken. This is only mentioned to show the style of the time, as there never was a kinder, or more benevolent man than Mr. Sheppard, or one who better looked after the interest of the workpeople.
'There are two persons living who worked at this factory, and who witnessed the last occasion of the pillory being used in Frome, about 1814. On that occasion the workmen got away to see it, being just the thing that boys and girls would like to see. Mr. Sheppard thought it best not for them to be there, and had all the young people locked in the factory until it was over, when the foreman liberated them, giving each one a penny, which was then of more value than at present, their wages being also paid them. It was mentioned that the pillory was placed just below where the fountain now stands in the Market-place, the culprit being one Gideon Hill, who was thus punished for keeping a house of ill-fame. He had to stand there from twelve to four o'clock, his head being kept in position by a board placed both behind and In front of his neck, the hands being fixed in iron clips. In this position he could turn a little, but he had to endure any one throwing rotten eggs, apples, potatoes, or any such things in his face, or wherever they chose to throw at him, the only object besides being to avoid breaking the windows opposite the pillory. I believe persons would think Mr. Sheppard quite right in keeping his young people from such a sight, the great feature of his character and his guiding power being generosity and good nature, not wishing to think any wrong of another, and his name in the family was "Generous George." Once, one of the women working there went to see him in his office, and said : "I think, sir, I ought to tell you that there something wrong with so and so" (giving the name). Mr. Sheppard's reply was: "Go along! Go along! as honest a man as ever lived." The woman retired and said nothing more, but within three months the man ran away to avoid imprisonment.
'Men were always employed to look after machinery, but they would sometimes neglect it, leaving it in the care of boys who were necessary to assist them. Two boys, about 10 years of age, got killed through such negligence, and then the factory was closed for a day or two and put under the Factory Act, so that no one could work there unless 13 years old. Mr. Sheppard would then cheerfully ask any one how old they were, telling them to make haste and get 13 years old, so as to go to the factory. When going there at that age, the young people went on a kind of apprenticeship and had 2s. a week for two years. then 2s. 6d. for six months, after that 3s. until they could work well, when a female could earn from 10s. to 12s. a week, the men getting more, many foremen and clerks having risen to importance, Mr. Laverton, who commenced his career at Spring Gardens, as a very humble clerk, dying a millionaire. This factory had not many accidents like that named, but the oil shop was burnt out in its early days, and about 64 years ago the "hurling factory" was burnt down. Also, two men when sitting on the edge of the cistern, in which hot water wan kept for dressing the cloths, unfortunately fell back into the water both dying, and were buried together in Christ Church burial ground. This church was built not many years before, and was greatly assisted by Mr. Sheppard's generosity, as he was a very liberal subscriber to the building fund. Miss E. Sheppard planted all the trees in that churchyard, and Mrs. Sheppard was afterwards buried inside the church. On the occasion of the opening ceremony, all the girls at Spring Gardens were dressed in white with blue sashes and formed part of the procession to the church. Another work greatly indebted to Mr. Sheppard was the National School and the making of the new road to Bath from Woolverton, and it was greatly at his inspiration that it was done. The Messrs. Sheppard were not unmindful of the moral welfare of their young people. as for many years some of the ladles of Fromefield went to Spring Gardens every day and read to them for half an hour at their dinner time. In the days of its prosperity there was a lending library of some hundreds of volumes at Spring Gardens, to which each person working there was expected to pay one penny per week. These subscriptions were entirely used in buying Bibles or Prayer. books, to be given to the workpeople. When Mr. Sheppard entered into command at Spring Gardens, there was no steam engine in Frome. This firm introduced the first steam power, being a fine engine by Bolton and Watts. This very engine was able to be worked up to the time of the late destruction of the factory, and had thus reached a very respectable age. It is related that three men came from London to fix it, one remaining some months to instruct as to its management. My schoolmaster told me, on this subject, that when he came to Frome, prior to 1816, there was only one steam engine, one church, one organ, and one printing press in the town, this latter being a small one at the Blue Coat School, near the bridge.
'The introduction of machinery swept most of the small manufacturers away, of whom there were then many in Frome, their little factories having been long since turned into cottages, only the rich and the large makers being able to stand the change, which involved so large an outlay. The Messrs. Sheppard were the first to adapt themselves to the change. Few can now realise the excitement and alarm which this caused, as the working men feared it would ruin them, and arose in crowds to try and destroy every place where machines were used, the mob actually burning some at Vallis ; and at Spring Gardens, till very lately, the rack could be seen where stood a stand with twenty muskets in it, so as to be prepared to defend the place from rioters, or from any that opposed the change. Even up to 1830 there were many more cloth factories in Frome than at present, where two or three handlooms were kept at work with the old-fashioned timynogue and large shears for dressing the cloths, and it would be difficult to tell their number, but there were several at the Butts and at Keyford, now all swept away.
'At this period, and for long after, the great production was broad cloth, the colours mostly produced being called French blues, Russian greens, and claret, the former being much in demand for military purposes, and it was the wants of war that brought much prosperity to Spring Gardens, a member of the family saying that Waterloo injured them as well as Napoleon, seeing it ended the war, although they roasted a whole sheep at that place, to celebrate the victory, as soon as it was known in Frome. Even in the matter of lighting a large factory by night, there is a small history, and those who have only seen a place lighted by gas can scarcely know the changes that took place before such was introduced. Prior to gas, oil lamps were in use, and before lamps they had only candles; it not being a very simple matter to issue so many hundreds of them, as required, every night. The candles were then of a bright green colour, so that no one might take them away, as any one seeing a green candle would know it was from Spring Gardens.
'At the time of the first election for Frome, in 1832. Mr. Sheppard took great interest in it, this being the first time that the borough exercised the franchise, his brother, Mr. T. Sheppard, being the candidate; and although he advocated the liberalism of the Reform Bill, and notwithstanding that his family represented the greater part of the trade of the town, at that date, yet the mass of the people was against them, although the more sensible party carried the election on the polling day. So severe was the rioting on the first day of the election, that Mr. Sheppard's party was driven out of the town, and had to take refuge anywhere, until they found safety at Fromefield House, where the whole family seemed to be, for some time, in a state of siege. It has been said that the house was barricaded day and night, for three weeks, fearing an attack from the rioters of Sir Thomas Champney's party, during the whole of which time hot suppers were prepared at Fromefield, for 300 persons, who were stationed there all night, to guard the place, these men going in to supper in batches of forty. Persons who have not seen the violence and lawless conduct of the rioters of our early elections, cannot imagine the state of things at those times, or the fear which one party had of the other. At this time, and for years after, the most unbounded hospitality prevailed at Fromefield House, and every stranger, and especially clergymen, were ever welcomed there, the Reverend Mr. Phillott, then vicar of Frome, but generally a non-resident, always had a room kept specially for him, and such was the style of the house, that a merchant of Frome said that the grocer's bill there was larger than Lord Cork's, of that day, and a banker informed me that at the time of the one pound notes, the firm had out of the bank, every Saturday morning, one thousand one pound notes for wages and weekly expenses ; thus, we can easily imagine how useful this firm has been to Frome, and in the height of this prosperity they made over 4,000 yards of cloth every week. This grand outlay would be then entirely confined to the town, as there were no London stores, or railway at that time, the only conveyance to London being Messrs. Giles and Hooper's wagon, which left Frome every Monday morning at eleven o'clock, getting to town on Wednesday at the same hour, after travelling day and night, with eight horses, requiring relays of nearly 100 horses for each journey. Messrs. G. Sheppard were the greatest supporters of this conveyance, which brought their wool, and took away the cloth. The fare to London by this means was 10s. for each one going by it, cheapest price by the coach being 20s.
'About this time Mr. Sheppard took some of his family abroad, and, as often happens to travellers, spent all his money, at that time communication being very slow, Mr. Sheppard would tell how he went up to a gentleman, and asked him to look him in the face, to see whether he looked like an honest man, and, if so, would he lend him £50, with which to get home. This was done, Mr. Sheppard saying how glad he would be to repay such debt.
'Mr. George Sheppard in his younger days used to wear the old fashioned quene, with powdered hair, this being put on In a small chamber called the "powder room,' kept specially for that purpose. He married in 1797, his partner for life being Miss Mary Ann Stuart, second daughter of Captain Sir Thomas Byard, RN., of Mount Tamar, this officer having been one of Nelson's captains, commanding and dying on board the battle ship Foudroyant, now so much talked of. They always resided at Fromefield House, it having been said that they passed their honeymoon there ; the first daughter was born there in 1800, when Mrs. Sheppard was 23 years old, and Mr. Sheppard 27. There was the greatest attachment between them, and, to the regret of all who knew her, she died in 1838, aged 61 years, the words on her monument expressing her character, "He shall beautify the meek with Salvation." And this feeling may have given a tone to some of her descendants.
'Mr. Sheppard's health declined during the last years of his life, his mind becoming very week, and even here his benevolent character came out, showing itself by wishing to give away all the money he had about him to any poor person he saw, he being then allowed to have farthings in his pocket, which he gave away, thinking that they were sovereigns. He once asked the writer, who was then a very young beginner, if he wanted any money, saying that, if required, he would give him £2O. There may not be wisdom in such offers, but they can only spring from a kind-hearted man, and his memory is worthy of remembrance.
'Mr. Sheppard had four sons : Thomas Byard, who died 1888, aged 82; George Wood, now living; Walter Sheppard, who was a clergyman, dying 1852, aged 42; Alfred Byard, who died 1873, aged 56. Also five daughters: Harriet Byard Dalby, who married the Vicar of Warminster, and died 1840, aged 40; Mrs. Clerk; Elizabeth Hulbert, died 1868, aged 64 ; Jane Clayton, died 1858, aged 43 ; Mrs. Townsend, now living.
'The words on Mr. Sheppard's tomb in Christ Church burial ground are a fitting finish to these remembrances :
'Beneath lie the mortal remains of George Sheppard, Esq., late of Fromefield House. He died February 2nd, in the year of our Lord, 1855, aged 82.— Halleluiah ! Praise ye the Lord." Inside the church, on the family monument, is also inscribed : "Beloved and respected by all." — "Rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate."
'May all readers do as well.
J. W. S.'
Sources of Information
- Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, 1 January 1829
- Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette - Thursday 17 February 1853
- Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser, 12 July 1879
- Somerset Standard - Saturday 25 March 1893
- Wiltshire & Somerset Woollen Mills by Kenneth Rogers, Pasold Research Fund Ltd, 1976