William Brooks (1847-1923)

William Brooks was one of numerous long-serving employees; he started working for Thomas Messenger prior to the setting up the horticultural business, remaining with the firm when Thomas Messenger sold-up, before eventually retiring some fifty-one years later in 1917, aged 70.

He died six years later, on 26th April 1923 and his obituary, which appeared in the Loughborough Echo on 4th May, whilst probably embellished, does reflect his importance to the firm.

The funeral of Mr. William Brooks, for many years’ manager of Messrs. Messenger and Co., Ltd., took place on Monday after noon. As a token of respect, the works of that company were closed from noon, and many took advantage of the opportunity to pay a last tribute of esteem. The funeral service was conducted by Mr Charles Lowe, who for over fifty years was an intimate friend of the deceased. The coffin was borne to the grave by four sons-in-law. Messrs. H. C. Hobbs, Albert Bakewell, H. Grundy, and Arthur Ogden. The principal mourners present were the widow of the deceased, his daughters, Mrs. H. C. Hobbs, Mrs. A. Bakewell, Mrs. H. Grundy, Mrs. A. Ogden, and Miss Lucy Brooks; his sons, Messrs. Joseph and John Brooks; brother, Mr. Geo. Brooks; and grandchildren, Miss Mary Bakewell, Miss Kathleen Grundy, Miss Gweneth Brooks, Mr. H. E. Hobbs, and Messrs. Leslie and Harold Brooks. The whole of the directorate of Messrs. Messenger & Co. were present: Messrs Walter, Alfred, Eric, Edwyn, Kenneth and Gifford Burder, together with many of the office staff (among them, Messrs. Holland, Nash, Cunningham, and Taylor), and many of the foreman and works staff.

The late Mr. William Brooks, who, as reported in our last issue, died suddenly on Thursday, April 26th, was 76 years of age. He had had an exceptionally strenuous career up to the time when six years ago he retired after completing fifty-one years of continuous service with Messrs. Messenger and Co. His working career commenced in early boyhood, and from eight years of age onwards he had numerous jobs, until in 1861 he became apprenticed to one Isaac Fisher to learn trades of smith, forger and turner. He “lived in,” and after having served five years of his apprenticeship term, was not apparently very fondly regarded by his employers. The apprenticeship terminated suddenly. The last straw took the form of a breakfast consisting mainly of broken pieces of mouldy bread, and the young William in anger knocked his master down. A police man was called, but when shown the cause of the quarrel gently intimated to the much injured Fisher that the less said about the matter the better; and when his apprentice -took the opportunity to at once join the late Mr. John Messenger with two years his apprenticeship unserved, he made no effort to hold him. The “Messenger’s” of 1866, with its foundry at the rear of High-street, was a small firm, and the personality and energy of William Brooks soon made themselves felt. He was a keen craftsman and was a foreman at the early age of nineteen. His initiative and well-defined inventive genius were responsible for many improvements in machine construction and appliances for speeding up production, and his progress to a responsible position was rapid. He was a practical expert on hot water heating systems and greenhouse construction, and was called upon to unravel knotty heating problems all over Great Britain, and there were very few which he did not solve almost on first inspection. Several valuable inventions, now perhaps commonplace features of the modern hot-house, lie to his credit.

William Brooks was born in Loughborough, in January 1847. In 1861[1], aged 12, he was living in Fox Yard, Baxter Gate, Loughborough with his parents Joseph and Mary Grimley, and six siblings (Mary Ann, aged 22, Samuel, 17, William 14, John, 7, George 5 and Arthur, 11 months). At the time, his father was a bricklayer’s labourer; one sister (Mary Ann) was working in a cotton factory; another brother (Samuel) was a frame work knitter; the remainder of his siblings, except Arthur, were like himself still at school.

If the obituary is correct he must have left school soon after the 1861 census was taken. According to the directories[2] of the time there is no mention of an Isaac Fisher in the town. There were three possible candidates Elijah a blacksmith located in North Street, William another blacksmith in Wood Gate and Joseph frame-smith located in Ashby Square.


No 9, School Street, Loughborough

In Loughborough, in 1869, he married Esther Hewitt (1846-1916), the daughter of Robert Hewitt and Martha Hepcock. In 1871[3], now an engine fitter, he was living in Albert Street, probably No. 30[4], with Esther and their 3-month-old daughter Ellen. They remained here for over 10 years before moving at No 9, School Street, next to the Plymouth Brethren Meeting Room, where in 1881[5], still describing himself as an engine fitter, he was living with wife, their three daughters (Nelly, aged 6, Florence, 2 and Esther, 2 weeks), two sons (Joseph, aged 5 and John, 4) and William’s widowed mother-in-law (aged 71). It is possible, although unlikely, that they occupied the small cottage to the rear of the Meeting Room; although it is probably no coincidence that he was living next to the Meeting Room, as at the time it was owned by Thomas Messenger, his ex-employer.


No 9, School Street, next to the Plymouth Brethren Meeting Room, Loughborough

Around 1890, as Works Manager, he moved into one of the Company’s new houses, located next to the works in Cumberland Road (See page xxx). In the 1891 census, he was living at No. 82, Cumberland Road, with his wife, six daughters (Betsy, aged 18, a hosiery mender, Ellen, 16, also a hosiery mender, Florence, 12, Gertrude, 10, Mary Elizabeth, 7 and Lucy, 3) and two sons (Joseph, aged 15 and John, 13). Both sons were working for the firm, Joseph as an apprentice and John a clerk.


Nos. 82 (left) and 84 (right), Cumberland Road, Loughborough

Although living in a company house, it was not rent free. In 1892 he was paying rent of 2s. per week[6], within five years it appears to have risen dramatically to 7s. per week, although this may be the rent on two cottages. By 1906 his rent on the Cumberland Road property was £18 4s. 0d. per year[7], remaining at this level until he retired[8].


Rear of Nos. 82 (right) and 84 (left), Cumberland Road, Loughborough

The importance of William Brooks to the firm was demonstrated in 1895 when together with Walter Burder they successfully submitted a patent application entitled “Improvements in Apparatus or Appliances for Raising or Opening hinged Ventilators or Lights of Greenhouses and other Buildings”. This was a significant patent and one that the firm would continue to use for the next fifty years. This ventilation system was so successful, selling in such numbers that there are many hundreds, possibly thousands, still in use today.

In 1901, four of their children were still at home; Florence and Mary were draper’s assistants, Gertrude, a dressmaker and Lucy, aged 13.

In 1906[9], William he purchased four properties in Rosebery Street (Nos. 49, 51, 53 and 55) for £675, although he continued living in Cumberland Road.

In 1911, three children, all single, were living at home, Joseph, aged 35, a joiner, Mary, still a draper’s assistant and Lucy, a part-time art student. The couple had a total of eleven children, three of whom had passed away[10].

Following the death of his first wife, Esther, on 12th April 1916, he married Betsy Hull, in early 1917. Betsy Hull was the widow of John Hull and the sister of his first wife. The two families had lived in adjacent houses in Cumberland Road for over fifteen years. Following the death of John Hull aged 64, on 24th May 1909, Betsy moved to live at No. 55, Rosebery Street, presumably a tenant of William Brooks. Once married, William Brooks moved out of No. 82, Cumberland Road and into No. 55, Rosebery Street.


Nos. 55 (left), 53, 51 and 49, Rosebery Street, Loughborough

William Brooks died, on 26th April 1923 leaving an estate valued at £1,706 2s. 4d., with his widow Betsy, daughter Lucy and his son-in-law, Albert Bakewell, a hosiery manufacturer, as executors. At the time of his death he owned No 55, Rosebery Street, which following his second wife’s death in 1928, aged 79, he bequeathed the property, together with the household effects and furniture, to his son Joseph and daughter Lucy, as joint tenants. Following the death of his step-mother, Joseph Brooks, lived at No. 55, until at least 1941[11].


  1. Census Return.
  2. Drake’s Directory of Leicestershire, 1861 and Slater’s Directory of Leicestershire, 1862.
  3. Census Return.
  4. Wills’ Loughborough Almanac & Street Directory for 1880.
  5. Census Return.
  6. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/01.
  7. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/02.
  8. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/02.
  9. The Loughborough Monitor and News, 27th September 1906.
  10. v1911 Census Return.
  11. Wills’ Loughborough Almanac & Street Directory for 1878.