Private Sector

Whilst the firm might have been experiencing problems obtaining Government or Armed Forces contracts, they were having more success with War related work with numerous private contracts.


Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.) Hospitals[1]

During the year, they installed two hot-water systems into V.A.D. hospitals in Broadlands Road, Highgate, London. The first was commissioned by hosiery manufacturers Salomon Stern, of Nos. 12-13, Nicholl Square, London. One of the partners, Alfred Stern, had lent his house, known as Byculla, to be used as an axillary hospital. It opened in 1916 as a convalescent home tending for wounded servicemen from the nearby Endell Street Military Hospital. It had accommodation for thirty-two beds, in half a dozen large airy rooms. There was also a small but well equipped operating theatre on the upper floor and a large recreation room with piano and small billiard table on the ground floor[2]. Here, in early 1917, the firm installed a new hot-water system consisting of 4ft. 6in. high by 18in. diameter Metropole boiler in 5/16in. thick plate, together with a 4ft. high by 20in. diameter galvanised hot water cylinder in ⅛in. plate[3]. The total price of £82 was paid in early May by Salomon Stern[4].

In late June 1917, the firm approached Lady Crosfield following an introduction from Alfred Stern. Lady Domini Crosfield[5] was the wife of Sir Arthur Crosfield who in 1911 had sold the family soap and chemical manufacturing business of Joseph Crosfield & Sons Ltd[6]., and was in the process of building Witanhurst House, on Highgate’s West Hill.

Lady Crosfield was a Commandant in the V.A.D. and allowed a property close to Byculla to be used as another V.A.D. hospital. The two properties were essentially treated as a single hospital and comprised of 42 beds, serviced by a Matron, 3 trained nurses and 3 masseuses, assisted by 15 full-time and 40 part-time members of the local V.A.D. The hospital, which closed in 1919, treated almost 2,500 patients[7].

Following the on-site meeting with the firm’s London Manager on 3rd July, Lady Crosfield, via her architect Ernest Woodrow, of No. 6 Raymond Buildings, Gray’s Inn, ordered on 13th August, a hot water system, not unlike that installed at Byculla. The system, priced at £75-12s-0d, comprised of a H. Coltman and Sons, of Loughborough, 46in. high by 15in. diameter dome top boiler, together with a 48-gallon hot-water cylinder[8].

In early May, the firm missed out on a heating system for another VAD Hospital in Highgate, being organised by Messrs Hodson & Son Ltd. of Muswell Hill[9]. Although unnamed it is possible that it was either the Byculla or Crosfield hospital. However, in January 1918 they won an order at Byculla, from Messrs Edmondsons Ltd., to install a small heating system, probably a modification to an existing system[10].


David Rowell & Co., Ltd.

David Rowell & Co., Ltd., formed in 1860 was based at No. 14 Howick Place, Westminster, a few hundred yards from the firm’s own London office. They were known for their wrought iron and wire rope; suspension footbridges; structural steel framed buildings; as well as being ventilation engineers. By 1917, the two companies already had a long and established relationship, which had started about 20 years earlier.

During 1917 the firm were asked by David Russell & Co., Ltd., to quote on about 15 different occasions; a little over a third was war related.


Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies

The first in mid-January 1917 was to heat the aeroplane factory at Messrs Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies at their Orwell Works in Ipswich. Founded in 1789, by Robert Ransomes, it was an agricultural and garden machinery manufacturer, who had onto the Orwell works site, as early as 1845[11]. By 1911 it occupied about 25 acres, of which a little over 50 per cent[12] was already covered in buildings, producing traction engines, thrashing machines, agricultural implements and lawn mowers[13].

The firm’s first involvement at the Works was late the previous year when they won a contract, again through Powell’s to provide heating to several warehouses, connected with aircraft manufacture. The heating system was significant, involving two large No. 68 Quorn boilers and almost 2,000 yards of 4in. heating pipes. The contract insisted that Messenger’s name was not to appear on any of the pipework. Indeed, both the boiler front and the doors had to be cast specially to incorporate Rowell’s name, as well as having a special Rowell name plate mounted on the top of the boiler.

The initial contract was extended in early January to encompass three more warehouse bays, D, E and F; presumably the first order covered bays A, B and C. This new contract resulted in an additional 1.87 miles of 4in. heating pipe, requiring even large Quorn boilers; this time two No. 610 boilers each with a back and front, 4 plain and four sections with 5in. sockets. This was probably one of the largest boilers the firm ever produced. This was also one of the rare occasions that required both 5in. and 6in. diameter pipes. Like the previous order, the firm’s name was not to appear, again requiring special castings to be made.

During the First World War Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies manufactured 350 Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2 fighters. This was a 2-seater biplane operated by the Royal Flying Corps as both a bomber and fighter, capable of operating both during the day and at night. Ransomes built almost 800 planes before the contract was cancelled[14]. According to a letter published in the East Anglian Magazine, the first F.E.2 built by Ransomes, was responsible for shooting down Zeppelin L.48, which crashed at Theberton[15] on the night of the 16-17th June 1917[16].

In August, the firm failed to win an order from Rowell’s to heat Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies packing shop[17].

Through Rowell’s they returned to Ipswich in June 1918 to install additional heating into warehouses A, B & C. This was one of the extraordinary rare occasions in the twentieth century of the firm using a Thomas Messenger valve, which itself dated from 1870s. In fact, they used two 6in. valves[18]. They increased the size of the two No. 68 boilers, installed the previous year, by adding two additional sections to make each up to a No. 610, the same as those heating warehouses C, D and E. Whilst they were making the modifications they installed a smaller No. 57 Quorn Boiler temporarily to provide some heating. They returned a couple of months later, again under the auspices of David Rowell & Co., Ltd., to make further additions to the heating system; although exactly what and where is unknown.


Mann, Egerton & Co., Ltd.

This contract was also won in January 1917, again for a new heating system; this time at the new aeroplane factory of Messrs Mann, Egerton & Co., Ltd., in Norwich. The company began in Norwich in 1900 as a partnership between Gerard Noel Cornwallis Mann, an electrical engineer and Hubert Wingfield Egerton[19]. They initially developed a two-pronged business model as both electrical engineers and car retailers[20]. At the beginning of World War One, they were asked by the Admiralty to start building aeroplanes. In 1915 with the aid of a £30,000 war loan they acquired a 60-acre site on Cromer Road, Hellesdon, which was, at the time, farmland a short distance north of Norwich. Here on 5th March 1916 they began building a 200ft. by 100ft. wooden hangar; within two months they were already producing planes and went onto build a wide variety including 20 Short Bombers under license, numerous Sopwith 1 V2 Strutter Twin-seat fighters, single-seater French designed SPAD Scouts, De Havilland long range bombers, and 184 Short Seaplanes, also under license[21].

The heating system comprised of two No. 57 Quorn boilers and like all the other work undertaken for Powell, the firm’s name was not to be appear on any piece of equipment. Again, this required special casting to be made, although instead of Powell’s name being displayed on the front section, the term “The Barrol System” was to appear instead. Whilst the initial order was placed in mid-January it was not manufactured until October, by which time a couple of additional orders at the same site had been secured. The first was to heat the canteen, using a No. 46 Quorn Boiler with 238 yards of 4in. hot-water pipe. Again, the firm’s name was not to appear, instead Rowell’s name was cast on the doors and “The Barrol System” cast into the front section.


Grahame-White Aviation Co., Ltd.

The next order, secured at the end of March, was to heat the aircraft works of the Grahame-White Aviation Co., Ltd., at Hendon, Middlesex. The company was set-up by Claude Grahame-White, a well-known aviator, in the middle of 1911 essentially to take-over the management of the London Aerodrome[22], as it was known at the time. Here he established a flying school and reputedly built the first purpose-built aircraft factory in the UK[23]. Part of the original factory was recently relocated ‘brick-by-brick’ a short distance onto the RAF Hendon Museum site[24]. Here they manufactured their aircraft to their own design, although during World War One it produced Morane-Saulnier types under licence for the British military. In late 1916 the War Office commandeered the site, gradually taking over the whole aerodrome. Grahame-White Aviation Co., Ltd. ceased aircraft manufacture in 1920.

The heating system consisted of two No. 610 Quorn boilers, with 4 plain sections and 4 sections with 5in. sockets, identical to those installed at Messrs Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies in Ipswich, cast a few months earlier. Like that installed at Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies, both 6in. and 5in. hot-water pipes were used, along with 2.3 miles of 4in. pipes[25]. Such was the quantity of 4in pipes required that the firm could not produce all the pipes themselves and surprisingly had to buy-in almost the whole amount (2.04 miles of it) from Messrs Jones & Attwood, heating and ventilating engineers, located at the Titan Works in Stourbridge, Worcestershire. Exactly which building or buildings the heating system was installed into is unknown, although it appears to have been installed above head height as there is a substantial quantity of hook hangers mentioned amongst the component lists[26]. There were also a significant number of branch connections and throttle valves that had to be specially made for the job. It also appears that the installation immediately followed that at Messrs Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies, as all scaffolding was transported directly from Ipswich across to Hendon[27]. This is probably the reason why they had to buy-in so much of the 4in. pipework.


The Star Engineering Co., Ltd.

Another interesting situation arose regarding Rowell’s and The Star Engineering Co., Ltd., of Wolverhampton. The latter had been a customer of Messenger’s from around 1910, when Messenger’s installed a new heating system into their workshops; indeed, all the intervening work had been heating related. The Star Cycle Co., as it was originally known, was producing petrol driven motor cars as early as 1897[28]. They changed their name to The Star Engineering Co., Ltd., in 1909 and quickly rose to become one of the leading car producers in Britain, occupying several sites in Wolverhampton. During World War One it turned its production lines over to commercial vehicles and ammunition[29]. In the first eleven months of 1917, Messenger won five or six heating contracts directly from Star Engineering for one or other of their sites. On 19th November, Star Engineering requested a quote to provide heating into their dope and dying room, with the firm responding five days later. Following an immediate response to the quote from Star Engineering, the firm dispatched two further quotes, one on 27th November and the other on 1st December. In the mean-time, on 30th November, the firm receive a request from Rowell’s to quote for the same job. They respond with a quote on 3rd December and eight days later receive an order from Rowell’s[30].

The heating system comprised of a No. 46 Quorn boiler and almost 250 yards of 4in. heating pipes with one 19-section 30in. high R12 radiator fixed in the drying room. Messenger’s men went on site to install the system and as each manufacturers system was essentially unique to them it must have been obvious to Star Engineering that this was a Messenger & Co., Ltd., installation.


Missed Opportunities

The firm missed out on at least two other aircraft factory heating contracts from Rowell’s; one in Southampton and the other at an undisclosed location in Leicestershire.

Between 7th and 9th November they were approached by three different firms, Messrs Lovatt & Son of Gloucester, Messrs McAlpine & Sons, of Chester and Messrs Pattinson & Son of Stamford, to quote for heating presumably the same unidentified aircraft production shop. Interestingly although the firm did not win the order they dispatched quotes to both Messrs Lovatt & Son and Messrs Pattinson & Son but declined to quote to Messrs McAlpine & Sons[31].

The firm also lost out on a large contract for Rowell’s to provide heating to Richard Garrett & Sons factory in Leiston, Suffolk. Garret was essentially an agricultural machinery and steam engine manufacturer, who turned to making munitions during World War One. The heating system was probably destined for their new works which was built following a fire in 1914 at their old works. The firm responded to Rowell’s request for a quote at the beginning of December, fully expecting to win the business. However, they lost out to Warner’s of Ipswich, who not only quoted for wrought iron pipes and extra radiators, but probably more importantly at a lower price[32].


  1. In 1909 it was decided to form Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) to provide medical assistance in time of war. By the summer of 1914 there were over 2,500 Voluntary Aid Detachments in Britain. Of the 74,000 VADs in 1914, two-thirds were women and girls.
  2. The British Journal of Nursing, 11th March 1916.
  3. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/67.
  4. Privately held records.
  5. The daughter of a Greek merchant and a former Swiss ladies’ tennis champion.
  6. The company was purchased by Brunner, Mond & Co., and in 1919 absorbed into Lever Brothers.
  7. Byculla and Crosfield V.A.D. Hospital
  8. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/68.
  9. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/75.
  10. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/68.
  11. The Times, 7th June 1911.
  12. Actual amount was 65,000 square yards.
  13. The Times, 7th June 1911.
  14. Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies
  15. Theberton in Suffolk lies a few miles inland from the coast and about 6 miles NNE of Aldburgh.
  16. Flight, 2nd January 1953.
  17. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/75.
  18. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/68.
  19. Mann Egerton and Company
  20. Ibid.
  21. Ibid and Barnes, C.H.; James D.N. (1989). Shorts Aircraft since 1900. London: Putnam. ISBN 0-85177-819-4.
  22. Flight, 29th January 1915.
  23. The Grahame-White Factory & Watch-Office
  24. Ibid.
  25. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/67.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Star Engineering Ltd
  29. Ibid.
  30. Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland Record Office ref: DE2121/75.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Privately held records.