Industrial Heritage

Maldon’s Industrial Heritage

In 1909 Maldon was rightly described as “one of the most ancient towns and Boroughs in Essex”. But for all that heritage, even at that stage Maldon was a modern commercial place and, thanks to a number of early entrepreneurs, a centre of industry and employment. The River Blackwater was an important factor in all of that. The shipping trade was still very much in existence, as were the fisheries - oyster and otherwise – and the town had its own active fleet of fishing smacks. Then there was boat and yacht-building - traditionally by John Howard (d.1915) and Cook and Woodard down at the Hythe – and the associated trades, like sail-making by Taylor’s (Arthur G. Taylor took over the business from Joseph Sadler in 1914). There were convenient river to land links via the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation and out to sea by way of the estuary. Although not in any way as lucrative as it had been a century earlier, there was also farming in the surrounding countryside and across the Dengie.

Maldon and Heybridge were also the location for iron-founding and the manufacturing of agricultural equipment, the major player being Bentall’s ‘Heybridge Works’. Bentall’s began in the late-18th century with the invention of the famous ‘Goldhanger Plough’. By the early 20th century they were employing 700 hands and the business covered an area of about 14 acres. At the outbreak of the Great War a large proportion of the output switched from agricultural equipment (and a short and unsuccessful venture into motor-car production) to the manufacture of shell cases. Many millions were made in Heybridge, with women being engaged to work as ‘moulders’.

John Sadd & Sons Ltd the timber and builders’ merchants, was trading in Maldon from as early as 1729. Sadd’s was, until quite recently, a leading firm in the town, importing timber from Europe and, at one time, slate from Wales and supplying cement, lath and Stockholm tar to the trade. They were also corn merchants, warehousemen and early providers of Maldon’s electricity (which they generated by burning vast amounts of their sawdust!). So successful were they that they became the second biggest employer in the area. From 1831 their busy saw mill, wharfs and sheds were established on the north side of Fullbridge, where their own fleet of sailing barges (complete with distinctive blue and white house flags, or ‘bobs’ aloft) off loaded countless cargoes. The Sadd barges included the Maldon built ‘James & Harriet’ (1864), ‘Oak’ (of 1881) and ‘Cypress’ (1887). They also had the ‘Falcon’ (built in Paglesham in 1868) and, after 1919, the ‘Record Reign’ (Maldon 1897). Barges were key to their business and from 1921-1936 the firm even sponsored a challenge cup as part of the annual Maldon Barge Race. Always astute in their business dealings, their houses, including ‘Mount View’ in London Road and ‘Hill House’ on Market Hill were equipped with belvederes to enable regular observation of their Fullbridge works, the barges and other river traffic.

The brewing trade also operated in the area - Gray & Sons had their ‘Maldon Brewery’ in Gate Street from 1865 to 1952.  In fact there have been brewers here from as early as 1446 – some familiar names like Petchie in 1569 and some “foreigners” such as a group of Dutchmen in the 1550s. Others were based in the pubs – John Wells down at the White Hart, Fullbridge (1605) and Francis Syritt at the Queen’s Head (1820s). And that tradition continues to this day, not least with the Maldon Brewing Company at the Blue Boar.

There is an awful lot more to Maldon’s industrial story than these brief examples but we can not leave the subject without mention of Maldon salt – Delia’s favourite! Salt extraction (through evaporation) has taken place in the area of the River Blackwater since Roman times and a commercial enterprise - the ‘Maldon Salt Works’ - was established here as early 1777. The ‘Maldon Crystal Salt Company’, a successor business, started in 1882 and still operates out of Maldon today, panning the crystals in the time-honoured way. Maldon salt is renowned and has a world wide following. In many ways that salt draws together three important aspects of the town’s heritage – its early (Roman) history; the story of the River Blackwater and the origins of Maldon’s industry.

By Kind Permission of Stephen P. Nunn, ©
Maldon, January 2010


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