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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust


Barnards Limited

On 9th November 1826 Charles Barnard (1804-1871) started up in business as an Ironmonger, Oil and Colourman, in premises near Norwich Market. By 1840 he had added to the retail business workshops in Pottergate for the manufacture of ironwork for domestic and agricultural implements.

Humble origins

He was the son of a farmer and knew there was a need for fencing to keep out rabbits and foxes. It is said he started to experiment with cotton reels, and when he had established the practicability of the idea, pegged rollers were made for the production of black japanned netting. These rollers were supported on iron trestles and the fabric was woven by men who were provided with bobbins carrying the gauge of wire required. The size of the mesh depended on the peg spacings. Production was slow and Mr. Barnard decided to try and design a machine. He succeeded, and by 1844 a primitive loom, using a man as a weaver, with a boy to power the machine, was being used in his works. He used the ‘Half Wheel‘ principle by which two slides and a rack engaged alternately to form the twists. This invention, although not patented, must place Barnard high on the list of innovative inventors of his time. The original machine is in working order and can still be seen at the Bridewell Museum in Norwich.

A new partner

In 1846 John Bishop, from St. Ives, became a partner, and the rapidly increasing business then necessitated the removal of the works to larger premises in St. George‘s, Colegate, and Calvert Street. In 1859 Charles‘ two eldest sons became partners and the firm became Barnard, Bishop & Barnard. In the 1861 census Charles Barnard was listed as proprietor of the works where 105 workmen were employed, with 47 lads, 7 clerks and 4 shopmen.

The move to Coslany Street

The ever expanding business led to another move, this time to St. Michael‘s, Coslany. They erected new buildings to house the Netting Mill and steam power was used to power the looms. They called the factory The Norfolk Iron Works and made a wide variety of goods, including very ornate fireplaces.

A.D.Bayne writing in 1869, described the new works: ‘The important works of Barnard, Bishop & Barnard, are situate in St. Michael‘s, Coslany, and cover an area of one acre, next the River Wensum. Entering from Coslany Street, the new Counting House is joined on the right by a suite of offices, and on the left by the smith‘s shop, which is backed by fire-proof workshops, seventy-five feet in length, and five stories in height. The large foundry is at the east end of the works. A tramway runs from Coslany Street into the interior, permeating the premises. About 400 men and boys are engaged. ‘

Design and production

Thomas Jekyll was a fireplace designer, and he introduced oriental effects into Barnards‘ products. He was an architect, who lived in The Close, and was a close friend of Sands, the artist, who painted a portrait of George Barnard.

Jekyll designed the ‘Norwich Gates‘, pillars and railings. They were exhibited in London and awarded a medal for design and art work. These

gates were only 13 feet wide and 7 feet in height but occupied 40 of the best workmen from morning till night for three months at a cost of £750 in wages. There was not a touch of the chisel, the hammer did all the work in the most perfect manner. They were bought by the residents of Norfolk and Norwich and given to the Prince of Wales in 1864 as a wedding present. They now form the entrance to The Royal Park at Sandringham.

The years of success

Charles Barnard died in 1871 and was buried in Booton churchyard. By the following year the firm were designing and installing central heating systems for Norwich Cathedral and St. Peter Mancroft church. Another conspicuous structure was a Pagoda built of wrought and cast iron, which was exhibited at the 1876 Philadelphia Exhibition, and awarded a Prize Medal. It was also shown at the 1878 Paris Exhibition. Purchased by Norwich Corporation for £500, it was erected in Chapel Field Gardens. It stayed there until after the Second World War, but was considered too rusty and unsafe for people to use and was eventually demolished. Some of the attractive ornamental sun-flowers which decorated the Pagoda can still be seen in Heigham Park, near the tennis courts.

Other notable projects were:-

1880 A Railway bridge built over the River Wensum between Norwich and Lenwade.

1881 The Roof of the Agricultural Hall.

1882 City Station bridge, which crossed the Wensum from Barn Road to St Martin‘s Street (now Oak Street) (If you can escape the rush of traffic on what is now the inner link road, take a look at the bridge - the makers‘ name is there for all to see).

1886 Ornamental roof, gates and railings for City Station and a barrier at Thorpe Station designed by W.Neville Ashbee, ARIBA.

In 1887 Barnards became a Limited Company and Mr. James Bower took an active part in the affairs of the firm. By the beginning of the 20th century he had re-designed and re-built all the wire netting machinery and invented a special machine for weaving mixed mesh wire netting which was patented. Many thousands of miles of this netting were supplied to Australia for rabbit fencing.

Contributing to the war effort

The company became known as Barnards Limited in 1907 with Mr. Bower as Managing Director. During the 1914 -18 War Barnards supplied the Government with upwards of 7,000 miles of wire netting for road making across the Egyptian desert and the formation of revetments to trenches in the War Zone. The desire for innovation was ever-present. As the difficulty in procuring spelter for the galvanizing process increased, the idea of coating the netting with tar varnish was suggested, and the Company immediately put down extensive plant comprising dipping tanks and drying ovens to deal with it; thereafter this finish was exclusively adopted by the departments concerned.

In addition to the netting, the Company produced many hundreds of yards of special hand-woven wire lattice for the Balkan theatre of war; large heating stoves for the American army in France; wire screens for high explosive factories; hundreds of tons of castings for the Admiralty and other departments; and cooking ranges and heating stoves for the various camps and training centres. Two hundred of the workers enlisted, and fifteen died, including the Managing Director‘s son, Mr. Charles F. Bower, who was killed near Hill 60, just as he had been gazetted to the rank of Captain.

In 1921 part of the old Mousehold Aerodrome was purchased for a storage site. Between the wars they continued to make a great variety of items, and in 1928 started manufacturing chain link fencing, which was considerably stronger than the wire netting.

War again

After the outbreak of the Second World War Barnards turned to the manufacture of shells at their factory on Mousehold. They employed 1,200 people who worked on the production of 4.5inch gun shells, 4.5inch howitzers, anti-tank mortar bombs, and parts for the Hurricane aircraft. Three quarters of a million telegraph poles were made for the North Africa campaign, as well as ammunition trucks, and wire netting for temporary airfield runways. They also produced propellers and stem gear assemblies for motor torpedo boats for the Japanese War.

On Tuesday, 9th July, 1940, at 5 p.m. two aircraft were seen approaching the factory from the north-east. No alert had been sounded, but when the employees saw the ominous black crosses on the wings they ran to take shelter. The raid only lasted six seconds - two people died and others suffered minor injuries. The hangars and other buildings on the site were hit by twelve high explosive bombs. My father, who was there at the time, came home that night with huge pieces of shrapnel that had landed close to where he and many others had flung themselves to the ground.  Another air-raid took place on 27th February, 1941, but there were no casualties although further damage was caused to the buildings. Happily the company managed to continue with its war effort despite these raids.

Takeover and closure

In 1955 Bamards became part of Tinsley Wire Industries of Sheffield, and they concentrated production of wire fencing products at the 15 acre site on Salhouse Road. Chain link fencing was made in plastic and galvanized coated wire and in 1960 they started manufacturing Norfence, an ornamental fencing for use in gardens.

Tinsley took over Boulton & Paul‘s wire products division in 1964 merging it with Barnards, and in 1976 they celebrated 150 years of trading. In 1979 Tinsley purchased Flexipane Limited and this was incorporated into the production at the Mousehold Works. The ‘Oil Boom‘ meant Barnards were again looking for new ideas. They invented a kind of netting to lag and reinforce the concrete around the undersea oil pipes. They were making about 100 miles per day to meet the demand from the Far East. In 1976 the company celebrated its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary but

Today there is no trace of Barnards in Norwich- the Salhouse Road site having been closed in 1991 and replaced by the Sprowston Retail Park. The only reminder of a once flourishing business is the Barnards Yard housing development in Coslany Street on the site of the former Norfolk Iron Works which once employed 400.

Joyce Gurney-Read


Amended by Nick Williams March 2008