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Sadgrove & Co. Ltd: cabinet and aeroplane makers of Chadwell Heath

Peter J Butt

The research leading to this article was prompted by a question concerning the Sadgrove Aircraft Company that appeared in a Chadwell Heath Historical Society's Newsletter. Sadgrove's was started by Thomas Sadgrove (1750-1819) who was a cabinet maker, upholsterer and had a looking glass warehouse at 20 Brokers Row, Moorfields. Initially it traded as Thomas & Son, the son being William Sadgrove (1780-1863) who had taken over the firm by 1817 and renamed it. Shortly after this Brokers Row became Eldon Street (Figure 1) and, later, William's eldest son, another William (1803-63) succeeded.

The next proprietor was his eldest son William Henry Poynz Sadgrove (1832-61) who died young but in his will bequeathed the firm to his wife Ann Sadgrove née Golding (1832-1918) 'until some one of my sons shall attain the age of twenty one years'. His second son Walter Bishop Sadgrove (1859-1943) took over the business and it was his second son William Howard Sadgrove who was director of the aircraft company and eventually became owner of the parent firm. 1 William Howard Sadgrove took out eight UK patents between 1920 and 1952 and several in the United States, mainly relating to furniture (for example, Figure 2), although one from 1920, 'Improvements in or relating to hoods or opening tops or coach roofs for road or other vehicles' may have derived something from his experiences producing aircraft.

Whitaker's Who's Who in Business for 1913 gives a potted history of the firm up to that time. 2

Chadwell Heath, the location of the 1913 factory, is described in the Kelly's Essex directories of the 1900s as 'a straggling village' and Chadwell as a 'hamlet', both lying between Ilford and Romford. Now the hamlet and village are contiguous and referred to as Chadwell Heath with the postcode RM6. Essentially it is a 1930s outer East London suburb. Sadgrove's factory was located in Grove Road which was in Chadwell, Ilford, and is now part of the London Borough of Redbridge, while the original Chadwell Heath is now part of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.

From a local industrial archaeology point of view, when and why did Sadgrove & Co Ltd come to Chadwell? Kelly's Essex directories indicate that the earliest possible date that Sadgrove's had a factory in Grove Road was 1912. However, the 1911 OS map (Figure 3) shows the 'Ilford Cabinet Works' set amongst farm fields approximately half way along the west side of Grove Road, then called Cat Lane. The only other properties on the lane are some small terraced houses on the other side near to the High Road. The 1912 Kelly's refers to 'Ilford Machine Cabinet Works' in Chadwell with Thos Henry Kerr manager suggesting that Sadgrove's bought this existing works to expand their business. The Godfrey Edition, Chadwell Heath 1914, OS map just states: 'Cabinet Works'.

W Sadgrove & Sons advert, Robson's London Directory 1833

US patent 2106066, filed 22 September 1936

Walter Bishop Sadgrove, the proprietor of Sadgrove & Co around this time, was born in 1859 near to their London head office but had moved south of the river before 1900, first to Chislehurst, Kent, and by 1911 to South Croydon, Surrey, where he died in 1943. Chadwell Heath has good direct road access to London and rail links to London Liverpool Street, but there was also a local contact, George Alt. In 1930 when replying to a toast at the 150th Anniversary Dinner of the firm, Walter Sadgrove 'paid tribute to the work of Mr G. Alt who had rendered the firm the most loyal service', 3 and in 1935 when Walter drew up his will he included his fellow director, George Alt of 'Moyns', Gidea Park [Romford, Essex]. The 1902 to 1914 Kelly's Essex directories shows a George Alt living at 17 Wellwood Road, Goodmayes. This was then on the eastern edge of the recently extended suburb of Ilford and half a mile from Grove Road. The 1911 census appears to show that on the night of the census George was away, possibly on company business, for 17 Wellwood Road is 'empty' but 'boarding' in Norwich is George Alt, 'furniture worker' aged 41 who was born in Spitalfields, within half a mile of the then Sadgrove works, with a 'furniture commercial traveller' and both their wives. Also in 1911, George's brother, Augustus, a 'furniture salesman' is living nearby in Ashgrove Road, Goodmayes.

Cat Lane, OS map, 'Special Edition 1912, partially revised in 1911 for the Inland Revenue'

It would appear that both Walter Bishop Sadgrove and George Alt were typical of their time. Both had fathers who were in the furniture trade but they moved out from central London to live in better surroundings, using the railways to commute. In the case of George Alt, by 1901 he was living in Stoke Newington, working as a furniture salesman. By 1911, he was married and living in the new suburb of Goodmayes, Ilford, subsequently moving further out but along the same railway line to the 'Romford Garden Suburb' of Gidea Park whose development had only commenced in 1911.

Sadgrove Aircraft Company: American Burford lorry with a London 'LW' registration and a Royal Flying Corps/RAF trailer. Info: The Historical Commercial Vehicle Society

In January 1918 Messrs Sadgrove applied to the Ilford Urban District Council for planning permission to extend their factory in Grove Road, the reason for the extension being that the offices were needed 'in consequence of the factory being converted into an aeroplane factory'. Architects drawings held in the Redbridge Local Studies and Archives, show a number of buildings with an area for doping 4 and another for welding. The May 1918 'Flight' magazine contains a list of new companies registered, amongst them was the Sadgrove Aircraft Co Ltd with an initial capital of £15 000, W.H. Sadgrove was one of its three directors, but no address was given. The National Archives at Kew indicate that the new company may not have always enjoyed a good human resources record. One of their folders 5 contains two letters, one from a Miss Bly and a similar one from Mrs E Symes, both local ladies. Mrs Symes wrote to the Ministry of Munitions in July 1918 asking for advice, for she had recently been engaged as a doper and 'having been taken with an attack of the prevailing epidemic' 6, thought that she was entitled to a week's wages in lieu of notice since on returning to work with a doctor's note she found that she had been dismissed. The National Archives notes that these documents were retained as 'Specimens of Documents Destroyed', implying they were in some way typical.

On other occasions, it appears that the company was rather more keen to retain certain employees. A second file in the National Archives concerns a Russian 'alien' and illustrates an aspect of the control of skilled labour during the first World War. 7 Sadgrove's, via the Ilford Employment Exchange, protested to the Ministry of Munitions on 18th March 1918 that 'he [the Russian] was perfectly new to the work when they engaged him on 20/11/1917 and assisted him to secure exemption from Military Service, and hence trained him he is being taken away by another firm'. The reply, 3 May 1918, was that there was nothing that could be done, 'since leaving certificates have been abolished'.

The 1918 Kelly's London PO Street Directory shows that the Sadgrove Aircraft Co Ltd was formed from Sadgrove & Co Ltd, wholesale & export cabinet makers and upholsterers. In the 1919 Trades Directory section the aircraft company is listed under 'Aircraft Manufacturers' as distinct from one of the other 19 categories of suppliers of specialist services to the aircraft industry. It had a Head Office at 2-12 Wilson Street, EC2 and their works were at Grove Road, Chadwell Heath, Essex. Their entry specifically states that they are 'contractors to HM Government'. However, the following year in 1920, the Sadgrove Aircraft Co Ltd is listed as furniture manufacturers at 346 & 348 Bethnal Green Road, E2, and by 1923, they were not listed as such, only Sadgrove & Co Ltd were named as being at the Bethnal Green Road premises. This suggests that the Sadgrove Aircraft Co Ltd was only in existence for the two years, 1918 and 1919 and was purely a creature of the war economy.

Ron Smith in his authoritative series 'British Built Aircraft', indicates in the chapter, 'First World War Mass Production', that Sadgrove's would have been considered a typical aircraft firm of this time. 8 The Minister of Munitions stated in July 1917 that over '1000 factories were engaged on some process or other with the construction and equipment of the flying machine', Smith goes on to say that more spruce was required than the output of the USA, more mahogany than was produced worldwide, all the linen of the type required made in Ireland, and flax seed was supplied free to growers to encourage production. He adds, 'about a third of the volume of timber standing at the outbreak of WW1 was felled, much being used in aircraft manufacture'. Bearing in mind that this was within ten years of the construction of Britain's first aeroplane, one can only admire the expertise and flexibility of the firms that were involved. Smith gives the total number of aircraft built during WW1 as 47 873. In the first ten months Aug 1914-May 1915, there were 530 whereas for the last 10 months, January 1918-October 1918, there were 26 685 built. He quotes from the Aviation Pocket-Book 1919-20: 'there was hardly a motor car or motor car accessory or wood working firm that was not fully occupied with aviation work at the time of the Armistice'. However, once the war was over, the need for aircraft evaporated for the country had neither the resources, nor the need to sustain such levels of aircraft production. On 11 November 1918, 25 000 aircraft were on order and the Air Ministry by cancelling as many orders as they could, reduced this to 13 432. It was further recommended that the greater savings would be made if the engines were removed from the planes and the rest of the machines burnt. So the photograph (Figure 4) of the Sadgrove Aircraft Co. lorry and trailer could be taking fuselage parts to the incinerator, for its London 'LW' number plate shows that it was registered post May 1919.

At the company's 150th anniversary dinner held at the Trocadero on 17 September 1930, it was pointed out that the company 'came into being 2 years before the recognition of American Independence, 8 years before the Times was first published, 25 years before the Battle of Trafalgar, 35 years before the Battle of Waterloo'. 9 Sadgrove's continued in the furniture trade until 1973 when it was voluntarily wound up after seven generations and 193 years in business, far longer than is usual for a family run business.


The author would like to thank: John Wade, a Sadgrove relative by marriage, for the photograph (Figure 4) and initial contact with the family; Nicky Scowen of the Chadwell Heath Historical Society; The Guildhall Library; the local studies libraries of the London Boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, and Havering.

Notes and references

1. Barry Sadgrove (descendant of the first owner), personal communication

2. Whitaker's Who's Who in Business. 1913 p.809 J Whitaker & Sons Ltd, London

3. The Cabinet Maker and Complete House Furnisher. 20 September 1930

4. Doping is the application of a lacquer that, on drying, renders the fabric covering of the aircraft taut, rigid, air- and water-tight. 5 National Archives, Kew MUN 3/251 — Sadgrove Aircraft Company

5. National Archives, Kew MUN 3/251 — Sadgrove Aircraft Company

6. Possibly influenza

7. National Archives, Kew MUN 3/259 — Sadgrove Aircraft Company

8. Ron Smith 2004 British Built Aircraft, vol. 3, SE England, Tempus Publishing

9. The Cabinet Maker and Complete House Furnisher. op. cit.

© GLIAS, 2013