Boulton and Paul of Norwich

A Victorian industrial giant who produced prefabricated buildings for the British empire, as well as humble huts for the Shepherd

In 1797 it is recorded that William Moore set up an ironmongery business in Cockey Lane ( now called Little London Street) in Norwich. His partner, John H Barnard established the business of Barnard, Bishop and Barnard. 40 years later, on Moore’s death, Williams Staples Boulton became a partner in the now well established Iron mongery firm. In 1853, John Dawson Paul, a 12-year-old boy joined the company as an apprentice. A decade later he became manager of the Works department making stove grates and kettles.

In 1864 – William Staples Boulton set up a manufacturing site in Rose Lane Norwich. This was a time of great demand for quality manufactured goods.  In addition to stove grates and kettles, he began to make mincing and sausage machines, however their main products were agricultural and horticultural tools. In 1867 three new machines were installed to manufacture wire netting, these machines were made of wood and operated manually. The looms were very similar to those used by Weavers, another industry once very common in Norwich. This was the first known case of the commercial production of wire netting and was obviously a great success.

The business of WS Boulton and Paul came into being in 1869, after the death of Barnard, W.S. Boulton and Company was formed with Boulton contributing £5,500 and Paul £500.  By this time, the business was in a new foundry at the junction of King Street and Rose Lane. A decade later the firm was reconstituted as a limited company and Paul was in sole charge.

A 1900 Boulton and Paul advertisement

A massive company – but there’s no evidence it was there

The company went on to become a global exporter of its products, aided by fantastically detailed mail order catalogues, some of which still survive today. Many of their surviving prefabricated greenhouses and buildings stand as testament to the flexibility of the company’s production lines which later turned their hand to making Airships and aeroplanes in both World wars.

If only the same could be said of Boulton and Paul’s engineering works at Thorpe Yard, Norwich which shut during the late 1980s. For much of the 1990’s the massive complex looked a sorry sight along with British Rail’s derelict sidings near riverside in Norwich. By 1994 Norwich City Council, along with private investors, put forward the first renovation plans for the area. It is reputed to have cost £75m to decontaminate the site of its industrial past, then raise the ground level to prevent flooding from the nearby river Wensum. Today, the site is a retail area, with modern flats dominating the skyline once occupied by industrial heart of not just Norwich, but the county of Norfolk. 

This advertisement dated 1894, appears in a Jarrold farm pay ledger