Ideally positioned to provide sturdy huts for the Shepherds of Salisbury Plain
Reeves are reputedly one of the oldest recorded Wiltshire Agricultural engineering firms. In 1774 Eve Pepler married Robert Reeves in Bratton Church. Reeves occupation was a blacksmith. Subsequently, their son of Thomas Pepler Reeves was also working as a blacksmith by 1799. A surviving lease dated 1808 referred to Thomas Pepler Reeves as occupying about 1 acre, part of a tenement known as Hart’s and Deanly.
The company became R&J Reeves & Son in 1882
Thomas, together with his two younger sons, Robert and John would later develop a foundry producing agricultural machinery such as corn-drills and ploughs. Besides the foundry, the business now included a paint shop, saw-pit and other buildings. After Thomas Pepler’s death in 1848 the firm, became R. & J. Reeves after the two younger sons. In 1848 Reeves were also exhibiting implements at the Royal Agricultural Show at York, where they gained a silver medal, thus indicating that the business was beginning to look at national markets for its products. With catalogues, from 1853, 1859 and 1863 indicating an even wider product range to meet an expanded market place, now including ploughs, harrows and water-carts. Goods were exhibited and won awards at many regional and national shows, including the Great Exhibition of 1861. Reeves also exhibited internationally, winning medals in Paris in 1855 and at the Concours International at Lille in 1863. In 1864 the company became known as Bratton Iron Works, although later references in the ubiquitous Kelly’s Directory refer to R. & J. Reeves & Son Ltd. In 1855 Thomas the eldest of the three sons originally part of the business, left the partnership.
The 1859 catalogue claims that the firm had been celebrated for corn drills for 30 years, and as ploughmakers for 40 years. Boosted by the of successful sales of their own products Reeves also started work as agents for other firms: they sold churns for Hathaway of Chippenham and steam-engines for Brown & May of Devizes. They even diversified into the undertaking business (and continued to be so in 1952). Reeves products appeared in other retailers brochures including the catalogues of J. W. Titt of Warminster. There were also land-pressers, corn-sowing machinery, drills for both corn and manure, including ‘Chandler’s famous liquid manure drill’, and not surprisingly with the close proximity to Salisbury plain, all the equipment needed for corn and sheep husbandry, from water carts to shepherd’s huts.
Advert for Reeves Shepherds hut taken from a company catalogue
In 1871 Reeves’s began to manufacture the Andrews elevator by licence of W. Andrews of the Union Ironworks at Melksham. It seems that several hundred of these were built before the firm started to manufacturer their own ‘Advance’ elevator. This had been designed by Henry Reeves, second son of Robert, who had already made some improvements to the Andrews version. He sold these to the original patentee. At the height of its production some 60 people were employed at Bratton. The style and financial organization of the firm changed several times. In 1855, it was ‘R. & J. Reeves’ and in 1882, ‘R. & J. Reeves and Son’ with the inclusion of Robert’s eldest son Thomas. His younger brother Henry had a sixth share in the company. John passed away in 1892 and Robert in 1896 which initiated the two brothers to form an equal partnership. In 1902 the business became a private limited company with Thomas and Henry’s sons, Oswald J. and Robert J. W. Reeves, as principal officers. In 1952 when Miss Kathleen M. Reeves, Robert J. W.’s daughter, became a director and secretary of the company, with two relatives as co-directors. Reeves continued to make their drills and elevators and acted as agents and repairers for agricultural machinery. In 1952 they employed about 40 men. In 1970 the company finally succumbed to declining sales and went into receIvership. The extensive Bratton works which had dominated the village and offered so much employment was demolished in 1973. The site is now the village green and has a plaque to commemorate the former works unveiled by Katheleen Reeves in 1993.
Additional information about Reeves and images of the works can be found in an article by Dennis Gardener on the Bratton village website under the local history page http://brattonvillage.org