The first 30 years of an Engineering Goliath and one of two hut builders from Andover ,
Such is the story of this once illustrious company which we feel typifies the rise and fall of many of the Georgian and Victorian Agricultural engineering firms we have researched; we have decided to split the history into two pages. This is in order to give a fuller background of all the twists and turns that accompanied Taskers diversification of products (and owners), and how Victorian engineering would ultimately bring new technologies and processes needed to survive its long 170 year history.
This page covers the formative years, how the founders struggled to get the business off the ground and gives a snapshot into how mechanisation wasn’t seen as a benefit to all.
The second page tries to explain how diversification would ensure that their products would appear in markets all over the World. Taskers is a name familiar to not only Shepherd hut owners, but particularly Steam enthusiasts as well as people interested in heavy transport haulage; such was the versatility of the company (or succession of companies) which made up the Tasker brand from as far back as the early 1800’s.
It seems it all started when Robert and William Tasker left their home in Stanton-St-Bernard in Wiltshire in February 1806 where their father was the local blacksmith. Robert taking up residence in Abbotts Ann, near Andover where there was a forge owned by the blacksmith Thomas Maslen, Robert eventually became his assistant and in 1809 took over the business. Robert was a non-conformist Christian, and even opened his cottage for prayer meetings. As with many Agricultural communities many landowners were prominent members of the established church, and such it seems that this may have been viewed as a degree of descent which inevitably impacted on local orders for the business. Robert therefore had to explore markets further afield in order to maintain his workload.
With the industrial revolution at full pace and a thirst for foundry products both in the field and in the industrial suburbs, a degree of expansion took place in the business within the limitations of the site and the forge became Abbotts Ann Ironworks. A small foundry and a horse driven air bellows were installed.
This site expansion was a temporary measure however, as only a mile away from the forge there was a piece of land called Clatford Marsh. Nearby a chalk pit, and a mile further down the road the relatively new Andover-Redbridge Canal which had been finished in 1794. To constrained business in times of a flourishing market, this offered not only a chance to get a cost effective plot to build a full-scale ironworks but more importantly, until the rail head eventually reached Andover in 1854, the canal gave access to the raw materials required to feed the business’ such as coke and iron brought on the canal up from Southampton water. In addition the canal also carried agricultural products and equipment back down the same route. Pillhill Brook which also flowed through the Anna valley could potentially drive a waterwheel to power bellows, previously driven by horse at the Abbots Ann site and with additional power to drive a lathe.
Robert had now been joined by his younger brother, William. It is not known when the new site began to be developed, but it is generally assumed that the site name, the Waterloo Ironworks, must have come later than after the date of the 1815 battle. As for products, early company billheads mention ploughshares, iron tyres for wooden wheels, complete ploughs, railings and gates, garden rollers, cooking stoves, seed drills, feed troughs, signposts and window frames.
The strive towards mechanization of the fields was not generally accepted however and an event at Taskers Waterloo Ironworks in 1830 would highlight the plight of those feeling displaced by a combination of the industrialization of farming, the land inclosure (consolidation act of 1801) where small fields were combined into larger ones, with the consent of the landowners – but not always the poorer tenants. The previous war with France had pushed up food prices with grain tripling in cost between the late 1790’s and 1812. Theshing-machines were targeted because of their obvious threat to employment, but any labour saving devices were viewed with distrust and it may have been this that led to a mob of around 300 men attacking Waterloo Ironworks on 20 November 1830. Accounts talk of walls being torn down, damage to the roof, smashed windows, damage to the foundry crane and waterwheel, and the destruction of some uncompleted ploughs. 30 men were arrested with 14 later charged. Four were acquitted. Ten reportedly initially sentenced to death – which was ultimately commuted to transportation for life to Australia.
The brothers later entered into a partnership with George Fowled, brother of Robert’s wife and produced goods such as cast iron bridge structures. In 1836 Robert Taker ended his active role in the business