Webpages under construction

Robert Renton Gibbs

The search continues for information about the firm of  Renton Gibbs & Co.
The webmaster
would welcome contact from any family member, friends
or ex-employees of the
firm who could provide additional information or
photographs pertaining to either the family or the firm. This is a story
about an important Liverpool 
firm, with 100 years of history in the

heating and ventilating industry.

a history of a pioneering
heating & ventilating firm.

        Researched, written  and prepared by
F J Ferris for the Heritage Group of the
CIBSE  October 2006

          with acknowledgements to,
Stanley Crane
Derek Roberts

The British Library
Liverpool Daily Post Newspaper                                                        
for their assistance and information.

Robert Renton Gibbs  1846 - 1935 was born in the Spring of 1846 in Sheffield Yorkshire, the third son in the family of six children of William Henry Gibbs a Woollen Draper and Tailor from Peterborough Northants, and his wife Isabel Gibbs from Edinburgh Scotland. The children were then sadly orphaned at a young age. His grandfather who then became his guardian, brought Renton up and organised his education, and later when Renton had reached working age, his grandfather encouraged him to enter into an apprenticeship in engineering.

In 1861 at the age of 14 he was working as a tailors apprentice and still living with his widowed mother in Sheffield, but his keeness to become an engineer soon led him into the new industry of heating and ventilating.

When Renton considered himself suitably competent as an engineer he moved to London and worked there for a firm of heating engineers. Renton was a very inventive employee, creating improvements and inventions to heating systems but although he enjoyed working for this firm, he was not entirely satisfied with the manner in which they treated his inventions. So it was inevitable that on one of his business trips, and this one happened to be to Liverpool, that he saw the opportunity to set up his own company there. So in 1868 at the young age of 21 years, he purchased an office in Lord Street, rented a workshop in St James Street from a Mr Minton and called his new firm Renton Gibbs & Co. This decision now gave him the opportunity to attract business on his own account and put into practice his inventions and improvements.

Renton married his first wife Sarah Ann Dawson in 1865 in London. They had two sons, the first William, born whilst they lived in London and the second son Robert, born in 1870 after the family had moved back north to settle in Liverpool.

Sadly his wife Sarah Ann died at a young age in the summer of 1880 when they had returned to live in London. Her death left Renton a widower at a young age looking after the welfare of their 3 sons. This sad event most likely was the reason that prompted him to return to Liverpool.  He married again, to his late wifeís sister Alice Dawson and they had a second family with 3 girls Minnie, Elsie and Florence. 

The Mill Street works, the address that became synonymous with the firm of Renton Gibbs, was bought in 1876. He considered these works to be the best of the buildings in that area of Liverpool that was otherwise full of empty corn sheds. Looking towards the future success of his firm he invested hundreds of pounds in buying and installing machinery, and also erecting new offices at the Mill Street premises.

After establishing the firm in 1868, by 1871 the Census records Renton still at the comparatively young age of 24, as having his own firm manufacturing heating apparatus and employing 4 men and 2 boys.

The firm continued to expand and by 1881 it employed 32 men and 11 boys. In the census of 1881 Renton has now titled himself as a Heating and Ventilating engineer with his son Robert Edward Gibbs also joined the firm as a H&V engineer.

The firmís pursuit for excellence won them medals in four consecutive years from 1881 Ė 1885 at engineering exhibitions in places as far apart as Liverpool, Eastbourne, Birkenhead and Antwerp.

Renton Gibbs & Co appears to have specialised in manufacturing and installing the High Pressure Hot Heating (HPHW) system that was originally designed and Patented by Angier March Perkins in 1831. Many photographs taken inside the Mill Street works show the large number of heating furnaces, spiral furnace heating coils and hydraulic tubing that were manufactured and then stored ready for the installation of the Perkins HPHW systems.

Preparing an expansion tube.
Note the filling connection plug.

Cutting a length of hydraulic tubing.

Screwing threads on to hydraulic tubing. Note the semi-circular ends to the benches
which are the formers that create the spiral coils which then become the furnace coil.

Three views of the main workshop area with the labour force engaged in preparing the hydraulic tube bundles

As the firm prospered Renton registered his firm on the 10th August 1892 a limited company. New branch offices were opened in Ethel Street Birmingham,
West Street Sheffield, Merchants Place Reading and the firm was also represented in Madrid Spain.


The list of buildings in Spain in which they installed
the heating systems, prior to 1898 is impressive.

  1. Bank of Spain    (21 systems)   Madrid
  2. El Senado (House of Lords)    (6 systems)    Madrid
  3. El Ayuntamiento (Town Hall)    (2 systems)    Madrid
  4. Excmo. Senora Marquesa de Perinat    (Residence)   Madrid
  5. Senres, Moretones y Hermanos     Madrid
  6. Excmo Senor Marques de Villamejor   (Residence)   Madrid
  7. Senr. Don Jose Xifre    (Residence)   Madrid
  8. Excmos. Sres de Soriano   (Residence)   Madrid
  9. Senr DonFrancisco Sanz     (Residence)   Leon, Castille   

Research carried out by the Heritage Group has not as yet been able to establish the connection that enabled the firm to make the necessary business contacts to install so many heating systems in such a variety of prestigious buildings in Spain, and why they had a representative established there.

In 1898 the firm produced a list of their installations that ran to several hundreds of premises including every type of property, Banks, Conservatories, Churches, Factories, Mansions, Institutions, Offices, Public Buildings, Railway Stations, Schools and Hospitals etc. throughout the country.

Visits to many of the churches named in the list located along the border between England and Wales have so far failed to find a complete heating system. The only confirmed Renton Gibbs (Perkins) heating system that has been discovered is at the National Trust property of Arlington Court in north Devon.  This system still has the original furnace installed with the Gibbs company shield shaped nameplate.

Robert Renton Gibbs was one of the founding members of the IHVE, and is one of the names given in the 1899 first list of Members. His address is given as residing in Elgin Drive, Liscard, Cheshire.

Renton died on the 21st June 1935 at Gorse-mount, Gwernymyndd, Mold in Flintshire aged 89.  His Will was probated in London on 27th January 1936, in the sum of £3879. The beneficiares were Frederick William Melville Roberts telegraph clerk and Joseph Alfred Whitby retired Manager.

Stanley Crane an employee who joined the Liverpool branch of the firm as an office junior in 1940, recalls that his first impression of the firm was, "he didnít think the furniture had been changed since the founding of the firm".

Is this Renton Gibbs stood at the desk?

A draughtsman at the drawing board

The firm reached its centenary in 1968. This was celebrated locally by a full-page historical article appearing in the Liverpool Daily Post, in which many local and national H&V manufacturers and suppliers congratulated the firm on achieving its first 100 years.

October  2006