A short history
theMUSGRAVE'S OF BELFAST
the European connection
a selection of photos taken at
St Ann's Works circa 1948
Researched, prepared and written
by F J Ferris for the
Heritage Group of the CIBSE
with acknowledgements to the
Linenhall Library Belfast,
Belfast Central Library and the
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland,
for their assistance and information.
Businessman, patron and benefactor
of Queens University Belfast
painted by Henrietta Rae in 1918
Hung on the East Wall
Great Hall, Queen's University Belfast
THE MUSGRAVE’S of BELFAST
THE FIRM - MUSGRAVE & CO LTD
The firm of Musgrave & Co Ltd like many of the old established industrial undertakings of the age, grew from comparatively small beginnings as a family business to the peak of its status over the 120 years of its operations.
The company first appears in the Belfast Directory of 1843 - 1844, where it is entered as Musgrave & Bros. Hardware Merchants, at 99 High Street. By the 1850’s they were well established, not only as Hardware Merchants but also as manufacturers of their own patent slow combustion stoves and patent stable and cow-house fittings. Additional premises were a Warehouse and Offices in 99 and 63 High Street and an Engineering Works in Ann Street with a Foundry.
In 1865 the machining side of the business was sold to Richard Patterson & Co who took over the High Street premises. Musgrave Bros. then relocated their offices to their Ann Street Works where they concentrated on manufacturing their own products. During this time the company received the careful attention of John and James, Robert dying in 1867. The business developed rapidly and in 1872 was transferred into a Limited Company.
The Musgrave Bros. had been making slow-combustion stoves in Belfast from 1855, and in the 1880’s they introduced their Ulster convector stove. In 1891 production had reached about 100 per week, and Musgraves claimed that their Irish stove had become a household word on the continent. There must have been some truth in this, for by 1899 the firm established a branch factory for stoves at Mannheim in Germany, and showrooms in Frankfurt and Paris. Although this type of stove went out of fashion for a time it was also used for ventilating, as the heated air rose and drew in fresh air to replace it.By the 1890’s business had increased so much that larger works had become essential. Ground was acquired and the works at Mountpettinger were built. By this time a large home and export business had been built up, principally for stable fittings and slow combustion stoves.
Between 1890 and 1914 large numbers of stables and stoves were sold throughout the British Isles, Europe and the Americas. The company had a show room in Paris and agencies in most principal European countries. They were responsible for fitting out and furnishing stables for the Empress Frederisk of Germany, HM the King of Spain, as well as for very many members of the aristocracy of the United Kingdom and Europe, also to the cattle barons of South America.
In the last decade of the nineteenth century the Company began to manufacture centrifugal fans for the ventilation, in conjunction with their stoves and steam heaters suitable for the heating of Churches and other large buildings. They also manufactured air washers that were crude by today’s standards but were in use in the first decade of the 1900’s. Typical of these was the installation at the Municipal Technical Institute of Belfast.
In connection with a warm air heating plant installed at the Empire Theatre in Dublin in 1900, Musgraves found it necessary to use a paddle type fan to accelerate the flow of air in the ducts. This was such an improvement that the firm incorporated fans in later installations, and began to supply their Ulster fans for many other purposes.
Also in these two decades the low pressure and high pressure heating department was expanded together with the structural steel side of the business. Both of these departments flourished and carried out many contracts in Northern Ireland.
As the rapid development and use of the internal combustion engine replaced horse driven transport the demand for the Company’s stable fittings practically disappeared so the Company then concentrated upon expanding the fan engineering side of the business until it was its main activity.
Centrifugal fans for all purposes and applications were designed and manufactured by the company, from sizes as small as 100 cfm up to as large as 500,000 cfm with static pressures of 80 inches water gauge using a single stage. Higher pressures were needed for dust or grit collecting projects and the company manufactured a complete range of wet and dry collectors including the Lindereth high efficiency mechanical collector and the SF electrostatic precipitator.
The company maintained a technical staff with experts in all kinds of fan engineering, hot water and steam heating and structural engineering. There was also an experimental and Development section working to improve the company’s products.
This copy of a letter sent by the company in 1914 shows by the list of items the numbers and varieties of engineering plant and equipment they manufactured, together with the services that the firm provided in those times.
The company continued its business and expansion into the first half of the 20th century opening several branch offices in England. However, by the second half of the 20th century financial problems had set in, which disclosed that the company had for some time been financed by loan capital and that increased market competition was seriously affecting its trading position.
At the beginning of May 1965 the directors had decided to put the company into liquidation, cease trading and close down. The 400 strong workforce were duly informed which provoked understandable hostility from the Unions, who wanted the then Member of Commerce Mr Faulkener to intervene and find another company to take on the existing work in hand, and continue to keep the factory operating.
On the 20th May 1965 an Extraordinary Meeting of the company was held at 2.30pm in the King George VI Hall in Belfast when a Notice of Resolution for the Voluntary Winding up of the Company was proposed. The resolution said,“Resolved that it has been proved to the satisfaction of this meeting that the Company cannot by reason of its liabilities continue its business, and it is advisable to wind up the same, and accordingly that the company be wound up voluntarily. And that Mr Arthur Stanley Boyd F.C.A. of State Building 18 Arthur Street, Belfast, be appointed Liquidator for the purpose of such winding up”
At the winding up meeting speakers expressed concern that the affairs of the company should be investigated, and an estimated deficiency of approx. £450,000.00 was disclosed.
So a once capable, industrious and innovative Company, which manufactured a numerous range of engineering products, that were sold around the world, came abruptly to an end, and ceased to exist after 120 years of association with the City of Belfast.