The Great Exhibition 1851
By Nigel Agar
The Great Exhibition of 1851 was a celebration of the great achievements of Britain’s industrial revolution. It is seen as the turning point after which technological advance marked a genuine improvement in the way of life of the great bulk of the population even if there was still much poverty as some people were left behind. Nevertheless after this point it became possible at least for millions of people to achieve a tolerable standard of living even if on a modest scale.
Although there was a general focus on London and on the mighty industries of the north and the midlands, Hertfordshire and the surrounding counties did make some contribution. A list of Hertfordshire, Essex and Bedfordshire firms and even individuals appeared in the Herts Mercury. Some were predictable enough. The agricultural machinery manufacturer, Howards of Bedford was a market leader in its field, second only to Ransomes of Ipswich. John Bailey Denton, surveyor of Stevenage was a leading figure in his profession even if he did come second to Joseph Bazelgette in his bid for the construction of the London sewage system, he did carry outother major projects in various parts of the country. The local straw plait industry produced four of the five entries in its class including F Barford, hat-maker of St Albans, Connell and Brodie of Luton and Cooper of Dunstable, also in the hat trade while the lace making industry included submissions from T Hurst, T Lester and CJ Sims all pillow-lace makers of Bedford.
Some were suprising, H Inskip of Hertford, a gun maker, produced an improved egg boiler. His fellow townsman, T Woolfield submitted a simple gun for sale in countries that had no native gunmakers. Obviously with an eye to sales in the British Empire but possibly he underestimated the ingenuity of those Pathan gunsmiths on the North- West Frontier of India who could turn out Lee Enfield rifles indistinguishable from the originals. (Khalashnikovs now no doubt!)
TH Bates, described as a labourer of St Albans submitted a table made of 4000 pieces of English hard wood, GE Dering of Lockley’s Welwyn, evidently a keen amateur engineer, submitted electric telegraph apparatus and TG Coleman of Lilley Hoo Farm, near Hitchin, submitted an expanding saddle, a self -acting spring roller, harness with spring traces and a safety rein. Did members of his family have a tendency to fall off their horses?
Some were rather banal. The Fordhams of Royston, a well known business and land owning family submitted bricks. H B Hubbard of Bakers Street Enfield submitted ginger nuts and ginger bread men who would last for 20 years. You may as well have eaten Mr Fordham’s bricks. It all shows a sparky and enterprising spirit among local people.
NIgel Agar July 2010