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Tribute to Yarmouth's heritage

PUBLISHED: 15:48 06 November 2009 | UPDATED: 15:33 03 July 2010

Fred Mason, 98, from Gorleston used to work at Cobholm-based Webbers Engineering

Fred Mason, 98, from Gorleston used to work at Cobholm-based Webbers Engineering

DURING Britain's industrial heyday small family firms were the cogs in the wheel that helped earn the nation the title of workshop of the world.

However, in many cases the passing years have not been kind to these traditional manufacturers that were once the backbone of the economy.

DURING Britain's industrial heyday small family firms were the cogs in the wheel that helped earn the nation the title of workshop of the world.

However, in many cases the passing years have not been kind to these traditional manufacturers that were once the backbone of the economy.

The machinery fell silent for the final time at Webbers Engineering in Cobholm seven years ago, but the story of the company has now been told in a book by the granddaughter of the its founder.

Life and Works of a Grandfather has been a labour of love for Pauline Webber who has charted the rise and fall of the company over more than 100 tumultuous years.

During the course of her research Miss Webber, 83, spoke with many of the company's former employees and spent months researching its history.

It is a story that begins with Suffolk wheelwright Arthur Henry Webber moving to Yarmouth in 1880 to work at a marine engineering company in Southtown.

Nine years later Arthur bought the company which he renamed Webbers Engineering and later moved to Breydon Road in 1916.

He continued to build the business up and in 1905 purchased wheelwright and cart builder Walter Teasdale in Saw Mill Lane.

Miss Webber said: “Businesses like this would have made everything in grandfather's day, supplying industries in the town from brewing, shipping, fishing, malting and milling.

“At its peak the business employed around 70 workers, with a whole variety of skills such as carpenters, wheelwrights and electricians.

“I thought it was important to detail this part of Yarmouth history before it completely disappeared into the past.

“It was an old fashioned engineering company and it was terribly sad when it closed seven years ago as there are not many left now.”

A former teacher Miss Webber worked at the company for two years during the second world war when it was making landing barges for the armed forces.

She was only a toddler when Arthur died in 1928, but her father Sidney spent all his working life with the company.

Amongst those interviewed for the book was Fred Mason, who at 98 is the company's oldest surviving former employee.

Mr Mason, who lives in Gorleston, was the only qualified wheelwright at the factory during the 30 years he worked there from 1946.

“Father was one of the few who didn't want to be there and yet we hardly saw him, he was busy day and night,” said Miss Weber.

“The premises were damaged by bombs in the war and flooded in 1953 so was very much connected to the major events in the town's history during these years.

“The foundry had to shut in the early 1970s because there were too many houses nearby. Housing has gradually taken over from industry in Cobholm including the old factory site.”

When the business closed Miss Webber was allowed to take a piece of equipment called a steam indicator which she is planning to present to the Time and Tide museum so it can be preserved as a permanent memento of the town's industrial heritage.

Copies of the book, priced £9.50, are available form Pauline Webber on 01502 715270 or from RPD Printers in Lowestoft Road, Gorleston 01493 662489.

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