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Barnards Ltd. Coslany, Norwich.

Charles Barnard (1804-1871) started his business in premises near the Norwich Market as an Ironmonger, Oil and Colourman in 1826, later he opened retail business workshops in Pottergate, and this was for the manufacture of Ironwork (Domestic and Agricultural) implements. By 1844 he had invented a primitive loom, a man to weave and a boy to power the machine, although his invention was not patented. This original machine is still working and can be seen at the Bridewell Museum, Norwich. This business later became known as Barnards, Bishop & Barnards. selling galvanised wire netting, mangles, lawn mowers, iron gates, garden furniture, pig and poultry troughs, slow combustion stoves and the occasional steam engine.

World War One

During the 1914/1918 War Barnards supplied the Government with upwards of 7000 miles of wire netting for road making across the Egyptian desert and the formation of revetments to trenches in the War zone. Also they made special hand woven wire lattice for the Balkan theatre of War, large heating stoves for the American Army in France and hundreds of tons of castings for the Admiralty and other Government Departments. . As was frequently the case necessity was the mother of invention and the shortage of zinc spelter for galvanising the netting brought about the invention of a process to tar varnish the netting instead. Two hundred of the workers enlisted, and fifteen died, including the Managing Director‘s son, Charles F. Bower, who was killed near Hill 60, just as he had been gazetted to the rank of Captain.

The Move to Sprowston.

The works site within the City of Norwich was very cramped making increasing production almost an impossibility. Without any way of increasing the works area the company took the brave step in times of recession to look towards the city boundary for more spacious sites for expansion. Barnards Ltd purchased the Mousehold Estate site in the 1920`s to expand the company, originally this site had been developed and used by Boulton and Paul Ltd.

World War Two.

In WW2 Bernard’s once again rose to the challenge of producing both armaments and miles of wire netting and allied products for the military producing a wide range of shells and equipment for the many airfields being built. It is reported at its height the company employed about 1200 personnel engaged in the war effort. Unfortunately Barnard’s Salhouse Road factory received attention from the Luftwaffe in July 1940. It appears only two aircraft took place in the raid which took place without warning at about 5.PM and lasted only seconds. There is some confusion about the loss of life this caused as various accounts differ considerably no doubt the official ones being subject to censorship. It was the wartime diary kept by the company which gives an insight of the daily struggle to keep things running. This document makes interesting reading and Barnard’s Wartime Diary is reproduced by kind permission of Mr Peter Bower

Tinsley’s Takeover.

In 1955 Barnards became part of Tinsley Wire Industries of Sheffield, and they concentrated production of wire fencing products at the 15 acre site on Salhouse Road. Chain link fencing was made in plastic and galvanized coated wire and in 1960 they started manufacturing Norfence, an ornamental fencing for use in gardens. Tinsley finally acquired the wire netting production rights of competitor the Norwich Company of Boulton & Paul. It is rumoured the Salhouse Road site had produced both products for years the only difference being the roll labels. Gabions were another product of the company much in demand. These were simply wire mesh baskets that would be filled with stones and boulders and positioned on an unstable slope of a road or rail cutting or slopes on development sites prone to slippage. The theory being by the time the netting rusts away the site will have been taken over by natural plant growth the roots thus holding the land as a stable mass.

The Closure of the Sprowston Site.

The company was able to celebrate a century of wire netting production in and adjacent to Norwich but alas the parent company Tinsley’s had spare capacity at their Sheffield site. As a cost cutting measure the Sprowston site was abandoned in 1991 with all production being moved to Sheffield. The site did not stand empty for long before being flattened to make way for retail units to be built. Much of the site is now this modern development but at the country end of the site many of the original buildings used by the company still survive as work premises.

A special thank you to Mr Peter Bower for giving us access to the company archives.