The firm that went from foundry to fine china
If you want nails, screws and ironmongery, go through the back door. If it is bone china or chandeliers you are after, then use the showroom entrance.
As any Island householder knows, there is almost something for everyone at W Hurst & Son, but it has not always been so.
The company was started by Charles Wheeler in 1859 as a foundry concentrating on agricultural implement manufacture, servicing and repair for the Island’s booming farming industry.
It was based at Pan Foundry, near the old mill at Pan Bridge and also acted as agent for D.M. Osbourne & Co.’s “celebrated Kirby mowers and reapers”.
In 1886 Charles Wheeler purchased 33 Holyrood Street, which remains Hurst’s main Island premises to this day.
It was originally the Primitive Methodist Chapel and the original flagstones from the church forecourt still form part of the flooring in the toolshop. The foundry was moved to Sea Street at this time and the Holyrood store set up as offices and showroom for the sale of ironware and other products cast at the foundry. In 1891 William Hurst joined the company and the present name was adopted.
The stock included a range of products from fencing and gates to furnace bars and baker’s oven works.
Kitchen ranges and troughs lined one wall while larger agricultural machinery such as steam and horse-powered chaff cutters, mills, separators, ploughs and harrows filled the showroom.
Various workshops were equipped for their different purposes with iron and brass foundries turning out castings of all descriptions, shapes and sizes. The business passed from the Hurst family on the death of William in 1950 and is now a limited company.
One of the mainstays of the company was the supply and servicing of milking machines for the Island’s 200-plus dairy herds and up until the 1960’s, it continued to trade almost solely with the farming community.
It also operated as a blacksmith’s with three farriers shoeing shire horses from the prison and paring cart-oxen’s hooves.
This all changed dramatically as the face of farming changed and the Island herds dwindled.
Board chairman and former managing director, Robin McLaughlin, recalls the change, as the company began building its retail business and expanding across the Island.
The Ventnor shop had been opened in the 1960’s and was followed in 1971 by Ryde, Cowes in 1975, Freshwater in 1987 and Shanklin in 1997.
“We remained as an ironmongers,” said Mr. McLaughlin, “and gradually expanded into lighting, china and glass during the 1980’s and 1990’s”.
He is proud of the company’s heritage and believes this diversity of product range and service has forged the Hurst culture today of housewares and hardware for all, with each area designed to suit the customer.
“We have a mixed environment of an upmarket showroom blending with a traditional workshop and hardware store” he added.
The company employs 100 staff Island-wide and has a strong tradition of long-serving employees, many staying with the company from school-leaver to retirement. Some still remember the old foundry when fire, dust and slag were the order of the day.