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British Industrial History

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William Cooper and Nephews

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of Berkhamsted.

Early 1840s William Cooper (b.1814 in Clunbury, Shropshire) arrived in Berkhamsted, intending to start a new business as a veterinary surgeon. It is said that he arrived from London by cart with a black bag containing a few of his belongings and the tools of his trade such as his pestle and mortar.

1843 Business established.

Scab, the scourge of sheep, had previously been treated by smears containing tar and goose-grease, tobacco stalks and brimstone. None were very successful.

William carried out meticulous experiments between 1843 and 1852, using a combination of arsenic and sulphur to find a better treatment. He finally produced a sheep dip preparation which could be standardised in composition and quality as well as easily stored, packaged and transported.

By 1851, he lived in a small house in the High Street where he worked on the experiments which led to the formulation of his famous sheep dip.

1852 William Cooper erected his first mill for the manufacture of the powder dip at Ravens Lane. The factory was extended five times during the second half of the 19th century. Horse-powered mills were used for grinding, kilns for boiling the liquor and the factory also had areas where the sulphur was 'dressed'.

Initially, William managed all parts of the business himself.

1861 He was recorded as a veterinary surgeon, a chemist and a printer[1]. But it soon became too much for him to manage by himself.

1868 William senior was joined by his nephew, William Farmer Cooper, who initiated the firm's overseas trade.

1871 William senior was a manufacturing chemist, employing 14 men and 21 boys[2]

1879 The company engaged its first traveller, Henry Harrowell. The business expanded at home and abroad and offices were opened in Australasia, South Africa, and the United States in the late 1880s and early 1890s.

1881 Another nephew, Henry Herbert Cooper (who died in 1891, aged 31), was a solicitor, living with William Farmer Cooper. At some point he also joined the firm (1880?)

1881 William Cooper was a chemical manufacturer, employing 45 men and 30 boys[3] (William Farmer Cooper was a chemical manufacturer, recorded as employing 50 men and 30 boys[4])

Another nephew, Richard Powell Cooper, also a veterinary surgeon, joined the firm in or after 1881 (when he was living in Lichfield[5]).

1882 William Farmer Cooper died, aged 37.

William developed his own printing works and a lithographic process which was used to produce labels which could not be easily imitated.

1885 The founder, William Cooper, died; at the time he was a manufacturing chemist, emery grinder and printer[6]. He was much mourned by his employees. Although stern and hot-tempered, he treated his workers fairly and many of them stayed with the company all their working lives.

The company continued to expand after the death of William Cooper. Its travelling salesmen ensured that their powdered dip was now exported throughout the world.

Richard Powell Cooper became the sole owner of the business following the death of his uncle. In the next 22 years, under his direction, the company went from strength to strength.

1880s Another factory, the Lower Works, was built in the High Street. A piece of land at the back of this factory was used as a wharf where barges carrying sulphur, arsenic and coal were unloaded, and reloaded with cases containing packets of powdered dip which were transported by canal to the London docks.

1890s New steam-powered machinery was introduced and carpenters were employed to make boxes to carry the dip.

1898 Richard's eldest son, Richard Ashmole Cooper, became a partner in the company. One of his first acts was to encourage the installation of a revolutionary machine for wrapping and weighing the packets of dip. He was also instrumental in setting up the Cooper Research Laboratory in the office building in Ravens Lane in 1904.

1913 Sir Richard Powell Cooper died at Berkhamsted[7]

1913 His son, Sir Richard Ashmole Cooper, took over the business, whilst also serving as a Member of Parliament.

1920 The business became a limited company.

By 1925, due to poor health and an uncertain future, Richard Ashmole Cooper joined forces with Isaac McDougall, Chairman of McDougall and Robertson Ltd, a business in similar line, and amalgamated the two companies to form Cooper, McDougall and Robertson.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1861 census
  2. 1871 census
  3. 1881 census
  4. 1881 census
  5. 1881 census
  6. National Probate Calendar
  7. National Probate Calendar