Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 20, 2019
Webpage updated: September 20, 2019




The Plymouth business house of Messrs Bryant Brothers, Burnell and Company were soap manufacturers.

The business was recorded in 1844 and 1847.

Originally the partnership consisted of Mr James Bryant, Mr William Bryant, Mr William Burnell and Mr John Burnell (1793-1864) but as from September 29th 1848 Mr James Bryant withdrew from the firm.

Located in Sutton Road, at Coxside, Plymouth, the factory covered some three acres and consisted of a large stone building forming three sides of a square.  Immediately adjoining it were the starch works of Messrs Edward James and Sons and a rope works.

Shortly after 9pm on the evening of Wednesday October 23rd 1850 Mrs James, wife of the owner of the starch works, was preparing to go to bed when she noticed the reflection of an unusual light from the engine-house at the back of the main building of the soap factory.  After calling the attention of Mr James to the sight, he sent messengers to the owners of the building, the local authority, and all fire insurance agents having engines in the Town.

With the assistance of his own foreman and a porter from the soap works, they rescued from one of the buildings a large number of barrels of tallow, oil and resin as well as a large quantity of wood used in the making of packing cases for the soap.  Some office furniture was cleared from the site but the safe had to be until Mr William Bryant arrived to open it, when all the documents were removed to safety.

The first two horse-drawn fire engines to reach the scene belonged to the West of England Company, under Mr Marshall, and the County Fire Office Company under Mr Carkeet.  Next to arrive were two companies of men, with arms, from the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers, under Captain Phillips, quickly followed by a further four companies of the same regiment, in fatigue dress, under Captain Wynn.  Major Lysons took overall command of the soldiers and after forcing back the crowd that had been drawn to the scene, they set to work on some of the many other fire engines that had arrived to help prevent the fire from spreading to Mr James's starch works.

Out of the Royal Citadel poured 150 men of the 4th (King's Own) Regiment, under Captain Fyers, Lieutenant Harrison and Surgeon Gambell and they were followed by Captain Willett and Lieutenant Elgee with 25 men and the fire engine belonging to the Royal Artillery.

News of the fire spread with great rapidity.  A party of 20 marines and 80 seamen from HMS "Albion" were next to arrive, along with 50 men from HMS "Agincourt" and equally large parties from HMS "Rattlesnake", and the Royal Marine Barracks, Stonehouse, along with their fire engine.  A strong body of Borough police under the command of Superintendent Gibbons were present.  A number of men from the Queen's Harbour Master's unit at Bovisand even turned up but exactly how was not recorded.

Finally, the Mayor of Plymouth, Mr John Moore, directed and encouraged the men, as did Mr William Burnell, one of the partners in the business, Mr David Derry, Mr G T Shortland, Major-General the Honourable H Murray and Brigadier-Major Nelson.

At around midnight the troops were marched off to their barracks and only the police were left at the scene.  Of the soap factory only the eastern wing remained, the roof and flooring having totally collapsed in the rest of the building.  A spark from the fire had fallen down the chimney in Mrs James's bedroom and caught alight some shavings that were in the fireplace but it was quickly brought under control by some of the seamen using water from a large tank in the roof of the house.

The troops who had helped at this fire had very little time to catch their breaths as at 5am the following morning they were called out again to assist at a fire in Princes Street, Devonport.

None of the workmen were laid off as a result of the fire and by the Saturday following Mr Bryant had resumed work in part of the factory.

The business was not listed in 1852 but had apparently been replaced with Messrs Bryant and Company.