Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 19, 2019
Webpage updated: September 19, 2019




The Plymouth business house of Messrs Burnard and Alger Limited, formerly Messrs Burnard, Lack and Alger, was located at first in Sutton Road, Coxside, and then at Cattedown.

The Cattedown works of Messrs Burnard and Alger, Plymouth

The founder of the business was Mr Charles Frederick Burnard.  He was born in Plymouth on July 18th 1816 and was the son of Mr Robert Burnard, clerk to the Plymouth Board of Guardians.

During his early years he displayed a fondness and aptitude for scientific research and upon leaving school he entered the Royal College of Chemistry in London, where he pursued his studied with such diligence and success that he was later honoured by becoming a Fellow of the Chemical Society.  For a few years he was involved with a chemical works at Southdown, on Millbrook Lake.  In those early days he foresaw the possibilities of developing the land on the shore of the Cattewater.

On May 21st 1839 Mr Charles Frederick Burnard married Miss Jane Bice Evans, of Fowey, Cornwall, at Plymouth's Saint Andrew's Church.

Between 1842 and 1849 Mr Burnard is said to have been engaged in the management of a chemical works at Southdown, near Millbrook, in Cornwall.  Both his elder sons, Charles Frederick Burnard junior and Robert Burnard, were born in the parish of Maker.

At the time of the 1851 census he was a chemist/chemical engineer and the couple lived at 10 Fareham Place, Coxside.  It is not known where he was working but Fareham Place was close to the recently erected Plymouth Gas Works, where a Mr John Williams Lack just happened to be the civil engineer.  Maybe that is how the two gentlemen came to go into partnership together to produce chemical fertilizers.

Mr John Williams Lack was born at Calstock, Cornwall, circa 1822.  He was not married at the time of the census in 1851 but later in the year married Miss Mary Hicks Matthews at Redruth, Cornwall.

The business was founded in 1854 as Messrs Burnard, Lack and Company.  It operated under the name of the Phoenix Chemical Works and was located in Sutton Road, Coxside.  At the time of the census in 1861, Mr Burnard was listed as a analytical chemist employing 19 men.  He was living at number 8 Bedford Terrace at that time, along with two sons, Charles junior and Robert, and three daughters, Mary, Alice, Katherine and Florence.

Sometime in the mid 1850s Mr William Henry Alger (1836-1912) joined the staff of the business as a chemist.  Born in Plymouth on March 14th 1836 to Mr and Mrs John Alger, one of the Town's leading merchants, he had been trained for a business career at the Independent College at Taunton, Somerset.

It is unclear at the moment in which year Mr Alger became a partner and the firm's name changed to Messrs Burnard, Lack and Alger. 

In 1871 Mr Burnard was described as an artificial manure manufacturer and was living at Chatsworth Lodge, Mannamead, Compton Gifford.  Four days after the census was taken, on Thursday April 6th 1871, his son, Mr Robert Burnard, married Miss Fanny Louise Pearce, daughter of Mr and Mrs S H Pearce, of Paignton, at Woollborough Church, Newton Abbot, Devon.

Mr John Williams Lack died suddenly on Saturday November 2nd 1872 at the young age of 51 years.

Mr Charles Frederick Burnard retired from business in 1880 to devote his energies to a new responsibility as Town Councillor for the Sutton Ward and the business the passed to his second son, Mr Robert Burnard.

The business was transferred to Cattedown in 1881, where important deep water wharves, with spacious warehouses and modern equipment, were built.  On Tuesday May 3rd 1881 the freehold portion of their old premises in Sutton Road, which had only been erected within the last couple of years, was offered for auction.   Evidently some of the site was leased.  The equipment included one steam engine, two boilers, two sets of mill stones, and the tramway that connected the two sites north and south of Sutton Road.  The sale document pointed out that whereas the dues payable elsewhere in Sutton Harbour were 7d per ton for both imports and exports, at the quay forming part of this site the dues were only 3d per ton on imports and nothing at all on exports.

In the meantime the business was transferred to Cattedown, where, under the authority of the Cattewater Wharves Act 1887, they constructed extensive deep water wharves fully equipped with warehouses and the most modern machinery.  Twice the partnership was forced to enter into litigation with the Plymouth Town Council when plans were put forward that would interfere with their rights, opposing both the Cattewater Extension Bill and the Cattewater Wharves Scheme part of the Plymouth Corporation Act 1905.

The wharf of Messrs Burnard and Alger Ltd, at Cattedown, Plymouth

By 1890 there were two separate businesses.  Messrs Burnard, Lack and Alger were listed as manufacturers of sulphuric acid, chemical fertilizers and extractors of silver, copper, and other metals from ore while Messrs Burnard and Alger Limited were wharfingers and warehousemen, with deep water wharves, hydraulic cranes and fire-proof warehouses for nitrate of soda.  Apparently Mr Alger took more interest in the latter.

The sulphur ore used by the business for the manufacture of sulphuric acid was imported from the Rio Tinto mine in Spain.  After the sulphur had been obtained by burning the ore, there remained in the cinder silver, copper and iron.  These cinders were shipped to Southdown, at Millbrook, Cornwall, where the silver and copper were extracted.  The residue, crude iron ore, was then shipped to either Newcastle, Swansea or Middlesbrough, where it was treated before finally being sent to America.  When Messrs Burnard and Alger transferred their venture to Cattedown it was so that they could provide all these facilities on the one site.  As a result, in the second week of July 1891 they started to load the pure iron ore onto the 3,700 tons Belfast steamer, "Dunmurry", under Captain McMorran, for shipping to Baltimore and then onwards to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Their hydraulic cranes, similar to those at London's Tilbury Docks, with a total lift of some 80 feet, were able to load between 400 and 500 tons per day.

Mr Charles Frederick Burnard passed away on the evening of Friday November 10th 1905.

The first of the remaining principal partners to pass away was Mr William Henry Alger, who died at his home, number 8 The Esplanade, on the morning of Wednesday February 21st 1912, following a year-long illness.  The funeral took place at Saint Andrew's Church on Saturday February 24th 1912.  One of his three sons, Mr Harold Alger, was a director of the business at that time.

Mrs Fanny Louise Burnard passed away at Woodside Nursing Home, Plymouth, on August 17th 1919 and Mr Robert Burnard died at his home in Torquay on April 15th 1920.

It would appear that the fertilizer side of the business, along with the name, was sold to Messrs Anglo Continental Guano Works Limited while a new company, Cattedown Wharves Limited, was formed to continue operating the storage and wharf facilities.

The business continued in existence until 1937 when the Company and the plant was taken over by Messrs National Fertilizers Limited, a subsidiary of Messrs Fisons, Packard and Prentice.  The remainder of its history falls outside the Old Plymouth.UK remit but a new factory was opened in 1957 by Sir Clavering Fison.  It employed around 120 men until it was closed down in 1981.