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




The Plymouth business house of Messrs New Patent Candle Company Limited was located in Sutton Road, Plymouth.

The New Patent Candle Works in Sutton Road, Plymouth

The New Patent Candle Works in Sutton Road, Plymouth, circa 1890s.

In the early years of the 19th century the manufacture of candles was carried on by individual tallow chandlers in their own homes.  But, as one might expect, the Victorians soon invented a more mechanized way of manufacturing candles and in 1859 several of the small tallow chandlers joined forces to form the Plymouth Steam Candle Company in Manor Street.

It would appear that the New Patent Candle Company Limited was formed in 1861 and they took over the former soap manufacturing works of Messrs Bryant, Burnell and Company in Sutton Road.  The soap works had burned down in 1850 and been rebuilt.

Sadly, the rebuilt works suffered the same fate under its new owners.  At around 6.30am on the morning of Sunday March 11th 1866 a man named Young, who lived at Coxside, suddenly discovered flames issuing from the engine room situated at the higher end of the candle works, adjacent to the starch and black lead works.  The production of candles ran day and night from Monday mornings until Saturday evenings, when a night watchman took over.  He inspected the works before he left at 5.30am on the Sunday morning and apparently found nothing to cause alarm.

The fire at the New Patent Candle Works, Plymouth, as depicted by the Illustrated London News, 1866

The fire at the New Patent Candle Works, Plymouth, as depicted by The Illustrated London News, 1866.

Without pausing to find out the cause of the fire, Mr Young dashed to the home of the foreman, Mr Bingham, which was only two minutes walk away.  He then went to Mr Blackmore's to summon the Town Fire Brigade.  By now the flames were engulfing the whole of the Works and this had aroused the attention of Mr Marshall, superintendent of the West of England Fire Brigade.  Soon the bells were being run in alarm and the garrison at the Royal Citadel commenced firing guns to draw wider attention to the fire.

Mr Bingham was the first to arrive at the scene and immediately unlocked the door to the engine room so that he could see what needed to be done.  It would appear that the point at which he had entered the building was on the third floor and he soon became aware of the danger he was in as beneath him there were tanks of oil.  One of these caught alight and prevented him from escaping so he broke through a wooden partition in order to gain access to the second floor and from there escaped through a trap door to the ground floor.  Once there he attempted to rescue important papers from the Company's safe.

Flames soon engulfed the whole building, gaining fuel from the cotton, tallow, palm oil and candles that were in the works.  The West of England Fire Brigade, under Mr Marshall, took up position near the corner with the Sugar Refinery while the Town Fire Engine, under the command of Mr Walter Lethbridge, was placed outside the main entrance and tried to prevent the fire from reaching the Soap Works.  Two men from the West of England Brigade, Mr Walter Bawden and Mr George Philp, were badly injured when a roof collapsed and Mr Philp had to be removed from the scene to have surgery.

The Royal Artillery Fire Engine from the Royal Citadel was next to arrive and that took up position in Shepheard's Lane.  However, they became aware that a property belonging to Messrs Edward James and Sons and which contained matches was in anger and they quickly ran, via Jubilee Street (Exeter Street) to the north of the Saint John's Bridge area to play water on to that building.

In all nine fire engines attended the incident: the Town Brigade; the West of England Brigade; the Royal Artillery, under Colonel Millman; four engines from the Royal Marine Barracks, under Colonel Picard; the Royal Naval Hospital engine, under Sergeant Hatfield; and one from the Royal Naval Victualling Yard, under Inspector Ashton.  A large contingent of the Borough Police also attended, under the command of Superintendent Thomas and Inspectors Wreford, Julian and Green.  About an hour after the fire started several fire floats also put in an appearance and helped to pump water from Sutton Pool to the various fire engines.

By 9pm the fire was regarded as subdued and just before Midday on the Sunday all the engines were removed except the Town and the West of England ones.

It transpired that the destroyed buildings had originally cost 21,600 to erect and had been purchased by the Victoria Soap Company for 6,000.  The New Patent Candle Company had only recently spent 3,000 on new boilers and other valuable machinery.

The local press made one final observation.  One of the Town's fire engines was kept in the Old Soap Factory but it had been utterly useless because no hose was kept at the site.  'This engine remained idle the whole of the day' the newspaper stated.

The Works was once again rebuilt but lasted only until the afternoon of Tuesday November 15th 1870 when it once again suffered a destructive fire.  At 3.30pm several men who were engaged in the boiling room, where the tallow was boiled down preparatory upon its stilling, were suddenly confronted by a mass of flames that 'shot out from a corner near which runs a large chimney stack.'  The men retreated to safety, closing several sheet iron doors to prevent the fire from spreading to other parts of the works.

Fifteen minutes later the West of England Fire Engine arrived, speedily followed by the Town Engine and the Steam Fire Engine from the Liverpool, London and Globe Insurance Company.  The first two remained in the street while the third went to the yard and played water from there.  Superintendents Wreford and Thomas were in attendance.  At around 4pm two engines arrived from the Royal Citadel under the command of Colonel Anderson, CB, Royal Engineers.  Just as they arrived the roof fell in, which the watching crowd thought was the chimney stack collapsing and great confusion was caused as they tried to get out of the way.  By 5.30pm the boiler house was so full of water that the fire stood no chance and was thus subdued.  Luckily the thick walls of the boiler house, which were all that remained standing, had prevented the fire from spreading to other parts of the works so the damage was much reduced.  This business was 'continued as if nothing whatsoever had occurred.'

For many years the managing director of the Company was Mr George Tucker.  Born in Stoke Damerel parish in 1857, Mr Tucker also became a director of the Victoria Soap Company at Millbay and the Three Towns Banking Company.  Poor health forced him to withdraw from all his business interests.  Mr George Luxmore Tucker died on the evening of Sunday December 30th 1883 after a protracted and painful illness.

When Mr Tucker retired in 1882 he was replaced by Mr William Angear, who had been the Company's cashier.  During his 35 years as managing director, the Company merged with the Millbay Soap Works and became the Millbay Soap and New Patent Candle Company Ltd.  Mr William Angear died on Saturday October 13th 1917 at his home, Polvellan, Yelverton.  It is interesting to note that one of the wreaths at his funeral was from the chairman and directors of Messrs Lever Brothers, at Port Sunlight, Lancashire.  The business was presumably continued by his two sons, Mr W E Angear and Mr C H Angear.

The Works is last mentioned in 1932-33.  What became of the site is not certain but it may have been taken into the adjoining works of Messrs Reckitt and Sons Limited, starch, blue and blacklead manufacturers.