Posted by: kbenoy | May 30, 2012

Henry Willcock & Co

This week I am going to share some research recently completed by one of the project volunteers regarding Henry Willcock & Co. The Smith, Son & Wilkie collection contains a box of papers on the firm dating from 1892-1929. The building firm constructed many important public buildings in Wolverhampton and I have included images of some of these buildings from our collections.

Henry Willcock (jun) was born in Wolverhampton in 1852 to Henry and Sarah Ann Willcock. In 1871, aged 19, he was working as a civil engineer’s apprentice. He became articled to the Borough Surveyor before joining the firm of P. Horsman. Henry Willcock entered into partnership with Philip Horsman in 1876 to work as Builders and Contractors known as Philip Horsman & Company.

The Art Gallery and Horsman Fountain can be seen on the left, Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton P/5793

The 1881 census shows Henry Willcock as a Contractor/ Builder living at 53 Darlington Street. He married Agnes Anne Walker later in 1881and they had three sons, Harry Bertram (1882-1957), Edgar Douglas (1884-1938) and Robert Cecil (1885-1916) and a daughter Agnes (1895-). In 1885 Philip Horsman retired from the partnership, which was continued by Henry Willcock under the title of P Horsman and Co.

After Philip Horsman died in 1890 the premises at 53 Darlington Street were put up for auction by Mr Horsman’s Trustees but, owing to a clause in the partnership document of 22nd August 1883, repeated in the Deed of Dissolution, Henry had an option to purchase these premises for a cost of £6,100. The particulars state that the ‘auction lot’ comprised of a builders’ yard (including a masons’ shop, store rooms, blacksmiths shop, joiners shop, machine shop, boiler house, cottage, stabling for eight horses, newly erected offices), the convenient residence, retail shop and warehouse, timber yard and freehold property fronting Clarence street.

Wolverhampton and Midland Counties Eye Infirmary, Compton Road, Wolverhampton P/7938

The firm took the name of H.Willcock & Co in January 1892 and Mr John Ward became a partner at that time having previous been a builders foreman. The capital for the business was £15,000 of which Henry Willcock had a 2/3 share to the 1/3 share of John Ward. The profits of the partnership were split 2/3 to Henry Willcock and 1/3 to John Ward for the first £2250 and split equally above that. The 1901 census shows the Willcock family had moved to ‘Merridale’ Compton Road. Henry Willcock died on 10th April 1925 aged 73. His funeral was held at St Jude’s Church and he was buried on 14th April 1925 in Wolverhampton (Merridale) cemetery. His obituary in the Express & Star on 15 April 1925 states he was President of the Institute of Builders in 1924-25 and President of the Master Builders’ Federation after the war.

Central Library, Snow Hill, Wolverhampton c. 1910 P/8198

After Henry Willcock’s death, it took about three years to sort of the value of his share in the partnership and during this time John Ward continued to run Henry Willcock & Co and his sons Harry Bertram and Edgar Douglas set up an alternative firm H B Willcock & Co Ltd. This alternative firm was dissolved in 1927 when the sons made an agreement with John Ward. John Ward had taken the option to purchase his deceased partners share of the partnership but due to complex ongoing projects in Bristol it was difficult to calculate the value of the share.

A new limited company was formed in 1927 and was registered on 1st January 1927 with John Ward as director, along with the two surviving sons of Henry; Harry, who became managing director and Edgar. Robert, the third son of Henry, had died fighting in France in 1916. At the time of the incorporation Mr Frederick Stephens was company secretary, having previously been personal assistant to John Ward. He became a director in 1936 following the death of John Ward on 20th November 1935 and rose to Managing Director. Frederick Stephens died on 13th March 1954.

Henry Willcock & Co Ltd Advert 1966

Edgar Willcock died on 12th February 1938 aged 54. Harry Willcock, the eldest son of Henry, died on 20th January 1957. Edgar’s sons, Michael Lucas Willcock and Douglas Brian Willcock were involved with the firm after WW2. Michael was based at the offices in Bristol but was in Wolverhampton around the time of his brother’s death in 1954. He took over the company along with Jack Stephens, son of Frederick Stephens, and George Mills was also a director. The firm continued to trade from 53 Darlington Street. The premises were still extensive and joiners, wood sawyers and machinists, stonemasons and bricklayers were employed.

The premises of Henry Willcock & Co Ltd 1966 Darlington Street, Wolverhampton P/4788

The property was demolished in the 1960’s to make way for the Ring Road. Information in the British Phone Books shows the firm at East Park Trading Estate, Hickman Avenue, Wolverhampton after 1968 until 1981. Lack of trade forced the firm to close these offices soon after that. The firm continued the business from the offices in Bristol until the 1990’s. The company was finally dissolved on 13th June 2000 after an existence of more than 100 years.

Some of the projects worked on by Henry Willcock & Co and later Henry Willcock & Co Ltd included:
Central Reference Library, Bristol
Mental Hospitals, Abergavenny, Bridgend and Hendon
Bristol University Tower and main buildings
St Monica’s Home of Rest, Bristol
The Merchant Venturers College, Bristol
National Museum of Wales, Cardiff
Extension to University College, Aberystwyth
National Library of Wales
Orthopaedic Hospital, Winford
Women’s Hostel, Bristol University
Town Hall, Wolverhampton
Public Library, Wolverhampton
Art Gallery, Wolverhampton
Eye Infirmary, Wolverhampton
King Edward VII Memorial Wing, The Royal Hospital, Wolverhampton
The abattoir and cold stores, Wolverhampton
Central and Western Towers and the nave of Truro Cathedral
Royal London Buildings, Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton
Queens Arcade, Queen Square, Wolverhampton
First section of the Wolverhampton Technical College
Restoration of St Peters Church, Wolverhampton
Wolverhampton Civic Hall
Tettenhall Church, after fire damage


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