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The Rise of the Gardiner Business

Gardiner Sons & Co Ltd Bristol Midland Ironworks

In 2019 Gardiner Haskins made one of the biggest business moves in our history. This includes a showroom move into the ‘Brunel Rooms’, a business restructure and developing a modern online shop. We have reached a contemplative moment so, we have taken a look at the journey so far.

Delving into the historical archives, the history of Gardiner Haskins has several different strands. This includes the history of Broad Plain which was initially occupied by a soap factory, the history of the Gardiner family and the history of their ironmongery company. In this blog, you can find out all about how the Gardiners built their ironwork business. From the expansion during the industrial revolution to the birth of the retail Homecentre.

In the Beginning…

The story of Gardiner Haskins begins in 1825 when Zachariah Cartwright began an ironmonger in John Street and Tower Lane, Bristol. After Zachariah died, the company was taken over by his nephew Emmanuel Chilcott and in 1865 Alfred Gardiner joined the company. Bring with him the business experience he had gained in Sydney, Australia.

The Gardiner Family in Business

Alfred Gardiner was the son of John Gardiner, who owned the clothing store Wathen Gardiner. John Gardiner also held the position of Sheriff of Bristol between 1819-1820 and Postmaster between 1825-1832. He famously saved the mail during the Bristol riots of 1831 by delivering it to Bath in his private coach.

During 1871, Alfred’s sons Thomas Chappelle and John joined the business by taking over the shares of Chilcott when he retired. The company was rebranded as Alfred Gardiner & Sons.


Gardiner Sons & Co Ltd Bristol Nelson Street IronworksIn 1874 the Nelson Street premises opened. This was previously a boot factory. During this time, sales representatives travelled by horse and trap as far as Cornwall and Wales. (Photo Left: Gardiner Sons & Co. Ltd. Bristol Logo.

In 1878 the manufacturing of gates and railings began on All Saints Street, as well as steel windows, iron and brass church work, brass finishing and light constructional steel-work. Premises on Duck Lane was also added (now Fairfax Street). In 1893 the business became a limited liability company, one of the first in Bristol, with four Gardiners on the board, including John, the Chairman, Thomas, Harry and Frank.

Expansion continued in 1897 in the form of The Midland Ironworks in St Philips on Lucky Lane and Willway Street.

Interestingly, during the Boer War (1899-1902) the company produced saddle arches for the cavalry to help the war effort.

The company was prospering, and adding more property adjoining Stephen Street. In 1901 the All Saints Ironworks was moved to the new purpose-built three-story building adjoining the Midland Ironworks. In 1905 more property was acquired on the opposite side of Lucky Lane and a girder warehouse was built.

During the First World War, the ironworks contributed to the war effort by producing trench mortars, bombs and aeroplane parts.

Gardiner Sons & Co. Ltd. Iron Window FramesExpansion continued into the 1920s and 1930s. In 1927 two blocks of property, adjoining the Lucky Lane warehouse were converted into a workshop for large ornamental ironwork. Furthermore, in 1929 the company bought the bronze founders Humphry and Oakes. A foundry and workshops for this were erected at the corner of Willway Street and Midland Road, adjoining Midland Ironworks. (Photo Right: Catalogue of Iron Window frames at Gardiner Sons & Co. Image from the Gardiners Archives)

Apparently, the Nelson street premises were so big that an employee of over 12 months had to ask for directions back to their department.

Beacon House Showroom

Gardiner Sons Co. Ltd. Range Cooker PostcardIn 1930 the company bought the Queen’s Hotel (built in 1854) on Queen’s Road for a new showroom. They converted the upstairs bedrooms to offices and rebuilt the old stables, dining room, lounge and cellars as showrooms, making it one of the biggest enterprises of its kind in the country. They renamed it Beacon House. (Photo Right: Gardiner Sons & Co. Range Cooker on a post card. Courtesy of Bristol Records Office)

Building modern showrooms near their current premises did not suit, as the area had very few shopfronts. An article from 1932 described the venture as turning

“out to be a bigger undertaking than was first contemplated but in the end, the difficulties were surmounted, and there is certainly no finer ironmongery shop in the West than Beacon House, Queens Road, Bristol.”

The showroom was open in 1933.

Joining the War Effort

When the Second World War began, production at the Midland Ironworks changed almost overnight. They made transport boxes for torpedoes, panels for the famous Bailey Bridges and lattice girders for the sea-borne Mulberry harbour. They also built gun mounts, radar mounts, rocket launcher bases and exhaust pipes for the Bristol Airplane Company.

However, the most secret creation of all was an experimental copper model of the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious and the battlecruiser HMS London. The work was so ‘hush-hush’ that the designers, who were experimenting with flooding valves, had to work under the cover of darkness. The models were taken from the works through a window so that the employees would not see them.

The Post-War World

Expansion continued in the post-war era. Kingsland Road factory, which produces aluminium windows and Barton Street wholesale branch opened in 1947 and in 1955 the Cheltenham branch opened. Unfortunately, the expansion stopped here. The 1950s saw the last Gardiner leave the business and by 1957 the manufacturing division struggled with the lack of work available to fill capacity and increased competition.

The Broad Plain Development

As a result, Beacon House was sold, and the Broad Plain development started. Work was expected to have been completed by 1958 but “difficulties” which were

“outside of the Company’s control, had two serious effects. Firstly, extra overheads […] caused by the handicap of operating from [their] old premises and profit margins were seriously affected, not only by competition but by the extent to which more profitably sales could have been developed by [their] increased sales force. Although record sales were, in fact, achieved, in spite of this handicap, inevitably many delays and mistakes occurred which […] can now be avoided.”

The firm sold the Nelson Street and All Saints Street premises’. The present Broad Plain premises opened in 1959 containing a warehouse, offices and showrooms.

The Gardiner’s Claim to Fame

In 1959 a discovery was made by the then-current Gardiner & Sons. Chairman. On a visit to Bristol University, as he was looking at relics belonging to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, he discovered that one of Brunel’s protractors was engraved with “GARDINER BRISTOL”. He wrote,

“Presumably Brunel must have bought this from us, probably while we were still in John Street, before we moved to Nelson Street, and I feel it must be a source of satisfaction to us all to find this evidence of a direct, if small link, between ourselves and Brunel, the great engineer.”

The Decline of Manufacturing and the Rise of Retail

Gardiner Haskins Superstore Bristol 1970s During the 1960s the manufacturing side of the business declined, and Gardiners concentrated on their wholesale and retail activities. In 1970 Carlton Industries, now part of Hawker Siddeley took over the company and the manufacturing part of the business was discontinued. (Photo Left: Outside Gardiner Haskins, Straight Street, 1970s.)

Gardiner Haskins Superstore 1970sIn the 1970s, retail activities had expanded, and more emphasis was placed on this side of the business. J. H. Haskins and Sons Ltd., the famous West Country furnishers, occupied two upper floors of the Broad Plain premises, hence the trading name ‘Gardiner Haskins’. Extensive improvement work was carried out on the Broad Plain premises and a vast 500 space landscape customer car park was built. In 1979 Gardiner Haskins opened a 30,000 square feet branch store at Cirencester. (Photo Right: Gardiner Haskins Superstore, a Kitchen Showroom. 1970s)

The Present Day

In the last few months, the ‘Brunel Rooms’ has been undergoing development, transforming into unique showrooms. Gardiner Haskins moved into their newly developed showrooms in December 2018, which are now open for business. The showrooms include fitted bathrooms and kitchens, as well as beds and made-to-measure curtains. The rest of the retail will be going onto our new online store, which will launch in February 2019. (Photo Below: Gardiner Haskins Interiors, Straight Street, Dec 2018)

Gardiner Haskins Interiors Outside Brunel Rooms


  • Featured Image:
  • An article, The Ironmonger, June 4th, 1932.
  • The Gardiner Sons & Co. Spring 1959 Bulletin.
  • The Industrial Archaeology of the Bristol region, p. 141  – BRO.

Read other blogs in this series…