Administration and business papers, patents, deeds and leases, legal and family papers, W. Gare Allen's working papers, log book of Heatcoat Girls' School, Tiverton, and other miscellaneous documents.
|Administrative / biographical background:
John Heathcoat (1783-1861) was born at Duffield and when apprenticed to a framesmith showed an aptitude for inventing and improving machinery, taking out patents from 1804 onwards. The most important was the bobbin net machine patent of 1809 which enabled him to rise from craftsman to industrialist, first in a short-lived arrangement at Loughborough with hosiers Boden, Oliver and Cartwright, then in partnership with John Lacy. By 1816 Heathcoat, Lacy and John Boden had 55 frames in production and were assigning patents to others, leading in one instance to a notable law suit, Bovill v Moore. The same year Luddites attacked the factory and destroyed both machines and lace. Although Heathcoat was awarded damages he was required to spend the money locally and, refusing to do so, he removed his operation entirely to Tiverton, where there are indications that he was already establishing an interest. After the expiry of his patent his connection with John Boden, TB Oliver and RW Grace ceased.
The mill which he acquired had been built by Thomas Heathfield and Nicholas Dennys in 1791 to manufacture cotton but production had switched to woollens for uniforms in the war period and with peace the business was ailing. A number of his workforce accompanied Heathcoat to Tiverton and instructed employees from the local community in the construction and operation of the lace-making machines. His factory always had a foundry side, with commissions for agricultural machinery. Heathcoat's inventions included a steam plough in 1832 but during trials it sank overnight without trace in Scottish peat moss. The collection of patents described in the list below is testimony to his ceaselessly fertile brain and the factory produced a great variety of nets, gauzes and muslins with or without ornamentation. Some was of cotton lace but silk was the fibre principally used and Heathcoat established his own filature in Messina, Sicily.
John Heathcoat served as a member of parliament for Tiverton from 1832 to 1859. He took a less active role in the firm according to a memorandum of 1855 signed by Heathcoat and his other partners Ambrose Brewin his son-in-law, John Heathcoat Amory his grandson, and Thomas Hallam his brother-in-law. Hallam attended to foreign business which included for a time a factory at St Quentin in France. On Heathcoat's retirement in 1859 and death in 1861 John Heathcoat-Amory became the active head of the firm. He married Henrietta Mary Unwin, and in turn entered parliament, and was created a baronet in 1874.
His sons and successors Ian and Ludovic Amory introduced a co-partnership scheme in 1913 by which the family members owned the business with its risks and liabilities but employees might become co-partners in the profits. Ludovic died in the first World War and a fund in his name was established for purposes such as convalescent holidays, a forerunner of the Heathcoat Trust Fund of 1940. After the war new accounting methods and fairer wage schemes promised well but the general slump of the 1920s and changes in fashion away from net and lace prompted the firm to diversify into crepe de chine, crepe georgette and marocains, and to use rayon. The 1930s saw the development of elastic fabrics which in the 1940s were concentrated at a factory at Carn Brea, Cornwall. In the first World War Heathcoat's made shells, and in the second, parachutes, aircraft components and agricultural machinery. In 1943 it also acquired two local engineering firms.
John Heathcoat & Co was registered as an unlimited company in 1923, re-registered as a private company in 1948 and went public in 1951. It has works at Tiverton, Crediton, Carn Brea and at Bury, Lancashire. The engineering interest was separated in 1970 as the Lowman Manufacturing Co Ltd.
The records described here are now in Devon Record Office, but were formerly in the custody of Lowman Manufacturing (1984) Ltd in a large modern trunk in an attic room. They were used by Walter Gore Allen for John Heathcoat and his heritage (1958). They represent the older surviving records of John Heathcoat & Co Ltd, who have deposited with the Tiverton Museum a similar group of records including machine drawings and plans, a patent of 1833, weaving overlookers pattern books 1900-1970s, factory log books and notebooks 1898-1970, a contract relating to the factory building 1793, a poster about the 1831 strike, printed loyal addresses, photographs and the initial pension fund register 1906-10. Records of Boden & Co. Ltd., in Nottingham University Library, include material relating to the early days of the Heathcoat partnership.