About 1805 William Cole, Thomas Whittle and John Johnson, in partnership as Cole, Whittle and Company, purchased a portion of the property on the east side of Charles Street, upon which the present works stands, and established the Flookersbrook Foundry.
By 1832 the business had passed into the sole possession of the Johnson family and it remained with them until 1869, when the head of the business, Mr. Brian Johnson, was joined in partnership by Mr. E.B. Ellington. The company was renamed Johnson and Ellington but in 1874 a limited company was created, which became known as the Hydraulic Engineering Company Limited, and Mr. Ellington became the first managing director. Foundry work had long since given way in importance to engineering, and the new company specialised in the application of high pressure water to machinery as a source of power. Hydraulic lifts, cranes, dock machinery, pumps and presses became its principal products.
In 1880 Mr. Ellington established the London Hydraulic Power Company, which was one of the first companies in the world to apply a high pressure water system to public services by means of pumping stations and underground pipes. The system was adopted in various parts of London and Liverpool and almost all the steam engines and pumping plant needed were designed and manufactured in Chester.
Hydraulic Engineering Company also undertook construction of hydraulic installations for the Great Western Railway Company, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and the Port of London Authority. The Hull Docks System, Tyne Docks and the naval dockyards of Chatham, Devonport and Portsmouth, all utilized hydraulic machinery built in Chester. The company also built port installations for use in places as far afield as Gibraltar, Malta, Hong Kong, Bombay, Calcutta, Karachi, Melbourne and Barcelona.
From an early date the company was involved in the manufacture of machinery for use in the production of armaments. Woolwich Arsenal placed regular orders with the company for gun mountings and sights, and the Hydraulic Engineering Company was one of very few private firms entrusted with such work. During World War I the company received large orders from the government for hydraulic presses for shell manufacture. There were also numerous orders from the Admiralty during this period. The Hydraulic Engineering Company's contribution to the war effort was emphasized by the visit to the Chester factory in May 1917 of King George V and Queen Mary.
However, the interwar years witnessed a marked decline in the fortunes of the company. Between 1925 and 1935 the decline in the number of orders resulted in a curtailment in the size of the labour force, the number of employees falling from approximately two hundred to thirty. In 1936, however, the company received the first of many orders from the War Office for twenty shell banding presses and with the advent of war in 1939 the volume of work increased enormously. Besides the production of presses for shell manufacture, the company also produced rubber die forming presses of up to three thousand tons capacity, for the manufacture of aircraft components.
Since the war the company has specialised increasingly in the fields of hydraulic presses and high speed self contained pumping units. The mid 1950s was a period of investment, modernisation and consolidation and today the company continues to export its products widely.
The information given above is based on the following publications:
B. Bracegirdle, Engineering in Chester - 200 Years of Progress, 1964
The Hydraulic Engineering Company Limited, A Short History of the Activities of The Hydraulic Engineering Co. Ltd. since its Incorporation in 1874, [c. 1974]