Bolding’s factory, or to give them their full name, John Bolding & Sons Grosvenor Works, were situated at 56-58 Davies Street from 1891 to 1969. The building nowadays holds Grays Antique Centre with small antique shops positioned around a visible stretch of the Tyburn river (see here), but it was for many years the workshop, salesroom and despatch department of one of the major manufacturers of sanitary appliances. The decorations on the outside of the building are a reminder of the Bolding history and have fortunately been left as they were and have not fallen victim to someone’s misguided idea of modernization.
The firm was established in 1822 by Thomas Bolding in South Molton Street. In the 1841 census, Thomas could be found at that address with his two sons Thomas junior and John, all three listed as ‘brass founders’. The 1841 census does not give any house numbers, but from Thomas’s will (he died in 1849), we learn that the business was situated at number 19. Thomas leaves his share in the business to the two sons he was in partnership with, Thomas Edward and John Lupton, no doubt the two sons already mentioned in the 1841 census as being brass founders. Thomas Edward lived at Hammersmith and died in 1866. John Lupton could be found above the business in South Molton Street in the 1851 census as brass founder. One of his sons, George, is also living there and has the same occupation as his father. By 1871, John Lupton had moved to 27 Elgin Road, Chelsea. In 1881 and 1891 he can be found at 23 Elgin Crescent and is listed as ‘retired brass founder’. In the mean time, in 1871, 19 South Molton Street was occupied by son John Thomas Bolding, the only son of John Lupton to show a lasting interest in the business.
In August 1879, John Lupton announces that he is retiring in favour of his son John Thomas and from the notice in The London Gazette (12 August), we learn that the firm has branched out and that they are no longer just situated at 19, South Molton Street, but also at 14, Barratt’s Court, Wigmore Street, and at 304, Euston Road. They describe themselves as ‘wholesale and retail brass and metal founders, lead, iron, tin, and general metal merchants’.
The activities of the firm must have slowly evolved from brass founding to sanitary appliances and that is what they became known for. Already in 1871, John Lupton and John Thomas, together with one Joseph Titsink, acquire a patent for “improvements in water closets and in valves and regulating apparatus for the same” (The London Gazette, 20 January 1871). South Molton Street was outside the City of London and there was no need for a member of the brass founding family to become a member of one of the Worshipful Companies of the City, but in 1883, John Thomas nevertheless deemed it in his interest to do so and he became a member of the Company of Painters by redemption. This membership gave him the right to apply for the Freedom of the City, which he duly did.
At the end of the 1880s, the firm moved the business to a new building on a triangular plot on the corner of Davies Street and South Molton Lane, not very far from their old premises in South Molton Street (see for the whole building Google Street View here). The building was designed in the northern Renaissance style by John Thomas Wimperis and William Henry Arber who were strongly associated with the Grosvenor Estate who owned and still owns large swathes of Mayfair and Belgravia (see here). It is thus no wonder that Bolding named their business Grosvenor Works. The new building had showrooms, a warehouse and workshops on three of the floors, but, no doubt to the relief of the neighbours, the foundry was moved out in 1894 to Eden Street. John Thomas, according to one story, always came to Davies Street in a brougham and would not allow any females to work in the business. All the administration had to be entered by hand by the clerks or salesmen. John Thomas retired in 1824 and shortly after, the firm became a public limited company, although members of the Bolding family remained on the board.
Despite John Thomas’s old-fashioned practices, Bolding’s were one of the first companies to grant their employees holidays with pay and a sickness benefit fund. In 1932, the building in Davies Street was modernised with a new entrance and the basement workshop was turned into a showroom. New workshops and garages were constructed in Davies Mews. The 1930s were a busy time for Bolding’s as the taste in sanitary appliances moved away from the solid Victorian designs to more elegant bathroom furniture that was easier to clean and could be supplied in more colours than just plain white. In 1963, Bolding’s was able to buy their competitor Thomas Crapper & Co., but only a few years after that, the Bolding business was wound up, while Crapper still exists and, as they proudly announce on their website, is still producing bathroom fittings (see here).
More information on Bolding’s can be found in “A History of John Bolding & Sons” in The Plumber and Journal of Heating, vol. 84 July 1962 issue, p.474-478.