If you walk along the canal tow path into Chester you will see a plaque on the City Road Bridge, showing that the ironwork was provided by J. Mowle & Co. in 1863. James Mowle’s foundry was in Egerton Street but he lived in Hoole where he played a significant part in the life of the local community.
James Michael Boxer Mowle was born on 5th July 1824 at Deal, Kent, and when his family moved to Hull he went to college there and then spent two years in Germany working in their heavy metal industry. After coming to Chester, he married Elizabeth Brocklebank, the daughter of the Rev. J. Brocklebank, the Vicar of Delamere, at Plemstall Church on 26th July 1852.
The first advertisement for the iron founding business, under the name Williams & Mowle, appeared in February 1851 when he was 27 years old. His partner was Robert Williams, previously from the Roodee Foundry. Their foundry and adjoining smith’s workshops had only recently been built in Egerton Street for J. Newall & Co. who had been displaced from their previous site on the south side of the original Flookersbrook Bridge by the arrival of the railways in 1840. Newall’s wheelwright shop was actually named in the proposals for both the railways to Birkenhead and Crewe as being near the termination of their lines in Chester. Before Williams & Mowle moved into the Egerton Street premises they were used by Shrewsbury & Chester Railway Company.
During the next 50 years, advertisements illustrate the variety of products made at the foundry:
- copper and iron pans for brewing and the manufacture of salt, sugar, and soap.
- steam engines (travelling if necessary) plus the machinery for thrashing, winnowing, and bagging corn ready for market.
- machinery for all kinds of engineering work including gas and waterworks, railways, mines, and roads.
An article in Farmers Magazine for 1855 suggests that a steam engine built for Viscount Combermere was ground-breaking. An advertisement in 1877 shows that the winding engine and associated steam driven apparatus at Theresa Colliery in Bagillt were built by the foundry. The firm also installed an engine in a lead rolling mill in Bristol in 1880 which was not replaced until 1956.
Their work was not just a local operation. Railway plans show that the Company bought premises next to the lines in the Egerton Street area so that incoming raw materials and out-going finished products could be more easily handled.
By 1863, James Mowle was the sole owner of the foundry which in 1871 was employing 70 men and 150 boys. In 1883 his son, John Adolf came into the business. James retired in 1891 and a new partner was recruited. The firm then became Mowle & Meacock and existed until 1906 when the foundry was demolished. Egerton Street School was built on the site.
In the 1861 Census, the Mowle family were living in Huntington Road (Sandy Lane?) in Boughton; an 1864 Directory shows them at 3 Egerton Terrace in Hoole. In 1866, Martha Hamilton, whose family owned much of the land in Hoole at that time, released the area on which not only was All Saints Church to be built, but also the three large houses to its east: “Grove Villa” (today’s Academy, formerly the site of the Library), “The Oaklands” and “Golden Grove” (The Dene Hotel). Golden Grove was actually the field name given in the Tithe Map to this stretch of land along Hoole Road. James Mowle moved into “Grove Villa” and renamed it “The Cedars”.
Contrary to the Church’s official guidebook, The Cedars was never used as a Vicarage. The first incumbent of the Church since its opening in 1867 was the Rev. Frederick Anderson, who lived at 5 Egerton Terrace until a Vicarage was built in 1885 in Vicarage Road. A proposal in 1886 to build the new All Saints Boys School in the Church grounds was objected to by James Mowle and it was eventually built behind the Bromfield Arms.
James Mowle played a prominent part in the life of Hoole. He was elected in May 1864 to the new Local Board for the regulation of affairs in the Township of Hoole, and although he lost his seat in 1871 reportedly along with several others due to “new blood” on the “retrenchment ticket”, he was re-elected in 1874.
He was Chairman of the Management Committee of the Lecture Hall and Reading Room from 1869, and his name occurs frequently in reports of local activities. He was also a member of Chester Town Council. He was a house visitor to Chester Infirmary, involved in ensuring evening concerts were held in Chester and he was a supporter of the Autumn Sports Days held on the Roodee. As an active supporter of the Liberal Party he was named along with many others as a “briber” in the enquiry into “treating” during the Chester election of 1880 for “donating” £25.00 so that drinks could be bought for potential voters.
James and Elizabeth Mowle had 7 children and at least 2 of them died at a young age. Elizabeth died in 1870 at the age of 37 after 18 years of marriage soon after they had moved into The Cedars. James re-married 2 years later to Mary Ann Ralphs who herself died 4 years later. The family moved to Victoria Crescent in Queens Park where James died in 1912 aged 87.
Additional material, together with transcriptions of the advertisments shown above, can be found at JMB Mowle - Advertisments & Transcriptions.
Footnote: James Mowle’s Egerton Street Foundry should not be confused with the Flookersbrook Foundry of Cole, Whittle & Co. which operated in Charles Street, off Brook Street and eventually became Chester Hydraulics. Addresses given as Flookersbrook were applied on both sides of the stream.
- Article researched and written by Ralph Earlam, January 2018, Hoole History & Heritage Society