CAHS Snapshots of Local History Dec 22

With contributions from Cirencester Archaeological & Historical Society, members & friends

Constables Works, Cirencester 1911

Constable of Cirencester: carriage and coach builders

Today we are familiar with increased zoning in the layout and growth of Cirencester, separating housing from commercial and especially industrial activities. The development of the Love Lane Industrial Estate (as it was originally called) from the 1950s really got this process underway.

But long embedded within the town some older industrial buildings do survive, usually where they have merited conversion for other uses, and it can be fun to search them out.

Others have been swept away, usually to satisfy housing demand in or close to the town centre. Good examples include the wartime factory in Barton Lane, the old laundry in Somerford Road, and most recently Bennetts Garage in Victoria Road. Add to all this the conversion of several now-closed pubs over the years, a continuing trend.

One good example where old and new can still be detected is the site of Constable’s carriage works in London Road, in premises established more or less opposite the Waggon & Horses pub, itself recently converted too.

In July 1910 the Wilts & Glos Standard reported: ‘Mr F.W. Constable, coach and carriage builder, of Cirencester and Fairford, has now opened for business the spacious and commodious premises which have for some months been in course of erection in the Victoria grounds at the bottom of Dyer-street, and the building forms an imposing object of the London-road entrance to the town. Mr Constable’s Fairford premises are situated adjoining the town bridge over the Coln and at Cirencester they are within a few yards of the London-road bridge over the Churn, so that he is thus able to continue at Cirencester the title of ‘The Bridge Carriage Works’ which has for some years been applied to the flourishing Fairford undertaking.’

Demolition of the Cirencester works in May 2001.

Happily, the Building Plans & Alterations for this new building survive in Glos Archives, showing a large building consisting of a ‘dwelling house’ at the town end, the remainder workshop/showroom areas well-lit via plenty of large windows forming the façade on both ground and first floors. Happily too, a good W. Dennis Moss photograph used as a postcard shows the scene looking out of town along London Road in the following year. The two are obviously linked, with ‘F.W Constable’s Carriage Works’ boldly painted as promotional advertising on its roof (or was that added only when creating the postcard?).

Clearly the Cirencester works was added to an already successful Fairford-based business, and trade directories list Frederick Constable as a ‘coach builder’ from 1891. His expansion reflects a growing trade in the manufacture and repair of what were then still horse-drawn vehicles of all types.

This expansion also makes sense in the development of the London Road area of the town, with the Master family at The Abbey releasing land for sale from the 1870s onwards. The rock-faced building style was also very typical of much of Cirencester’s considerable Victorian and Edwardian development.  

Frederick Constable continues to appear in trade directories until at least 1935. He died in January 1938, the business being his life’s work, trading throughout that time in his and his son’s name. Post-war occupants of the building included an R.A. Lister showroom (before moving to Love Lane) and finally Holland & Holland’s showrooms, until demolition in May 2001. The London Place flats are there now, incorporating the surviving ‘dwelling house’ of 1910.

The Constable´s axle cap.

Coach-building was a properly artisan trade, which has now passed into history in any meaningful way. But it retained its distinctiveness right through from horse-drawn vehicles to motor vehicles and eventually the emergence of mass production in car manufacture. The time span of Constable’s works at both Fairford and Cirencester almost exactly mirrors those stages of manufacturing change.

What of the company’s products?  Every so often a gig, a lightweight two-wheeled vehicle used for pleasure driving, will be advertised at auction and one built around 1900 popped up at a specialist sale in Reading in October. These were core products in the firm’s output. Some other products, large and small, are preserved locally and can be seen. The Victorian village bier now preserved in Down Ampney church is definitely a product of the Cirencester works on the evidence of its hub-caps. Perhaps there are still other examples tucked away?

Probably the most impressive survivor is a fine carrier’s cart now on display in the Cotswold Motoring Museum in Bourton on the Water.  Made by Constables around 1910, it was ready for the road for the sum of £32. The client was the long-established farming family of Pritchett of Bibury, who ran a daily service into Cirencester, taking in Ablington, Arlington, Bibury and Barnsley. That was replaced by a motor coach in 1920 (which the Pritchetts then ran until 1959) and the old cart disappeared into a local barn – another mirror image of the company and its products, all history now.

David Viner

Support Cirencester’s principal heritage societies and their event programmes: Archaeological & Historical Society (www.cirenhistory.org.uk) and Civic Society (www.ccsoc.org.uk), which runs a programme of Town Walks in the season plus pre-booked for small groups. See the Society’s website or phone William Cooper on 01285 88 55 90.

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