William Sparrow Ltd

Founded as the Somerset Wagon and Wheel Works in the 1860s and quickly became a firm of wide repute as millwrights, iron founders, machinery manufacturers, electrical and water engineers of true entrepreneurial ability. In about 1920 the first dodgem car was patented and built in Martock by Sparrows The date William Sparrow started his Wagon and Wheel Works in Bower Hinton is uncertain. Born in Bourton, east of Wincanton, where the mighty Waterloo Mill was a large flax weaving and iron founding business. This is exactly what George Parsons was doing at New Cross in West Lambrook when Sparrow started work there in the 1850s. He moved with Parsons after fire destroyed his works at New Cross and bought Careys Mill in Martock. Parsons transformed the mail into the magnificent Parrett Works. It seems likely Sparrow started trading in his own right at the same time as working at the Parrett Works. George Parsons hit financial troubles in 1869 after flax prices hit rock bottom. By 1871 Sparrow was employing 38 men and boys, proof that he was a shrewd and energetic businessman. Yet by 1876 he was in difficulty as a sale of his Plant Machinery and Engines was advertised in Palmers Weekly News. Luckily an announcement was made the next week that trade would resume business once more, as sole proprietor, for reasons not explained. It might be that he had a financial backer who had enabled him to expand so fast, but who then pulled out. In 1874 Sparrow advertised a new 7 horsepower portable Steam Engine and a new 4 hp vertical Steam Engine In 1892 and 1898 Carts and Shepherds Huts were ordered by a Mr R Blake and exported to the Falkland Islands.

In 1896 Sparrow appeared at court in Wells regarding an Engine exploding and killing 2 men and injuring others at Yeovilton. He was found not guilty and returned to Martock through a cheering crowd.

In 1899 William Sparrow died, at which time he was Martock's largest employer. His obituary stated that he was a man of strong determination and activity, with keen business abilities and at all times genial and obliging. He was a strong non-Conformist, and many of his family worshipped at the Ebeneezer Chapel in Bower Hinton. William and his family lived at 100, Bower Hinton, where some of the family still lives in2014. It is known as 'The Nest'. After his death the company was run by his two sons William and Herbert. William lived at the Red Lion Hotel in Crewkerne. In 1912 the brothers bought the Osborne Brewery in Yeovil, and in 1915 William left the business and ran the Osborne Garage there. In 1905 Herbert bought Merrifield Farm, and the company expanded north of the main road around Merrifield, with William living at Merrifield House. They sold off the farmland in 1924.

In 1906 the firm became a Limited Company, William Sparrow Ltd. At about this time, a poster once in the Sparrows office proclaimed their skills and products:

Sparrows Waggon wheels

All kinds of agricultural implements and machinery by all leading makers on most favourable terms, including ploughs, harrows, chaff cutters, root pulpers, corn and oil cake mills, threshing machines, mowing and reaping machines. Their clients included the Digby and Ilchester Estates. They were supplying machinery to many gloving businesses and making water wheels, mils and milling machinery, such as that still in situ at Madey Mills, Martock, the Castleton Mill in Sherborne and the recently restored Chaffcombe Waterwheel, both the latter open to the public. In World War I an order received in 1915from Armstrong Whitworth for 1,540 artillery gun carriage wheels, made at the rate of 70 a week. And an order from the Midland Railway for wagon wheels. In 1916 the Ministry of Munitions for 500 wheels, Wantage Engineering 360 wheels and the War Office ordered wheels and 367,000 tent pins, as well as a Hydraulic Tyre setter. 250 bomb trucks for £2,562.10s, 400 (unspecified) wheels for £8,420, and 500 (unspecified) wheels for £2,937.10s. The same year Trade Unions requested a War Bonus of 5 shillings for men and 2/6 for boys, but Herbert Sparrow went to the War Office to explain this was impossible. During WW1 Sparrows made 6,808 Artillery Wheels weighing 1-3 cwt each and 800 Howitzer wheels weighing 5-7 cwt each, they repaired 2,154 Artillery Wheels sent from France and other theatres of war. Also 250 steel bomb carriages and 774,600 tent pegs. At this period they employed between 80 and 100 men. 16 joined the war effort and 3 were killed. In 1919 the Trade Union asked for hours to be reduced from 54 to 47 a week at the same wages.

Sparrows 1935

In 1920 they requested a wage increase to 2d. for skilled men and 1d for unskilled men and boys. The records (now gone) are unclear, but the Unions also seemed to be demanding an extra 4d an hour, but Sparrows would only agree if Yandles and Sibleys (Parrett Works) would also agree the same rate. In 1920 Sparrows were making a lot of fairground machinery, made and patented the first Dodgem Car. Sadly production only lasted 3 years when American dodgems started being imported. Leonard (Len) Sparrow, Herbert's second son, became a Director of the firm, taking over after the death of his father Herbert and uncle William in 1939. Their entrepreneurial spirit continued apace: Leonard's fifth son Clifford was a travelling salesman and sixth son Eric set up the Ideal Laundry on the Sparrows site, which later moved to the Vita Ray laundry in Yeovil. In 1955 Leonard's son Colin Sparrow became a director. Purchased Percy Winsor Ltd of Yeovil to acquire the dealership for Ferguson tractors. In 1959 Peter Elliott joined Percy Winsor and then Sparrows, becoming a Director of Sparrows after marrying Jean Sparrow, daughter of Colin. Colin's son Paul joined the firm in 1967, and the huge new implement shed was built on the Merrifield side of the road. The original Works buildings south of the road were increasingly let out. In 1977 Leonard Sparrow died and his son Colin became Managing Director. In the 1980s their cousins the Pittards sold their shares. Trade was not good and Colin sold out to Peter and Jean Elliott in 1986, who ran it as a second-hand agricultural machinery business. Their son Dave runs the business in 2014.

In Kelly's 1930 Directory they are listed as 'engineers, millwrights, brass and iron founders, agricultural implement makers, glove making machines, circular and horizontal sawing machinery.

All kinds of iron and wood wheels. Motor engineers. The Somerset Wheel and Wagon Works.'