James Shepherd, Shird Fold and the Power Pulley
A Davenport history feature, written by Charlie Hulme
Gatepost of 71 The Crescent, 2014.
Whilst strolling the older streets in Davenport, the eye of the curious may be attracted to the names of the houses, still preserved on gateposts, or in plaques high on the wall. These were essential as well as decorative in the early days of Davenport, as the systematic numbering of houses was not always generally applied. Many of the names are of a generalised 'countryside' form (Oak House, The Alders), while others clearly derive from the early owner's favourite holiday resorts (Wylfa, Arisaig). But a few of them seem to offer a mystery for the local historian to explore. Such a one is 'Shird Fold', more prosaically known today as No. 71 The Crescent. Our picture of the house is from 2014, showing the typical 1890s design features, including the half-basement and consequential steps up the front door, the decorative brickwork, and the wrought-iron railings around the roof of the bay windows. It is included in the Egerton Road / Frewland Avenue Conservation Area in which development is now strictly controlled.
This house was built, around 1891, for James Shepherd, on land leased from John Hooley, a Stockport nurseryman. Hooley had purchased the land which now forms The Crescent (originally called Davenport Crescent) following the 1877 disposal of the estate of the Davenports of Bramhall Hall. The 1898 edition of the Ordnance Survey map shows 'Shird Fold' (marked here in red) with a number of nearby plots still undeveloped.
James Shepherd, born c.1835, was an engineer by trade - he was a mechanical engineer, but in Victorian days such a profession was not fully accepted - he described himself on early census records as a civil engineer - as distinct from a military engineer. His earliest years have proved difficult to uncover: he was born in Manchester, and would seem to be the same James Shepherd listed (age 27) in 1861 living at 16 Harding Street, Ancoats with his wife Mary (26) and and their children Thomas (age 6), Elizabeth (3) and Charles (1). He described himself as a 'Prospecting Engineer'. The family had a domestic servant, 12-year old Fanny Hughes.
Mary Shepherd must have died very young, as did so many in those years: 1866, James had married again in Manchester, and with his three children, a new wife Elizabeth (formerly Elizabeth Barrow), and James and Elizabeth's new daughter, Catherine Grantham Shepherd, aged 1. Their new home was 11 Monmouth Terrace, Rusholme, then a desirable middle-class suburb. James recorded his son Thomas as an engineering apprentice; probably he was working with his father to learn the trade.
By 1881 they were still in Rusholme, now at 2 Denbigh Villas, with daughters Elizabeth and Catherine, joined by son Lavington Watt Shepherd (8) and daughter Florence Shepherd (5). The origin of the unusual names 'Lavington Watt' is something of a mystery; it must have been significant to the family, as James's son (by his first marriage) Thomas Shepherd gave the exact same name to his youngest son, born about 1893, creating some genealogical confusion. There must be some connection with the Wiltshire village of Market Lavington, which has a street called 'Watt's Way' but we haven't been able to discern the connection.
The weaving shed, Quarry Bank Mill, with overhead shafts and pulleys.
It was around this time that James, perhaps while working in one of the many factories that used line-shafts, pulley wheels and belts to drive all individual machines - looms or machine tools for example - from one large steam engine, had an Idea. It occurred to him that as the belt ran round the pulley, air was drawn in which would lead to slipping, and reduction in the amount of power transmitted. If the air had a means of escape, the problem would be reduced, so why not make holes or channels round the pulley for this to happen? A simple idea, but in February 1884 he was awarded a Patent giving him the right to bar others from manufacturing such pulleys for 20 years, and later obtained patents in other countries.
This diagram is from his US Patent application, showing perforations in the working surface of the pulley. The result was the foundation of the Patent Power Pulley Company Ltd in 1886 to manufacture the pulleys; premises were obtained in the shape of the Union Works in Carpenter Street (Off Charles Street), Manchester.
Among the first Shareholders in the company when it 'went public' in 1886 and dropped the 'Patent' from its name included John and George Walthew, cotton spinners and leading citizens of Stockport.
This map from the period shows the Union Works in relation to the River Medlock and the railway viaduct between Manchester Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations. In 2014 the area is much altered: the only building remaining unaltered is the Lass O'Gowrie public house; some of the river has been covered over, Carpenter Street has vanished, and the approximate site of the Union Works is the car park adjacent to Princess Street behind the Ibis Hotel.
By 1891, James had moved his family to the leafy suburb of Davenport. The 1891 census shows James, Elizabeth, Catherine, Lavington, Florence and servant Olive Wootton at 'Holly House', a now-lost house on Bramhall Lane which we guess they were renting during the construction of their new permanent home on The Crescent. Catherine Grantham Shepherd married artist Frederick Davenport Bates: their story continues in another feature.
An advertisement from the trade press in the Edwardian period shows that the company flourished for many years. Over time, it diversified into other pulley-related products such as a steel belt which could replace the traditional leather version. Lavington Watt Shepherd joined his father in the firm; by 1901 the household at Shird Fold comprised James (67) and his wife Elizabeth, James's daughter by his first marriage Elizabeth Connelly and her daughter Catherine (8), Lavington and servant Annie Hulse.
In the 1890s, local artist Frederick Bates was planning a painting trip to the Holy Land, and seeking finance from the businessmen of the Davenport area, which would be repaid from the money to be raised by charging admission to displays of the resulting large religious works. However the consortium made little profit, but from the contacts he had made, Bates gained a wife. In 1899 he marries Catherine Grantham Shepherd.
By 1911, more major changes had occurred in the family. James had died in 1905, and Lavington, who took over as Managing Director, had married and moved into his own house, 'Saxonholme' in nearby Davenport Park. Elizabeth must have decided that a smaller house was in order, and she moved with the remaining family into a semi-detached house, No. 22 The Crescent, across the road, which she appears to have again named 'Shird Fold', although the gatepost of the original large house retains the name up to the present day.
Elizabeth Shepherd died on 11 May 1919 at 22 The Crescent, aged 84, and is buried at Dean Row Unitarian Chapel near Wilmslow.
In the 1920s Lavington Watt Shepherd was awarded two patents for improvements to the company products, but the period would have seen the demand for the company's products decline, due to the economic depression and also the move away from centralised power in factories to individual electric motors on machines. In 1931 the Power Pulley Company entered voluntary liquidation, the Chairman, Lavington Watt Shepherd, then of 'Charlton', Manor Road, Cheadle Hulme was appointed as 'Liquidator for the purposes of winding-up.' A new company, Power Pulley Company (1931) Ltd., was formed, but whether it continued in manufacturing we have been unable to discover, although by the 1950s the Union Works was occupied by the Stedall Machine Tool Company.
After the Shepherds
The large house, now referred to simply as 27 The Crescent, was sold to Gerald Darrah, lead manufacturer, aged just 30 in 1911, who moved there from Heaton Chapel with his wife Annie and children Kenneth, Edna and Eileen Ruth. Their income stretched to two live-in 'general servants', Elizabeth Howard and Elsie Gilman. The 1911 census asked the number of rooms in the house, not including lobby, closet or bathroom: the answer was ten. Gerald had taken over the family firm from his father Charles Darrah; he had married Annie Willis in 1904. They renamed the house 'Tal y Llyn' after the famous Welsh beauty spot. By 1924 he was at 'Foxenholme' on Bramhall Lane, Davenport, and later years found him at 'Ferndown', Ladythorn Crescent, Bramhall, and finally 11 Carrwood Road, Bramhall. He died, aged 80, in 1961.
The householder in 1924 was Robert Stott, who kept the house name Tal y Llyn, according to telephone directories, although somehow the 'Shird Fold' gatepost survived. The house number was changed from 27 to 71 in a major renumbering scheme in the 1940s when the large house 'The Paddocks' (formerly 'The Alders' - see separate feature) was demolished, and 29 new homes built on its grounds, 18 of which required numbers on The Crescent.
The map above shows 71 The Crescent as it was in 1934, showing the building which had taken place in what were once open fields to the rear. In more recent times, its garden had seen 'infill' building developments in the form of 71a The Crescent to the south of the house, and two detached houses on the eastern part of the garden, which are accessed from Edmonton Road to the rear. But in 2020, as our heading picture shows, 'Shird Fold' still stands, having survived the fate of no. 69 'Cresgarth' to the north which has been totally replaced by 12 units of 'age exclusive housing' known as 'Cresgarth House.'
Eli Pennington: A personal note