Bennetts has been trading in Grimsby since the early nineteenth century. At that time Grimsby was a small fishing community situated by the mouth of the River Humber in the north eastern corner of Lincolnshire, England. During the 19th Century Grimsby grew rapidly with the development of the docks and the arrival of the railway. It became an important trading port and the biggest fishing port in the UK during it's height in the 1950's and 60's. Since then the fishing industry has sadly declined but Grimsby still remains a busy port specialising in the import and export of cars and bulky products such as timber. The fish docks have been revived by the burgeoning offshore wind turbine service industry. Below is a timeline of the significant milestones in the history of Bennetts Timber. We hope that you enjoy reading it, if you have any old photos or memories of working at Bennetts we would be pleased to hear from you.
1799 - William Bennett started as a chemist in a house where the Corn Exchange later stood in what is now the Market Place.
1823 - The first stationary steam engine in Grimsby is installed by William Bennett in the Victoria Street Mill to grind imported bones and linseed for agricultural purposes. This was a second hand beam engine purchased from a Lancashire cotton mill. The company is now based 256-258 Victoria Street (north) where it remains until the 1960's.
1846 - The first saw bench was put into the bone mill by Joseph Bennett Snr (William's youngest son) and started using the power from the steam engines to saw timber.
1847 - Railway sleepers 'staved' or split using the powered saw bench for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company which owned Grimsby Docks and built the lines westwards out of Grimsby.
1850 - The sawmill also worked for Wintringham's which later became Wintringham and Bennetts but the partnership was dissolved after a fall out over politics! There were also other partnerships during this period including Bennetts, Wilkinson & Stephenson and Bennetts & Stephenson.
1872 - William Bennett dies and Bennetts & Co formed, only the direct decendents of William Bennett become partners in the business until the 1950's when the present limited company is formed.
1870 - Joseph Bennett Jnr (elder son of JB Snr) joins the Company and works through to the early 1940's!
1880 - Three parties (Henry & Joseph Bennett, John Barker and John Brown) purchase land between Corporation Road and Adam Smith Street, alongside Alexandra Road. Lots were drawn to split the land and the Bennetts got the third nearest to the Alexandra Dock. A new sawmill and cresote plant was built on this land, the sawmill remained in use until about 1918 and the creosote plant right up to the 1950's. In the same year Francis Bennett (younger son of JB Snr) joins the company and remains as a partner until 1946.
1889 - Shipping. The wider family of Bennetts & Co and Wm Bennett & Sons (fish manure manufacturers) invest in steamships which trade general cargo world wide. In all 10 ships were owned over a 22 year period until 1911, they were all named after the Anglo-Saxon administrative areas of Lincolnshire, for example "Aslacoe".
1911 - The last of the steamships is sold off as the partnership with Wn Bennett & Sons comes to an end. A year later Francis Bennett was knighted by King George V for services to the local community, both Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George stayed as his guests at Fryston House in Grimsby during the 1910/11 general elections.
1914-1918 - details of the company during the First World War are sketchy, it is reputed that the company had sizeable investments in Bermerhaven and Danzig and these were lost when war broke out. The company continued to supply timber, presumably in a reduced capacity, as undoubtedly a number of members of staff would have been called to join up, unfortunately it is not known how many employees lost their lives whilst serving during the war.
1919-1939 - During this time ex-servicemen will have returned and the family partnership expanded to include Roderick Bennett, Michael Bennett (sons of Francis Bennett) and Christopher Bennett (son of Joseph Bennett Jnr). In addition to the Victoria Street offices there were a number of operational sites in Grimsby:-
- The brilliantly named 'Baltic Sawmill' situated on the east side of the Alexandra Dock, towards Lock Hill. This dealt with sawing the logs that floated in rafts to the north side of Alexandra Dock. The logs, some measuring up to 36" diameter and 32' long were towed by a man rowing a 'pram' (a flat bottomed skull) from the raft to the mill slipway where they were hauled up by a hydraulic chain before being cut using the two massive frame saws.
- Adam Smith Street Creosote Plant - situated on the corner of Alexandra Road and Adam Smith Street the pressure creosote plant was situated at the far end of the yard. This was used to pressure treat timber sleepers and crossings for the railway. The yard was served directly by a railway line which led from the Dock Estate across the road and in to the yard.
- Carrs Mill in Armstrong Place - this consisted of a 3.5 acre site towards the western end of Alexandra Dock, the Carr family were the previous owners hence the name. This site was leased to the partnership by Grimsby Corporation and became the main sawmill in about 1910 (sawmilling having been previously carried at the Adam Smith Street site). The mill machinery was powered by two large Lancashire made boilers, the steam drove an engine that powered machinery until electricity was installed. Pre-tractors horses were used to haul the timber on dollies, during the summer horses were grazed on a paddock at the back of Carrs Mill.
1939-1945 - Just over 20 years since the First World War, Britain is plunged into the Second World War with the imminent threat from Nazi Germany particularly in the form of air raids. During the war years the majority of the landed timber was moved away from Alexandra Dock to Timber Storage Disposal sites situated in the Ravendale Valley, at Hatcliffe and Aylesby to protect them from enemy action. The sites were visted each Friday by Sir Francis Bennett and George Rhoades to take the weekly wages and tea ration to the Watchmen who manned the sites. During the war the manpower was much reduced as at least 12 of the staff served with HM Forces in various theatres of war. Part of the Carrs Mill site was commandeered by the Fire Brigade for a base by the Docks during the war.
1946-1951 - The company continued to trade and those who had served were de-mobbed and eventually returned from the various theatres of war, although sadly 2 members of staff, George Rawson and Frank Rands had been killed in action. Following the war there were a number of changes in the timber trade, the price of timber had increased dramatically and builders/joiners could no longer afford to hold large stocks. Sweden had also developed its railway system so that timber could be taken south and exported from ice free waters all year round, thus ending the traditional restriction of supply. Much of the partnership's business had been built on supplying the Railway Companies with timber for sleepers and for the construction of wagons, the newly formed British Rail quickly changed to concrete sleepers and metal for wagons. Coupled with decreasing margins on sales to merchants all of these factors led to a reduction in trade and new markets had to be found. The large public construction companies were approached but we were apparently 'warned off' by other merchants.
1951 - After a number of poor trading years the decision was taken to dissolve the partnership, dating back to 1872, and become a limited liability company, Bennetts & Company (Grimsby) Ltd which is the same ttrading company as today. The board comprised the current Bennett partners, and breaking with tradition, George Rhoades.
1956 - The Company's offices at 256-258 Victoria Street are compulsioraly purchased by Grimsby Corporation for re-development of the site which became the new police station. As part of the compensation negotiation the Corporation extended the lease of the Carr's Mill (Charlton Street) site for 99 years at a fixed ground rent and so the new offices were built on the Charlton Street/Carr's Mill site.
1958- Tim Bennett, the fifth generation of the Bennett family, joins the board having worked for the firm since returning from National Service in 1952. The decision is taken to cease the trade in round logs and consequently the Baltic Sawmill site is sold. Shortly after that the Adam Smith Street site is sold to the Humber Warehousing Company. This now left the Charlton Street as the sole operational site comprising of offices, sawmill, timber sheds and open storage.
1969 - Despite the implementation of various cost cutting measures business continued to be difficult through the 1960's culminating in the Midland Bank appointing a Receiver & Manager in February 1969 and calling-in the overdraft which extended to over 6 figures. Drastic action had to be taken and many of the staff were immediately made redundant. After a year of cost-cutting and selling any assets not required for the running of the business, the overdraft was paid-off, creditors settled and the bank issued a Deed oof Satisfaction so the Receiver withdrew - a very close shave!
1970 - The Board was re-formed with Tim Bennett (MD), Ches Brocklesby (Co Sec) and Tom Rhoades (Sales Director). Michael Bennett remained as Chairman but had no involvement in the day-to-day running of the business. The new office block was sub-let for a premium and the Armstrong Street end of the yard let to a haulage company, notice was also given to the Dock Authority that all timber stored on the dock would be moved onto our Charlton Street site thus saving on rent and the Dock Labour Scheme. These actions gave the company much needed liquidity and working capital. Within a year (and alot of hard work) the company returned to profit.