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William Henry Allen

William Henry Allen reading in the library at Bromham House [Z50/21/30]
William Henry Allen reading in the library at Bromham House [Z50/21/30]

William Henry Allen was born in 1844, the son of William George Allen of Cardiff. He was the founder of W. H. Allen Limited, which was based at Queen’s Engineering Works in Bedford. The young William always had an interest in mathematics and mechanical drawing and was educated at Wallescote House, Weston-super-Mare [Somerset]. Aged 15 he was apprenticed to Richard Neville & Company at their Wern Foundry. In 1865 he married Anne Mary Pemberton Howell, with whom he had twelve children. Following a brief (1866-1869) partnership with Nelson Fedden (brother of his second wife Madeline), Allen left Wales for London where he joined Gwynne & Company, centrifugal pump manufacturers.

In October 1880 W. H. Allen left Gwynne & Company to se up his own firm, W. H. Allen & Company in York Street, Lambeth [Surrey], in partnership with Richard Wright. The company designed and manufactured pumps, engines, fans and generators. By 1885 they were supplying dynamos for electric lighting to both Royal Navy and mercantile ships. By 1890 the company employed 450 men and several enlargements were made to the Lambeth works. In 1893 Richard Wright retired, Allen’s eldest son Richard having become a partner in 1890. Richard had received his engineering training with large shipping companies in barrow-in-Furness and Clydeside before joining his father’s business in 1888. In 1900 the company changed its name to W. H. Allen & Son and in 1920 to W. H. Allen, Sons & Company Limited. The company was to remain a family business until the 1960s.

Pressure on the Lambeth works from the neighbouring London & South Western Railway caused Allen to look for a site for a new works. Eventually, at the suggestion of an employee, he looked at Bedford, which had an established engineering tradition and an adequate pool of skilled labour. Allen found a site adjacent to the Midland Railway on the Queen’s Park estate and agreed a purchase price with the owners, the Whitbread family. Work began on the new factory on 20th January 1894 [AQ7/2/1]. It is thought that about a hundred workers from Lambeth relocated to Bedford. The Queen’s Works had doubled in size by the end of 1900. The premises continued to change as business fortunes dictated [AQ7/2 and AQ7/3A]. New works, the Biddenham Works and the Pightle Works were also added over time. In 1968 W. H. Allen merged with Allen Gears of Pershore [Worcestershire] and Belliss & Morcom of Birmingham and the new group of companies became known as APE – Amalgamated Power Engineering Limited. Ownership of this company passed to Northern Engineering Industries Plc in 1977 and in 1989 the W. H. Allen part of the company was acquired by Rolls-Royce, the company then trading as Allen Power Engineering. This was the death knell of manufacturing in Bedford and Rolls-Royce closed the Queen’s Works in 2000 and the works was sold for housing in February 2004.

W. H. Allen built himself a large new mansion, Bromham House, in 1897 in which year he also became a Justice of the Peace for the Bedford Division. He was High Sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1904 and also a Deputy Lieutenant for the county. Between 1907 and 1910 gave the large sum of £3,000 to the building fund of All Saints church in Queen’s Park. He maintained a London dwelling a 13 South Street, Park Lane. He died on 3rd September 1926 and has a memorial tablet in Bromham church, but is not buried in the parish. His entry in Who’s Who states: “Recreations: all games, including hunting and shooting, gardening, farming and organ-playing”.

Memorial to W. H. Allen in Bromham Church May 2012
Memorial to W. H. Allen in Bromham Church May 2012