The Victoria Ironworks Leighton Buzzard
George Brown's hay sweep about 1930 [Z422/3]
In June 1981 former County Archivist Chris Pickford made these notes on George Brown and Company [CRT130Lei26]: "According to early twentieth century catalogues of implements etc. produced by George Brown and Son, Agricultural Engineers of Leighton Buzzard, the firm was established in 1830. The founder of the firm was George Brown, whose great-grandsons still  run the business. He was followed by William Grey Brown who died in 1926. It was apparently his son, Ernest William Brown A. M. I. M. E., who developed the implement making side of the business in the early years of the century and brought out inventions such as the "Openeesi" patent horse hoes, and the "Mansaver" hay sweeps. Alan Brown, the eldest of E. W. Brown's three sons, joined the firm after leaving school at the age of 17 in 1935, and since the death of their father in 1960 the business has been in the hands of the three brothers".
"Trades directories provide some additional information on the history of the firm. the directory for 1839 (the earliest one which covers Leighton Buzzard) mentions George Brown, whitesmith, in Leek Street, and we know from a sale catalogue of March 1841 that George Brown was then in occupation of property in lake Street which included a blacksmith's shop. By 1847 Brown is described as an edge tool maker, and in 1853 he appears as a blacksmith. The directories of 1861, 1864 and 1877 list "Brown, George. Agricultural Implement maker, Victoria Iron Works, Lake Street". By 1885 he had taken his son, William Grey Brown, into partnership, and the 1894 directory advertises the firm as "agricultural engineers, iron and brass founders, and sole makers of patent corn drills"
Benjamin Bevan's map of Leighton Buzzard was published in 1819 and an accompanying reference book showing ownership and occupation of every property shown on the map two years later in 1821. The properties on the site of the ironworks were 369 to 373, owned and occupied as follows:
369: Joseph Nash; Joseph Nash; 370: J. Millard; William Rogers [William Rogers was a baker]; 371: Widow Birdsey; Widow Birdsey; 372: J. Stevens; J. Stevens; 373: J. Stevens; H. Wells.
A property, consisting of a house, cottage and blacksmith's shops in Lake Street was offered for sale by auction by Mr. Flint at the Unicorn, Leighton Buzzard, on 19th March 1841. The sale particulars indicate that the premises were in occupation of George Brown and Daniel Timms, and it seems that Brown may have purchased the property at this time. Certainly by the time of the Inclosure map of 1848, the same site (numbered 140) in Lake Street described as a "House etc." was owned and occupied by George Brown".
Under the terms of the Rating and Valuation Act 1925 every piece of land and building in the country was assessed to determine the rates to be paid on them. Leighton Buzzard was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting the Victoria works [DV1/R80/68-71] noted that it was both owned and occupied by George Brown & Son. He commented: "Buildings mainly are in a very dilapidated state and old some of them being built about 1830. They have been added to in years gone by. They are mainly all brick, slate and tile. The yard is not concreted and only earth. 55 men employed. Trade depends on agriculture. Very old brick and slate inconveniently arranged". The buildings themselves were as follows:
- A: a store measuring 13 feet 6 inches by 34 feet by 11 feet 6 inches;
- B: an office and workshop measuring 20 feet by 27 feet 6 inches by 14 feet 6 inches;
- C: a workshop measuring 20 feet by 24 feet 6 inches by 13 feet;
- D: a power house measuring 21 feet by 37 feet 6 inches by 11 feet;
- E: a workshop measuring 21 feet by 70 feet by 13 feet;
- F: a stone pitched floor plus 17 feet by 25 feet by 11 feet brick and corrugated iron building;
- G: a store measuring 9 feet 6 inches by 7 feet by 10 feet;
- H: a wood and corrugated iron store measuring 6 feet 6 inches by 30 feet by 6 feet; plus a very old and dilapidated cow shed;
- J: a open timber store, built of wood and corrugated iron measuring 33 feet by 42 feet by 8 feet;
- K: a wood and corrugated iron shed now used as a garage with a cement floor and inspection pit; measuring 22 feet 6 inches by 16 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 6 inches;
- L: two low open sheds, built wood and tile with a wood block floor, the store measuring 33 feet by 33 feet by 10 feet plus 9 feet by 16 feet 6 inches by 7 feet;
- M: an open fronted wood and tile shed measuring 20 feet by 9 feet by 9 feet plus 9 feet by 9 feet by 9 feet; a wood and corrugated iron coke shed measuring 10 feet by 7 feet 6 inches; a wood and slate plough shed measuring 10 feet by 14 feet;
- N: a brick and tile sawdust shed measuring 9 feet 6 inches by 11 feet by 8 feet 6 inches; a brick and tile store (old loose box) measuring 15 feet by 10 feet by 10 feet;
- O: a brick and tile paint shop with a loft over measuring 25 feet 6 inches by 30 feet by 23 feet; a brick and slate building (store for moulds) with a loft over measuring 16 feet by 12 feet 6 inches by 14 feet plus 8 feet 6 inches by 12 feet by 9 feet 6 inches; a brick and slate mould store measuring 9 feet 6 inches by 5 feet by 8 feet;
- P: a brick and slate workshop for casting measuring 31 feet 6 inches by 33 feet 6 inches by 15 feet plus 27 feet by 21 feet by 14 feet; a brick and corrugated iron and felt casting shop (lean-to) measuring 27 feet by 20 feet by 10 feet; a brick and slate open fronted fuel store measuring 30 feet by 10 feet by 12 feet; an old brick and tile open building measuring 12 feet by 14 feet by 9 feet;
- Q: an open brick and tile building for fuel measuring 22 feet 6 inches by 14 feet by 10 feet; a small open shed; an open corrugated iron lean-to measuring 49 feet by 20 feet 6 inches by 15 feet;
- R: a wood and corrugated iron garage measuring 10 feet by 20 feet 6 inches by 15 feet; an open corrugated iron store measuring 7 feet 6 inches by 15 feet by 7 feet;
- S: a brick, wood and tile store measuring 21 feet 6 inches by 30 feet by 16 feet; three scrap iron corrugated iron stores measuring 29 feet by 13 feet 6 inches by 8 feet 6 inches; 24 feet by 12 feet by 7 feet 6 inches and 15 feet by 10 feet by 9 feet 6 inches; a lavatory; an iron store, an open wood and slate building measuring 9 feet 6 inches by 16 feet by 6 feet 6 inches;
- T: a carpenter's shop, built of brick, wood and slate measuring 30 feet 6 inches by 22 feet by 13 feet; a wood and thatch wood store "was old barn" measuring 34 feet by 20 feet by 18 feet;
- U: a moderately new brick and rubberoid store measuring 16 feet by 71 feet 6 inches by 14 feet plus 2 feet 2 inches by 11 feet by 14 feet; an old cow shed "now used for spares" measuring 13 feet by 71 feet 6 inches by 11 feet;
- V: an old brick and slate cottage used as offices, four rooms, the total area being 26 feet by 18 feet by 18 feet 6 inches;
- W: a brick and slate building used for employees' cycles measuring 8 feet by 37 feet 6 inches by 10 feet;
- X: two very old and dilapidated cottages approximately 24 feet 6 inches by 21 feet "unused", "condemnable";
There was a chimney stack 5 feet square and 50 feet high "boiler now taken away"; as well as one small furnace for drying core, one cupola ("not large"), 50 feet of main shafting, seven forges and a 50 horsepower gas engine.
The Victoria Works site was later redeveloped as a supermarket [Safeways] and garage. This has since been further redeveloped, the supermarket remaining (though now Morrisons) but a number of flats and maisonettes being built on part of the site. George Browns, unlike so many long-established local firms, is still very much in existence, though now based in Grovebury Road.