R. Groom & Sons
Although it is not apparent today Groom’s Alley and the area immediately beyond Bridge Road was once the site of the most important large-scale industrial concern in Victorian Wellington. The street itself has no connections with horses or weddings but takes its name from the Groom family whose timber business was located here at the Shropshire Works.
From Humble Origins
When the Victorian era began, Wellington was one of Shropshire’s principal furniture making centres and the town was particularly renowned for the production of chairs. RG Groom, who began his commercial life as a basket weaver, established a successful timber business in New Street during 1835, on a site that was very close to the modern day Wesleyan Methodist Church. Groom was eventually succeeded by his sons, Richard and Thomas, who both played a prominent role in the life of the town. The Grooms were highly representative of a new class of affluent suburbanites who benefited from Wellington’s improved commercial fortunes and were determined to leave their mark on the town by improving public services and amenities.
During his lifetime, Richard Groom served as a Magistrate, County Councillor, Improvement Commissioner, Chairman of the Local School Board and a Guardian of the Wellington Union Workhouse, while his family were among Wellington’s leading Methodists of the period. In this capacity, they funded a quarter of the costs of the new Wesleyan Church in New Street, which opened in 1883, and were trustees of the Princes Street School. When John Bayley founded Wrekin College in 1880 (it was known as Wellington College until the 1920s), his success in establishing its good reputation was in no small part due to the financial help he received from Richard Groom, who was keen to establish a private school in the area for Wellington’s burgeoning middle-earners.
Moving between social classes was not an easy task in Victorian society and the philanthropy of families such as the Grooms also served as an indication to the outside world of their own upward mobility. This was reflected in the choice of homes of these newly wealthy individuals and many large and imposing houses were built around the edge of town during the late Nineteenth Century, such as Sunnycroft, the National Trust property in Holyhead Road. In this respect, the Groom’s outdid all of their peers, by acquiring Dothill House, the former seat of the Forester family, who were once Lords of the Manor in Wellington. Unfortunately, Wellington Urban District Council, who built a large housing estate on the site during the 1960s, demolished this property.
The Shropshire Works
The motive force behind the Groom’s rise to prominence was undoubtedly the success of the family business, which moved to a more convenient railside location at the Shropshire Works on Bridge Road before 1870. The premises were originally constructed as a railway carriage building shop and engineering plant by John Dickson after the railway arrived in Wellington. He used the site as the headquarters for his own railway contracting business. Although Dickson enjoyed some success in this venture, he was eventually bankrupted after a scandal relating to the poor quality of his company’s work on a railway in the north east of England. This enabled the Groom family to establish an industrial concern that was quite unrivalled in Wellington and perhaps even further a field.
At the turn of the Twentieth Century, the firm described itself as the ‘biggest timber buyers in England’, by which time it manufactured a vast array of goods at The Shropshire Works: from spade handles and clothes pegs to heavy civil engineering products for the War Office and the Admiralty. The Company’s site contained an astonishing 79, 000 square feet of covered workshops, offices, saw mills and warehouses, while raw materials and goods were shipped into and exported out of their timber yard by rail from three sidings connected to the main line. Groom’s timber yard remained at Bridge Road for around 100 years, before its closure in 1970. The site itself is now covered by car parks and housing and only the name of Groom’s Alley survives as a reminder of this important part of Victorian Wellington’s Industrial heritage.