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WOODYATT: Before Taylor-Forbes
Bonnie Durtnall

WOODYATT: Before Taylor-Forbes

The partnership of AR Woodyatt and Charles Auld was formed in 1887/88 when they took over Guelph Enterprise Ltd. The company was located in Nelson Crescent where Market Fresh is today. By 1892, Charles Auld decided to leave the company. It soon became known as Woodyatt & Company. In either incarnation, this factory manufactured sad irons as well as household and farm goods e.g., hog tongs, egg beaters, apple peelers, hand measures. Under the leadership of Woodyatt, the company began to expand its line of goods and products and soon would be looking for larger premises.

August R. Woodyatt (1850-1901)

Augustus R Woodyatt was born in England. He trained in his craft at the J. B. Armstrong Carriage Factory on MacDonnell St. in Guelph. He had become a foreman there by 1885, the year he left to take up the same position in an American factory in New Hampshire. It was while working in these positions, he became an expert machinist and developed keen management skills. Both characteristics and talents were to serve him well in his role as entrepreneur.

Woodyatt was a talented man who applied for several patents during his lifetime. Initially, since he was working for Armstrong, his earlier creations did not belong to him. Later patents focused on expanding the variety of goods his shop was producing. His patents were not simply for the stock-in-trade a sad iron, although he did have a patent for such a product as well as the right to manufacture Mrs. Potts’ sad irons. They embraced a variety of items including:

  • Wringers
  • Barn door hangers
  • Lawn mowers
  • Grain Sack Handcarts
  • Tree pruner

 In his personal life, he was Methodist, not common among Guelph’s industrial elite. He was married to Anna Smallhorn and had three children, a boy and a girl with her. He was a member of the Trap & Game club. The Ancient Order of United Workmen (AOUW) as well as a member of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association. After a recurring illness, he died on December 2, 1901. He was just 50 and his youngest child, Grace, was only 8 at the time. He also left behind him a company that was well on the road to proving itself a contender in Guelph and the Country’s industrial sector. It is also possible that his employees actually were upset by his passing. In 1895, the 1895 Guelph Herald Illustrated Edition stated he was “highly popular with his employees.” While this may be suspect as promotional, some evidence may suggest otherwise. While Woodyatt was alive, he supervised all aspects of his factory. He ensured the equipment was the most modern. His supervision may be responsible for the lack of recorded accidents. Moreover, the International Iron Moulders’ Union did not once strike. It was only after Woodyatt had died and the company was being run by others that the workers went out.

The Company Expands

In 1895, the Woodyatt factory was in a 22.000 square foot factory. It had a japanning, nickel plating and painting department. He also had a large foundry, pattern house and other outbuildings. According to the Guelph Herald’s Illustrated Edition of that year, “the arrangement of the various departments is such as to conduct the greatest economy.” It is described as being “expeditious,” and designed to ensure “efficient performance of the work.”

 However, by 1898, Woodyatt knew he would have to relocate his factory. His last expansion was of a new moulding shop at the Nelson Crescent site in 1889. However, it was becoming increasingly clear the company had no further space on which to grow. According to the trade magazine Hardware and Metal, Woodyatt had received some “tempting offers to move to other places.” Instead, the company decided to remain in Guelph. They bought the former property of the Guelph Woollen Mills Co. knowing its 1.5 acres allowed plenty of room for growth. Woodyatt then set about remodeling the existing premises. This also included the addition of “buildings especially erected for the storage of the iron, coke, coal and sand used.” These were located near the CPR switch. An addition to the moulding shop of 100’ was also under construction in August 1901 with further plans to grow in the future.

The company also equipped the factory with the latest and most advanced machinery available. It was within these premises that Woodyatt began to establish the company as a manufacturer of high-quality hardware. These included mowers and sad irons, nut they also began to specialize in a line of:

  • Screen door hinges
  • Steel barn door hangers
  • Track

They also made special castings in grey and malleable iron and brass. Woodyatt’s also was going beyond the ordinary japan finish. They were plating their products – a method recently coming into common use among foundries.

However, where Woodyatt’s continued to make an international mark was in their sale of lawnmowers. Among the many models Woodyatt made popular – so popular they continued to be sold long after the company had become Taylor-Forbes, were:

  1. The Woodyatt – came in 12”, 14”, 16” and 18” models. Claimed to be “The Lightest Running Mower Made.” A “Grass Box” for most models was also available
  2.    The Star Line – featuring wood rollers of hard maple, it also came in various sized wheels – 12” 14” and 16”

The markets for these lawnmowers were not simply Canada. Orders came in from Africa, New Zealand and Australia, Great Britain and several European countries. This necessitated an agent visiting Europe and other countries annually.

The End of Woodyatt and His Company

The end of Woodyatt’s was not due to any economic, financial or business-related circumstance. Instead, it was highly personal. Woodyatt became extremely ill. The Guelph Mercury wrote about his illness in this dramatic fashion: “Again and again carried down to the gates of Death, and then rallying, and, with indomitable hope, and energy on his feet again superintending the construction and planning of his new establishment in which he was so much interested…” Eventually and unfortunately, the illness won. Woodyatt, described as a “notable figure in [Guelph’s] industrial life” died in December 1901 before the extension to his factory was completed.

The company did not die. It was not parcelled out. Instead, Woodyatt’s partner, friend and proprietor of Malleable Iron on Paisley Street – George Forbes, struck an alliance with two other men. These were John M Taylor and Adam Taylor. They formed the company of Taylor-Forbes.

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