We received a slightly unusual item for our archive collection this week. It has, however, a particular connection to the building we now occupy. In fact you could say the item has actually found its way home.
The item in question was a soda water syphon from C.C. Dornat & Co. whose factory once stood on the site the library now stands. Dornat’s mineral waters company moved to the buildings which made up the factory in 1870 having been established in around 1860 in a smaller building on the corner if Holland Street and Paiges Lane a few hundred yards or so away. The buildings had originally been part of a much older institution, the Bridewell or Parish Poor House.
The Bridewell was established in the first half of the 17th Century and was designed to be a place to house the poor of the parish. It is believed there were just a few small buildings which served the purpose to begin with, but over the years these were added to.
The buildings housed spinning wheels and looms used by the inmates to produce serge which was sold on. Another of the buildings within the Bridewell was used to store and distribute coal to the poor who lived in the town paid for by the income from the poor rate.
By the early 19th Century a school run by Dr Bell was established within the complex of buildings which now made up the Bridewell. The school taught children from the poorer families in the town and could well have taught the children of the inmates. A master or caretaker of the Bridewell may also have lived in a building on site during this time.
It also housed a small number of prisoners by this time was well. In 1824 there were references in the North Devon Journal to a number of prisoners being kept in one of the buildings which comprised a few small rooms with no way of isolating them from one and other. This practice ended in 1829 when a new prison opened on the Square.
Under the Poor Law Act of 1834 the old parish poor law system was replaced and in 1835 a new Barnstaple Poor Law Union was created who oversaw the building and running of a new workhouse in Alexandra Road.
There are several references in the Barnstaple Borough records (now held by the North Devon Record Office) to the Bridewell. Many of the references concern repairs to the buildings and the payment of money to those charged with running the Bridewell. After the poorhouse was closed it was leased to Messers. Hiscock and Maunder who were wool-combers and serge makers and it is possible they used any spinning wheels and looms left behind.
The business ran into trouble and in 1867 a bank in Bristol repossessed the property and tried to sell it an auction without success allowing Charles Camille Dornat to purchase it in 1870 for a bargain price.
Dornat was originally from France and moved to England sometime in the 1850s. He was a chemist and apothecary and could speak up to 7 European languages. Other business were also based on the site including a blacksmiths which caught fire in 1879 causing severe damage to the property. The insurance, however, allowed Dornat to make improvements to both the building and equipment used to create their drinks and by the end of the 19th Century they were producing an estimated 1,000 bottles per day.
Charles Dornat died in 1883 leaving his daughter Annie and son-in-law Charles Youings in charge of the business. The family originally lived on-site before moving to Litchdon House, just off the Square, and turned it into the Imperial Hotel, which they later sold. Following their deaths in 1922 the business passed to two of their sons Charles Camille Dornat Youings and Horace Youings.
During the first part of the twentieth century electricity was installed, machinery upgraded more than once and motor vehicles replaced the horse-drawn carts used to transport their goods. The Second World War saw Dornat’s do its part for the war effort. They produced soda water and fruit drinks for the hospitals and nursing homes and started to bottle beer from some of the London Brewer’s whose bottling plants had been damaged in the bombing. They also bottled Pepsi for the American troops stationed in the area.
After the war the machines were in need of some serious repairs and in 1951 they were replaced completely. The factory continued under Charles’ son Richard after his death in 1965 until 1980 when Richard Youings decided it was time to retire.
A few years after the closure of Dornat’s the building was demolished and in 1988 the new library building which now stands in its footprint was opened to the public.
Rosemary Akers and Owen Friend: The Barnstaple Bridewell and Dornat’s Mineral Water Factory: North Devon Community Publications (Barnstaple, 1991) DP362/BAR/AKE
B.D. Pidgeon: Dornat’s Mineral Water Maunfacturers & Beer Bottlers: B D Pidgeon (Bideford, 2008) D663/BAR/PID
Thomas Wainwright & John Roberts Chanter: Reprint of the Barnstaple Records vols 1 & 2: JR Chanter & Thos Wainwright: (Barnstaple, 1900) D900/BAR/WAI
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