John & Thomas Bull

John & Thomas Bull

 John Bull was born in 1803, at Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire. He came to Bedford in order to set up his watch-making firm at 47- 49 High Street, Bedford. In 1861, he was running a thriving business and he had six men in his employ. John must have been very proud of his success for the reason that by the time of his death in 1870, the firm had become goldsmiths, silversmiths, jewellers, cutlers, and opticians.

He showed much compassion towards two burglars when they were caught stealing in his shop. The two men were sentenced to death, since theft was then a capital offence. John pleaded for leniency, and their sentence was reduced to transportation to Australia. John received a letter years later from one of the men, who had turned his life around and thanked him for his help during the trial.

When John died in 1870, his sons Richard and Thomas carried on running the business. The shop by this time was in need of refurbishing, as it was in bad repair and infested with rats. The shop was eventually pulled down and a new shop was built on the site of the old one. With a decorative façade, and a golden bull and a large clock was erected above the shop in 1884 a much recognised sign in the High Street.

The firm of John Bull were well known for their high standard of craftsmanship. Their memorial commissions included an engraved presentation plate for the ill-fated R101 airship, and a diamond and platinum brooch that was presented to the Queen Mother by the Beds & Herts Regiment.

Throughout the First World War, the firm were contractors to the Government manufacturing time fuses and turnbuckle (mechanism for tightened wire on aircraft). They employed around a hundred people mostly girls and discharged soldiers who worked in the rooms above the shop. In later years, they specialised in gun making, watch, and clock making and dealing in optical instruments.

John’s son Thomas was born June 28th 1831, he was educated at the Commercial School (now the Modern School.) When he left school, he was employed at, Mr Thompsons Stationary and Printing business. Thomas showed promise as an amateur actor, and he appeared in many plays on the Old Bedford Rooms stage.

As a young man, as well as in later life, he travelled abroad and saw a good deal of the world. In 1855-1859, he lived near Toronto in Canada. At this time it was said, that his ambition was to become a journalist. He took much interest in the advance in printing and from time to time, he would visit the Bedfordshire Times office to look at the machinery and plant.

In the course of his life, he visited America at least three times, and travelled to Norway. His last visit to America was at the World’s Fair in Chicago. On that occasion, he stopped at the Bourneville newspaper office, where he had worked as a young man.

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 Thomas Bull

 When his brother died in 1880, Thomas ran the firm until his retirement in 1899. Then his son-in-law Mr Ison carried on the firm until his death in 1919. His death marked the end of the family firm. The firm was then turned in to a limited company.

His main public offices were as churchwarden of St Paul’s Church. In April 1903, in his thirty-third year as a churchwarden the congregation presented him with a silver Monteith bowl and water jug. Throughout his forty years as churchwarden, St Paul’s had undergone many improvements, with the addition of the new north aisle and new vestries, the extension of the Chancel, and the new organ. Thomas was Hon Treasurer of the Association of Change Ringers. In 1897, he gave a fine tenor bell to the belfry in celebration of his 25 years of office as a churchwarden.

For several years, he was a Trustee of the St John’s Hospital and of several local charities, and director of the Bedford House of Industry. He was one of the first members, of the Bedford Volunteer Battalion, and for nine years, he was sergeant under the Honourable Hastings Russell later Duke of Bedford. He was one of the founders of the Bedford Rowing Club in 1848, and the Treasurer of the Bedford Regatta for many years.

Thomas’s wife Sarah Ann Wild died May 13th 1891. They had one son and a daughter. His son John died in his thirtieth year in September 1893.

On January 16th 1900, Thomas married Helena Kennett in St James’s Church, Nottingham. The bride’s brother the Rev. Arthur Barltrop, and curate of St Augustine’s, South Croydon, and the Rev. George Edgcome, rector of St Peter’s, Nottingham, carried out the marriage service. Rev. Arthur Barltrop was the husband of Mabel Barltrop, the founder of the Panacea Society. At the hour of the ceremony, the bells of St Paul’s at Bedford rang out a peel in honour of its veteran churchwarden.

Thomas died at his home, ‘Hughenden’ 26 The Embankment, Bedford, on September 3rd 1910, aged 79 years. The funeral took place at St Paul’s Church. Among the mourners were Mrs. Bull, Mrs. Ison, Mrs. Barltrop, and Mr. Ivan Barltrop. The Mayor of Bedford Mr. H. W. Longhurst, Sir Frederick Howard, J. P., Senior Magistrate, Mr. George Wells  J. P., Dr R. H. Coombs. J. P.

Thomas is interred in the family grave with his first wife Sarah, his father John and his mother. His second wife Helena died on the 12th February 1941, at her residence 32 Linden Road, Bedford

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Researcher Linda S. Ayres