If you pass through Heybridge
you won't fail to notice the huge warehouse built alongside the Chelmer and
navigation in 1866 for the Bentall agricultural works.
William Bentall came from a long line of yeoman farmers who were
born and bred to the land. He designed a plough that would
become the foundation of Heybridge’s main industry.
Bentall was farming in Goldhanger, just outside Heybridge, when he
made his new plough for use on his own land. So successful was his
design that he went on to re-equip his whole farm with them.
These ploughs were probably made by the local blacksmith but within
a few years their reputation led to other farm owners asking Bentall
to equip their farms too. In order to satisfy their demands, Bentall
opened a small foundry and smithy on land opposite his farmhouse and
demand grew so much that in around 1795 with the support of his
wife, Bentall decided to concentrate his efforts on this
manufacturing business. He enlarged his foundry facilities and
launched the Goldhanger plough on the farming community.
The plough achieved a reputation for outstanding excellence and
Bentall found the village of Goldhanger restricting his growth. Raw
materials had to be brought by sea to the Blackwater estuary and
then transported by lighter and road to the foundry.
Bentall found land available beside the recently opened Chelmer and
Blackwater canal at Heybridge, just three miles away, and in 1805
the first buildings were erected on this new site. Raw materials
could now be brought directly up the canal in lighters to his new
The innovation continued and in the year following the move to
Heybridge William Bentall introduced the first steam powered
threshing machine followed by a selection of other agricultural
implements. Bentall never took out patents on his designs but relied
on customer satisfaction to ensure the continued success of his
products. The Bentall name stood for quality and his factory ran at
In 1814 the country was engaged in the Nepoleonic war and due to the
restriction on importing wheat from Poland, vast areas of land were
being broken up for grain production. The demands for agricultural
equipment was at a peak. Finding no problem selling the output of
his factory, Bentall was becoming a wealthy man.
Edward Hammond Bentall
In 1814, William Bentall had a son who succeeded his father to run
the management of the business twenty two years later.
Edward Hammond Bentall had inherited his father’s aptitude for
engineering and had been born to a period of intense engineering
expansion leading to an insatiable demand for the products coming
out of the Heybridge works.
His mother had already seen to it that he was taught the workings of
the foundry and was taught to make a ploughshare.
At the age of 22, Edward had an inquiring mind and a sense of
adventure as well as having inherited his father’s engineering
genius. These qualities led to business into rapid expansion after
years of gradual growth.
In order to safeguard this expanding business in 1839 Edward began
to trade under the name of E.H.Bentall & Co adding status to the
name and in 1841, a patent was taken out for an “improved”
Goldhanger plough to protect the product against imitations.
Another new design was patented in 1843 and that was the Broad Share
Cultivator which was a tremendous success when it was put on the
Sales of Bentall products had been mainly in the local counties but
this new plough began to find markets throughout Britain and across
the seas in the Colonies.
Expansion went side by side with demand and new buildings were
erected at the works and more staff trained. The quality however,
never changed and the Broadshare plough was awarded a gold medal at
the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851.
Edward Bentall continued to further improve this plough until it
gained three first prizes at the Royal Agricultural Society’s show
in Warwick in 1859. The word of its reputation spread and orders
started coming in from all over the world.
The next innovation at the Bentall works was for the design and
manufacture of a semi automatic machine to produce nuts and bolts.
These were a large proportion of the manufacturing costs and Bentall
built a new workshop to supply his own factory and an eager outside
By now, Bentalls were producing a range of products which also
included turnip cutters, root pulpers and oilcake breakers. Over the
coming years the business prospered and, by 1870, the works were
producing some twenty thousand assorted pulpers, cutters and cake
breakers as well as the manufacture of a wide range of ploughs,
threshers and reaping machines.
In 1871, the products were modified to enable them to be marketed in
Europe and Edward Bentall became a very wealthy man.
Edmund Ernest Bentall started to take over the management of the
business from his father, Edward, in 1889. Edward Hammond Bentall
died in 1898. Edmund had taken over a very successful business now
nearing it’s centenary and in the early 20th century, under his
leadership, Bentall’s rose to the challenge of the new internal
A Bentall designed engine with many advantages over other designs
became a very important addition to the work’s output. It was a slow
running machine with small fuel consumption and was also one of the
cheapest petrol engines on the market. Designed for ease in repair,
the engines found themselves used for purposes as varied as driving
chaff-cutters, crushers, pumps and even milking machines. The
Bentall engine won medals at the great Brussels Exhibition and the
International Exhibition in Turin.
Bentall was a keen motorist, the first man to own and drive a motor
car in Maldon and set about designing a car that would incorporate a
Bentall design petrol engine.
When he began to work on the design of the engine, petrol engines for
cars were made with separate cylinders and he based his design on
this principle. Unfortunately, by the time the car came into
production, the monobloc system had come into fashion but it was too
late for Bentall to change the design as all the necessary jigs and
tools had been made. The new monobloc engines had a smaller bore
than the Bentall engine which was put at a disadvantage when the new
system of horse power tax was devised. The Bentall engine had a
diameter and stroke very nearly equal and attracted a higher rate of
tax and few buyers were to be found willing to face paying the heavy
road fund tax.
The car was a costly failure to the company and although around one
hundred were sold it was considered that redesigning the engine
would be too costly and car manufacture at Heybridge was
The experience was not wasted, however, and Bentalls continued to
improve the design of small petrol and paraffin engines and produced
the first horizontal petrol engine in this country and sold many
thousands. It was also the start of a large trade in the manufacture
of valves and, from 1904, formed an important part of the output of
the factory. Bentalls were pioneers in valve manufacture and went
on the produce over a million a year.
E. E. Bentall was an innovator in other ways and equipped the
factory with it’s own generator for electric power. The business
also saw the increasing use of the railway because of reduced cost
and the barges disappeared.
By 1914, the works was employing some six to seven hundred hands
with the works covering an area of about fourteen acres. Despite the
losses due to the failed car manufacturing venture, the business
continued to prosper with the output of agricultural machinery
expanding each year.
During the years of the Great War, a large proportion of the work’s
output was switched to production of shell cases and many million
were made during the four years of fighting. Women workers were
introduced into the works as moulders and the shop was equipped with
pneumatic hoists so that they would not have to lift heavy weights.
The fortunes of the company took a disasterous turn at the end of
the war. An association of engineering firms was formed under the
name of Agricultural & General Engineers Ltd and Bentall was
persuaded to to merge his firm into it. Although Bentall & Co was
the largest company in the association and the whole of the share
capital was turned over to the new group the company had only one
vote on the board.
The association did well during the boom years following the war but
things were not looking too good for the future. The boom was
followed by a slump and the association tried to counter the
shrinking trade by launching further ambitious schemes including the
formation of new companies in the Dominions. The association failed
and the venture ended in total loss. Bentall, being the largest
shareholder was hardest hit. All his money that might have used to
put Bentalls back on it’s feet was lost.
Bentalls were in for a difficult time and had to start almost all
over again. Sales had fallen to an unprecedented low and confidence
in Bentalls had taken a severe blow.
In 1933, E. E. Bentall purchased the ordinary shares of the company
from the receivers of A.G.E.Ltd with the help of a little capital
borrowed from friends and began the task of rebuilding the company.
Charles Bentall became managing director with his father as
Some years of hard work were ahead but with the help of loyal staff
who were prepared to work for reduced wages the business showed yearly improvements and the company’s debts were
finally paid. Bentalls was prospering once more.
The revived company played an important role in the second world
war. Production set up for the manufacture of small machine parts
for the aircraft manufactured by Handley-Page. The works went on to
also produce complete assemblies such as tail fins and bomb floor
for the new Halifax bombers and before the war ended some one
thousand men and women were employed in the works.
Also, because of the difficulty in importing food stuffs during the
war years, output of agricultural machinery doubled to meet demand.
In 1946 E.H.Bentall & Co was recognised as a public company with
Charles Bentall as Chairman. It continued to produce increasing
volumes of agricultural machinery and valves for combustion engines.
Although trade with the coffee plantations had suffered during the
war the business was recaptured and rose six fold. Bentall
technicians travelled to many countries advising on mechanised
coffee processing. The works were modernised with more buildings
added and, in 1949, a new foundry was built to meet demand for
products. The year also saw the purchase of Tamkin Bros & Co of
Chelmsford and the manufacture of their products switched to the
In 1955, the year the firm celebrated it’s 150th anniversary,
Charles Edward Bentall died. In 1961 the company was taken over by
the Acrow group of companies which went into receivership in 1984.
The business founded nearly 180 years before closed in Heybridge.
Edward Hammond Bentall
Built by E.H.Bentall
Read a 1912 catalogue of
farm food processing equipment manufactured by Bentall
Edmund Ernest Bentall
Read more about the Bentall car