Life story retold by Cynthia and Steve Thomas
Sarah Bridger was born in 1768. George Barrett was the entrepreneur who founded the Reading Iron Founders, Barrett, Exall and Andrewes (Later the Reading Ironworks). He married Sarah Bridger from Liss on 3rd November 1795 in the Parish Church at Liss.
Sarah Bridger was the sister of Richard Bridger, who was the father of William Bridger. Sometime in the early 1830s William came to work at his uncle’s iron works in Reading. William married Louisa Webb on the 13th November 1854 at the Congregational Church which stood, until the 1980’s, on the corner of Sidmouth Street and Queens Road. They moved into a new house, built for William, at no. 49 Queens Road – originally called Milton House.
Sarah Bridger had a sister called Lucy. On 17th September 1794 Lucy married John Exall. In May 1808 their son William Exall was born. The family moved to Richmond, Virginia, USA sometime after 1816. Here, the Exall sons gained a reputation for designing and building agricultural
George had been a Fellmonger and had run a salt works near Lymington. He was a successful businessman and he had some capital to invest. In 1825 he became a partner in a small and failing iron foundry in Reading making ploughs and farm machinery. Barrett expanded the business and sent to America for his nephew by marriage, William Exall. Exall was an engineering genius, took a partnership in his iron foundry and the company was soon making significant progress, revising its designs and developing new products. The firm became known as Barrett, Exall and Andrewes and it became one of the largest employers in Reading in the mid 19th century with 350 employees.
The factory spread over a 12 acre site on both sides of the river Kennet in Katesgrove and their own bridge spanned the river. Their products were sold around the world including Australia and New Zealand and their catalogues were produced in several languages including French, German, Italian and Russian. The company provided iron work to Brunel when he brought the Great Western Railway through Reading in 1841; made the earliest steam ploughing machinery; designed and made portable steam engines (traction engines) and threshing machines. Amongst William’s many achievements he worked closely with Alfred Palmer, son of the founder of Huntley and Palmers, to develop the world’s first steam operated biscuit manufacturing machinery. They were also substantial exhibitors at the Great Exhibition of 1851. William Exall was Mayor of Reading in 1854-55. In 1877, William’s daughter, Alice, married Alfred Palmer.
George and Sarah Barrett had no children. His grand nephew, Alfred Barrett was a gifted lieutenant for William Exall but both he and William Exall’s son died tragically young. The company sought outside capital in the 1860s and became the Reading Iron Works. Without the expertise of Barrett and Exall, the firm went downhill. The agricultural depression of the 1880s and the rise of the internal combustion engine helped to ensure that the firm was wound up in 1887. The only trace that remains now is a small street in Katesgrove called Foundry Place. The main road into Reading from the south now passes right over the site.
Sarah Bridger died on 19 Mar 1852. George Barrett died on 5th Nov 1858.
The unusual grave marker for George Barrett and Sarah Bridger was designed and made in cast iron at the Katesgrove foundry they owned. Sarah’s inscription is on the other side of the same monument.
Buried around them are the other partners in the firm while the grave of William Bridger and his family is just a few yards away.
Buried in Section 19, Row F, Number 1 (iron urn)