A Century in Business?

Harold Arnold started a small joiner’s workshop from home around the 1860s. It became hugely successful in his life and beyond. It was owned by the family for three generations, and won major war contracts in the First World War.


Harold Arnold

Harold Arnold was born into a farming family from a small Lincolnshire village in 1826. By 1851 he had found work as a joiner in Doncaster, and within 10 years he had started a small business. In 1861 his modest firm had, by his own admission, only 1 man and 2 boys working for him.

In the early 1870s Harold ran a joiner’s shop from home; first on Carr Lane then on Cemetery Road. His business was growing and by 1871 he had 37 men and 6 boys working for him. His daughter, Maria may also have worked as his bookkeeper. In 1873 he moved to 10 Oxford Place and took the major step of keeping his last home for a separate workshop.

In 1881 Harold’s workforce totalled 75, all of them men. His son William Sayles Arnold, born in 1858, now worked as his foreman. Harold Arnold died in 1882. His will was executed by his son and a local tobacconist, Eli Hackshaw. He left behind nearly £6,000, a small fortune. William took over the business in his stead.

William Sayles Arnold

The business continued to grow under William; in 1891 he could afford 2 servants. The 1895 Doncaster directory is the first source to name the business Arnold & Son. It is the second builders to be listed in the directory, giving its offices as 39 and 41 Printing Office Street. The company had offices on this street as early as 1883.

By 1901 William had moved into the large Edenfield House. He had 3 servants and had sent his eldest son, Harold Scarth Arnold, to an expensive boarding school in Cambridge. In 1915, shortly after giving Edenfield house to the government, William passed away.

William left nearly £300,000 behind, a staggering amount for the time. His will was executed by his wife Frances, 3 of his 4 children; Harold, Edwin and Marjorie, and his cashier Herbert Fairborn. Harold took over his father’s business, and Edwin was likely involved too.

Harold Scarth Arnold

Harold’s ownership enjoyed a promising start. Although more than 1,000 employees of H Arnold had gone to war by 1916, they won several lucrative war contracts. More than half of these were for the Ministry of Munitions who wanted a shell store in Rainhill, a shell factory and a filling factory in Leeds, and electricity in Ravensthorpe. The War Office paid for the building of field telegraph works in Retford, an extension to the Doncaster wire works, shipbuilding works in Goole, and Pontefract Hospital. They had some smaller contracts with The Admiralty, mostly for airship station buildings in Howden.

The war contracts totalled £112,000 for an estimated 4 months’ work. They had to turn down £20,000 more work from the Admiralty. As it was they only had 76 men at their Belmont Works, each working from 6am to 8pm with a 2 hour break. The War Office was asking them to start manufacture ammunition boxes too, it’s unclear if they took this on.

In 1939 both Harold and Edwin were public works contractors, presumably for the same company. In 1948 Harold died in Dorset. He left nearly £200,000 behind. The executors of his will were his second wife Elizabeth, his brother Edwin, his sister Marjorie, and his secretary Harry McBurnie.

Edwin Herbert Arnold

Edwin’s full name was Edwin Herbert Arnold, he seems to have continued the company as Arnold, H and Son Ltd. The 1957 directory still lists it as the second Building Contractors. Its offices were at 37 Printing Office Street. There are no further references to the company, so it is not clear it lasted 100 years in business. But it does seem extremely unlikely that the company closed with the last source, perhaps just 4 years short of its centenary.


Did you know William’s home became a hospital?

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