It is commonly stated that the Plenty’s association with Newbury started in 1790 when William Plenty moved from Southampton and set up business as a maker of agricultural equipment. The first reference in the records which links him to Newbury is a patent for a plough in 1815. Around this time William Plenty designed his first lifeboat The Experiment which attracted attention from many including Admiral Sir Edward Pellew (later Viscount Exmouth) who became godfather to William’s next son Edward Pellew. When the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Lives from Shipwreck was founded in 1824, 11 out of the 14 lifeboats stationed around the country were built by Plenty. In 1851 William’s sons James and Edward Pellew entered a modified and improved version of their father’s lifeboat in the Duke of Northumberland’s competition for an improved lifeboat and came third with their model displayed at the Great Exhibition. Edward Pellew’s copy of the report of the committee and photographs of their model survive. Few records survive from the early years of the business. It is known that a fire in 1890 destroyed 20,000 patterns [Newbury Weekly News, 18 September 1890] and it is possible that further records were also lost.
Plentys continued to make agricultural equipment and lifeboats but from the 1860s they started to concentrate on marine steam engines and boilers, supplying engines worldwide. The surviving engine order books cover the years 1882-1938 (engine numbers 601-2759), with order books for parts ordered providing information about engines ordered from 1938-1961 (engine numbers 2760- 2912). Some of the most unusual steam engines that were designed were for twin-screwed submarines designed by T H Nordenfelt between 1885-1887.
During this period Plentys continued to diversify and also made iron bridges, balloon gas equipment (1892), the ‘Newbury Van’ (1909), Plenty-Still engines (1920) and rotary pumps (from 1935). Designing pumps started as a small sideline but soon became the companies chief concern and the companies name became synonymous with the production of pumps.
William Plenty died in 1832 and from then the company was run jointly by his sons James and Edward Pellew. James died in 1851 and Edward Pellew continued to run the company, later assisted by his son, also Edward Pellew. The elder Edward Pellew retired in 1884 and Captain Henry George Fane and the younger Edward Pellew ran the company as partners until Fane’s retirement in 1892. The company was incorporated as Plenty and Son Ltd on 29 November 1890. After Fane’s retirement the company was restructured and Earl Russell became Chairman and Edward Pellew became Managing Director. The elder Edward Pellew Plenty died in 1898 and soon after this in 1899 the younger Edward Pellew disappeared with over £4,600 of the company’s assets. (The next reference to Edward Pellew is in a share certificate in 1918 which states that he is living in Vigo, Spain.) Earl Russell and fellow director Wethered were left to prevent the company becoming bankrupt and appointed the younger Edward Pellew Plenty’s son, also Edward Pellew, as the new Managing Director. The family’s involvement with the company continued until Edward Pellew’s death in 1949. His son, also Edward Pellew, had been trained to take over the business but had died of influenza after returning from the First World War on 21 November 1918.
From at least the early nineteenth century the company was based in the centre of Newbury at the Eagle Iron Works on Cheap Street, with an iron foundry on King’s Road (which was used for the production of the Plenty-Still Engine during the 1920s). In 1965 they moved to a newly constructed factory on Hambridge Road. The New Eagle Iron Works was officially opened by Lord Hurd on 15 October 1965. In addition to this site the company’s subsidiaries had works in Glasgow, Southampton, the USA and other parts of the world.
A large collection of records survive and include minutes, accounts, production records, with a large collection of photographs, and records relating to research into the companies’ history and the Plenty family history. The records mostly date from the 1880s to the 1980s.
A three stage (triple expansion) Plenty steam engine which was delivered to Australia in 1912 for a new ferry/pleasure craft to be used in Hobart, SS Cartela. It has been ashore for some while as the craft was re-engined but it is planned to re-use it, after restoration, in the restored craft.