Death of a leading businessman

George Powdrill advert 1907

  • George Powdrill advert from Mate's Illustrated Luton 1907.

On Sunday, September 8th, 1918, one of Luton's leading businessmen died at the age of 66 after a short illness. Derbyshire-born George Powdrill came to Luton in the 1860s with his family while still in his youth. He built up a business as a builders' materials merchant, coal merchant, furniture remover and farmer. Here is how The Luton News of September 12th, 1918, recorded his passing:

Time as it rolls on carries with it the human tide, and old familiar landmarks in Luton's business history disappear beneath its ebb and flow. Another familiar figure will today find his resting place, namely Mr George Powdrill, of 7 Crescent Rise, who during the last half century had so successfully built up the business of Powdrill & Sons Ltd.

Mr Powdrill passed away on Sunday at the age of 66 years, and he would probably have lived much longer but for the effects of a trap accident several years ago, when his arm was broken. He had never been quite the same man since then, but had been surprisingly active nevertheless. Just over a week ago he was taken seriously ill and succumbed, despite the great care bestowed on him.

Mr Powdrill was very young when he came with his father, the late Mr William Powdrill, from Ashby-de-la-Zouch to Bedford. He was engaged with his father in the pottery trade and attended the markets. Later he went to Stopsley and kept on his business. He succeeded, extended his operation, and had a house built for himself by the late Mr J. Saunders in Oxen Lane.

Mr Powdrill started the present carting business many years ago, and did a great amount of carting for the father of Alderman H. O. Williams. He was also a keen farmer, and had dairy cows on the Hitchin Road meadow which the site of the present business premises. These he built about 38 years ago, and from that time his business grew in company with the development of the town's trade. This was due to his sagacity, for practically the whole of his career was given to the business which he managed wonderfully, despite the fact that he was not an educated man, which can be said of many fine businessmen of the old type.

His sons, Fred and Arthur Powdrill, joined in the business later, the former being the townsman and the latter taking control of the various farms which Mr Powdrill took over 22 years ago in the parishes surrounding the borough, comprising nearly 2,000 acres.

Mr Powdrill added widely but judiciously to his stock of horses, and eventually built large premises in Windmill Road. Just before the war the firm had no fewer than 186 horses.

The brickmaking branch was another of several ventures, and again it was most successful, for the excellent quality ensured demands from various parts of the country. He sent a million bricks for the building of the King's Sanitorium [opened by King Edward VII at Midhurst, Surrey, in 1906, to treat tuberculosis patients].

He branched out also in the coal trade and carried out big public contracts, and that, with the builders' materials branch, became very substantial businesses.

He owned a cab business also, and caused a mild sensation by his bringing the first hansom cabs to Luton. At that time the fare from any part of the town was the modest sum of 6d!

Mr Powdrill certainly lived a very strenuous life, and in his earlier days he would often journey to London with no more than £10, buy a horse there and ride it home again bare-back to save the cost of the railway journey.

As a farmer he bred his own cattle with care and foresight, and every Monday for 20 years his fine animals were to be seen at the Cattle Market. He always had a stock of about 2,000 pigs also.

Thus will be seen the outline of his vigorous and painstaking career in business, but this is no more than a bare record of his interests.

Mr Powdrill was a Wesleyan Methodist and attended Waller Street from time to time. As a boy he was taught in the Sunday school at Round Green by Mr George Warren.

He was never a party politician, and in one election he took his employees to the polling station booths with two of his traction engines, one of which bore the Liberal colours and the other the Conservative colours.

Mr Powdrill never aspired to civic positions, but was always keenly interested in local institutions, especially the Bute Hospital, and expressed the wish that his friends would help the hospital rather than send flowers at his funeral.

Mr Powdrill at an early age married Miss Tuffnell, daughter of a gentleman well known in the straw trade, and she with her sons and one daughter survive him. [George Powdrill was aged 22 when he married Sarah Tuffnell at St Mary's Parish Church, Luton, on December 15th, 1873.]

About 50 of his employees, some with 35 years service with the firm, attended the funeral at the Church Cemetery, where the service was conducted by the Rev. W. H. Haden, of Union Chapel.

[George Powdrill was born at Church Gresley, Derbyshire, near Burton-upon-Trent, in 1851].