The carriage maker of Londesborough - Glimpses of the Past with Karen Webster
Once upon a time, in the fair village of Londesborough, there was a carriage shop; the kind of place a fairy godmother would stop. Wait! It wasn’t that kind of shop, no carriages for Cinderella were made here. Rather, the carriages, wagons and buggies manufactured here were of the utilitarian variety; sturdy vehicles that stood up to the rigours that early roads and trails presented.
John James Brunsdon was born in Gloucestershire, England in 1836, and with his parents, William and Ann, and siblings, immigrated to the Toronto area where his father ran a general store. John learned the trade of wagon maker from Vigarman Gatby in Chiguacousy (present day Brampton). John married Margaret Blake in 1860 when they lived near Brampton, then moved to Kinburn for a year before settling in Londesborough. John and Margaret were the parents of eight children: William Thomas (1861-1942, married Mary Morris) carried on the family business; Elizabeth Ann (1864-1893, married John Adams); Sarah Malinda (1867-1941, married John Adams after her sister’s passing and helped raise his two children); Albert Edward (1873-1937) lived in Waldena, Saskatchewan; and four other children who did not survive past the age of two.
John Brunsdon started his carriage works in 1864 at the corner of King and Sarah Streets in Londesborough. He was in partnership with James Whenham for six years before Whenham started his own business. It was reported that both businesses operated with 20-30 employees each. Later, Whenham and his family joined the migration of many Huron folk to Pilot Mound, Manitoba around 1878.
The products of the carriage works would have been mostly made of wood, with some metal fittings. They would all have been horse-drawn vehicles. Wagons can be defined as having a flat bed, with or without sides, and a seat for a driver. They would have been used to haul grain, hay, straw, earth or gravel. Wagons designed to haul gravel had removable floor boards. These boards could be pulled out one at a time thus allowing the gravel to fall through to the road below. Buggies were a lighter conveyance that would have a seat for two passengers. Carriages were larger and able to carry more passengers and cutters were the wintertime vehicles that were mounted on runners.
The Londesborough Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir history book recorded that in John Brunsdon’s business, the carriages, buggies and wagons were built on the second floor of the building, then taken down a ramp to the blacksmith’s shop next door to be painted. This combination of operations proved to be disastrous in August of 1877 when the building caught fire. It was felt that a spark from the chimney was to blame. The accumulation of multiple layers of paint along with the wood products on hand fueled quite the conflagration. Several carriages and buggies, as well as two valuable horses, were lost. The dollar amount of what was lost was estimated to be $3,000, of which only a third was insured. The fire had also spread to two neighbouring buildings.
Brunsdon rebuilt his carriage works the same year. By May of 1884, this advertisement was carried in a local newspaper. “Phoenix Carriage Works, Londesboro. John Brunsdon is prepared to manufacture all kinds of buggies, wagons, carriages and cutters. Nothing but the very best material used, and first class work guaranteed. All kinds of Jobbing a specialty. Finished work always on hand. Call and examine before purchasing elsewhere”. A sales bill of J. Brunsdon and Son, from July, 1894 shows that a buggy was sold to Mr. D. Hoggart for the sum of $75.
Reports from the Blyth Fair for many years show that John Brunsdon’s carriages, wagons and various implements were frequent prize winners. As well, Brunsdon won several accolades for his masterpieces at the London Fair.
In addition to building carriages, Brunsdon was an agent for the Patterson Implement Company, which eventually became Massey-Harris Co. Ltd.
In 1904, the business was turned over to his son, William Thomas Brunsdon who had been working alongside his father for many years and John began to take life somewhat easier, though he stayed on as the company bookkeeper until the time of his passing. The carriage works closed in 1910 and the building was then used as a mill by James Hill. By this time, motorized vehicles were starting to take over the roads.
When John Brunsdon passed away from heart failure complicated by pneumonia in October of 1918, he was recognized as being Londesborough’s oldest citizen. During his many years in the village, he had made his mark, not only as a leading business person but also as a civic-minded individual. He was a charter member of the Canadian Order of Foresters and a life member of the Orange Lodge. A devout person, he gave active and devoted service to the Methodist Church, where he served as secretary of the Sabbath school for many years and as well being the secretary-treasurer of the church’s trustee board.
John Brunsdon was laid to rest in the Londesborough Cemetery, where a burial service was held by the Canadian Order of Foresters’ Pride of the West Lodge.