Transcript of an article in the South Durham and Cleveland Mercury, Saturday, June 16, 1877


The foundation of the establishment named as above was laid nearly half a century ago, and it has grown up to its present dimensions, large as we propose to show, with the characteristics usually accompanying slowness of growth – strength and stability. In the year 1832, Mr Wm. Clephan commenced business as a joiner in premises at the top of Regent-street, from whence, in 1840, he migrated to the locality of the present works. Purchasing from Mrs Ann Starkie a piece of garden ground at the back of the houses on the eastern side of Norton-road, he there built himself a workshop, extending the accommodation gradually for his increasing business as occasion required. It was not, as now, surrounded by streets. The position must have been quite rural, luxuriant with sylvan beauties; for shortly thereafter the people who built on an adjoining piece of ground called it Elysian-place. Elysian-place, alas! is now no more. The very name has perished – the buildings which formed it having been pulled down to make room for some of the extensions which have lately been made in the works under notice. Mr William Clephan was more than a mechanical joiner: he was an architect as well; and in the course of years came to be largely engaged in this capacity, in valuations, and otherwise as adviser in all that relates to the building trade. For many years previous to his death, which occurred in 1868, few men were better known in Stockton – none, we believe, more highly esteemed, his sterling honesty and uprightness, combined with an unpretending but real mastery of the arts to which he devoted himself, being qualities none too common, even in these days, in the town of Stockton.


On the death of Mr William Clephan, his son, Mr Eugene E. Clephan, succeeded to the business. Besides the training he received in his father’s workshops, Mr E. E. Clephan had the advantage of some years’ experience in London, during which he studied in the architectural department of the South Kensington Museum, and distinguished himself by winning a studentship and carrying off the Queen’s Prize. Under his care the business has continued to grow and prosper. By an exchange of land with the trustees of the Blue Coat School the premises had been greatly improved for their purpose. A purchase of additional ground from Mr William Nelson had also been effected, by which a frontage was obtained to the thoroughfare known as Thorpe-street. To his father’s staff of workmen – joiners, bricklayers and labourers – Mr E. E. Clephan added stonemasons, and subsequently plumbers. The plumbers’ shop, by the way, is the house formerly occupied by Mrs Starkie’s gardener, the only bit of old building about the place. The number of workmen in the older departments was also increased, the fresh energy of the new proprietor, and his ability, better cultured perhaps, increasing rapidly the work they were called upon to perform. It was not till 1875, however, that steam power was applied; and from that date the business may be said to have made a fresh departure.


Having acquired the property fronting Norton-road, Mr Clephan last year pulled it down and built on the site a handsome suite of offices, communicating internally with the workshops behind, which extend backward to Thorpe-street. With the reader’s permission we shall introduce and conduct him through the premises, the opportunity of inspecting which the proprietor has kindly afforded us. The front elevation of the new offices is striking and effective. With an eye to economy, Mr Clephan has given up the ground floor and basement to the enterprising shopocracy of the place. Here we have a grocer’s shop, with extensive cellarage below. Above are the offices, and over that again a large apartment used for the storage of mouldings. The building is lofty, about 70 feet to the ridge; and may be described as Early Gothic in the style of its architecture, with a Scotch tendency, the shields between the windows and some other features being the embodied reminiscences of what you may have seen north of the Tweed. The materials used in the building are red-pressed bricks with stone dressings. The office entrance, fitted with folding doors, is wide and conspicuous. The windows above are filled partly with Early English stained, partly with polished, and partly with rough plateglass, the effect of which, artistically arranged in a somewhat elaborate framework, is pleasing though peculiar. Entering by the folding doors above-mentioned, we proceed by a broad staircase of pitch pine, with massive brass nosings, to the first floor. This staircase is worthy of a deliberate inspection. The walls are plastered with Keene’s cement, smooth as marble. The bannisters and handrail are bold and novel in their design. A circular stained glass window is placed in the side wall; and as we ascend we get a good view of a large two-light window on the quarter space, filled with Early English stained glass, hand decorated. At the top landing we find in front of us quaint old English doors, with panels of old English leaded lights. The leaded pane in a centre space between the upper and lower panels has upon it in appropriate lettering the name of the department to which it gives admittance. Passing through the first of these doors, we are in the general office, where a number of clerks are engaged. Mahogany-covered counter and desks, a ponderous safe, linoleumcovered floor – comfortable, respectable and business –like. From this you may turn into Mr Clephan’s private office, which also may be reached direct from the landing, or you may enter the drawing office, or, by a door at the further side go on to the lavatories and workshops. We shall step first into the private office. Here you look through the windows observed from the outside, and perceive why the designer divided them each into three compartments. The top stained light is a ventilator, the bottom rough plate serves the purpose of a blind and also a signboard. The sun is shining through the large polished square in the centre, but the rays are intercepted by striped sunshades. Following out the general novel design of the building Mr Clephan has bestowed considerable pains upon this apartment and its furniture. A wood-stained dado is carried round, the walls above being plastered with Keene’s cement, the fine polish of which we have above alluded to. An ornamental architrave encloses each of the windows; and the ceiling is divided into panels, with a massive corbelled cornice and appropriate enrichments. The floor is partly stained, with a Turkey carpet in the centre; and the marble fireplace is of a massive character, with grate to match. A Wooton’s American desk in walnut, and a large table in pine and walnut, of Mr Clephan’s own design, are the more prominent articles of furniture. Returning to the clerk’s room, we look into the drawing office, a long, well-lighted apartment with a southern aspect, fitted with tables for six draughtsmen, and furnished with all the requirements of their art. We next pass on, across a landing, into the joiners’ shop, a room about 100 feet long by an average 30 wide. Here there are a number of benches ranged from end to end, with work of various kinds at various stages. We notice a magnificent oak fireplace, which we learn is now “the style” in a house of first rate pretensions. This one is elaborately carved, with ornament in coloured wood inlaid; and it is surrounded by a similar wrought framework in oak for a mirror. There are articles in progress of a more homely character – as window sashes, doors, &c. Facilities are at hand in the shape of various machines moved by steam power. Here is a tenoning and trenching machine, there a circular saw. Yonder a large ribbon saw, and beyond a turning lathe. There are yet more machines – for boring holes, and we know not what besides; and in a handy position a patent steam apparatus for melting glue. This, we may observe, was adopted as a precaution against fire, the heat being supplied by means of a hot water pipe carried from the boiler; and we may add that, with the like object, Mr Clephan has had his machinery throughout fitted with self-acting lubricators, and has conveniently placed here and there handpumps, buckets, &c. Leaving the joiners shop, we get to a series of smaller rooms used for finishing the work – painting, polishing, and so on; and the plumbers storeroom for gasfittings, &c, Descending a flight of stairs, we get to the ground floor, and find ourselves in a room 130 feet long by a width corresponding with the room above. Here again are a number of benches, with piles of deals, boards, and prepared wood; and adjoining the saw mill comprising a self-feeding circular saw, a 12-by-4 planing and moulding machine, and a circular moulding machine, with grinding machine for moulding irons. We notice close by two large grindstones, one of which we learn is for the machinists and the other for the joiners. From this place we step into a yard, which has a cart-road entrance from Norton-road, where are stored peaks and piles of timber. We then go on to the enginehouse, and find that the may-edged implements we have seen at work are moved and kept in motion by an engine of 12-horse nominal power. But the source of its strength is in the boiler, a Cornish one, which – further precaution against fire – is arched over with brickwork, and shut in from all its surroundings by iron doors. This boiler is so constructed that it burns up all the sawdust and shavings made in the works, and it gets so much of this kind of fuel that it requires very little besides. We come next to the stables, and the mortar mill, which is busy grinding up old bricks and mortar, and making a kind of concrete which is much harder and more durable than lime. Beyond is the stoneyard, where a large quantity of this material is stored and made ready for use. One of Roger’s 5-ton travelling cranes is here employed, by which one man can move from place to place masses of stone a ton weight or more. From hence we can readily step into the plasterers’ and modellers’ shops, where we see enrichments of many designs in sample or preparation. The stone-yard, we should say, has two entrances to Thorpe-street. Returning we look into the plumbers’ shop, which we passed in our progress, and ascending a staircase find that we are once more on the landing behind the clerks’ room, and at the foot of another flight of steps, leading to the large lofty apartment where mouldings of all sorts are kept till they are wanted. Mr Clephan makes a point of being always a long way ahead of his work. By this means he avoids the necessity of using unseasoned wood. His doors and sashes never “pine” because they have been thoroughly dried before passing from his hands; and he never, if he can help it, touches in the way of business the cheaper, coarser descriptions of wood, used largely, we fear, in the speculative building of the present day. We should have mentioned that there is a drying-room over the boiler, which is one stage the wood passes through in the seasoning to which it is subjected, There are also various lofts and storage rooms in other parts of the premises; and at a distance of a few hundred yards, at the top of Bone-street, there is a large storage yard for building materials, where a quantity of timber is always seasoning. The wood-cutting machinery is all from Robinson and Sons, of Rochdale, makers of much celebrity in the trade.


The North End Steam Building Works are the largest of their kind in the county. In order to give some idea of the extent of the business carried on by Mr Clephan, we may state that last week he had nearly 200 men at work, and fifteen horses and carts conveying materials. Over and above the turnout of his establishment he does a great deal of personal work—as architect, valuer, &c. He is ready
to build a house, providing the plans, and doing every bit of it - except the slating and decorative painting - by his own workmen, in which case he charges nothing for his professional services as architect; or he will furnish designs for another builder, superintending the erection, and taking his commission like any other architect. He supplies mouldings to the trade, and has a folio book of patterns running to sixty pages. He has also given his attention to the construction of conservatories, vineries, and forcing houses for fruits and plants, many of which, in divers forms, he has put up. A book of designs he has had lithographed; and any one meditating an erection of the kind should forthwith consult it.

Photos and transcription courtesy of Jeremy Clephan