Yeovil People

The Plowman Family

Three generations of Saddle & Harness Makers


Thomas Plowman was born in Somerset in 1772. He is recorded in the Churchwardens' Accounts as supplying webbing to St John's church at least between 1812 and 1836 and in 1816 was paid for supplying and repairing the leather buckets that were stored in the church as an early form of town fire brigade. He was listed as a Saddler & Harness Maker of Hendford (which at this time also included much of Princes Street) in Pigot's Directories of 1824 and 1830 and was on the Jury List in 1827 as a Saddler owning property in Hendford. Between 1835 and 1838 Thomas received payment from the Churchwardens for occasionally painting and decorating. He was listed as a Saddle & Harness Maker of Hendford in the Somerset Gazette Directory of 1840.

In the 1841 census Thomas was listed living in Hendford as a 69-year old Saddler with his 70-year old wife Anna and 25-year old son Henry, also a Saddler, together with a Saddler Journeyman, a Saddler's Apprentice and a domestic servant. In the autumn of 1842 at Yeovil Henry married Eliza Melmoth, daughter of John Melmoth and his wife Betty - Melmoth being landlord of the King's Head in High Street.

In April 1842 the Law Journal (and, indeed, more than a dozen newspapers nationwide) reported that "Thomas Plowman of Yeovil, in the County of Somerset, saddler and harness maker" was declared bankrupt. It is not, apparently, recorded what happened to Thomas and Anna after the bankruptcy.

By 1850 Hunt & Co's Directory was listing was listing Henry Plowman as a Saddler & Harness Maker of the Borough and in the 1851 census Henry, by now aged 34, and 29-year old Eliza, originally from Sherborne, Dorset, were recorded in the Borough with their two sons; Thomas H (b1844) and John (b1847) together with Henry's niece and a domestic servant. Henry gave his occupation as 'Saddler employing 3 Men'.

In Slater's Directory of 1852 Henry was listed as a Saddler & Harness Maker of Princes Street and he was noted as a Saddler in the Churchwarden's accounts in 1855. In the 1861 census Henry, Eliza and the two boys, together with a domestic servant, were still listed at Princes Street where Henry gave his occupation simply as a Saddler. Pigot's Directory of 1866 listed him as a Saddler & Harness Maker of Princes Street.

In August 1867 Henry was in court in a claim for unpaid spirits and cigars although this case was dropped. However in April 1868 Henry had another brush with the law when he was summoned before the Borough Petty Sessions for non-payment of poor rates amounting to £1 13s. He did not appear and an order for payment was made.

In September 1868 the London Gazette reported that, like his father before him, Henry Plowman had been made bankrupt. His stock-in-trade, furniture, etc. had been sold by auction in the August. It would appear, however, that Henry was very soon back in trade since in March 1870 a 17-year old labourer, Samuel Wilmot, "was indicted for obtaining a whip, value 4s, by false pretences, from Henry Plowman" although Wilmot was acquitted.

In the 1871 census Henry and Eliza together with son John (Thomas had gone off to join the 3rd Hussars by this time) were listed at Princes Street where both Henry and John, by now aged 24, gave their occupations as Saddlers. Henry was listed as a Saddler of Princes Street in the Post Office Directory of 1875 - his last entry in a trade directory. The family were still in Princes Street in the 1881 census and 64-year old Henry listed his occupation as "Saddler Employing 3 Men" and John gave his as a Saddler.

However John began running the business and the 1882 edition Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser listed John Plowman as a Saddler of Princes Street but in the spring of 1883 Henry Plowman died at Yeovil. He was aged 67. In the 1891 census his 72-year old widow Eliza was listed as a Saddler as was her son John, a lifelong bachelor. Living with them was a young apprentice and a domestic servant. In 1892 John was made a Special Constable.


In the 1891 edition of 'Where to Buy' Plowman's business was given the following description -

Messrs. Plowman and Son,
Saddlers and Harness Makers

The name of 'Plowman' is one that is well known and deservedly respected in the Yeovil district, and the firm of Messrs. Plowman and Son, saddlers and harness manufacturers, represent not only an old family, but one of the oldest saddlery and harness businesses in the kingdom. This district is not only a busy industrial one, but also boasts a rich agricultural population and a large number of hunting gentry. The services of a first class saddler and harness maker have, therefore, been peculiarly necessary, and the Plowman family have for more than half-a-century ministered to the wants of both horses and owners with signal success, and Mr. Plowman, sen., the late head of the firm, carried on the trade in the premises now occupied for nearly that time.

The shops have been from time to time improved to meet the requirements of an increased trade, and are stocked with a splendid assortment of saddlery goods. None but thoroughly reliable work is turned out, and the members of the firm personally superintend and inspect every article before being sent home.

Only experienced and skillful workmen are employed, and the goods made on the premises are remarkable for neat and finished workmanship. All the latest improvements have been introduced, and the greatest possible care is taken in measuring horses and accurately adjusting the harness, etc. Hunting and side saddles, harness for double or single turn-out, and mounted in any style, bridles, bits, spurs, stirrups, whips, and every requirement for riding or driving are always on hand, besides rugs, horse cloths, brushes, sponges and every kind of stable requisite. The goods are of a superior class, the prices are extremely moderate, and all kinds of repairs are promptly and efficiently performed.

Messrs. Plowman exhibit with pardonable pride a miniature set of harness, beautifully executed by the late Mr Plowman, which, at the celebration of the Queen's Coronation, was borne in the procession as a symbol of the harness makers' craft of that date, and fifty years after (Jubilee Day) his son, the present proprietor, exhibited tne self-same miniature horse and set of harness, which was carried in the procession round the town on the top of the Mermaid Hotel bus, and although Messrs. Plowman have repeatedly been offered considerable sums for it, they naturally decline to part with such an interesting and valuable memento.

The well known integrity of the firm and the thoroughly reliable and high-class character of their work have enabled Messrs. Plowman and Son to maintain a leading position despite all opposition.


The 1895 edition of 'Where to Buy' listed 'Plowman & Son, Saddlers & Harness Makers of Princes Street' even though John was the son and his father had been dead for over ten years.

In the 1901 census John was living above the shop premises on his own and listed himself as a Saddler. In 1907 Collins' Yeovil Directory listed Plowman & Son at Princes Street and John was still living on his own there in 1911, giving his occupation as a Harness Maker. The last listing of the business was in Kelly's Directory of 1919.

John Plowman died in Yeovil in the winter of 1927, aged 80, ending a family-run Yeovil saddle and harness making business that had spanned three generations.




The notice of the sale of Henry Plowman's stock-in-trade from the 21 August 1868 edition of the Western Gazette.


This colourised photograph of Princes Street dates to around 1875 and is one half of a stereoscopic pair. It was taken from the junction with High Street and looks north. At the time Henry Marsh Custard was running his bookshop / printer's / stationers which was situated in the three-storey building to the left of the cart in the photograph. The narrow lane seen between Custard's building and the building at extreme left was colloquially known as Custard's Lane  and later widened to become Westminster Street. The imposing building at right, once a private residence known as Mayfair, was the hairdressing salon of Frank Gaylard, and home to the 'Yeovil & District Toilet Club', between the 1870s and 1920s. The two-storey building at extreme right, on the corner of Princes Street and High Street, was the home and furniture shop of Henry White. Between Gaylard's and the rear entrance to the Mermaid Hotel was, for decades, the premises of the Plowman family of harness and saddle makers.


Henry Plowman's advertisement in the 1878 edition of Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser.


..... and his advertisement in the 1880 edition of Whitby's.


This colourised photograph features in my book 'Yeovil From Old Photographs'

This photograph was taken by Yeovil Photographer Jarratt Beckett and published in his 1897 book  "Somerset viewed through a Camera". At far left, with the awning, was Strong's Dining & Tea Rooms also known as the Princes Cafe. Next door to this was Collins, the printer and stationer, and then Cole & Sons. On the right is seen the new shopfront to Frank Gaylard's hairdressing salons. Between Gaylard's and the rear entrance to the Mermaid Hotel and now with a new shop-front, the Plowman family business was being run by John Plowman.