WORK is starting to repair the artist studios at St Michael’s Trading Estate destroyed in a fire last year, so we’re taking a look back at the history of the site.

St Michael’s Trading Estate has a rich history in the rope and net industry in the town, with many businesses working from its buildings.

At the end of the 18th century the land to the west of the north end of St Michael’s Lane, known as ‘Hempland’ was occupied by the Gundry family, known for net making, and during the early 19th century, this land was gradually converted into spinning ways.

The development of the lower half of the lane started around the 1820s. Further infilling took place with the building of Stover Court and Providence Place, both in the 1830s. Stover Court was a terrace of 12 cottages with a number of spinning ways attached. It was bought by William Edwards in 1894. Development of the Edwards’ property followed with the Stover works being built behind in around 1910.

The land to the south remained open and was owned by the Ewens family, manufacturers of sailcloth. It was leased out to the Rood family, who used it for their rug making business.

In 1845 the land was occupied by George Edmunds, a local tanner of South Street. They were used however by Mr Rood, a manufacturer of sheepskins for many years. At some, as yet undetermined, date it passed into the hands of William Edwards who sold some of it to Morey for use as a sale yard in 1912/14.

Further to the south the land was being built on from the early 1800s.

In 1874 William Edwards, the son of a sailcloth weaver, moved from Allington to 66 St Michael’s Lane. He then built his new ropeworks on the site which was to be seen in the 1875 map of the town and seen to be further developed in the 1887 map.

The current 'Tower' building dates from around 1915 when the walk was rebuilt using the familiar 'flame-red' Bothenhampton Bricks.

In 1885 the company moved into the manufacture of sports nets when William S. Edwards took over the business. This proved pivotal as it led to a major expansion of the business.

Over the period from 1892 to 1907 William Edwards and Son were to take over all of the land north from number 66 up to and including number 42 St Michael’s Lane.

Two significant markets opened up for the Edwards business – lawn tennis and football. Edwards became the official supplier to Wimbledon in the 1870s, an arrangement that continues today. W.Edwards and Sons were then given the exclusive manufacturing rights for the production of football goal nets for the English Football Association.

Another family business that based itself in the buildings numbered 34 – 40 St Michael’s Lane was William Gale & Sons. William had three sons, Sidney, Fred and Albert and it was under their guidance that Gales began to make nets as well as twine and so successfully that in 1946 the business was acquired by the fast expanding Edwards Co to provide ‘an entry into the fishing net business’.

During the Second World War talks took place to look at a merger between all the Bridport firms. However, at the last minute, Gundry's pulled out but the remaining firms continued with their plan and formed Bridport Industries Ltd. Thus all the Gales and Edwards property fell under its ownership. In 1963 the merger with Gundry's took place and St. Michael's became part of Bridport Gundry.

The site was closed in 1966 with production moving to The Court Works in West Street.

It was then sold and was later bought by Haywards who set up units for small and developing businesses.

Norman Hayward Senior came to Bridport with his too sons, Clive and Norman Junior to take on the estate.

Many of the buildings were derelict so the Haywards set about transforming the estate into a number of small, and not so small, units - a task that kept the family occupied for several years, undertaking much of the work themselves.

This is what still stands at the site today.

Thank you to Richard Sims and St Michael's Trading Estate for the information and Bridport Museum for the photos.