Jules William Jacques Manington (1868-1937)

When building work began on a new Ambrosia factory near Lapford Cross in 1926, there was an air of anticipation. For a village still to experience mains water, electricity or flushing toilets, it felt like a giant leap into the modern, industrial world. So there was probably some surprise when the man selected to manage the new, state-of-the-art production facility was the publican next door! Any concerns were unfounded—the landlord of The Yeo Vale had a fascinating past that more than qualified him for the role.

Christened on the very spot where Wild Thing was recorded, his was a family of mercenaries and hardened refugees of the French Revolution. But Lapford’s first factory manger had carved a different career that took him from the developing new world of Argentina, to the tramways of industrial Britain, and to the tin mines of Malaya. This is the story of William Manington: local publican and global engineer!

“Willie” Manington was born Jools William Jacques Manington on 04 February, 1868, the son of a goldsmith, silversmith and diamond dealer. He spent his early years growing up on Oxford Street, London where his father co-owned two jewellery shops trading as Waylett & Manington1.

His parents were both French-born2 with close ties to the aristocratic refugees who fled France after the revolution, many of whom settled in Marylebone. The refugees had established a small French Catholic Chapel in Little St George Street where William was christened in the same 40x40ft room where Jimmy Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Dusty Springfield would later make their first recordings, and songs that defined a generation were born.3.

William was educated with his brothers at Taplow Grammar School, a boarding school in Buckinghamshire. The family had a second home at Herne Bay enabling beach trips during the school holidays.

According to family tradition4, William’s father came home one day and announced that the family were no longer to be Catholics but members of the Church of England. Furthermore, they were moving off to South America! He never joined the family on their emigration adventure; he died in 1889 just three weeks after publicly announcing the dissolution of the Waylett & Manington jewellery business5. The family believed they were subsequently swindled out of their valuable share in the jewellery business.

William was eleven when the family arrived in Argentina. His new home was a Spanish-style ranch house, built around a square with stables for horses and mules and a well in the middle of the dusty yard. They owned hundreds of acres of cattle ranching land. The family were regularly raided by bandits. With no law enforcement, they took to guns to fend off attacks. William’s sister, Blanche, later recollected that the family became mercenary soldiers in Argentina and often ended up fighting each other— “they were a wild family”.

William’s oldest brother, George, became the most famous of the Manington mercenaries. He hadn’t emigrated with his family, preferring to take a seemingly sensible career path as a trainee doctor in Paris… before swearing to the cause of liberté, égalité, fraternité and joining the French Foreign legion in Algeria! His book, A Soldier of the Legion, was published shortly after his death, at the age of 38. In it vividly describes experiences in hostile jungles of Northern Vietnam: fighting against Chinese pirates, drugs barons, local rebels, man-eating tigers and tropical disease. It sold in its thousands and helped give the legion something of a cult status. It remains in print today.

The Argentine census of 1895 shows a 26-year-old William (‘Guillermo’) living in the centre of Buenos Aires. There remained a Catholic-Protestant divide within the family: William is recorded as being protestant. He was working as a manager (capataz). The city was rapidly becoming industrialised and it is here that he probably got a grounding in engineering.
Gold pocket watch manufactured by Waylett & Manington. It bears the address, 234 Oxford Street, London, William’s early home
“Willie” (second from left). The picture captures the eldest of his nine siblings.

Around the turn of the century, William returned to England, living at 153 Tydesley Road, Atherton, Lancashire — a new end-of-terrace house surrounded by countryside and collieries. He became involved in one of the engineering marvels of the day: electrified tram systems. Hundreds of miles of tramway were being constructed in the North-West at this time. The resulting network is now regarded as one the greatest lost transportation systems in the world. Much of the Edwardian system, engineered by men like William, still lies buried beneath the tarmacadam of our northern towns and cities.

In the 1901 census, William is recorded as a commissioning agent visiting a cable manufacturer closely associated with the family6. Soon afterwards, William joined the engineering company Augustus Krauss & Son which had won a number of large tramway contracts.

As a chief engineer, he managed hundreds of men in the construction of line. He was specifically involved with the ambitious plans of the South Lancashire Tramway Company to construct an inter-urban network. The routing of tramways across open countryside was unusual but offered potential financial reward. By 1907 the systems of Liverpool, Manchester, Wigan and Bolton had been connected and South Lancashire Tramways became the country’s largest non-metropolitan system outside London.


Then & Now. Tramline being laid in Shuttle Street, Tydesley in 1901 for the South Lancashire Tramway. The track passed William’s front door, a few short stops away. Slide to compare with the view today.

In the winter of 1903, William was engaged in a new scheme: the Sunderland District Electric Tramway. It would become a disastrous project for Krauss & Son. The Shield Daily Gazette reported:

We understand that Mr Manington, the manager for the contractors, Messrs Krauss & Son, is at present in Sunderland arranging for the delivery of material, so that an early commencement with the work of laying the permanent way may be made. The proposal is to work with four or five large gangs of men concurrently …. the work will afford employment for some hundreds of workmen during the coming winter months.

The line was intended to connect a number of mining villages south of Sunderland with the city’s corporate system. The project struggled to attract investment and prospects were impacted when Sunderland Corporation refused to allow a direct connection with the city system. Attempted cost reduction resulted in a line beset with problems. A major issue arose when nearby collieries began expansion, leaving the line with only a third of the power it had been promised.

Sunderland District Tramway No.31 tram at Easington Lane in November 1921. It is interesting to note that the tram is advertising Virol. Five years later, in a twist of fate, the tramway, that William Manington had helped to construct, had been dismantled and the Lapford factory that William was to manage was being constructed – a factory that owed its very existence to Virol! (The plant was established to meet rocketing sales of Virol & Milk – a newly formulated mixture of Virol and dried milk powder).

The rural nature of the tramway presented William with many more engineering challenges than a typical urban line—numerous inclines, flood issues and even snowdrifts—all to be overcome on a very limited budget.

The laying of the first tracks was delayed until 01 February 1904 and the line was finally opened on 10 June 1905. Just two days later, disaster struck. A tram went out of control as it descended Botcherby’s Bank near Silksworth colliery. The tram quickly gained momentum and finally jumped the tracks, hitting a stone wall. Some of the fifty terrified passengers were jettisoned from the top deck, resulting in multiple injuries and the death of a 14-year-old boy. The inquest returned a verdict of brake failure, although it was alleged that an inspector had boarded the tram just before the incident, taken control of the brakes, then jumped off as he lost control.

In 1906, a tram came off its tracks and crashed at speed into a house killing a mine worker walking to his shift at Houghton colliery. The inquest heard that there had been a number of derailments at the same spot. A year later, a tram again jumped the lines on Mill Bank Hill, Botcherby Bank, and crashed into a wall. Again, there were serious injuries. Remarkably, two hours later, another tram got into the same difficulty, came off the rails and hit the wreckage of the first tram, adding to the injury toll.

These incidents, coupled with regular derailments and breakdowns, severely damaged the once glowing reputation of Krauss & Son. There is no evidence that William was ever directly implicated in the problems—blame was targeted on the poor quality of the trams—but by 1907 he had left his employ for a new venture.

William moved to a very different mining region—Perak, British Malaya— where he became manager of engineering contractor Walter Tate & Co, based in Taipeng. Projects were mostly related to the region’s tin mining industry, the largest in the world. William later established his own engineering buisness and estate agency in Taipeng.

There was a vibrant European social scene in the area; Walter Tate and his wife were particularly known for their large parties. William became an active member of the local masonic lodge. He was a member from 1907 to 1918, but rejoined his old lodge in Wigan from 1911-1917, suggesting he operated both in Britain and British Malaya7.

Typical early-C20 open-cast mine in Perak before the introduction of high-volume automated dredging.

During WW1, William was based with the Army Service Corps (ASC) either at their Motor Transport Depot in Lee (Blackheath) or at nearby Grove Park. On 20 April 1916, three days after his appointment as a temporary officer, he married Helen Hartley8. William was 44, Helen was 21. Despite his age, William saw active service in France with the ASC from June 1916 and was promoted to Lieutenant. He may have been a staff car driver for senior officers9.

In the 1920s William’s company in Taipeng was still operating, but it is not known if William ever returned to Malaya after the war.

Photograph: Lieutenant J W Manington, aged about 45
Copyright: © IWM. (HU 117872)
Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205385162

William and Helen’s first married home was in Hanwell, West London. They moved to Exeter in early 1921 and made the move to Lapford in about 1923 to become licensees of the Yeo Vale Hotel.

In 1926, the search began for a manager for the planned Ambrosia factory at Lapford. Specialist skills were clearly going to be required to set up logistical and technical operations in such a rural location still without mains water, electricity, gas or a sewage system. It must have come as a surprise that the best man for the job was publican next-door! William had brought roads, railways, power and water to the most remote of locations, so was quite up for the challenge of bringing industry to a small Devon village.

William was not the first hotelier to feature in the early history of Ambrosia. Ernest Miller, proprietor of the Arundell Arms, Lifton, had been instrumental in bringing the first Ambrosia factory to Lifton, Devon, and he sat on some of the companies first committees.

Following his appointment, William set about organising operations: engaging with hundreds of local farmers to ensure a stable milk supply; training local people in skilled operations; establishing a social culture; and resolving numerous engineering and transport challenges. In the evenings he relaxed by running the Yeo Vale Inn, recouping some of the money he had paid in wages!

William was able to utilise well water and to deposit waste water in the River Yeo. Power came from a generator room, although the factory was also soon able to benefit from mains power run along the A377. Remarkably the village refused Ambrosia’s offer to supply it with electricity because “oil lamps were good enough”10.

In 1928, older pupils of Lapford school were taken on a tour of the factory, something that became an annual treat:

Mr. J. W. Manington (manager) and Miss Lewis (chemist) acted as guides, and enjoyable time was spent. The children were shown over every department, and saw the different processes necessary to convert milk, arriving churns into milk powder, and leaving either as 40lb. tins or 1lb. cartons. The girls were much interested in the weighing and packing department, where one girl is capable of packing 1400 lb. cartons daily.

—Western Times, Friday 05 October 1928

William retired in July 1929, aged 61, having successfully established a factory that would bring significant social and development change to Lapford. The Western Times reported:

Mr. J. W. Manington, the manager of the Lapford works of Ambrosia, Ltd., who is retiring at the end of this month, was presented by the Lapford staff with a handsome smoker’s cabinet. Mr. Govier, who made the actual presentation, voiced the feeling of the whole staff when he expressed the esteem in which Mr. Manington was held and the regret felt at his retirement. Mrs. Manington was the recipient of a beautiful bouquet. The staff was entertained to tea by Mr. and Mrs. Manington.

William and Helen retired to Offwell, Devon but were soon looking for a new venture. They moved to Bath where they established the Abbey Café in the city centre. It continues to trade as a café today11.

William died in Bath in 1937, aged 69, and is buried at Lansdown cemetery. Helen died in Tavistock in 1982, aged 87.

1 Park Place, Exeter where William and Helen took lodgings in 1921
The Yeo Vale Hotel, mid-1920s
  1. Located at 234 and 524 Oxford Street []
  2. William’s mother, Celine, was French; his father, Jools, was a British national with a British father and French mother []
  3. Olympic Sound Recording Studios. Demolished 1969. Records recorded her included My Boy Lollipop, Wild Thing and I Only Want To Be With You []
  4. Family recollections are those remembered by William’s sister, Blanche Adele Spence, and written by her daughter Fiona Adele Spence Wilson Farquharson on ancestry.co.uk []
  5. The London Gazette – 17th May 1889 []
  6. William was visting Arthur Elton Frodsham who was desended from a line of well known horologists. William’s father probably used the renowned Frodsham mechanisms in his gold and silver matches, and struck a friendship. Arthur Frodsham had given one of his sons the middle name ‘Manington’ following the death of William’s father. Arthur and William were in Argentina at the same time and probably rekindled family associations. Arthur returned to England to manufacture ‘wire rope’ including cables for tramways. Therefore, this might have been William’s route into the tramway construction business []
  7. William was first initiated into the Holmes Lodge 08 Dec 1903 and resigned 8 Mar 1905. He was readmitted 17 Jan 1911, resigning July 1918. He was a member of the Perak Jubilee Lodge, Taipeng from 13 Feb 1907 to 6 Jul 1919 []
  8. William married Helen Emma Clara Hartley at St James, Ealing, shortly after being appointed a temporary 2nd Lieutenant []
  9. In 1921, William sold a 1918 Vauxhall Touring Car, in Exeter. Most cars of this model and year were used as military staff cars []
  10. The Changing Village, F.G. Thomas, 1938 []
  11. Now trading as Cafe Retro, 18 York Street []