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Rowe Brothers a Brief History of a Victorian Company

Rowe Brothers a Brief History of a Victorian Company

We like a bit of Bristol history at Architectural Decor and when we came across the brass taps below with a local Bristol connection we had to look into the company.



Around 1880 the Rowe Brothers & Company commissioned Herbert Jones, a Bristol based architect to design and build a lead rolling works at Canons Marsh wharf in Bristol's floating harbour. The Company originally started in nearby Exeter manufacturing and selling brass and sanitary ware. In the first 2 years of the 20th century a rail yard was built on Canons Marsh giving direct rail access and led the Company to expand their operation taking over the nearby timber yard and marble works to manufacture brass and sanitary ware and then added a glass works around 1930. 


Rowe Brothers original building on the right and the Rail yard in the middle


Originally the area known as Canons Marsh was a marshy hay meadow, owned by St Augustine's (now Bristol Cathedral). During the 1700's Bristol importance as a commercial port grew and the high tidal range (as much as 12m) and the narrowness of the harbour started to become a problem for larger commercial vessels (the way the ships were lashed together led to the saying 'shipshape and Bristol fashion'). It wasn't until trade started to move away from Bristol that in 1802 William Jessop was finally commissioned to design Bristol's new floating harbour. Canons Marsh became a dock around 1810. 

Rowe Brothers traded from the site until around 1960, the building along with the rest of Canons Marsh fell into disrepair. In the mid to late 1980's the later building was used as an unofficial skate board and BMX park by day and a venue for Bristol's illegal rave scene by night. In the early 1990's Bristol City Council and the Bristol Chamber of Commerce successfully applied for lottery funding and along with other funds developed the later Rowe Brothers building and Railway sheds into At-Bristol. The original lead works and tower still remain in what today is known as Anchor Square.


Developed into At Bristol with a Restaurant in the old lead Works


Antique and vintage taps are a great way to add some period style to any bathroom or kitchen, not only are they great quality but also great value. If you already have some antique or vintage taps that are bit leaky and tired some simple refurbishment can be done at home. As long as they aren't seized most leaks can be simply fixed with a replacement washer, replacement gaskets and some plumbers tape. Chrome and brass taps can be polished by hand,(we'd recommend Peek polish for chrome plated taps it's less abrasive than Brasso). For that high polish on brass they'll need to be removed and taken to a specialist polisher. There are many small business's who specialise in chrome and nickel plating as well as small brass polishing projects and its probably cheaper than you think. You can view our current range of antique and vintage taps. and we have another brief blog post about antique taps.

Thanks to:

At Bristol

Bristol City Council - Know Your Place

RM Web


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Stuart Mason - January 5, 2021

Part of the building still stands in Berkley Street although it has been extensively altered and “done up”. Most of it has been demolished although the frontage has been renovated. It is now used by Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Stuart Mason - January 5, 2021

I used to work at Rowe Brothers (Builders & Plumbers Merchants) in Berkley Street, Birmingham, off Broad Street. They sold a wide manner of building and plumbing supplies although lead was one of the main products until the price collapsed in the mid to late 60s due to the health risks discovered. I worked as a sales clerk from 1964 until 1968. I think the company was sold in the mid 70s and eventually were taken over and became part of Graham Builders merchants who as far as I know still trade today.

Geoffrey Hill - October 30, 2020

My great grandfather (Frederick Henry Hill)and grandfather (Henry Thomas Hill) both worked as managers at Rowe Bros. from turn of the 20th century until the mid 1950s. My father immigrated to Canada in 1947.

Keith Arscott - April 12, 2019

The company closed there operation in Canons Marsh Bristol in the mid Sixtys,moving to new premises at Bishopsworth.The company was sold in the early seventys and became Graham-Rowe and again later became Graham-Reeves.It was at this point the name Rowe dissapered.

Peter Ely - February 17, 2019

I have just come across a massive old cast iron bath with chrome brass taps bath filler and waste made by Rowe Bros
So what happened to the firm after the 1960s ?
Plumbing & heating engineer

I hope the new owners are going to refurbish it it’s in a grade 1 listed mansion

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