Today the village crossroads is shaded by chestnut trees and over-looks the nearby playing filed, brick towered church and entrance to the one-time home of Captain Oates at Gestingthorpe Hall. Locally the junction is known as FOUNDRY CORNER. It is a remote, rural spot. But from near her for some seventy eight years, (until about 1908), the Downs family not only produced their famous ‘ESSEX A’ and ’T.D.O.’ Ploughs, but also:
Land Rolls, Boot Scrapers, Farm waggons, Sign posts, Flat irons, Iron railings, Pig troughs and Poultry troughs.
Indeed so healthy was the demand for implements produced from the Downs’s ‘most rustic of foundries’ that the eleven men employed there in 1851 had increased to ‘twenty seven men and four boys’ in 1877, whilst at the turn of the century there was still as staff of between four and ten on the payroll.
Despite leaving Foundry Corner in about 1908 the family appear to have continued as retailers of their old stock for another ten to twelve years from Rectory Farm, Gestingthorpe. Both John Downs and his son King Downs are buried in Gestingthorpe churchyard, and their gravestones proudly record their profession as ‘IRONFOUNDER’. A descendant of the Gestingthorpe ‘Downs Family started ‘Downs Garage’ in Sudbury and manufactured the ‘Cool as a Cucumber’ radiator.
Curiously, the foundry was actually positioned on both sides of the road to Little Yeldham. To connect the furnace with the steam engine (which drove a fan to make the blast), a tunnel was built beneath the road. “However I’ve heard say,” relates retired Gestingthorpe craftsman Les Smith (b. 1921), “that water would sometimes get into the tunnel… ‘Course that was a rare old trick to get someone to stand near the exit - when the blast started! Oh yes. That would have ‘em! - But they only ever caught them once though!”
Occasionally however, hand bellows were used and a village boy would be paid to do the pumping. A hundred years later, Dorrie Pannell tells of one legendary exchange when the school register was being taken.
Teacher: “Where is _______’
Pupil: “Please Miss, he’s blowing up the foundry!”
Finally there is a recurring local legend, about the origins of the Gestingthorpe Foundry, that is not inappropriate in our present era of financial chicanery. Les Smith explains:
“They used to say - my Father’s generation did - that when Down started his foundry he couldn’t afford to pay for the raw iron to begin work with. So to ‘create the right impression’ he stuffed a lot of coppers and iron washers in a ‘Long Melford’, (a great big long purse), and thumped it down on a table in view of a Halstead iron founder. Apparently the ruse worked; people thought it was full of sovereigns and the iron was released and the business began!”
August 23rd 1860 - Advert
New Plough. John Downs Jun. Ironfounder of Gestingthorpe, Halstead, Essex, begs to present his grateful thanks to farmers and the public for the liberal support he has received in the last 15 years of this old establishment which was carried on by his father and is soliciting the continuance of their patronage. J.D. begs to invite attention to the recent improvements in his Essex Plough.
July 9th 1863 - Advert
John Downs Jun. of Gestingthorpe, Essex
Ploughs at £2 2s 0d. Plough shares at 6s 6d per dozen.
January 5th 1865 - Notice
Steam thrashing machine to let. John Downs Jun. due to incessant demand has been compelled to purchase another 8hp engine with barn works and straw elevator. Iron Works Gestingthorpe.
August 14th 1865 - Notice to engine drivers and feeders.
As I have another 8hp engine and barn works coming home from Clayton and Shuttleworth, Lincoln on the 8th of this month, I shall want a driver and two feeders. John Downs Jun. Iron Founder, Gestingthorpe.
May 24th 1873 - Gestingthorpe
Mrs Downs, widow of the late John Downs, iron founder of Gestingthorpe begs to thank the farmers and others for past favours and to inform them that the business will now be carried on by her son, King Downs. Kind Downs will regularly attend the markets of Sudbury, Haverhill, Braintree and Bury over alternate weeks.