Cockey and Sons

Cockey Lamps are the most memorable castings by Cockey & Sons. The sight of Cockey street lamps can be seen all around Frome and are quite unique. The Cockey plaque can be found at 1a Palmer Street at the site of the Cockey foundry (see map below).

Local historian, Prebendary Daniel, stated that Lewis Cockey came from Warminster to Frome about 1760 and set up a bell foundry. Church bells cast by the Cockeys from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century are of good quality and found all over the West Country. The Cockey family descendants took a prominent part in the church and public life of Frome and when Edward Cockey decided that bellfounding was not a paying proposition and sawthe gas industry expanding, he changed from bell casting to gas components and general engineering. in 1822 Edward was listed as a ‘Boot & Shoe Maker’ as well as ‘Iron Monger and Iron & Brass Founder’, in Bath Street, Frome. He was joined by two of his brothers, Henry and Francis Cockey, both able engineers. Frome had gas lighting as early as 1831 and by 1851 Edward Cockey employed 76 men and boys and in 1886 became a limited company, moving the expanding foundry from Palmer Street to Garston which also helped facilitate deliveries via the nearby railway.

They were successful general engineers but on the advent of gas for commercial purposes this soon became their main business. The new works at Garston, covering four and a half acres, were built in 1893 and they designed, manufactured and erected gas works in all parts of the globe but particularly in South Wales and the West of England. During the Great War Cockeys were a Controlled Establishment and turned out an immense quantity of work in connection with bye-product and other special plant for the various departments, apparently with such satisfaction that the firm received a special letter of appreciation and thanks from the Admiralty. They were also on the lists of the War Office and the Crown Agents, with an office in Victoria Street London.

The company ceased trading in 1960 and there is now only one male Cockey left in this country. Back in 1634 Thomas Cockey travelled on the Bonaventure across the Atlantic. He eventually arrived in Maryland, where (being a gentleman) he was given some land and today there are about 350 members of the Cockey family living in Cockeysville Maryland, north of Baltimore, including a Judge, Joshua F Cockey, so the name will continue, just not in England.

Back in the early part of the nineteenth century, a small part of the Cockey business included street furniture, bollards, railings, drain covers etc. When gas was introduced in Frome in 1831, the company designed, manufactured and erected the first street gas lamps. These continued to be used until the introduction of electricity to Frome. In 1881 they made the iron pillars and railings in Coalash Walk (now the Portway) to keep back the crowds when the Prince and Princess of Wales, leaving Frome station, visited Longleat. However their main business was the design and manufacture of gas holders, standards, boilers and iron roofs.

A corner of the Market Place showing one of the original gas lamps c1865

In February 1904 (after three years of meetings featuring The Electric Lighting Scheme for Frome) the Frome Urban District Council held a special meeting at the Public Offices to discuss the selection of the replacement tops of the Cockey lamps from gas to electricity. There were two patterns selected, one was cast iron and the other wrought iron. 

Manager Mr Nicholl of Edmondson’s Electric Corporation, (the company chosen to carry out the changes from gas to electricity) said “the standards were not only submitted for their [Councillors] approval, but also that they might see the difference between an inferior and an excellent one. The superior bracket designed and made by Messrs Singers’ Works, was the finest he had seen for a considerable time and as far as his experience went, he did not think they could better it.” Although the wrought iron bracket was more expensive than the cast iron one, the council members were in favour of keeping the business within the town and the Singer’s Art Metal Works design for the 80 candle power incandescent lamps was approved.

So the lamps of Frome were converted and given their distinctive “art nouveau” leaf pattern tops which are beloved by many Frome residents. They were originally painted in a very dark bronze green colour and must have looked very handsome when first erected and illuminated. 

There are between 70 and 80 lamps left, some of which are listed but they still seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate.

Does it matter that they are a collaboration of Cockey columns and Singer tops? 

No, of course not.  They are still Frome’s unique Cockey lamps!

Cheap Street, Christchurch Street East and Gentle Street lamps

More photos here

Edward Cockey in wikipedia

Cockey at Frome Museum