Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: March 30, 2018
Webpage updated: April 01, 2020




The Plymouth business house of Messrs Millbay Laundry, Cleaning and Dyeing Company Limited were located at Millbay Road, East Stonehouse, with shops and agencies all over Plymouth and Devonport.

The Millbay Laundry, CLeaning, Dyeing & Carpet Beating Works, Plymouth.

The Millbay Laundry, Cleaning, Dyeing and Carpet Beating Works,
From a postcard.

Mr Harold Roberts, the founder of the business, was born on September 25th 1864 at number 17 Bedford Street, Plymouth, where his parents, Mr Thomas K Roberts and Mrs Louisa Roberts, were running what was known in those days as an eating house.  He was youngest of twelve children.  He was educated at the Public Free School in Cobourg Street but completed his schooling at twelve years of age and became a monitor at the Saint James the Less National School, for which he earned ten shillings a quarter.

He soon became dissatisfied with that job and took an apprenticeship with a firm of tailors in Bedford Street.  In the meantime, his parents had moved their business to 31 and 32 Millbay Road, right outside the entrance to the Plymouth Great Western Docks, where they started to supply bedding and other clothes to Irish emigrants passing through Plymouth on their way to the United States of America.  When Harold attained the age of 21 in 1885 he took over the business from his mother at a cost of 150, which he paid in weekly instalments of 1.

Mr Harold Roberts married Miss Bessie Cook at Saint Martin's, near Liskeard, Cornwall, in 1886 and their son and heir, Cecil Richard John Roberts, was born in Plymouth the following year.

Shortly afterwards Mr Roberts moved the business to number 33 Millbay Road, on the corner of Martin Street, and took over running the Post Office as well, for which he had to learn the Morse Code for transmitting telegrams.  Being a qualified tailor, he not only sold clothes but now offered to alter and repair them for customers and followed this up by removing spots and stains and even pressing trousers.  The cleaning side of the business soon outgrew the retail side and in 1890 he acquired larger premises at number 26 Millbay Road and called it the Millbay Clothes Cleaning and Dyeing Works.

Number 26 was a large, four-storey building.  The ground floor shop was split into two, one part for the Post Office and the other as a receiving office for the laundry.  A steam boiler was installed in the basement while in the large room on the first floor were the finishers, who pressed the clothes with flat irons heated from a coke-burning stove in the centre of the room.  The room behind the shop was kept for the Post Office Messenger boys.  Dry cleaning , using benzene, was carried out in a separate shed in a lane off Martin Street because of the risk of an explosion.  Lace curtains were dried on special frames erected in the basement.

The business expanded so fast that dyeing was then added and in order to provide room for this the Roberts family moved out of number 26 and into number 10 Caroline Place, Stonehouse.  The move had a double advantage because in doing so he became acquainted with Mr Edward Snow Lancaster who had opened a clothing factory in Phoenix Street.  As a result of this he joined with Mr Lancaster, Mr W Oliver Hosking, Mr F Adams and Mr R J Bazeley in the formation of a Limited liability company to take over the business and erect a properly equipped, modern, laundry.  Thus on March 31st 1896 the Millbay Laundry, Cleaning and Dyeing Company Limited was born at a meeting of potential shareholders.

Along with Mr Harold Roberts, Messrs F Adams, R J Bazeley, W O Hocking, and E S Lancaster, were appointed as directors, and Mr Orlando Davis was appointed secretary.  Mr Roberts received shares to the value of 2,200 for his business.

Sixteen tenders were received for the construction of the new works and that of Messrs Blackall and Shepherd in the sum of 5,537 was accepted along with a tender from Messrs New and Mayne for the machinery.  This was to cost 2,668.  A completion date was fixed of December 30th 1896 but there must have been some delays because in September 1896 the directors offered an incentive the contractors of 20 a week for any week or portion of a week in advance of February 10th 1897 that the building was completed and handed over to the Company.

Designed by Mr H J Snell, the noted Plymouth architect, the new works was built of limestone with red brick relief and comprised what amounted to four bays, two for laundry work and two for cleaning and dyeing. Although the washing was done by machine the finishing was still done by hand.

The business and the premises grew steadily.  In 1899 additional premises were erected in Battery Street and in 1904 the Company acquired the Valletort Sanitary Steam Laundry in Waterloo Street, East Stonehouse.  In 1932 the clothing factory of Messrs Tippetts, Son and Company, in Millbay Road, were acquired and converted into the Eddystone Works.  The Company also bought up land and properties around the site, like Victoria Place, for future expansion.

  City of Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery.

During the night of April 21st 1941 the original works were destroyed but the Eddystone Works survived.  At that time the laundry employed 1,175 people.

The destruction of the laundry building so devastated Mr Roberts that he became very ill and he passed away at his home, "Fairfield", St Vincent Road, Torquay, on Sunday July 26th 1942.  He was 77 years of age and was cremated at Efford Crematorium on Thursday July 30th 1942.  The funeral was attended by some 80 staff and former staff.  Control of the business, and the responsibility of reconstructing it again, passed to his son, Mr Cecil Richard John Roberts, the junior managing director.

At that time the chairman of the directors was Mr W O Hosking and the company secretary was Mr S Marks.  Other directors included Mr W Hosking and Mr R F Butland.  There were three assistant managers, Mr G Hick, Mr R W King and Mr F W Sage.

Once the devastation of the Second World War was out of the way, the business once again flourished, with the 55th branch being opened in September 1959 and three other business, The Without Delay Cleaners (Plymouth) Limited, Coronation Dry Cleaners, and Crawford Dry Cleaners, being amalgamated from November 30th 1959.

In 1972 the Millbay Laundry, Cleaning and Dyeing Company Ltd was taken over by Messrs Kneel's of Exeter, who were themselves acquired by the Johnson Group in May 1978.