Torrance & Sons
The name Torrance became part of Bitton’s history when in 1850 William Summerville from Edinburgh came to the village to inspect the fire destroyed paper mill and, seeing the potential, in 1851 invited Thomas and John Torrance from Lasswade, Esk, Scotland to formulate a company building paper mill machinery. John Torrance set up an iron foundry working in conjunction with the already established Bush family who supplied local collieries and brassworks . The name Torrance became even more connected to the Bush family when Thomas married Rhoda Bush, daughter of John Naish Bush, and the 1881 census shows them living in Belmont Cottage with their children Rowland, Hugh and Kate. Rowland and Hugh worked in the paper mill as an engineer and clerk respectively.
Grinding Machines and the War Effort
Torrance and sons became a worldwide supplier of stainless steel and standard paint and colour grinding machines along with general items such as drain covers and mill wheels, an example of which is Willsbridge Mill. Stothert & Pitt became their parent company. The London Gazette of 28th November 1919 records John Rowland Torrance negotiating the new company structure, and during WW2 Stothert & Pitt -Torrance & Sons were helping the war effort when they were contracted to modify the turret and gun mountings on the Challenger Cruiser mk vii tank.
Photo courtesy Peter Davies
Origins and Local Employment
Many local people were employed at the Bitton site through the years. Ted Clothier remembers in 1942-3 joining the drawing office at the age of fourteen, when a member of their management visited Bitton Council School and asked if anybody was interested in a career in engineering. Whether to celebrate his apprentice papers or just high jinks, Ted remembers being hoisted by his overall on the works crane. As in many local larger companies Torrance often employed more than one member of one family. Harry Short worked for many years as a packer making the crates for the machines, his son Ted was a lorry driver and then crane operator (and was the firms bookies runner) and his son John served his apprenticeship. John Short remembers that Torrance was self sufficient with its own foundry, pattern shop, fitting shop and machine shop. One of the Stothert & Pitt contracts was making cement mixers, one fitter plus two apprentices per mixer making around thirteen mixers a week. For many years the buildings that straddled the Bath Road through Bitton, some of which were built on land once called The Plough Ground and used by the nurseryman Mr Gibert Gallop, became the face of the village and was Torrance& Sons. In 1988 the firm was sold to Elger and became Elger Torrance. Stothert & Pitt stopped trading in 2008 although both divisions continued to trade under different formats until recently.