yeovil people

William Walter Johnson

Glove Manufacturer and Mayor of Yeovil


William Walter Johnson was born in Yeovil in 1853. He was the eldest child of leather glover Walter Johnson (b1831) and Martha née Wells (b1829). Walter and Martha had four children; William, Barbara A (b1855), Henry (b1858) and Susan (b1860).

In the 1861 census, the family were living in Ebenezer Row. This was a terrace of houses somewhat derogatorily named after the Methodist (Wesleyan) chapel they were built next to in Middle Street, just east of the Triangle, between 1806 and 1831. The site is now roughly where Poundland is today.

The family were still living in Ebenezer Row in 1871, but by this time four more children had been added to the family; Joseph W (b1862), Ebenezer S (b1865), Sophia (b1867) and Bessie A (b1869). Walter had been promoted and now gave his occupation as 'Foreman in a Glove Factory'. William, now aged 18, gave his occupation as a glover.

In the autumn of 1874, William married Amelia Trask (1850-1931) at Yeovil. They were to have one son, Walter Stanley Johnson (1877-1960). In the 1881 census William and Amelia, together with Walter, a servant and a lodger, were listed at 12 Newton Road. William gave his occupation as a glover.

In the early 1870s William entered into a business partnership with Edward 'Sam' Ewens. The new partnership of Ewens, Johnson & Co Ltd was to be a long-lasting and successful venture that lasted into the 1930s. They built a new factory at the bottom of Stars Lane which still stands today, now known as Foundry House, and had a leather dressing yard in Addlewell Lane. The company was listed many times in Yeovil trade directories between 1883 and 1935.

In 1885 a serious gas explosion in their new premises was a setback and the company later survived the devastating loss of their Mill Lane premises in the Chapman & Co fire of 1909. However, the total cost of the damage was estimated at £10,000 (nearly £8 million at today's value) with £7,000 of that being Ewens & Johnson's loss. In addition some thirty men were made unemployed by the fire.

By the time of the 1891 William had become quite prosperous and had moved his family to 42 Hendford Hill which, at the time, was quite a fashionable address. In the census, William gave his occupation as a glove manufacturer.

The photograph of William above left, was taken 5 June 1900 on the occasion of the wedding of his son, Walter Stanley Johnson and Annie née Barrett.

The management structure of Ewens & Johnson is somewhat complex and not quite clear. Sam Ewens must have left the company (he had several other glove manufacturing businesses) and his brother Frederick Ewens and cousin Alfred Herbert Ewens, together with William Johnson, were all in partnership.  Frederick and William were the owners of Ewens & Johnson Ltd and Alfred was the owner of the Alfred Ewens glove manufacturing company. This partnership was dissolved in April 1896 (see Gallery), with Frederick and William carrying on the business of Ewens, Johnson & Co.

During the 1880s William had become ever more involved with the political life of Yeovil. He was finally elected to the Borough Council in 1897. He was elected Mayor of Yeovil in 1902 and re-elected the following year.

William Johnson died in Yeovil on 27 March 1929, aged 75. His estate was valued at £48,572 (just under £3 million at today's value). Amelia died in Yeovil on 1 April 1931, aged 81. They were both interred in Yeovil Cemetery (see Gallery).




Courtesy of Chris Dunseath

William and Amelia pose for a photograph after the marriage of their son, Walter Stanley Johnson and Annie Barrett, on 5 June 1900.


William Johnson photographed in his mayoral robes, during 1902.


Courtesy of Chris Dunseath

William and Amelia on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary on 27 July 1924.


A report on the gas explosion at Ewens & Johnson's premises from the 9 January 1885 edition of the Western Gazette.


The partnership between William Johnson, Frederick Ewens and Alfred Ewens was dissolved in April 1896, as shown by this notice placed in the 24 April 1896 edition of the Western Gazette.


A notice placed in the 30 October 1903 edition of the Western Chronicle by William seeking re-election to the Town Council.


Courtesy of Chris Rendell

Foundry House photographed in 1985 with what became known at the Foundry House Trading Estate running off to the right along Summerhouse Terrace.


This photograph features in my book "Yeovil In 50 Buildings"

The glove factory now known as Foundry House, built by Ewens, Johnson & Co Ltd in the 1870s. Photographed in 2017.


This photograph features in my book "Yeovil In 50 Buildings"

The main front doors of the building with the 'E' and 'J' hinges - for Ewens & Johnson. Photographed in 2017.


Courtesy of Olly Ewens

This photograph is from a 1952 newspaper article and was taken on the occasion of the opening of Sidney Gardens in June 1898. The group, photographed with the Mayor, Mr John Vincent, has as its background the thatched bandstand given by Mr James Bazeley Petter to mark the opening. Standing (left to right) are: - E Benson, W Summers, J Kerby Whitby, Mr Brown, William Maynard, GH Gould, Edward Samuel Ewens, Henry Jesty (mace-bearer), William W Johnson, Charles J Hook, John Bazeley Petter (donor), W Armitage (Borough Surveyor), John Howe Farley, Walter J Nosworthy, William Beale Collins, Charles Fox. Sitting - Levi Beer, CW Pittard, Sidney Watts, Mrs Vincent, John Vincent (Mayor), Joseph Chaffey Moore, William Cox.


A colourised photograph of the presentation of the Sidney Gardens fountain on 24 May 1899. You'd have thought at least one of 'em could have raised a slight smile. William Johnson is No 4 on the drawing below (OK, so the number has dropped off, but he's the man between Nos 3 and 5).

So, who was who? Unfortunately only some of the gathering are known, these are as follows -
1 Cllr GH Gould, 2 Cllr Edward Samuel Ewens, 4 Cllr William W Johnson, 5 G Gawler, 6 Cllr James Bazeley Petter, 7 WG Armytage (Borough Surveyor), Henry Jesty (Mace Bearer), 9 Cllr Charles Hook, 10 JK Whitby, 11 Cllr HF Raymond, 14 William Maynard, 15 Alderman Sidney Watts, 16 Miss Watts, 17 Miss Vincent, 18 Mrs Vincent, 20 Alderman William Cox, 22 Mayor John Vincent, 23 Alderman Joseph Chaffey Moore, 24 Cllr Charles Wreford Pittard, 25 Henry Butler Batten (Town Clerk), 26 John H Farley (who donated the fountain), 27 Ebenezer Pittard, 29 William Beale Collins.


William Johnson's headstone in Yeovil Cemetery.


... and Amelia's.