yeovil people

Joseph Helyar

Engineer, gunsmith and cutler of Middle Street


Joseph Helyar (or Hilliar) was born in East Coker in 1842, the son of dentist journeyman John Hilliar (1814-1889) and his wife Mary née Bramble (b1811). John and Mary had ten children; Charles (b1836), Elizabeth (b1838), Joseph, Elijah (1846-1857), William (b1848), Mary Ann (b1850), John (b1850), Henry (b1852), Emily (b1854) and Albert (b1856).

By 1851 the family had moved to Yeovil and were living in Green Quarry, off Mudford Road, where the family were to remain at least until John's death in 1889. In the 1861 the family were recorded in Mudford Road, Green Quarry not being separately identified. John gave his occupation as an assistant dentist, while 19-year old Joseph gave his occupation as a gunsmith.

In the summer of 1865, at Yeovil, Joseph married Yeovil-born Catherine Raymond, known as Kate (1839-1910). Joseph and Kate initially set up home in Peter Street and in the Post Office Directory of 1866 Joseph was listed as a gunsmith of Peter Street. They were to have six children; Fanny Kate Mary, known as Kate (b1869), Ada J (b1870), John Raymond (1873-1939), Harry (b1876) and William (b1881).

By the time of the 1871 census Joseph and Kate were living in 93 Middle Street ((where they were to remain for the rest of their lives) with their two daughters, Kate and Ada. Joseph gave his occupation as 'Gunsmith & Engineer'.

In the Post Office Directory of 1875, Joseph was listed as a gunsmith of 93 Middle Street.

In the 1881 census the family had grown with the addition of children John, Harry and William, known as Willie. Also living with them were a domestic servant and two lodgers - both called Hannah Raymond - who were Kate's mother and younger sister. Joseph gave his occupation as 'Glove Knife Manufacturer employing 2 men & 2 boys'.

The 1891 census saw Joseph and Kate with just four children living at home - Ada, John, Harry and William - as well as an 80-year old widow who was a boarder. Joseph gave his occupation as a glover engineer and 18-year old John gave his as an assistant to his father./p>


From the 1891 edition of 'Where to Buy at Yeovil' ...

Mr J Helyar, Machinist, Glovers' Engineer. Manufacturer by Steam Power, 93 Middle Street.

Gloving is an ancient industry of Yeovil, and although it was not an alderman of this borough who made use of the historic expression of opinion "you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," there is little doubt that at an early date very fine gloves were made here out of what at first sight might seem unpromising material.

According to Mr Vickery's sketch there is a deed in existence dated 1565, one of the parties to which was John Boone, glover, Yeovil," which shows that 300 years ago this manufacture flourished here. Since then, however, modern invention and improved machinery have combined to vastly improve the trade both as to the appearance and finish of the goods and the rapidity with which they can be turned out. Leather dressing also was introduced into the borough towards the close of the last century, and since then has become a great industry.

These various branches have brought into existence an entirely new class of tradesman and manufacturer, namely, the machinist and glovers' engineer. Mr J Helyar, machinist, glovers' engineer, etc., of 93, Middle Street, is a good representative of this class, with an in construction and repairing. His show room and workshops are fitted with every modern improvement, and a competent staff of experienced workmen are constantly employed under the personal supervision of the proprietor. All kinds of machines are repaired and adjusted, and large quantities of white metal racking taps of a very superior class are turned out. The district around Yeovil affords plenty of excellent shooting, and the numerous resident gentry and others in the vicinity find Mr Helyar's a most reliable house to procure guns, ammunition, etc., from, as well as for repairs. Mr Helyar has been established for a quarter of a century, and has certainly earned the right to be considered one of the most enterprising manufacturing tradesmen in the borough.


In Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser of 1889 Joseph was listed as a gun maker of 93 Middle Street and in the 1895 edition of 'Where to Buy in Yeovil' (see above) he was listed as a glover's engineer. Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser editions of 1895, 1898 and 1903 again listed Joseph as a gunsmith. In the 1901 census Joseph, recorded as 'Mr Helyar', was listed as a gun maker - as was his son Harry. Joseph's son John, in the meantime was living in Rugby, Warwickshire, where he married Elsie Frances Thompson (b1876) in the spring of 1905.

In the spring of 1910 Kate died in Yeovil. She was 72 years old.

John and Elsie would return to Yeovil and by 1911 were living at 6 St Michael's Road. In the 1911 census John gave his occupation as a glove manufacturer's engineer. By 1911 Joseph's company was called J Helyar & Sons and were listed in the 1911 edition of Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser of 1911 as 'Gunsmith & Glove Knife Manufacturer of 93 Middle Street'. It is assumed that Harry took on the role of gunsmith while John assumed the glove manufacturer's engineering side of the business.

Joseph Helyar died in Yeovil on 5 February 1912. He was aged 70. His will was probated in March 1912 and his estate was valued at £1,311 18s 10d (around £125,000 at today's value). The company J Helyar & Sons continued to be run by John and Harry and was last listed in the 1919 edition of Kelly's Directory as gun makers of 93 Middle Street.




The surviving cottages of Green Quarry - home to the Helyar family in the 1850s. Built in 1805 and photographed in 2014.


Peter Street photographed in the 1970s from the Union Street (western) end. In the 1860s Joseph lived here and set himself up as a gunsmith.


Joseph Helyar's advertisement in the 1910 edition of Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser.