The Gardeners & Poultry Keepers' Guide
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The Gardeners’ and Poultry Keepers’ Guide

This book is an abridged version of The Gardeners’ and Poultry Keepers’ Guide and Illustrated Catalogue of Goods Manufactured and Supplied By William Cooper Ltd. (circa 1914). The Cooper company manufactured a great variety of prefabricated greenhouses, sheds, shacks, stables, kiosks, and rustic furniture in London, England around the turn of the 20th century. These buildings were not only shipped all over the British Isles, but also to British colonies all over the world.

I found a smaller version of the Cooper catalogue (circa 1901) in a used bookstore in London in the early ’70s, and fell in love with it. Not only was it a charming picture of turn-of-the-century country life in England, but the drawings — of greenhouses, chicken coops, barns and small buildings — were still relevant 100 years later. Here was a source of ideas for builders, architects, and homeowners. This seems even more relevant in these early years of the 21st century.

Two things are striking about this catalogue, relevant to present times:

  1. The designs for greenhouses and cold frames (for starting seeds) — (see pp. 1–50) are instructive for gardeners and homeowners in these times when there is a renewed interest in producing food at home, and gardens are booming.
  2. Perhaps even more interesting is the section on prefabricated buildings using corrugated steel panels (pp. 213–272) for walls and roofing. Coincidentally, many commercial as well as residential buildings these days utilize corrugated metal roofing and/or siding, and the Cooper designs can be instructive for designers and architects.

* * *

In 2007, one of the Cooper metal buildings was put up for sale in Dulnain in the Scottish Highlands. It was originally bought by a farmer for £425 and assembled by hand, and was being offered for £175,000. An article on the sale, which was printed in the September 6, 2007 issue of The Independent newspaper in London, included the following:

“These days, most of us associate corrugated iron with those cheap, crudely assembled homes packed together in slums across the developing world but, in the 19th century, it was one of the inventions in which Britain took pride. It was exported all over the world to make buildings of every size. While others were putting up corrugated iron churches or civic centres, the staff of William Cooper Limited, based in London’s Old Kent Road, cornered the market in cheap, prefabricated agricultural buildings, including the one now up for sale at Dulnain.

Simon Holloway, who has co-written an illustrated history of corrugated iron, published this month, said yesterday: William Cooper were at the poorer end of the market. They supplied smalltime farmers with every sort of building, from chicken coops to farmhouses. Back then, £425 was quite expensive — their prices started at less than £100 — but the buildings were customized and the price may have included optional extras, such as a fireplace.

* * *

In the course of researching this book, we came into contact with William Cooper’s grandson, John Cooper, and his greatgrandson, Paul Campbell.

John Cooper wrote us that the earliest Cooper catalogue he came across was dated 1880, 4th edition, and that “ … if one allows 5 years per issue, this takes the first edition back to about 1860 — well before any knowledge we have about the subject!”

Paul Campbell wrote us:

“William Cooper appears to have been a great entrepreneur because, as well as the huge range of buildings, conservatories and general garden buildings which are referred to in the catalogue, at some stage he was producing 1000 Cooper bicycles per week at the Old Kent Road site … He also had a department store (The Savoy Stores) somewhere in or near Regent Street in central London, and owned nine Turkish bath establishments dotted around London….

At some stage the company changed its name to T. Bath and Co. (named after the Turkish baths interest) and by 1925 it had a pretty extensive empire of factories (in England with over 20 acres of floor space). Sadly, William Cooper’s death in 1937 followed by the second world war, which led to timber being almost unobtainable, led to the company’s decline and it was sold out of the family in, I believe, 1946…. ”

* * *

This is the third in our series of Shelter Bookshelf reprints, dedicated to keeping worthy old books in print. We hope you find it interesting, useful, and charming.

– Lloyd Kahn August, 2009