George Hudson & Son Limited of Sydney manufactured ready to erect timber and corrugated iron ‘kit homes’ from about 1905 until the mid 1960s. A number of Hudson homes still survive in the Hawkesbury district.
The story of the Hudson family business in Australia commences in 1846 when William Henry Hudson arrived in Sydney bringing with him his carpentry tools, his wife Elizabeth Dugdale and 5 children. William Henry was born in Plymouth in 1813, the son of a cabinet-maker. After learning his trade from his father he moved to London to establish himself and then married Elizabeth in 1835. Their first son Henry was born in 1836. Together with their neighbours, the Turners, the Hudsons were persuaded by the glowing reports put about by the New Zealand Co. about opportunities in that country and sailed for Wellington aboard the Clifton in 1841.
The Hudsons and the Turners found conditions in New Zealand to be primitive and in lacking prospects for the future. They soon regretted their decision. In 1846 both families set sail for Sydney Cove. By this time the Hudson family included 5 children – Henry, Elizabeth, Robert, William and daughter Mary Ann (known as Polly). In Sydney William Henry was able to find work in the building boom which was going on around the city. Their 6th child George (originator of the Ready-Cut brand) was born in Redfern in December 1848. The only Australian born child of William Henry and Elizabeth Hudson.
By 1855 William Henry had amassed enough savings to build his own joinery shop in Botany (Regent) Street, Redfern. His reputation began to grow in the city gaining important commissions such as St Paul’s Redfern and between 1854 and 1860, the Great Hall of Sydney University. In about 1857 he won the contract for a timber railway bridge on the line between Liverpool and Campbelltown. The Garden Palace constructed for the International Exhibition in Sydney was also one of their commissions. It was, unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1879. As you can see, he used his skills in a range of different projects. By 1863 Hudson & Sons included Henry and Robert. William Henry retired to what was then rural Ashfield in 1866.
A marvellously detailed description of Hudson’s Redfern published in the Sydney Mail newspaper in 21 November 1874. There were machines of all kinds, for the bending of timber, manufacture of doors and windows, fashioning of timber panelling, oak wine barrels and a blacksmith’s shop. Much of the cedar came from Tweed, Bellingen, Nambucca and Richmond Rivers. There were 134 men and boys as well as a number of outside hands and they were known as fair and generous employers. An interesting feature of the works was its efficiency. Nothing was wasted if possible, furnaces were fed by sawdust and waste timber and the boilers made use of water drawn from underground well. At Redfern, Hudson’s commenced the construction of portable buildings for sale around the country. They were also sent overseas to NZ and the Pacific Islands. Timber components were clearly marked so they could be assembled by unskilled labour. A number of country branches were opened including Hill End NSW in the 1870s and Bathurst a few years later.
Hudson Bros won the tender to provide goods wagons and carriages for NSW Railways. By 1879 over 800 goods wagons of various kinds and 12 passenger cars. One was a saloon car with wall mirrors, white, grey and gold interior, panelled ceilings and luxuriously upholstered seats. William Henry died 1882 and the company was floated as a limit liability company. The business was managed by his sons Henry, Robert and William who unfortunately died in 1892. Business was booming and a new site needed to be found for this ever expanding business.
The new site was found in 1881 at what is now Clyde, between Granville and Auburn with a frontage to the Duck River. The grand opening took place in 1883 and they called the industrial township ‘Hudson’ then New Glasgow. It finally became Clyde because of the association with Glasgow. Mostly railway and tramway rolling stock, the works were opposite Clyde railway station and became Clyde Engineering Co Ltd in 1898.
In 1884 Hudson & Sons amalgamated with Robert Ritchie agricultural machinery including windmills, ploughs, chaff cutters etc. They designed and manufactured ‘Clyde’ brand windmills. The company became very diversified, manufacturing trams as well as railway carriages and even opened a brickworks at Homebush and designed, manufactured and installed water pipelines to Prospect from the Nepean River.
Following the opening of the new works, George, the youngest brother of the family and father of the ‘Ready-Cut Homes’ stayed at Redfern to manage the steam powered operations there – mainly timber and joinery. Being the youngest of the Hudsons he had the opportunity to learn the mistakes and successes of the business first hand by involvement and observation. He had married Ruth Tall of Brisbane at St Paul’s Redfern in 1873. The couple had about 10 children including the first born George William born 1873, Alfred (1877), Sydney (1881), Robert (1884), Harold (1885) and Oswald (1889) and two daughters Ada May (1875 and Maud Mary (1879).
George, Ruth and family moved into ‘Clyde House’ Redfern, which in later years became part of Rachel Foster Hospital. So, in 1887 George took over the Redfern site and management of timber operations, the business prospered and grew including winning the contract to build the hospital at Little Bay. Offices were set up around Sydney including Regent Street Sydney and there were numerous agents for the company’s products in country location.
George’s business which concentrated on timber and joinery proved more resilient under the economic climate of the 1890s depression, while at the Clyde works, engineering jobs such as railway rolling stock dried up. They were made by the government’s Everleigh workshops instead. George took his eldest son into business with him in 1893. A great disaster occurred in October 1898 when the Redfern works were gutted by fire. There is a detailed account in the Sydney Mail of 15 Oct 1898. Henry was still the owner of the premises even though it was operated by George.
The fire and the downturn in business due to the economic depression resulted in the voluntary liquidation of Hudson Bros Ltd in 1898. After the fire, George bravely decided to rebuild and re-establish the timber and joinery business on the old site. George Hudson & Son Timber Merchants and Contractors was registered as a business on 5 June 1903.
To be continued…
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