Lewis Cockey came to Frome in 1682 from Warminster where the family had long been established as clockmakers. He began casting church bells and lived at 45 Milk Street, known then as ‘The Bell House’, probably using the space at the side, now its garage, for his bell casting. A foundry was soon established in the appropriately named Bell Lane opposite, since demolished. At least 23 towers in Somerset and over 40 in Wiltshire and Dorset have Cockey inscriptions on their bells. After 1752 it seems the bells were cast elsewhere, placing the orders and collecting the accounts being undertaken in Frome.
Later the family diversified and in the early 19th century began casting for the Gas Industry. Edward Cockey (1781-1860) became a successful iron-founder and in 1816 founded the firm which by 1851 was employing 76 men and boys in the Palmer Street foundry as Edward Cockey & Sons Ltd. In 1886 this became a limited company and in 1893 the work moved to Garston. Thanks to Cockey, Frome had gas street liqhting as early as 1831. The ‘art nouveau’ light standards with their leaf pattern were made by Cockey for gas and later converted to electricity. They are now listed as of architectural importance. In this century Frome Gas Company, founded by Cockey, was taken over by that of Bath and eventually the firm ceased in the 1960’s. The firm wound up voluntarily in April 1960 but its memory remains with bollards, drain covers and lamp standards, many displaying the name.
Despite Edward having 16 children, there are no Cockeys left in Frome now.
THE COCKEY STORY
The first temporary exhibition of 2021 was a celebration of the lives and works of the Cockey family from the 18th Century onwards. A truly fascinating exhibition of local history, it highlighted the immense contribution that the Cockey family have made to Frome and surrounding areas. It also showed their connections with the United States and Australia.
The Cockey name has been prominent in Frome history since 1682. The family were influential in clock-making, bell-casting, as iron founders and agricultural engineers.
Lewis Cockey was an active member of the town and a church warden but it was his eldest son Edward who formed Edward Cockey and Sons in 1819 when their main business was focussed on an ambitious range of iron and brass castings including street furniture, bollards, drain covers and parts for the newly invented street gas lighting. This diversified into gas production, purifiers, gas holders, scrubbers and condensers, enabling Cockey to produce and supply gas lighting to Frome as early as the 1830s. The family quickly became proficient in gas engineering and safety and by 1851 employed 76 people.
The beloved streetlamps that are unique to Frome today and referred to as ‘Our Cockey Lamps’ were created with the advent of electricity in 1904 when the existing gas lamp standards were converted and adapted with JW Singer & Sons’ Art Nouveau leaf designs.
Also in 1904 10 Arc Lamps were erected on Portway, Badcox, Bath Street and North Parade. Little is known about the design or the fate of these lamps – if anyone has any photographs or information please contact the Museum.
There are between 70 and 80 Cockey Lamps left and many are in a sad state of repair. Many are not listed and those outside conservation areas are at great risk of removal. They are disappearing at an alarming rate as Frome develops. With the support of Frome Town Council, The Frome Society for Local Study and the tireless contributions of volunteers, the Museum is hoping to embark on a project with Iron Art of Bath who will provide training and expert advice on how to survey, retain and repair the remaining lamps.