Bunsen’s Buildings

Built to house the elderly and deserving of the parish in 1872 by local entrepreneur Josiah Saville, who secured the rights to produce Robert Bunsen’s eponymous laboratory burner in the village in 1862. The little factory was the sole supplier of bunsen burners in the East of England, and in its heyday employed over 40 workers. The factory brought some minor prosperity to the little village, and in 1871, Saville proposed the building of some splendid almshouses, originally for the benefit of those factory workers who were “beyond the age of useful employment.” The proposal was eventually accepted by the Parish Council after some deliberation and a plot of land at Murrow’s Drift was secured for 3 Guineas. The almshouses were originally named after Saville himself (Saville’s Row) as he had put forward all of the money, but was rededicated in Bunsen’s name following the infamous Saville incident at the Soddenham Womens Institute (now disbanded) which is very rarely mentioned in any local histories of the area.

Bunsen’s Buildings, 1872. Carstone with gault brick dressings and slate roof. Two storey with 5 gabled windows evenly distributed. Some windows with Gothic tracery. Hollow dentil eaves cornice, gabled roof and ridge stacks carrying quadrille diamond flues.
Architect: N.A. Sampson


3 thoughts on “Bunsen’s Buildings

  1. I remember this building really well but as a child never appreciated its historical significance. Would I be wrong in thinking that it used to have a croquet lawn? I remember it with only four instead of six hoops because the lawn dipped down toward the boating lake. Or was that somewhere else?
    Before leaving Soddenham in 1977 by grandfather gave me his collection of Bunsen burners and said that one day they would be worth a lot of money. Quite how he came to have them I never knew. He may have mentioned that they were once made in the village but if he did I wasn’t paying attention. When I say collection I actually mean seven! I guess thats more than most people would have. My wife has wanted to put them in a car boot sale but I’ve always said I would keep them because they are part of my childhood memories of grandfather and his cluttered house in the old village. For years they remained boxed away in the attic but a few years ago I rigged up four of them as a barbacue. It was probably the safest and most controllable barbecue I’ve ever used but not the most practical.
    I still have all seven burners and among them is one with quite ornate engraving around the heavy brass base. In the centre are the initials “JS”. It has always been my favourite because it is so unusual. Now having read your article about Bunsen Buildings I am beginning to wonder if the JS could stand for Josiah Saville. I’m guessing I have never heard of Josiah Saville because of the incident you describe.
    Do you know if there are any records of burners produced in Soddenham or even any old factory catalogues? It would be great to know more about them.
    Any advice or information would be appreciated.
    Thank you
    Mr Pickard

  2. Mr. Pickard, I do believe your collection of burners may be something of importance to our little community, especially if we can verify the engraved one, which (without getting too prematurely excited!) looks suspiciously like it may well have been Saville’s own! I must arrange with you to see them soonest. I do have some of the company literature and packaging fragments, but alas, no actual burners! I think I recall that Anmer mentioned that he may have something also, so I will go speak to him later today. We should pool our resources and hope to reveal a bigger picture than our current fragments hint at.

    As for the croquet lawn, you were correct about the four hoops because of the dip, but it was on the land opposite the vicarage on what eventually became The Horseshoe development in 1981 – the other side to Bunsens Buildings!

    I will contact you in due course with further information.

    Thank you for you time,


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