Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 11, 2019
Webpage updated: September 11, 2019




The Plymouth business house of Messrs Bryant and May Limited followed on directly from the partnership of Messrs Bryant and James, which had ended so disastrously in 1839 when their premises were destroyed by fire.

Mr Edward James parted company with Mr William Bryant after the fire but the latter soon found a new partner in the form of a Mr Francis May, who had been a retail customer of his.  Their formal partnership started in 1844 and it is interesting that their partnership agreement apparently required that Bryant stayed in Plymouth.

Mr William Bryant came from Tiverton, Devon, where he was born on December 24th 1802.  Mr Francis May had been born at Alton in Hampshire on July 17th 1803.

At the time of the 1841 census William and his wife, formerly Miss Ann Carkeet, born in Falmouth, were living at Grove, St Andrew, Plymouth.  They had two children, Edith, aged 7, and Wilberforce, aged 4, and three female servants.

Mr Francis May was a grocer in the Bishopsgate area of London and sometime around 1840 he became a retail customer of Mr Bryant's business in Plymouth, selling tallow, lubricating oil and sugar that had been refined in the Town.  It is said that they became partners in 1844 and set up as provision merchants in Fenchurch Street and Tolley Street, London.

One of the products which they sold was a safety match invented in 1855 by Mr Johan Edvard Lundstrom of Jonkoping, Sweden, and manufactured by the Jonkopings Tandstricksfabrik.  The British rights were acquired by Mr Francis May on August 15th 1855.

The success of the safety match took William up to London in 1861, where he took a lease on a factory by the name of the Fairfield Works, in Fairfield Road, Bow.  His eldest son, Mr Wilberforce Bryant, was appointed manager.  In 1862 the whole family moved to London permanently, which ended the businesses links with Plymouth.

In 1863 Wilberforce was admitted as a partner.  In fact, all of William Bryant's sons took an active part in the partnership and they forced Mr Francis May to leave the business.  The partnership was dissolved on December 31st 1864.

Consequently at the time of the 1871 census the Bryant's were living at Oak Hill, Oakenshaw, Kingston-upon-Thames, and William was quoted as being a manufacturer of chemical lights.  The business employed about 1,500 people.  William was by now 67 years of age so it is no surprise to find that he died three years later, on July 24th 1874, at Eastbourne, on the Sussex coast.

Mr Wilberforce Bryant then took charge and with his younger brother, Mr Frederick Carkeet Bryant, registered Messrs Bryant and May as a Limited Liability Company on June 12th 1884.

Mr Francis May died at his home at West View, London Road, Reigate, Surrey, on December 1st 1885, at the grand age of 82 years.  Described as a tall and imposing man, a Quaker, he was responsible for providing Reigate with a British school.

Mr Wilberforce Bryant died on February 3rd 1906 at Stoke Park, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire.  He was 69 years of age and his death brought and end to the family's involvement in Messrs Bryant and May Limited.

The Company went on to open three new factories before the Second World War until in 1974 it was taken over by Messrs Wilkinson Sword Limited, manufacturers of razor blades.