Mr Butt, the timber tycoon

Photo:John Eede Butt owned a fine set of horses

John Eede Butt owned a fine set of horses

Photo:The horse gave way to the motor as a means of transport

The horse gave way to the motor as a means of transport

John Eede Butt that became Travis & Arnold, Trafalgar Lane

Travis & Arnold in Trafalgar Lane was previously known as John Eede Butt. This goes back to the year 1829 when George IV was still on the throne and Wellington had become Prime Minister. How remote that period sounds to us now – another age in fact. Yet it was in that year that John Eede Butt founded a firm in Littlehampton which, as John Eede Butt & Sons, was to become a household name and to remain a family business for well over a hundred years.

Imported timber had potential

John Eede Butt was born in 1799 and when quite a young man was managing his family’s business, dealing with English timber, running a brickyard and doing a little building. But John Eede Butt had his eyes on greater things. He quickly saw the potential of imported timber and soon large shipments were coming to Littlehampton harbour.

He designed bridges

John Eede Butt still engaged in construction work and it was he who built the pier at Ryde, Isle of Wight. But perhaps his most memorable achievement was the railway bridge which spanned the Arun at Ford. He designed a bridge introducing a new swinging device which later came into general use but which was not accepted by the railway company, as it was regarded as too experimental.

He courted Miss Downer

There is an interesting sidelight on John Eede Butt’s character. He courted a Miss Downer and it is said that every Saturday at the stroke of 12 o’clock he locked up his office at Littlehampton and walked to Marshall Farm, Kirdford, the home of the Downer family. This he did for a year, never failing to be at his office at 9 o’clock on Monday morning, having made the long walk back. He eventually married the lady and settled in Sussex.

Steam power was introduced

In 1868 John Eede Butt died. Soon after that time steam power was introduced and the tall chimney – 92ft of it – was to be a landmark for many years. There was now a branch at Brighton and a wharf at Southwick, which was later moved to the Baltic Wharf, Portslade, which is still operating under Travis & Arnold.

Butt's private telephone link

In 1876 came what was at that time a quite amazing development: the telephone. In that year Butt’s established a private telephone between their Littlehampton and Brighton offices, a distance of 22 miles. The wire for the system ran alongside the railway and was rented from the Post Office at £6 per mile.

ABC telegraphy was too slow

An ABC instrument was used, which was supplied by the Post Office. Butt thought this was a big step forward. But the ABC system of telegraphy soon proved to be too slow a process and in 1879 Butt’s fitted two of Edison’s loud speaking telephones from the first consignments to arrive in this country from America. This, it was claimed, was for some time the longest telephone line operating regularly in Europe and possibly the world.

His sons were all in the firm

John Eede Butt’s sons: John, William, Arthur and George, were all in the firm at one time or another. Under their management the business grew and prospered and the teams of horses were a familiar sight on the roads of Sussex. The most favourite of them all were ‘Old Nobby’ and ‘Old Prince’.

Timber came from the Baltic

Most of the timber came, as it does now, from the Baltic (Sweden and Finland) and from the White Sea (Archangel). Steamers had long since replaced the old sailing ships but in 1925 there was a colourful reminder of the days of sail when a three-masted barque, the ‘Christiensen’, arrived, having sailed all the way from Mobile, Alabama, with a cargo of pitch pine.

Everything in the way of timber was supplied

The firm supplied almost everything in the way of timber. Mouldings, weather boards, skirting and much else flowed from the mills at Littlehampton and Brighton, while joinery was manufactured in the works here in Trafalgar Lane.

Electricity replaced steam

By the time the last war started, electricity had replaced steam as the source of power and the horse had given way to the motor as a means of transport. However, one horse, ‘Old Nobby’, was kept hauling timber to the mills and doing short journeys.

Part of Travis & Arnold since 1944

Although the name of Butt has now passed from the timber scene, this is not the end of the story. The business continues to flourish as part of the Travis & Arnold group, of which it became a part in 1944.

Packaged timber was adopted

The ships still come and go as they did in days gone by but modern methods have replaced the old. Packaged timber has now been adopted by many of the shippers and this, combined with mechanical handling at the wharves, facilitates discharge of cargo and a quick turn round of the vessel.

Continued as a family firm

If John Eede Butt of old were to walk round the yards today he would certainly see much that is new, much at which he would marvel. But of one thing we are certain – he would feel proud that the business he founded all those years ago continues to prosper. He would be pleased too that his firm is still being run as a ‘family’ concern and much of the same happy atmosphere is still with us today.

Bill Standing's memories

Some of the older North Laine residents may remember Bill Standing, who was always so happy and smiling. He gave a little more of the history of our local branch:

“My name is Bill Standing and I have lived in Kemp Street with my wife for the last 48 years [writing in 1979]. The house used to belong to John Eede Butt but now belongs to Travis & Arnold. I started work for John Eede Butt in 1924, where I was employed as office boy, keeping the place clean, delivering the firm’s account on my bicycle, and then working out in the mill helping one of the machinists, which I very much enjoyed.

"When the last war came, we had a taste of the German bombers. Luckily for us they had dropped the heavy stuff somewhere else, but they dropped a lot of incendiaries on the top of our joinery mill and burnt the lot. Our governor’s name was Captain George Malleson Butt and he was in charge of the Brighton & Portslade branch. Also in our office was a gentleman called John Routley, who was a former Mayor of Brighton.

"In the corner of our front yard, where the office is today, used to be a stable, where ‘Daisy’, our big white horse, used to stay, and it was a regular picture every morning watching her and her master, ‘Old Jimmy Gravett’, leaving for the Portslade branch to deliver and bring back a load of timber to Brighton. We had the finest set of horses in and around Sussex. The local children adored ‘Daisy’ and would spoil her with carrots and sweets. They could be seen dancing and singing around her and of course she was delighted with their behaviour.

"Our joiners were also well known and their grand work was widely recognised all along the south coast and further afield."

"I went into the army in the last war, leaving behind me the name of John Eede Butt still there, but when I came home in 1946 John Eede Butt had passed away and what was to me a brand new firm welcomed me back into the fold under the name of Travis & Arnold. I worked for them from 1946 to 1974 when I retired, a total of 51 years, which I really enjoyed with no regrets, for they were very happy years. My son Dick and his son Kevin work for the same firm.”

Sources

Helen Robinson (former North Laine resident sadly deceased in 2002) gleaned the above information from the company’s archives and from the reminiscences of Bill Standing.

If you have additional information about John Eede Butt, please add it below as a comment.

[Previously published in the North Laine Runner, No 21, August/September 1979 and reprinted in No 217, July/August 2012]

This page was added on 09/08/2012.
Comments/reviews:

Bill Standing's house in Kemp Street wasn't the only house in North Laine owned by the Butts. At least two houses in Over Street were also owned by them. See 'More questions than answers' on this website for more details.

By Anne Fletcher, former North Laine resident
On 10/08/2012

Very good to read this page. My maternal grandma's father, Albert Tobitt of Kirdford, married Mary Downer, one of Rhoda Downer's nieces (if I've got the relationship right) and Grandma and her sisters, though born in Oxfordshire, all knew Marshall's Farm well.

Thanks.

By Ian C L Thompson
On 27/02/2015

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