Laywell House excavations, and bottles found there

Liz Wilkins
November 2021

Excavations at Laywell House, Brixham, by Brixham Heritage Museum’s archaeology team revealed interesting and attractive bottles from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth. Many have connections to the drinks trades of Brixham and Plymouth.

Laywell House

In 1958 Laywell House on Summer Lane in Higher Brixham was donated by the late Mrs Hay Matthey to the people of Brixham for use as a residential home for the elderly. Since that time it has been managed by Brixham Old People’s Housing Association, a non-profit organisation. However, this year the home closed its doors to future residents and is now being offered for sale for the sum of £800,000.

The house was originally built for Mr HP Pierpoint in 1825 at which point it was surrounded by paddocks and fields and the area between Matthill Road and Laywell House was a fruit garden. According to White’s Directory in Brixham Library he was still living there in 1850, but by 1860 to about 1870 the house had passed to Mr John Underhay. However, by 1878 – also according to White’s Directory – and at least until 1890 the house was owned by Captain Henry Turner Uniacke who there with his wife, five children, a governess, a cook, a butler, a schoolroom maid and a groom for his horses. The gardener and his wife lived in a cottage in the grounds, according to the 1881 census. The grounds were still extensive including ample grazing for his horses. According to Kelly’s Directory by 1893 and until at least 1914, the house was owned by Mr Philip Pembroke Alexander, after which time it passed to Captain and Mrs Hay Matthey until 1958.

a selection of the excavated bottles


In 2001 Brixham Heritage Museum’s archaeology team excavated a small area of a field at the junction of Matthill Road and Summer Lane. The excavation revealed what was possibly the household rubbish of the local ‘big house’, that is Laywell House, which has stood opposite this site since 1825. The period of the refuse recovered was dated from about 1890 to about 1920. At that time it was common practice to dump waste such as meat and fish bones, shells, pottery and glass, behind the nearest hedge allowing a reasonable distance between the dumping area and the house, and covering the refuse intermittently with soil.

The likely dates of dateable items in the refuse suggest that it could have accumulated mainly during the occupation of Captain HT Uniacke, followed by Mr PP Alexander.

The bottles found were all embossed which was a popular method of advertising the contents’ manufacturer in the late 1800s. By 1895 hinged moulds were in use and by this time three-quarters of all bottles produced were embossed. However, by the turn of the century printed paper labels became popular and embossing gradually died out. Embossed Codd bottles used for mineral waters and internal screw-topped beer bottles remained popular and often survived until at least 1930. There follows a selection of bottles associated with local businesses.

A green glass, screw-topped bottle embossed with ‘Lakeman’s Brewery Brixham’. About 1810.
A green glass, screw-topped bottle embossed with ‘Lakeman’s Brewery Brixham’. About 1810.

Lakeman’s Brewery, Brixham

Lakeman’s Brewery was situated in Brewery Lane, hence the name. It was between the Baptist Church hall and the back of Fore Street where the road is now. The bus station was built at the end of the church hall after the demolition so that the new road could accommodate the one-way system for the buses. [Author’s note: If you are local to Brixham, do you remember that draughty bus station with the pigeons always trying to roost in the roof girders?] According to the Devon Brewery Archive, Lakeman’s existed from the late 1700s, but since that time it changed ownership twice. The first new owners were Ashley and Harvey Brewers until 1934 when MP Hunt, a wholesale wine and spirit merchant, took it over. [Author’s note: I could find no record of the date that Mr Lakeman sold out to Ashley and Harvey but in 1883 he bought Kingston Farm near Colleton Fishacre for £8000, so maybe it was around that time]. Hunts off-licence was on the site of the old wine shop, now demolished, that existed at the end of Fore Street. However, the name of Lakeman’s never changed and the bottles continued in use. Lakeman’s beer was still being advertised by Hunts in 1931 as ‘Brilliant, sparkling and satisfying’. The bus station was also demolished in 1950 and the site is now the bus terminus and part of the town square.
Reference: Plymouth CAMRA Devon Brewery Archive / Lost Breweries of Devon.

W. Biscombe mineral waters

W. Biscombe mineral waters was founded in 1857 by Mr William Biscombe (senior, 1832-1903) in Green Street, Plymouth on the east side of Charles Cross. The family all lived in accommodation above the factory. It became W. Biscombe and Sons Ltd when his son William Biscombe (junior, 1857-1916) joined him in the business. W. Biscombe junior inherited in 1903-1916 when the second son Fred Biscombe took over. He died in 1937 and the remaining sons ran the business jointly until 1967.
Reference: Old Plymouth UK.

The makers of the bottles were Cannington Shaw & Co. Ltd of St Helens, Lancashire. They were founded in the mid-1800s and expanded rapidly until about 1870 and became a limited company in 1892. They installed semi-automated bottle making machinery in 1897 and were amalgamated with two other firms in 1913 to form the United Glass Bottle Manufacturers. Having the name of the limited company on the bottled dates it post 1892 but W. Biscombe predates it to pre-1903. Reference: British Antique Bottle Forum.

This type of bottle – a Codd bottle – is used for carbonated drinks. It has a glass ‘marble’ – which can be seen in the bottle’s neck – held against a rubber ring by pressure from the carbon dioxide in the drink. The method is still used in east and south Asia.

W. Biscombe Plymouth BP Codd bottle - complete - for mineral water, 1895. Bottle manufacturer: Cannington Shaw & Co. Ltd. St Helens.
W. Biscombe Plymouth BP Codd bottle – complete – for mineral water, 1895. Bottle manufacturer: Cannington Shaw & Co. Ltd. St Helens.
Dartmouth Pure Aerated Water Company stoneware bottle, ginger beer, transfer printed. About 1900.
Dartmouth Pure Aerated Water Company stoneware bottle, ginger beer, transfer printed. About 1900.

Dartmouth Pure Aerated Water Company

The Dartmouth Pure Aerated Water Company was founded by James Charles Dawe between 1891 and 1901 in conjunction with Mr H Humphrey JP. It was situated at the bottom of Clarence Street, Dartmouth, just below the ‘Ship in Dock’ public house. Mr Dawe had previously spent 25 years in the Royal Navy as a wardroom officers’ servant and retired in 1889 at the age of 42. He was a great supporter of local charitable institutions such as the District Nursing Association and the Cottage Hospital.

The Dartmouth Aerated Water Company was advertised in the Dartmouth Chronicle in 1898 as ‘having now at their works the most modern and approved machinery and they were recommended for the moderate prices’ (Dartmouth Chronicle, 15 July 1898). Another advertisement appeared in 1907 for Dawes Dry Ginger Ale, Lemonade ‘from finest Messina lemons’ and Soda Water (Dartmouth Chronicle 1907).

By 1910 his son, Mr Herbert Dawe had joined him in the business and was awared the Grand Prix at the 27th International Exhibition of Alimentation, Food, Health, Hygiene and Diverse Industries’ held in Paris for his Ginger Ale in which he used only pure cane sugar. In 1911 James Charles Dawe retired and the company was left in the very capable hands of Herbert Dawe.

By 1931 Herbert Dawe was still listed in the Dartmouth Electoral Register as having a ‘manufactory’ in Clarence Street, but by this time he had moved to Paignton and had opened the Dawe’s lemonade factory in Fisher Street (? – 1987 demolished). Reference: research supplied by Gail Ham of the Dartmouth History Society.

Elliman’s Royal Embrocation for Horses

This embrocation was for horses and people and is still sold all over the world today. The owner was previously a draper, but left that profession to produce his embrocation, which was made according to his ancestors formulations on a larger scale as it was proving to be so popular.

Elliman’s Royal Embrocation for Horses, manufactory Slough. About 1847.
Elliman’s Royal Embrocation for Horses, manufactory Slough. About 1847.
Lysol bottle. Embossed on bottle: ‘NOT TO BE TAKEN - REG. NO. 641491'.
Lysol bottle. Embossed on bottle: ‘NOT TO BE TAKEN – REG. NO. 641491′.

Lysol Ltd, London

The Lysol brand of antiseptic disinfectant was first introduced in 1889 by Dr Gusta Raupenstrauch to help with the cholera epidemic in Germany. The original formula contained creosols.

Lysol is now an American product distributed by Reckitt. It was been in used since the late nineteenth century as a household and industrial cleaning agent and previously as a medical disinfectant. In 1911 poisoning by drinking Lysol was the most common means of suicide in Australia and New York, hence the warning ‘not be to be taken’ on the bottle.

In 1918 it was used during the Spanish Flu pandemic when sick rooms were washed with Lysol.

Earlier formulations containing creosol could induce abortions and were widely used illegally in the USA, but these days it has a much milder formula and in 2009 Lysol began producing hand soaps.