History: How Henry Podger, the son of a Bromley farm labourer became big business with his laundry company
PUBLISHED: 06:00 08 September 2013
In Homesdale Road, Bromley, stands an industrial complex housing a number of small businesses. But this impressive building began its life as a laundry and was the brain child of Mr Henry Podger.
Henry Podger was born in Bromley in 1832, the son of a farm labourer. The family was poor, moving about for work. In 1842 the family seemed to be on very hard times, which was compounded by Henry’s father being sentenced to 14 days in jail for stealing from his employer.
However as Henry grew up he was employed in Woolwich Arsenal where he gained some engineering skills.
By 1864 he had returned to Bromley and set up his laundry business.
Come the 1870s, he had established his business well enough to place adverts in the Street Directories detailing all manner of items that could be washed, such as blankets, bed furniture and curtains, carpets, sofas and chairs.
He also boasted as being a plumassier dealing in ornamental plumes and feathers and a furrier cleaning furs.
His reputation grew enough for him to open outlets in Tylney Road and Market Square and later, Napier Road, as well as building the large laundry in Homesdale Road.
All seemed well for Henry Podger as he invented the first collar ironing machine, which was shown at the International Health Exhibition in 1884, for which he was awarded a bronze medal. He also invented the mat carding machine.
Disaster struck him in 1886 when the Homesdale Road laundry caught fire and was destroyed. However, never one to give up, he rebuilt the building and continued his business, employing a large number of people.
He died in 1904 at his house in Shawfield Park but his work carried on as a look at the 1911 census for Homesdale road shows that the majority of women living there worked for Podger’s Laundry.