Coopers Chemical Works
The Cooper Vault is the largest memorial in Rectory Lane Cemetery. It is the family tomb of the Coopers, a family of industrialists whose chemical factory was a major employer in Berkhamsted for over 120 years.
Coopers Chemical Works was set up in 1852 in Berkhamsted by William Cooper (1813–1885), veterinary surgeon and agriculturalist. The factory was located in the area around Manor Street and Ravens Lane. It was here that Cooper developed the world’s first successful sheep dip, Cooper’s Dip, in 1852.
Cooper, originally from Clunbury in Shropshire, brought his veterinary practice to Berkhamsted around 1843. In the 1851 census he is recorded as a resident of the High Street, and he later moved to a house on the High Street called The Poplars.
As a veterinary surgeon, Cooper dealt frequently with diseases and parasites on farm animals, in particular a skin disease which afflicted sheep known as sheep scab. Cooper conducted experiments with arsenic and sulphur and by 1852 he he was able to bring to market the first truly effective sheep dip.
“Cooper’s Dip” became a great success. The product was sold in a powdered form which was easily transportable, and the family firm expanded rapidly as Cooper’s Dip sold widely. The factory expanded, replacing horse-powered mills with steam powered machinery in the 1860s. The factory even had its own printing press, the Clunbury Press, to print special labels to counteract counterfeit sheep dip products being sold. Cooper’s Dip began to be exported all over the British Empire and became a trusted brand among the Australian sheep farmers.
William Cooper formed a business partnership with his two nephews, Henry Herbert Cooper and Richard Powell Cooper, and the firm took on the name Cooper & Nephews. After the deaths of William and Henry, Richard Cooper became the sole proprietor of the business. From 1885, Richard began a large-scale expansion of the company, with investments in New Zealand, Rhodesia, and South Africa. Richard was created a baronet by King Edward VII in 1905, becoming the first baronet in the newly created Cooper Baronetcy of Shenstone Court.
The Coopers firm later became Cooper, McDougall & Robertson. In 1973 it was bought out by the pharmaceuticals company Wellcome. The Berkhamsted chemical works eventually closed down and most of the buildings have since been demolished. Today, a veterinary company continues to operate in Australia under the Coopers Animal Health brand.
Little remains of Cooper’s Chemical Works in Berkhamsted today; most of the buildings have been demolished and replaced with flats, but clues can still be seen in the local area; Cooperr House on Ravens Lane, now an apartment block, as originally the admin building for Coopers and the name is visible above the front door. On the opposite side of the road, the Clunbury Court apartment building that was built in 2002 bears the inscription “Site of former counting house”, marking the location of Coopers’ accounts department. The company name is also remembered in the nearby street names of Cooper Way, Robertson Road and McDougall Road. Although the industry is long gone, the names of the people who helped Berkhamsted to flourish are not forgotten.