In Feb 1902 Henry Baker arrived in Manilla with a background in blacksmithing and implement making in the southern states.
Land was being made available from numerous large holdings and experiments in wheat growing had proved that the soil around Manilla District was ideal for the purpose. Machinery would be needed for the farmer and a fully equipped factory would be required to meet the demands of a rapidly growing agricultural industry.
Baker selected the site of a former stockyard on the north-west corner of Court and Manilla Streets for the establishment of his enterprise.
Work rolled in and in a short time, Baker's 2 forges were hard pressed to cope. In September 1903, business had developed to the degree that the size of the existing shop would be doubled, by a building measuring 60x30ft (18.3m x 9.1m). This provided for a 3rd forge. At this stage the staff of tradesmen had grown to 15.
H. Baker's Coach & Waggon Factory c.1904
Manilla Coach & Waggon Factory invoice c.1903 [fragment]
The development of the wheat industry and the subdivision of Keepit, Durham Court and other Stations in 1907/1908, brought an influx of trade, necessitating additions to the building to its full size of 165 x 60ft (50.3m x 18.3m).
Paint & trimming workshops covering an area of 14 x 50ft (4.3m x 15.2m) were also erected at the northern side of the main building.
All classes of farm machinery were made and repaired here; buggies, sulkies and carts constructed, while horse-shoeing remained a specialty, carried out in Baker's first workshop, by this time a forge solely given over to the task.
By 1909, there were approximately 40 permanent employees in the foundry, which housed a steel furnace and a melting furnace for cast iron duplicates and fittings.
The construction of wagons was the main aspect of Baker's business and in 1909 and 1910, large numbers of these vehicles were built. At that time, the factory was known far and wide and was one of the largest of its kind in NSW. However, a business reliant on a productive farming industry would be subject to seasonal fluctuations. Times would become tough for Baker's Factory and the years ahead would bring great change.
Baker's Factory exterior 1907 [looking northwest]
Baker's Factory interior 1907 [from the rear]
Baker's Factory 1907 Sydney Mail & Advertiser
In its heyday, Baker's wagon and foundry works reflected the prosperity of a booming wheat economy. But so much in farming is dependent upon the weather. A failed harvest affects a whole community, incomes diminish and business slows. The first setback for Baker's Factory came in October 1910, when a late frost killed a bumper wheat crop overnight. Lean seasons followed in 1911 and 1912, while 1914 was a complete failure. No less than 16 orders for Baker’s wheat and wool wagons were cancelled, but undaunted, Mr. Baker diverted his attention to other avenues of business.
The FOUNDRY SERVICE STATION
The development of the motor car and truck was already threatening the coach-building trade. With this in mind, Henry Baker procured the Ford agency and set out to replace horse-drawn vehicles with motor driven ones. Servicing and refuelling of vehicles became the daily routine. Trucks were imported in pieces and assembled in Australian workshops and local manufacture of the truck tray by H. Baker & Co., Motor Body Builders, would supersede the production of wagons in the Manilla workshop. H. Baker also wisely acquired the International farm machinery company agency. Then in 1921, after 19 years in the job, Henry Baker retired, the business being taken over by Thomas Moffat and A. C. Blanch. 7 years later, the building would be offered for sale.
Foundry Service Station ad. 1934
In 1930, Henry Baker Snr. briefly returned to the firm in company with his sons before his death the following year. By this time cars and trucks had come into general usage. Major renovation of the old workshop was undertaken and in October 1934 'H. Baker & Co., Motor Body Builders and General Engineers' was registered under the proprietorship of Henry P. and John K. Baker.
The Veness Brothers purchased the premises in 1939 and operated a petrol station for a short time until Austin Veness enlisted for wartime service.
The Foundry Service Station c.1934
In September of 1942, Manilla Municipal Council purchased both land and building, the latter having been recently sold. In June 1943, the building was demolished, providing materials for many a farm shed. The factory site is now one of Manilla's several parks, the productive clanging and banging of Henry Baker's vast enterprise, quietly marked these days by a historical mural and an information panel.