For 170 years, Taskers were a leading manufacturer of a wide range of agricultural implements and machinery, steam and stationary engines and road vehicles. The story began near Andover, in the early years of the 19th century, when Robert Tasker and his brother, William, began what was to become the Waterloo Ironworks.
At the heart of those ironworks was a forge, which must have reminded them of the blacksmith's shop run by their father in Stanton-St-Bernard in Wiltshire. As the eldest son, Robert Tasker would have been brought up to be a blacksmith. But he was ambitious, and left Wiltshire in February 1806.
The cottage in Abbotts Ann where Robert Tasker lived, and in which he hosted prayer meetings. In Abbotts Ann, near Andover, there was a forge owned by a smith called Thomas Maslen. Robert became his assistant. In 1809, he took over the business. The young Robert Tasker was a keen businessman, but more important to him was his strong Christian faith. As a nonconformist he attended Andover Congregational Church. But feeling he needed to do more, he opened his cottage for prayer meetings on Sunday evenings. It seems his nonconformist faith made him some enemies. His neighbours may have found him tiresome.
Landowners in the area, members of the established church, saw any kind of dissent as a threat to their authority. Little work came his way locally. For a while Robert had to rely on his inner courage and resourcefulness, finding customers in places like Newbury and Southampton in order to stay in business.
Second only to his religion were his ambitions for the forge. He knew that an ordinary blacksmith's shop could not supply what the industrial revolution, then nearing its height, could offer to customers of a major ironworks. If he was to succeed he had to take advantage of the situation. To achieve that the forge expanded to become, for a time, the Abbotts Ann Ironworks. Yet it must always have been clear that the village was too inaccessible for what Robert Tasker had in mind, and the site too small to satisfy his ambitions.
A view of Robert Tasker's blacksmith's shop in Abbotts Ann taken from a billhead of about 1820. He has added a small foundry, with a horse to drive the bellows that supply air to the furnace.
The technology of ironfounding was still being developed when Robert Tasker came to Abbotts Ann. But he must have seen that, for example, ploughshares made in a foundry lasted longer than any made by an ordinary blacksmith. The addition of a small foundry to his own forge shows that such lessons struck home. The industrial revolution punished businesses that did not understand or welcome its new technologies and rewarded those that did. Products like the cast-iron ploughshare made some blacksmiths poorer. But another product of the industrial revolution, the Andover Canal, was to offer Tasker a great opportunity.
The cottage in Abbotts Ann where Robert Tasker lived, and in which he hosted prayer meetings.