In 1892 John Vibert Snell, a Cornishman, and Charles F Bellgrove, an Australian signwriter, started Bellgrove & Snell.
They operated from a Johannesburg premises. Their market was the building trade and they sold wallpaper, paint, glass, both sheet and plate, house and coach painters requisites and allied hardware.
After expanding business operations on the Witwatersrand, a coastal branch was suggested to handle shipments from overseas and to carry stock which could be railed to Johannesburg, Kimberley and intermediate points when required.
In 1898 they decided to open a branch at the coast. Both Durban and Port Elizabeth were considered, but East London was chosen as it was the closest port to Kimberly and had access to railway networks.
A plot was purchased at 135 Oxford Street, just above the post office. A shop was constructed and trading started.
During the hostilities of the Anglo Boer War (1898 to 1902) the premises in Johannesburg were closed and business was conducted from East London.
After the war in 1902 the Johannesburg branch was reopened, but the business did not flourish due to the poor economic conditions. In 1904 Bellgrove “seeing no future in South Africa” sold his share to Snell and returned to Australia.
Shortly after this the Johannesburg shop was closed. The paint which was all imported came to East London on various sailing and steam ships. It usually took a long time in transit. The heavy pigments and fillers used in the production of the paint in those days used to settle rock hard in the bottom of the tins over a period of time.
Quite a large stock of paint had accumulated in East London. In 1905 it was decided that a few hand-operated mills would be imported to rectify the problem. This proved to be successful. Snell decided that if it was so simple to recondition old paint, he could easily manufacture it from scratch. Some power operated mills were purchased and installed. In the Board of Trade Report on the paint industry it was established that Bellgrove & Snell was the first paint factory in the country.
Turnover continued to grow despite competition from imported paints. In 1925 a plot was purchased in Albany Street and a new factory was built. Once the building was completed and all the machinery moved, the Oxford Street premises was used solely as a showroom and offices. The business continued to expand and with the new factory’s potential increased capacity it was decided to procure a paint chemist.
Adverts were placed in British newspapers and a 23-year-old working for Walpomure Paints in Manchester, Great Britain applied for the position. Wilfrid Harry Archer's his application was accepted and he sailed out arriving in April 1927.
In 1928 the company expanded again. A glazing business was purchased. The services of all the staff from the new business were retained. The sales and glazing of glass and leaded lights developed.
By 1929 the Albany Street factory had become far too small. Ground was purchased in Bowls Road and a new paint factory designed on the latest lines was built. The company expanded again in 1931 with the opening of a sales branch and warehouse in Port Elizabeth’s Main Street. At the same time expert decorating staff were engaged in England to undertake the application of products manufactured by the firm.
In 1932 the depression worsened, so to avoid staff retrenchments an electrical department was opened. As the economy improved this department began to expand. The work embraced all types of electrical appliances and equipment. Contract work for electrical and industrial wiring soon became well established.
Additional ground was purchased in 1939 at Bowls Road and further factory and warehouse extensions took place. The war years from 1940 to 1945 saw considerable activity in Port Elizabeth particularly as they became involved in camouflage painting of allied naval and transport vessels.
In 1941 more ground was purchased in Bowls Road and further warehouse facilities consisting of three bays were erected. One bay had a suite of offices incorporated into it and was partitioned off from the other two. This became the decorating department.
Towards the end of the war a further two acres were bought. In 1945, the founder of the firm, John Vibert Snell (senior) passed away in his 90th year. The business was continued by his two sons John Vibert Snell and William Trevor Snell. In Port Elizabeth a need became apparent in the motor trade for a motor body workshop.
During 1949 ground was purchased in Paterson Road and a new building was erected with the latest machinery and equipment installed. The building of new truck bodies and general body repairs was undertaken.
In 1949 a new laboratory for the paint factory in East London was built to improve the testing of raw materials and finished goods. January 29, 1953 saw the enlargement of the overflow store to accommodate the storage of electric stoves and refrigerators for their electrical shop. In 1958 the factory was again extended.
The opportunity was taken to remodel the laboratory and equip it with the latest machines for testing materials and general research. A new bay and forwarding office was added to the store, part of which became the distemper and dry product factory. This was a great improvement as it removed dusty products from the paints, much to the relief of the staff as when Carmillion – a cosmetic powder from Namibia – was manufactured the red dust was mostly confined to that area. In 1963 the Port Elizabeth branch was converted into a separate company and the manager, Fred Whitehead, was appointed as the managing director.
Also that year, the portion of ground that the business was situated on was expropriated by the municipality for the construction of the North-South freeway. Fortunately other premises in the vicinity were purchased and rebuilt to accommodate the company’s activities. A sales depot with its own staff was opened in 1964 to cater for the expanding needs of the decorating industry as there was much activity in industrial building and development in Port Elizabeth.
On the contracting side, the staff had grown to fulfil the large amount of work in progress. This included large factories, stores and blocks of flats and community housing. In East London major alterations took place at the Oxford Street showroom in 1965. Archer also retired as factory manager that year – a position he held for 32 years. He was retained as a factory buyer and in an advisory capacity. The position of factory manager was then taken over by Harold Trevor Snell. During 1966 grandsons John Vibert (Jack), Harold Trevor and Brian Trevor were admitted into the company as directors.
Owing to the large amount of contract work taking place in Cape Town, a branch was opened in the city in 1967. The type of work undertaken was specialised large scale industrial contract painting. In East London a new photographic department was opened at the Oxford Street premises.
This outlet became very popular, catering for all the needs of the amateur and professional photographer. The stock market crash in 1969 was a disastrous year for commerce, causing retail sales to slump. High priced items were affected such as imported American refrigerators, expensive sound equipment and luxury photographic equipment. Stock that was freely selling in 1968, just gathered dust on the showroom floor.
Owing to failing health John Vibert Snell, eldest son of the founder, retired after 62 years with the company. His place as chairman was taken over by his brother, WT Snell. A new innovation to East London was a large shopping complex which was built on the site of a hotel in Devereux Avenue.
The Vincent Park Centre became a busy shopping area. In 1974 Bellgrove & Snell managed to obtain a shop where paint, wallpaper and allied products were retailed. Unfortunately still owing to poor trading conditions it became necessary to close both the radio and electrical workshops. Some of the staff were kept and were employed in other departments. JV Snell continued to deteriorate and in 1976 he passed away.
Owing to the depressed state of the economy in 1977 the Port Elizabeth branch began to run at a loss. Finally a decision was made to close down that operation. The new store (the overflow store at Bowls Road) became under-utilised as raw materials for paint manufacture became more freely available in South Africa and not ordered in large quantities from overseas. Crittal-Hope Metal Windows also opened their own office in East London and so took away the agency, giving more space in the store.
A decision was taken to move the glass department from Albany Street to Bowls Road in 1978. WT Snell also passed away in 1978. The big move of the offices and shop from Oxford Street to Bowls Road also took place in 1978, with the official opening in June. At the same time the spares department moved into the vacated Albany Street premises, which also became a small shop. Harold Trevor Snell resigned from the company and emigrated to America with his family.
H Stott was appointed as director and chairman of the board. With the retirement of Harold Trevor Snell in the 1980s and John Vibert (Jack) Snell the subsidiaries of Bellgrove & Snell were sold off or closed down. The Port Elizabeth branch of flooring and carpeting is now operating from North End, Port Elizabeth. With the most notable of these being the sale in 1985 of Pinacle Paints to Plascon paints, this sale featured part of Plascon’s building business strategy in the mid-1980.
Brian Trevor (BT) Snell continued the painting and renovations in commercial and industrial contracts, roof painting and applications of specified coatings such as Marmoran and Mandoval Vermiculite. BT Snell stayed very actively involved in the company until recently, passing away in September 2016. The baton of ownership was passed to the 4th generation, Grant Trevor Snell.
1892 - John Snell & Charles Bellgrove establish Bellgrove & Snell
1898 - Bellgrove & Snell opens East London branch in Oxford Street
1904 - Charles Bellgrove disinvests and returns to England
1925 - Albany Street factory built
1928 - Bellgrove & Snell expands into glazing operations
1929 - Bowls Road premises acquired
1931 - Port Elizabeth sales branch and warehouse opened
1932 - Recession hits; electrical department added to avoid retrenchments
1939 - Bowls Roads premises expanded
1941 - Additional warehouse facilities acquired to support new decorating department
1945 - Bellgrove & Snell founder John Vibert Snell (senior) passes away in his 90th year.
1949 - New laboratory for East London paint factory built to improve testing of raw materials
1963 - Port Elizabeth branch converted into
separate company headed by Fred Whitehead
1965 - East London showroom in Oxford Street undergoes major alterations
1965 - Harold Trevor Snell appointed factory manager
1966 - Snell grandsons John Vibert (Jack), Harold Trevor and Brian Trevor admitted into company as directors
1967 - Cape Town branch opened
1968 - John Vibert Snell, eldest son of the founder, retires after 62 years; WT Snell appointed as chairman
1974 - Bellgrove & Snell opens Vincent Park shop
1976 - JV Snell passes away
1977 - Glass department moves from Albany Street to Bowls Road
1978 - WT Snell also passes away
1978 - Official opening of expanded Bowls Road premises
1980 - Harold Trevor Snell resigns from company and emigrates to the US
2016 - BT Snell passes away
2016 - Grant Trevor Snell assumes leadership
Bellgrove and Snell Painting and Renovations specialise in commercial and residential painting, industrial coating, roof painting and waterproofing in and around the East London area.
Our team of experts have extensive experience in a wide range of small, medium and large-scale projects, and bring a wealth of skill and technical knowledge to bear on every project with which we are entrusted.
We are successful large-scale, high rise, commercial and residential painting contractors who draw on more than 125 year’s experience to make every job a standout success, We know what it takes to make our customers happy! Our experience ranges from shopping centres, schools, hospitals, retail outlets, restaurants, office suites to company headquarters, and we are committed to working within your time frame.
In 2016, Bellgrove and Snell entered into a Joint Venture (JV) partnership with the highly successful, Eastern Cape-based MWP Construction.
This technical and commercial relationship brings together a wealth of experience, expertise, innovation and business acumen.
We are exceptionally proud of this association and look forward to a strong, mutually beneficial and continuously evolving partnership.