A FAMILY firm which is believed to be York’s oldest building company is celebrating its 200th anniversary.

JH Shouksmith and Sons Ltd was founded in York in 1820, and has grown to be the successful building services engineering firm it is today, with a £12 million turnover and more than 70 employees.

It is now being managed by the seventh generation of Shouksmiths, with its headquarters in Osbaldwick, in premises the firm built in 1966.

Richard Shouksmith is the company chairman, while his sons Dave and Ed are the managing director and commercial director respectively.

Dave said: “We must probably be the oldest building company in York. Most people know someone who has worked for us in the past. We are so well known in the city.

“It is a great achievement for a family business. It has been dampened by the current situation in the whole of the country. But, we have seen two world wars and other wars, and we will be able to see this through.

“We were going to have a massive celebration at York races and invite the whole company but it never went ahead. It is difficult to have a celebration in the current climate.”

Dave said the coronavirus crisis had led them to furlough some staff, while others had worked throughout the lockdown, either from home or the office as the company had continued operating its sites.

“Constructions sites stayed open. Contractors had to put measures in place to allow social distancing. A lot carried on and were able to work all the way through.”

He said the firm remained busy but acknowledged that might change.

“We might see a drop-off towards the end of this year and next year in the construction industry. It is a strong sector. Recessions don’t hit us until a year after they hit others.”

JH SHouksmith operates across the country and works on wide-ranging projects from new houses and flats to student accommodation and office blocks.

“Over 200 years we have done all sorts of work. We used to just be plumbing but that included glazing; we still do a little leadwork. It has changed dramatically over the years.”

Dave undertook a construction management degree at Sheffield Hallam University and worked for other national companies before joining the family firm, to project manage a 966-bed student accommodation project.

“That was it. I have been with the company ever since.”

He attributed Shouksmith’s longevity to it being run well and its loyal staff.

“We have always had a good retention of staff,” he said.

Some of the team are reaching their 50-year anniversaries with JH Shouksmith.

“We have plumbers on site who have done 40 years. People who came here when they were 16 and have worked all the way through to retirement. There’s a lot of loyalty. We provide a good training and apprenticeships.”

He added: “I think the most challenging thing over the next year will be winning enough work and the right type of work in the current construction climate. It is a matter of what margin you can make out of the jobs. I have redeveloped the business and how it runs so it runs more efficiently so we can make profits off the jobs. It depends how much you have to cut your profit margins to secure the work.”

The firm has been involved in several significant developments locally such as the £25million Hampton by Hilton Hotel currently under way in Piccadilly, as well as Marjorie Waite Court Care home extension in Acomb.

The firm bears the name of Jonas Shouksmith, but it was his second son Joseph who started the firm.

Dave and Ed’s mother Kathleen, who is on the board of directors, wrote about the firm’s history for the book, More Memories of York, explaining that Joseph turned his back on brewing to become apprenticed to John Jackson, a plumber. He then became a Master Craftsman, and founded his own company in 1820.

Jonas was a young brewer from Bradford who moved to York in 1787 to marry a local girl, Mary Plummer. They lived in Tanner Row, where Jonas plied his trade as a brewer. He became a Freeman of the City of York in 1806, describing himself as an ‘ale draper’.

By 1822, Joseph was advertising in the City of York Directory as a ‘plumber and glazier’ based in St Mary’s Row, Bishophill.

In 1824, the firm moved to 59 Micklegate - today’s 128 Micklegate.

Joseph married Hannah, the daughter of his old master John Jackson, and their eldest son, Thomas, took over the business, with two of his grandsons after him, one of them John Henry Shouksmith.

John Henry married Julia North in 1872, and two of their children, Thomas and Arthur, went on to work for the company in their turn.

Thomas joined Shouksmith as an apprentice in 1888 at the age of 15. He went on to become the firm’s long-serving chairman, and retired in 1963, aged 90, having worked for the company for 75 years.