The gold mines of South Africa, the railings of Buckingham Palace and a German empress are all linked by a single enterprising family from Epping.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, William Cottis and Sons played a major role not only in the town but around the world, manufacturing everything from ornamental lampstands for the Embankment in London to hay sweeps for Australia.

Crispus Cottis, the eldest son of William, founded the company in 1858.

Agricultural machinery lay at the heart of the business but it also expanded into architectural fittings, transport and household items.

The company’s brickworks, now buried beneath the Underground station’s car park, produced the building blocks for much of the town.

Behind Marks and Spencer in the High Street, the company’s Archimedean Ironworks once stood.

The two industrial sites, along with the company’s shops around the district, were major features of the town and the work’s steam horn was a valuable time keeper for the people.

Across the globe, Cottis was known for a number of products.

Its coffee hulling machines were used in Africa, central and South America and its lamps lit up mines in South Africa.

In 1899, its patrons included Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales, the Empress Frederick of Germany, the Emperor of Austria, the late Emperor of France and the Viceroy of Egypt.

The company supplied some of the iron for the Menai Straits Bridge in Wales, and it constructed a large revolving staircase for Drury Lane Theatre, as well as the railings for Buckingham Palace.

Crispus Cottis was also an inventor and produced many patent inventions which had a significant effect on the agricultural world.

His most notable inventions were improvements to the hay sweep and the expanding hoe.

The company founder played a full role in public life: vice-chairman of the first Epping Parish Council between 1895-96, he became vice chairman of the Epping Urban District Council in 1896 and chairman in 1902.

He was also a trustee of Theydon Garnon Charities and Chairman of the Epping Sanitary Steam Laundry Committee.

In the first quarter of the 20th century, the company continued to prosper under Crispus’ son, C.J. Cottis.

C.J. followed in his father’s footsteps, playing an active part in both business and public life.

In 1899, he joined the Loyal Suffolk Hussars and was the first volunteer from Epping to serve in South Africa during the Boer War.

When he returned the Essex Imperial Yeomanry Magazine said: “On the formation of the Essex imperial yeomanry in 1901, Cottis took Epping in hand and soon raised a troop which has been a credit to the regiment.”

A famous figure in the town, he became managing director of the firm in 1917 after his father’s death.

Reputed to have a fierce temper, he was nonetheless liked and respected by his staff.

His fairness, sense of humour and the way in which he dealt with his employees showed in their tremendous loyalty to the firm.

He died in 1945 and a report in the West Essex Gazette – the predecessor to the today’s Guardian – was headed “last Tribute to everybody’s Friend”.

Changes from the 1950s onwards led to a decline in the business.

The foundry closed in 1982 after a period of being operated by other owners, and the Cottis hardware store closed its doors in 1977.

Despite no longer having an obvious presence in Epping the family has had a lasting impact, said district museum manager Tony O’Connor.

“It was such an important part of the town.

“They built Epping, with Epping bricks.”

Information and items produced by Cottis and Sons are on display in the Epping Forest District Museum in Sun Street, Waltham Abbey.