The Early Years

Little is known about the company’s early years. It was established in about 1850, the same date as the oldest building on the site, which presumably was purpose built for the company. Originally it was called the Crown Nail & Stamping Company, as was seen on several brass clocking-in disks that were found at the works in the 1950s.

The advert opposite is from the 1902 Wolverhampton Red Book and lists many of the company's products.

The works in 1871.

By 1884 the company was called the Crown Nail Company, as mentioned in John Steen & Company’s Guide to Wolverhampton. 

Until the early 1950s the company was owned by the Lloyd Family and it is believed that they were the founders.

In the early years domestic holloware must have been produced on the site because a number of frying pans, each bearing the name “The Crown Stamping Company” were used in the works as tack pans, until the 1950s.

Steen & Company’s directory of 1884 lists four nail makers in Wolverhampton:

The Crown Nail Company
The Patent Tip & Horseshoe Company
Messrs. Neve & Company
Danks, Walker & Company.

The works in 1901.

The old Elwell low-down nail machine that was used in the early years. It still has the original pre 1910 seal to prevent the machine from being used at the time when the industry was rationalised. The machine must have been in store for nearly 100 years.
Two of the companies, The Crown Nail Company and The Patent Tip & Horseshoe Company were next door neighbours. Several old machines were kept in store in the Commercial Road factory, dating from around 1870 but unfortunately carrying no manufacturer’s name. It has been suggested that they may have come from The Patent Tip & Horseshoe Company, next door, which stopped making nails in about 1883.

The Company was run by Paul Bedford Elwell who took out a patent for nail making machinery in 1876. The patent is for a low-down cut-nail machine that used a peculiar oscillating feed arrangement for the steel strip. Instead of turning the strip over in-between cuts, the strip moved through an arc and each cut was parallel to the front of the machine. 

The oldest machine that was in store at the works used an identical arrangement and so is likely to be an Elwell machine. This machine and the one below have been saved by the Black Country Living Museum and will be on display in a few years time.

In the early years the Crown Nail Company was run by John Lloyd and it seems that his wife Rose Lloyd took over at a later date, her signature was found on an old indenture. She was a rather strict and domineering woman and had two sons, who later ran the business for many years. The Lloyds were Welsh and lived at 3 Waterloo Road North before moving to “Hafren”  in Albert Road sometime during the 1930s.

The company was probably founded by John Lloyd and so he must have been much older than his wife, who lived until the mid 1940s. He had presumably died before 1902 because the family is listed under the name of Rose Lloyd in the 1902 Wolverhampton Red Book. The two children, Jack and Harry attended Rugby School. They were very different, Jack being an extrovert and Harry an introvert who kept himself to himself.

The two brothers took over the running of the company when their mother retired. Harry Lloyd ran the office and his brother Jack, an exceptional engineer, ran the factory. Jack enjoyed mixing with the workforce but was a strict disciplinarian. Rose never allowed her sons to marry, they were both dedicated to the company and spent as much time as they could there. Jack’s only luxury was his Bentley car, of which he was justifiably proud. Once a year he would take a week’s holiday and drive off somewhere. He would always return after about five days because the factory was his life and he couldn’t stay away.

An old machine dating from the 1870s
The factory started at the southern end of the site where the bluing machine used to be. There were even power presses upstairs on the wooden floor.  The company seems to have been doing well because in the early years of the 20th century the central building with the Belfast roof was added.

The surviving seal on the Elwell nail machine.

Nail production ceased in about 1910 and didn’t start again until 1986. At the time too many nails were being produced and in order to protect manufacturers and control prices, a form of rationalisation was introduced. Many companies, including the Crown Nail Company were paid a certain amount each year not to produce nails and so only tacks were made. Seals were placed on the moving parts of the nail machines to ensure that they were not used. The Elwell machine that was in store still carries its seal.

Cyril Haydon, who later became Jack's right hand man, started at the company in 1909 at the age of 14 as a feeder. Most of the feeders were girls and they earned just 2s.6d a week and were very poor by modern standards, many only owning a single set of clothes, which was common amongst factory workers at the time.
The feeders were a militant group who insisted that any new recruit to their ranks must already have a relative working at the company. Cyril had no relative there, but he did have a distant relative who ran the pub that was used by the feeders, and we believe this to have been "The Bradford" in Commercial Road, where many of the local feeders used to drink. Cyril's colleagues insisted that he went with them to the pub and they said to the landlord "Do you know this boy" and he replied "No". Unfortunately Cyril had not met the landlord before and so the two relatives did not recognise each other.
Another view of the Elwell machine showing the peculiar oscillating feed arrangement.

It was a closed-shop and in order to appease the feeders Cyril had to leave, otherwise they would have come out on strike. He left the Crown Nail Company and began an engineering apprenticeship at Culwell Works in Wolverhampton.

Jack Lloyd must have taken a liking to Cyril and regretted his departure, because two years later he asked him to return to the company and join him in the fitting shop. This was acceptable to the feeders and he returned in 1911 to continue his training under Jack. Cyril was known as Sid at the works and he and Jack became close friends.

The Elwell machine and another ancient nail machine in store at the works. Sadly the machine on the right was scrapped.

The 1914 Wolverhampton Red Book lists two nail and tack makers:

The Crown Nail Company, Commercial Road
G. Horobin, 76 Lower Villiers Street

The Crown Nail Company is also listed under general stampers, and so stamped products were still produced in 1914. 

During the First World War the company supplied all of the tacks that were used to hold the fabric to the wooden framework of the early military aircraft, which proved to be extremely lucrative for the Lloyd family. During the war Cyril Haydon went into the army where he worked in a field ambulance and was a batman to the Colonel. He didn't enjoy his new role and when he heard that the army was looking for engineers for its workshops, he applied and after easily passing a test became an army engineer. After the war Cyril returned to the Crown Nail Company and continued to assist Jack Lloyd in the fitting shop.

The tack machines always ran from overhead line shafting. Works Manager Ken Farrington remembered one of the old employees, Frank Edwards describing how it used to be. The shafting was originally driven by two gas engines, one located in the old part of the works and another in the fitting shop. After the second engine’s removal, a slight quarter-circle was left on the floor where the engine’s flywheel ran. The engines were replaced by a 50h.p. E.C.C. electric motor that was itself replaced in 1972. There was also a spare that remained in the storeroom until the works closed. 
An old view of the tack shop showing the overhead line shafting that drives the machines.

The 50h.p. motor driving the overhead line shafting.

The spare was dated 1926 and so presumably that’s when  the gas engines were replaced. The line shafting proved to be extremely reliable. It originally used leather belts and if one broke it would simply follow the pulley and drop to the floor. In later years the belts were made of nylon and leather, with a layer of nylon on the outside for strength and a thin layer of leather on the inside for grip. Older belts were joined by a riveted steel plate that was eventually replaced by a steel gripping system called a “clincher”. 
If the electric motor failed it would take no more than half a day to exchange it for the spare. It’s incredible to think that the whole factory was efficiently running from just one 50h.p. motor.


In the 1920s tack production centred around a number of low-down machines. Towards the end of the decade the Lloyd brothers decided to expand production and greatly increase the number of machines. They purchased an American Blanchard and a British low down machine which were typical of the day, but Jack was not satisfied with them. 

An American Blanchard machine.

He decided to take the best parts from both machines and with the help of Cyril, use them in a machine of their own design that would out-perform the commercially available machines at the time.

With his in mind he fully equipped an enlarged fitting shop, where he and Cyril designed and built the new tack machines. Many of the parts were made in-house, but such things as castings had to be brought-in.

Two types of machine were developed; a standard machine and a heavy duty machine for longer tacks. Many of the parts including the tools were fully interchangeable between the machines, which proved to be very successful. Reliability was foremost in Jack’s mind. For simplicity they used plain phosphor bronze bearings (bushes) where possible. All of the bearings in each machine were of this type except for a pair of big double self-lining roller bearings, which were brought in to fit the machines. This technique has worked well because none of the bearings have had to be replaced for many years, only an occasional machining has been necessary during normal preventative maintenance.

Jack was extremely pleased with Cyril's contribution in the development of the new machines and rewarded him with a large toy car for his young son. They became firm friends and Jack and Cyril would go together to visit other companies. Jack even gave Cyril a suit to wear for these occasions.

One of the standard tack machines that were designed by Jack Lloyd and Cyril.
A large Lloyd tack machine in the tack shop. Leaning against the rest is the steel strip, attached to the feed-rod, ready for inserting into the barrel. The barrel can be seen to the left of the feed rod.

In the foreground is a keg containing a supply of steel strips. The finished tacks are collected from the pan on the right.

A close-up view of one of the machines in the fitting shop during repair. On the left is the flywheel that is attached to the pulley for the overhead belt. The flywheel is attached to one end of the cam shaft that operates the tool-holders, which can be seen in the centre of the photograph. This machine is currently in-store at the Black Country Living Museum and will be on display in the future.
The tacks are cut from a strip of steel that’s hand fed into a long barrel by the operator. Each strip is clamped to the end of a feed-rod and inserted into the barrel. It is gravity fed into the machine by a “leather” and a cord that is attached to a weight. The barrel rotates through 180 degrees before each nail is cut from the strip to minimise waste.

An old photograph showing the machines in operation.

The machines were a great advance on anything else that was available at the time and between 1931 and 1964 a total of 104 were built as required. 

The smaller machines could produce 280 tacks a minute and the larger machines 240 tacks a minute.

The first machine went into production on 30th November, 1931 and was set up by Mr. T. Hitch.

The machines were built as follows:

Year Number Built Year Number Built Year Number Built
1931   5 1938 12 1950


1932   8 1939   6 1952 4
1933   4 1940   4 1959 3
1934 12 1946   6 1960 2
1935   6 1947   2 1961 3
1936 10 1948   5
1937   9 1949   2
Four of the machines would be overhauled at any one time. The machines were taken out of service for preventative maintenance on a five year cycle, irrespective of whether or not it was needed. The machines were stripped down and given a full overall before being returned to the tack shop.  

The new machines were installed in rows of ten, with a girl hand-feeding five machines, so there were two feeders on each row. For every two feeders there was a spare feeder who would take over if a girl wanted to leave her machines.

One of the last hand-feeders was Dawn Sambrooks, who is seen here at work.

If one of the feeders wanted to go to the toilet she couldn’t leave her machines until the spare feeder took over. This was done to maintain production. The feeders were paid a production bonus, but not the spare feeder who was on a lower salary. The bonus was calculated from the number of tacks produced and was a few pence per 100,000. When the tacks left the machines they were put into pans and each girl’s output was weighed twice a week. Each tack was made to a specific weight to ensure that the customer had a guaranteed number of tacks per lb.

As well as the feeders there were setters. A setter would look after 7 to 10 machines and keep a close eye on them, because in those days the tools had to be taken out and reground frequently due to the inferior quality of the steel.

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