2.  The Company : 1902 - 1918

The year 1902 was significant because all companies were required to register and to be subject to the Companies Act coupled with the law of limited liability. The Meynell family business became Meynel1 & Sons Ltd, registered to be “engaged principally in the manufacture of high class chandeliers, gas brackets, gas cocks, water fittings, pumps and general plumbers brassfoundry”.  The manufacture of chandeliers, lamps, pendants and other lacquered fittings subsequently ceased in 1915, never to be resumed, when the Company became engaged nearly full time on war work.

The various shareholders were registered and Walter Meynell was the first Chairman of Directors in 1902 and remained so until his premature death from pneumonia in 1926.  This would no doubt have been prevented today by penicilin which only became available after 1940.  Walter Meynell’s greatest contribution was to produce a catalogue of our products which was so far advanced for that period, with accurate drawings and dimensions and with all round general excellence of presentation, that it was described by our customers as “The Bible of the Trade”.

At the turn of the century in the early 1900s an interesting diversion for the Company occurred when an iron foundry was purchased in Charles Street and no doubt was of significant value for the manufacture of the large size cast iron pumps which were quite a significant past of the company’s production.  This venture must have become quite exciting when the Rex Foundry ventured into the production of cast iron bridges.  Whilst these would never have been as large or famous as the one at Ironbridge which spans the River Severn, they must have been quite formidable as our records show that there was a bridge sent down to Bedfordshire to span a canal and also that roof trusses were supplied for the old Wolverhampton bus depot.

History also records that Charles Meynell was General Manager in charge of this iron foundry when it was shut down in 1915 and subsequently leased to the Crown Tool Engineering Company.

It is a matter of some fascination that the Company was also engaged in the washing of casters’ ashes brought from various foundries in the Birmingham area by horse drawn barges on the canal which passed along Lock Street at the bottom of Montrose Street. The residual bronze and brass filings, remnants of castings, were then purified and used in our own foundry furnaces.

The different decades of the twentieth century have all shown a distinct shift of emphasis in the products which have followed the requirements of the market place of that era. The Gas Age and the Electric Age both spilled over to the early 1900s but gradually more steam fittings were made and it is interesting that in 1913 the Company changed the power supply in its own workshops from steam to electricity for power and lighting.

In 1905 a telephone was installed, Wolverhampton 297.  But it was rarely used and only with permission from a Director.

Most of us accept that we live in a world of change but we quickly take for granted such miracles as television and equally quickly forget the past before tv was invented. The standards at the turn of the century seem to be light years away from today but it is interesting to record a few horrors from 1905 when Walter Meynell’s son, Charles, joined the Company. He died in 1966 and so I have never had reason to doubt his memories given to me at first hand.

At that time the motor car was virtually unknown and all travel was by horse.  Walter Meynell rode in daily from Sedgley and his horse was stabled, watered and fed on the premises.  Horse dung was collected daily in buckets and taken to the Core Shop where the ladies mixed it on a half and half basis with the core sand. It was reputed to make the best cores and had good binding powers when used with the fine sand brought down from Blackpool beaches.  The dung was better if it was fresh as it was more easily malleable and could be collected from the local streets if there was not enough in our stables.

The ladies who worked in the Core Shop and on the Assembly Benches did not have very genteel treatment from the men or from each other, from stories told to me by Charles Meynell, of various sexual initiation parties held by the ladies for one of their sex whom they didn’t like or just one who should temporarily be taught a lesson, which would make the stories of today’s Penthouse or Mayfair magazines seem very low key!

The work’s ladies had strength of numbers in such places as the Core Shop, over 50, where revenge would be given to any male who cheeked them or they fancied for fun and he would be taken in and de-bagged, taught a lesson and then tarred and feathered before release.

It was a tough world in many ways and the rule for pregnant females was to take their pregnancy through to childbirth and not take any time off work except the bare minimum. When labour pains came the woman was taken to the Polishing Shop and laid on a pile of moppings and childbirth took place, attended by two of the older experienced ladies who heated some water on the nearby gas ring.  After childbirth the woman had a short rest and then resumed work. When I expressed initial disbelief at these happenings I was reminded that this is normal practice by the Chinese in the paddy fields and it was most certainly happening in our Company in 1905.

As with so many English families the 1914 War took its toll of the Meynells.   Edward James Hugh Meynell, the eldest son of Herbert and Agnes Meynell, son, Edward James, was killed on the Somme on 4th October 1918, aged 22.  

He was  a Captain in the South Staffs Regiment, 1st 5th Battalion.  He died leading a Company in a brave action for which he was awarded the Military Cross. 

Herbert’s second son, my father, Cuthbert, was badly gassed in action whilst serving in the Royal Horse Artillery in 1917 and was invalided out.  But he re-joined in the Royal Flying Corps as an Observer.  His stories to me of engaging Von Richtenstein’s Flying Circus, by hurling Mills bombs at them and firing at them with pistols, had always enthralled me.  Herbert’s eldest son, Basil, had been sent to Australia in disgrace for unruly behaviour before the War;  but Walter’s second son, Hugo, was also badly gassed and always suffered the effects of this until he died, having retired (still a bachelor) in 1963 after 44 years service with the Company.

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