3a.  The Interwar Years:  1919 - 1939

The twenties were a time of hardship and the economy was reflected by the economic policies of Governments, who were unsure of whether to be on the gold standard end of the coal owners and employers of seamen who (among others)  tried to force wage reductions on their employees. This led to disastrous confrontations and sad encounters between men who had hitherto respected each other. 

A photo of the interior of the works, thought to date from about 1920.  It shows a shop in the Montrose Street works.  Note that the shop is in the old long, narrow style to provide good natural lighting from both side.  In this case there is also a roof light.  Note too that everything is driven by overhead belts.  The gentleman on the far left is either Joe Fletcher or Bernard Mulloy.

So the 1920s were tough but they were not uneventful.  The decade recorded various alterations and improvements to the factory, including the re-building of two of the upper stories to the main administrative block (1924) and likewise to the Foundry and Core shop (1928).

Whilst it is not easy to go back much over 50 years the record of the Meynell company was so good that in the General Strike of 1926 it was one of only three companies around Wolverhampton which carried on working normally at that time.

Two strikes came in later years to mar that fine relationship between the workforce and the Meynell family. The first was in the early 1950s over the emotive issue of a workman being dismissed for doing an outside job in company time. 

The second was of a political nature in the early 1970s when the Company was chosen to be picked upon by the Unions to dispute the Government’s decision to impose by law a wage increase limit of £1 plus 4%.  On both occasions the strikes were over in a few days.

Upon the decease of Walter Meynell in 1926 his brother, Herbert, became Chairman and sole Managing Director and he held these posts until he died in 1944.  His son, Cuthbert, and Walter’s son, Charles, were appointed directors in 1927.

The cover of a catalogue from 1922.

In 1928 a further event of considerable significance occurred when Herbert Meynell appointed Econosto Ltd of Rotterdam to be agents in Holland.  In 1946, when Hiter’s War was over and the Dutch nation had started life again after the German occupation, the Econosto Company, like most of Dutch industry, was in a poor state. A visit to our Company in Wolverhampton by one of their directors was arranged at which my Father, Mr Cuthbert Meynell, agreed to supply Econosto with the bulk of our production capacity for a short time at most reasonable prices at a period when it was possible to supply the home market with a very high price mark up with almost anything.  My Father was always a most kindly man, often acting from his emotional feelings, and there is no doubt that his generous gesture to Econosto helped to produce a very deep feeling of trust between both companies which lasted a long time.  

In 1978 Hugh Meynell and Brian Bendall visited Econosto for a mutual exchange of gifts to mark 50 years of friendship and great co-operation. At that time Econosto were the largest valve stockists in Europe with over £14m. of different valves in stock to supply instantly to shipyards all over the world and general industry elsewhere.  The Meynell gift to Econosto was a large, ornamental but functional clock which is on one of the walls in their boardroom for as long as I can remember.   The gift from the Econosto Chairman, Hans Muller, was a picture made up of 24 tiles, each approximately 6” square and framed, with the whole picture of a background scene of the docks of Rotterdam with the foreground marked “MEYNELL - 50 YEARS - ECONOSTO”.   Hans had left his hospital bed, accompanied by a nurse, just for our visit, determined to make this presentation.   It was surely a mark of the deep esteem in which he held our Company for him to take charge of this little ceremony, because he died only a few days later from the advanced stages of cancer.

Nickel plating and also chrome plating were started in 1929 and were no doubt believed to be a great step forward for the Company at that time.

It is interesting to note that in 1929 a good quality catalogue of fountains, plumbing fittings, taps, ball valves, beer cocks, range cocks, tank locking cocks, showers, hose nozzles, stirrup pumps, gate valves, boiler mountings and gas cocks was produced in Spanish for the South American market.  This is its title page.

Once more the 1930s our country’s historical situation was mirrored in the annals of the Meynell Company, with the general slump and depression of the early 1930s very nearly seeing the Company shut down for ever.  At one time Mr Herbert Meynell had believed that we were doomed, with the order book nearly empty and only 13 employees left on the ground.  When he announced on a Wednesday morning, to the remaining thirteen, that the Company would go out of business on the following Friday he only relented, apparently on a temporary basis, at Friday lunchtime when the mid-day post brought in an order for 288 sludge cocks ¾” size from Jones & Attwood Ltd of Stourbridge.  I have needed no notes to recount this little story because when I joined the Company in 1948 many of the older employees not only knew the story but still recounted it amongst themselves with some awe and it must have left an indelible imprint on their minds.

After that dramatic happening the forestalling of the closure on a temporary basis was continued on a permanent basis by a small trickle of orders sufficient to keep the plant in business.  A new market was found in the early 1930s for supplying chrome bronze fittings to the manufacturers of machinery going into milking parlours for dairy herds all over the UK.  We produced, to their drawings and specifications, the control valves required for the likes of Fullwood and Bland,  Alfa Laval and others. This profitable venture only ended when standards were introduced which insisted upon the valves being produced in stainless steel. 

When the general depression and industrial gloom was still hanging over the country’s economy Herbert Meynell carried out a brave and almost uncharacteristic act for a man steeped in Victorian conservatism and caution.  But this act was to have a significant effect on the future of the company.  The opportunity arose to purchase the land and buildings adjoining the Montrose Street part of the Company when the freehold became available of the frontage of Little’s Lane which stretched from St Patrick’s Church all the way down to the Canal at the bottom of the road where it joined Lock Street. Records reveal that he purchased the site but no record is kept of the misgivings and heartache such a cautious man must have suffered but from which subsequent generations have benefited greatly.

In 1933 the well respected salesman of the Company’s products for the Midlands area died.  Mr Sharrock had given 53 years service and had taken over from Mr Guy who had worked for the Company over 40 years.  He was the Father of Sydney S Guy who was Works Manager of the Sunbeam Car Company at the age of 23 and one of the original motor pioneers when he founded Guy Motors in the early 1920s. 

Another era was also ending as the 1930s were becoming the 1940s and the long established practice, common in much of British industry and certainly in our own Company at that time, of the method of wages payment to the workforce.  The established method was that of the Company executive making one lump sum payment of the Works Manager who then paid the individual workmen or women what he thought was a fair rate for the work they had done, virtually fixing the rate himself.  This system was obviously open to abuse and exploitation of individual male and female operators but in our Company we were fortunate to have a gentleman, Jim Ford, who was decent and honest. Jim was over 50 years with the Company when he retired in the 1950s to be succeeded by his son, Tom Ford, who had also completed 50 years when he retired in 1975;  and another brother, Jim Ford Jnr was with us for over 30 years.  It must surely be a great strength to any company to have such a wealth of continuity at managerial level and speaks highly of the individuals and also the Company for providing the climate of trust and encouragement.

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