9.  Hot and Cold Water Mixers

1957 was the time when I started to work closely with Mr Tacchi, as we had appointed two salesmen in the North - Mr Yates in Cheshire and Mr Cockram in Yorkshire - who were amongst other gradually becoming trained in selling steam water mixers as Mr Tacchi was spending more time in the offices looking after various major projects.  We lunched together most days at the Molineux Hotel, walking there down Charles Street where our old iron foundry had been located 60 years earlier.

Mr Tacchi had a decided and recurring hobby horse that, whatever our sales of steam water mixers were, any sales we could get of hot and cold water mixers, thermostatically controlled, would be ten times greater.  He used to tell me how there were only two manufacturers of this product in the UK and “..neither of them is any good - their prices are sky high and they are so busy that they are always behind in their deliveries”.  Well if this was to be construed as an exaggeration there was always the nagging doubt that some of it could be right.  After some enquiries it appeared that there was some substance of accuracy in this supposition.

I began to press Lionel Meynell to try and make a hot & cold water mixer and a fairly crude type of manual one was produced called the “Red Triangle Mixing Valve”. Although sales were not good it was an interesting exercise in design construction. In 1963 the first thermostatic ½” hot and cold water mixer was produced, called Meynelmix, after five years of really hard and frustrating, and sometimes almost heartbreaking failures.  Many times there were family rows with the older generation telling me that I would “Bust the company” if I persisted with my single minded desire to get a thermostatic hot and cold water mixer somehow and some day.

In 1957 we received a letter from Walker Crosweller Ltd informing us that they were aware that we had commenced manufacture of a steam water mixer and that this infringed their patent and we should stop manufacture forthwith.  This was a nasty shock to us as we were quite certain that their contention was unfounded for two reasons - the first being that our product operated on an hydraulic principle and theirs on a thermostatic principle activated by bi-metal.  Secondly, our Patent Agents, Forrester Ketley Ltd, had made a thorough search of all patents before we commenced production of our model and could find nothing similar.

Dick Iliffe was Lionel Meynell’s brother in law and also our company solicitor, almost by default, because in those days we rarely needed one and he tended to specialise more on the domestic issues of life and away from the industrial scene. However, I had joined the Wolverhampton Conservative Club in 1953 and by 1958 enjoyed a regular luncheon table there with my own generation, whilst our elders ate at other tables, occasionally complaining about the noisy hilarity we sometimes generated.

One of my regular companions was Robin Guy, who was a director of Guy Motors at that time and he was twice most helpful to me. The first occasion was when he asked to whom we sold our products and I mentioned the renowned vacuum cut-off cock we supplied to Clayton Dewandre at Lincoln.  I can still see him saying today, over 25 years later, “My dear chap, you must approach Douglas of Kingswood, who do similar work, and see Mr Sid Layfield or Mr Jelley and tell them I sent you”.   Well, I did call to see them, together with Peter Walker, our Midlands representative, and we opened one of the best long running accounts we have ever achieved for the same product, which we were already making for someone else - with all the patterns and tooling already available.  

The second was his complimentary remarks on the firm of solicitors: Manby & Steward, then of Waterloo Road, and in particular, Tony Southall.  The story was, that the Guy Company believed that they had invented the welding process for armour plating used by fighting vehicles, particularly tanks in the last War (1939/45).  The case was fought by the War Office, who lost, and Mr Southall obtained good compensation for Sydney Guy and the Guy Company.  I was very impressed.  I persuaded the Meynell family to let me contact Tony Southall to see if he would agree to handle the lawsuit with Walker Crosweller and, in a few words, he did - and we won and were awarded costs.  So we breathed again and we had obtained the services of a solicitor who, by and large, gave us good advice for over twenty-five years.  We started to move apart in the 1980s when Tony seemed to be inaccessible because he seemed to be continually on planning enquiries and similar projects and when I was told, for about the tenth time, that he “..would not be in that day” I contacted Michael Gwynne, an old wildfowling friend.  I found him to be most reliable with his advice and most sound in his viewpoints and I asked him to advise on some new Articles of Association, because the current ones were over 20 years old and, in view of continually changing laws, they need to be brought up to date.

At the end of 1958 it seemed that it would be impossible for us to manufacture a thermostatic hot and cold water mixing valve with so many things against the project. Firstly, the Meynell family were balanced on the old side with Charles and Cuthbert and Hugo all over sixty and Lionel burdened with running the plant on a daily basis with little time for development.  The Development Department at his disposal was non-existent and the delightful old Pattern Maker, Bill Ash, who was to plug away on anything new, was christened by Cuthbert Meynell  “The Tortoise”.  In actual fact Billy Ash did a great job for our company and was a humorous, kindly, country man at heart and when he retired, to his home in Pattingham, the Directors gave him a greenhouse, which I feel was an imaginative gift to keep him interested in his favourite hobby after his years of toil.

Anyway, as far as I was concerned, in 1959 the picture was one of considerable gloom.  Our Company was not making profits and I believed that we lacked any depth of management strength and our valve and tap competitors were undercutting our prices, so that we faced a poor future.  However, our steam water mixer was enjoying reasonable sales and it was definitely profitable, which was more than we could boast for some of our other products.

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