13.  The End of the Family Firm

And so we entered the 1970s with a new name, a new identity logo, a new Company in the USA and a new factory (for us) – Wow!   We also entered the 1970s with a bank balance in the black - possibly for the first time ever.  The sale of our freehold for £84,000 and the payment of our moving costs of £67,000 (in a year when we made a profit anyway) eventually left us with around £100,000 in the Bank.   

An advert, from the Wolverhampton Handbook for 1971, for Safemix.

Although we seemed to have a lot going for us there was one area which was becoming more difficult in our Company, as indeed with most other companies of British Industry in the 1970s.  The root cause of the difficulty came from a changing attitude of the works and staff employees, brought about by two factors.  Firstly, not only had the generation of employees which had been affected by the 1930s largely disappeared but also the tolerance was beginning to ebb away of those who had been influenced by that generation. Secondly, the new generation was being considerably influenced by the power of the Unions which was greatly in the ascendancy after some years of socialism with a Labour Government which was always indebted to its paymasters, the Unions, and increasingly giving way to them.  The ultimate boast of James Callaghan had not yet been made of “Governing by Consent” which culminated in the continued strikes in 1978 and the Winter of Discontent.  Anyway, a more militant approach was escalating all the time.  Our employees were called out on strike in 1974 when the management informed them that we were not able to increase our wage award by more than £l plus 4%.  That was the national policy laid down by the (temporary) Conservative Government of which Mr Heath was Prime Minister. The strike only lasted a few days.

England in the 1970s was becoming increasingly professional in its industrial outlook. For one thing a considerable proportion of family businesses had sold to other companies or groups when the family owners felt little inclination to fight the escalating demands of the Unions and suffer the declining power of UK industry compared to the middlemen or stores. These were concluding attractive and profitable deals with overseas suppliers from whom the large UK purchasers could obtain good quality products from Taiwan or Korea where wages were low and hours were long or from Japan where mechanisation and sensible unions provided a formidable combination.  In short the greater inclination was often to sell and get out of worrying problems to enjoy a life of leisure.  

Advert, from the Wolverhampton Handbook for 1974, referring to our showers fitted in the QE2 and in the Royal Yacht Britannia.

We at Meynell Valves were becoming unusual in our independence and, later on, almost unique.  It is not unusual for an American visitor to our stand at a trade exhibition to read “Meynell Valves Ltd - Established 1798” on the fascia board and see on my lapel a badge saying “Hugh Meynell” and to refuse to be dissuaded that this was not a gimmick or that I had not changed my name by deed poll.  The nature of a family business is that there should be trust between the workers and the management represented by the family because that family management is self perpetuating, is normally there each day, is approachable and normally shows concern for people’s problems.   I have found it wise to include the word “normally” because I can only speak for those businesses which I know where, incidentally, a more accurate word  would be “inevitably”.   I believe that what the large companies or large groups lose in the family approach they have to make up for by the efficiency of their Managers.  

Anyway, the 1970s certainly found British companies becoming more efficient and effective or losing out.   Meynell Valves was no exception and one change which typified this aspect was when Cuthbert resigned from the Company in 1969.   One of his designations was Company Secretary.  This post was easy to fill.  In 1963 Miss Margaret Marrion had joined our Company in answer to an advertisement for a girl suitable for an accounts office.  In those days you could still advertise for male or female staff. 

Margaret was appointed to the post and later recruited Joyce Evans, who was also from Tarslag Ltd, who eventually became a highly efficient computer operator for us in the 1980s.  

The vacancy arose because her predecessor, Mark Ferry, had asked me if he could apply for the recently vacant post of Midlands Representative for Mixing Valves.  I knew Mark was a hard worker because he lived near me and we often travelled together.  I learned that he had been a Farm Manager at Stanton Farm on the Ruckley Estate and that he had to get up at 5.30 am to start tractors for the farm men at 6.00 am.  These tractors were started by hand, swinging them until they fired and I know, from personal experience, that this is an exhausting chore.

Margaret became known generally as Miss Marrion or, to the Directors, as Meg, and brought an air of professionalism and efficiency to our administration. After four years she was appointed Office Manager and in 1969 she was the natural candidate for the post of Company Secretary when Cuthbert Meynell retired.

Meg was efficient and excellent in this post until her private life got embroiled in a lot of personal problems, including the death of her mother and in the 1980s she attempted to commit suicide.   As her work was reflected and affected by her private problems we had to part company.  

I retired when Meynells was sold to Caradon in 1988.  The group at that time included Mira showers.  (The name Mira came from Mirabelle, the name of the youngest daughter ff the company chairman).  But the CEO of Caradon, who had negotiated the deal, departed and the new CEO decided to sell off what he called the “plumbing side” of the business.  That turned out not to have been a good move for them but it brought Meynell into the ownership of Kohler, another family business.  They had started out, in Wisconsin, as general iron founders but, since 1883, when John Michael Kohler enamelled a horse trough and sold it to a farmer as a bath tub (in exchange for a cow and 14 chickens), they had concentrated on bathroom fittings and become the world’s largest in its field.   The company continues to flourish in Shaw Road.

Return to the Contents

Return to the previous page

Proceed to the next page