The Crane Foundry

The foundry opened some time before 1827 when it was known as Atherton’s Foundry, run by James Atherton and Henry Crane. Initially it was a brass foundry, but by 1827 iron castings were also produced on the site. The main products were castings for the building industry, ironmongery and brassware. In the 1830s castings for the hand tool and lock industries were added to the product range and by 1836 Henry Crane had taken control of the business.

The company became known as the Crane Foundry in 1847 with its own registered trademark. By the 1850s iron weights were produced, and a design was registered in 1872 with roundels decorating the edge. Brass weights were also produced, mainly after the regulation of 1890 that required weights of 2oz. or less to be made of brass.

In the early 1900s the foundry began to produce castings for electric motors and continued to do so throughout its life. The Crane family continued to control the company until 1917 when William Cyril Parkes of lock makers Josiah Parkes & Sons Limited, Willenhall became a majority shareholder, with the immediate result that the production of lock cases greatly increased.

The location of the the foundry.

A look at the company’s 1928 catalogue reveals over 300 products including weights, rice bowls, sad irons, ventilators, mole traps, door knockers, and hinges.

The company moved away from metalware and began to concentrate on the production of castings for engineering companies.

On 25th June, 1945 Josiah Parkes & Sons sold the foundry to Qualcast for £9,200, and in 1949 the foundry was officially called Qualcast (Wolverhampton) Limited. The company also owned the nearby Swan Gardens Iron Works off Swan Street.

Crane Foundry and the canal in 2003.

Production concentrated on light repetition work for the engineering industry. Grey castings were produced, weighing from a few ounces to half a hundredweight. Castings were supplied to vehicle manufacturers, gas and electric cooker manufacturers, hand tool makers, and lock makers. Castings were also made for electric motors, lawn mowers, sewing machines, typewriters, washing machines, telephone equipment, and conveyor rollers for the mining industry. The Swan Gardens foundry opened in 1953 and produced larger castings from 0.5 to 3 hundredweights for motor cars, commercial vehicles, farm tractors, stationary engines, electric motors, refrigerators, and domestic water heaters.

Things started to go wrong during the recession of the 1970s when many of the country’s foundries closed. Qualcast was hit hard by a series of industrial disputes and the Swan Gardens Foundry lost a lot of orders due to the recession in the tractor industry, which resulted in its closure on 24th June, 1972.

Another view of the factory in 2003.

Luckily the Crane Foundry survived and began to supply castings to mainland Europe. By 1978 the foundry employed around 600 people and produced 300 tonnes of castings per week. Castings were made for the automotive industry, gas cookers, multi-fuel stoves, domestic appliances, and general engineering. As the recession continued, the Qualcast group closed most of its factories. Crane Foundry only survived because of a management buy-out.

Because the foundry was overmanned, a rationalisation programme began, but the redundancy costs were so high that even with a healthy order book, liquidation soon followed. Receivers were appointed in 1985, but after another management buy-out, and with financial backing from Crane’s two largest customers, Stanley Tools and Brook Motors, the company survived. It was renamed Crane Foundry (Wolverhampton) Limited with a workforce of just over 130.

In 1995 the company embarked on a 2.5 million pound investment programme to ensure that the foundry was technically and environmentally viable. The improvements included the installation of an electric induction melting furnace to act as a reservoir for the cupolas, allowing two grades of iron to be used at the same time.

The works entrance in 2003.

Sadly, after all of the investment, the company remained unprofitable, and the workforce was reduced to 68. For a while Crane Foundry became part of British Steel, but the foundry went into receivership again on 21st September, 2000. Luckily funding was found and the company reformed itself as Crane Cast.

Things seemed to be going well until the company’s liabilities spiralled out of control. The rise in electricity and gas prices, and the loss of two of the company’s largest customers, meant that the directors had no choice other than going into liquidation. The factory closed in January 2006. The company and workforce fought hard to survive, but too many things went wrong at once. A sad end for one of Wolverhampton’s oldest companies.

A sad sight, the derelict buildings in October, 2009.

Another view of the derelict buildings in October, 2009.

Read a more detailed history of the company

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