Bradley & Co. Ltd

Mount Pleasant, Bilston

5.  The Interwar Years

Mary Southall tells us that around 1920 - 1924 the working hours of the firm were from 8.00 am to 5.30 pm Monday to Friday and Saturday mornings.  The firm was making its range of brass and copper wares and general hollowware; with toilet pans for export to South Africa and gas boilers as new products.  "In the years between 1920 and 1932 the firm suffered a depression as all other firms did in this period.  There was little unemployment at the firm as at many other places; but these were hard times and all suffered because of this.  Between the period of 1932 - 1939 trade picked up a lot and, compared to the depression, the firm went through a boom time.  The main products of the firm at this time were buckets, baths and bowls, as by this time the skilled work which had previously been carried out on the coppered ware was completely dying out". 

That account, which Ms Southall almost certainly collected from the oral tradition of the firm, is probably broadly accurate but one suspects that the range of products was greater than she indicates and that the gradual demise of the brass and copper art metalwares was not caused by a lack of skill but by a change of fashion.  In fact  Bradley's trade in these items survived a good deal longer than that of their major competitors, including the local Joseph Sankey & Sons. 

This advert (left) from 1920 lists their products as art metalware, railway milk cans, tinned milk buckets; tinned, japanned and galvanised frying pans, shovels, kettles, etc.; and says that they are specialists in stampings and pressings.   (Most companies offered to do such work for other companies to make fuller use of equipment and labour).

This advert, from the 1920s, shows Art Metalware in brass, copper and electro-plate.  The reference to electro-plate is not clear.

There is also reference to household hollowware, which they describe as galvanised, tinned and japanned.

In both cases the items shown are merely representative; the actual range was, in both cases, much wider. 

By now the factory had been largely rebuilt since its early times as this picture from a 1920 advert shows.  Mary Southall provided a diagram of the works as they were in 1920 (redrawn, below). 

There is only a rough correspondence between the two images.


It may be that, despite the dates given, Ms. Southall has shown an earlier layout of the site.

It seems to consist of two main blocks (with a third, much smaller, toilet block) but exactly where these buildings lay is not clear.  All one can say is that Mount Pleasant is at the bottom, by the houses.  It is also odd that one building is marked as having a canteen on its second floor.  If this is right it must have been an alternative facility to that which, by Ms Southall's account, should have been part of the bowling green, tennis court and social club complex.

Note the small shop allocated to copper; and the blacksmith's shop, presumably mainly for wrought iron parts.

And this image, from an undated catalogue, shows something else again.  Note the tennis court, with the bowling green to the right.  Mount Pleasant runs across the top right corner.  This image has a greater air of authenticity than the 1920 drawing above. 
This drawing, from a later, undated catalogue, seems to show a good deal of expansion, as well as two tennis courts.  Here Mount Pleasant runs across the bottom right corner.

The following photos of the work's interior are undated but are probably from the early part of the century.  They almost certainly show the same buildings as are on Mary Southall's maps.

Forge hearths, at the first of which the worker seems to be shaping bucket handles and then fixing them to the bails.  The handles, in straight form, can be seen on the hearth and the finished buckets are piled to the right.
Making kettles.  The workers to the right seem to be tinning the interiors of lids.  Note the number of women workers here.

Sheet metal bending. The fact that women are doing this work makes one wonder if this was during World War One. 
Five women all engaged in making watering cans. 

George Phillpott gives a more detailed account of the later part of this period, staring in 1932.  It will be noticed that Mr. Phillpott mentions a far wider range of goods than does Ms Southall.

George Philpot, in much later times, with a watering can for which he made the tools.

When I left school in December 1932, jobs were hard to come by.  I was lucky to be taken on by Bradley's and I started there in January 1933, aged 14.

Conditions of employment were rather different then to those of today.  This is not any criticism of Bradley's - it was common practice among employers.  They would take on school leavers, such as myself, and when a few years later they had to start paying them adult wages, they would sack them and take on other juveniles.  I had been at work there for several weeks before I found out that I had been given the job from which a very good friend had been dismissed (but there were no recriminations).  

My first job was to help to make coal scuttles. They were called "Waterloos" because they were shaped like the hats which soldiers wore at the Battle of Waterloo.

After about twelve months I went into the tool room as an apprentice tool maker.  This meant a drop in wages but it ensured that I would still have a job after I reached the age of 18 and that I would have a trade to my name.

The tool room foreman was a man of most uncertain temperament and, apparently because he frequently referred to peoples as "proper Job's comforters", he was known as Joey.  He called everyone "Chile", in much the same way that men today used the terms "mate" and "pal".  I do remember, however, one pearl of wisdom that he imparted to me:  "Remember this, Chile, the man who never made a mistake, never made anything".

The company had an excellent reputation as makers of high quality domestic wares, and the product range included dustbins, buckets, household shovels, kettles of all sizes, watering cans and a host of other items, including frying pans by the thousands. Most of the products were galvanised, though some were tinned and others, such as kettles and coalscuttles, were black enamelled.

Some of these items we made then have now passed into history such as the small hand bowl, with a wooden handle about 6" long, with which the housewife would ladle the water out of the washing tub when washing was done. Another was the mortar bowl, a large steel receptacle shaped like a pudding basin, which had been flattened somewhat, and about 24" in diameter. I never saw them in use but I always understood that ladies in Africa carried them around on their heads with goods and merchandise in them.

Yet another was the egg bucket, a specially designed bucket, the purpose of which was to preserve eggs before the days of the fridge. A substance called isinglass (which Bradley's did not provide) was added to keep the eggs in good shape.

Shown on the right is another of Beldray's many products:  the Rapid Vacuum Ice Cream Freezer.  It was like a huge vacuum flask.  You packed ice and salt in the bottom, round the flask, then poured your ice cream mixture into the flask at the top.  Then you left it until it froze.  I think this device was made in the 1920s or 30s.

Thousands upon thousands of paint cans were made, some bearing proprietary names such as "Walpamur".

One shop made oval tin baths and in the tool room was a machine which I believe was most unusual.  It was a lathe made by Maud & Turner. It machined not circular but elliptical shapes on which tools were machined to produce the bottoms of the oval baths and oval frying pans. The rise and fall of the revolutions of the lathe head were achieved by a series of cams and slides. Needless to say it did not revolve very fast.

Sometime in the 1930s the frontage to Mount Pleasant was entirely rebuilt with these offices.  A splendid example of the architecture of the period, they are now locally listed.
The company retained these houses, which had apparently been built by the company for what would now be called key staff.  Those on the right are to the north of the main offices on Mount Pleasant and those below are to the south.

The south block was eventually auctioned off, in lots of two or three houses at a time (but they now appear all to be in individual ownership). The north block was sold in 1978 to help finance new factory buildings.  Mrs. Winifred Roberts (nee Barrett) bought hers direct from Beldray at that time.  She and her husband had lived in it for years before, her husband being one of their employees.  But she could not buy it until after he husband had died. 
Exhibition stand, of unknown date but probably within this period.   The event may have been a British Industries Fair.  The stand shows both art metalware and galvanised goods, including watering cans, baths, boilers, well buckets and a milk churn.

hoto by courtesy of Jaap Arriens.

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