Bradley & Co. Ltd

Mount Pleasant, Bilston

6.   World War 2

During the Second World War the company was heavily involved in munitions work.  Their involvement appears from the two accounts below:

George Phillpot's account:

Come 1939 and production had to be switched to meet other needs. Hollowware continued on a much smaller scale and attention now turned to bomb tails and other components, mortar bomb casings, small smoke floats (used to generate smoke screens at sea) and countless other things. This put a huge load on those of us in the tool room, who had to work all hours to provide new tools and equipment.

The Spinning Shop, where the stretch marks resultant from pressing were removed by a method of spinning on lathes, was largely re-equipped with turret and capstan lathes, used for machining various items. Almost all of the operators were Scottish girls, brought from north of the border, and there was a Scottish tool setter who was inevitably known as Jock. There were also several Irish people who had been "directed", as it was called, to Bradley's. And, if this were not a sufficiently polyglot work force, we also had Italian and German prisoners of war doing labouring and other manual work; but we never had both nationalities at the same time. Relations with them were good, particularly the Germans, and at least one of them married a local girl.

This sort of thing happened up and down the country and hundreds of work places experienced similar "invasions".

A bomb fitted with a tail made at Bradley's. 

However I remember in particular two Czech refugees both of whom were Jewish.

One was Dr Adler whose doctorate was in metallurgy, we understood. He was an engineer with an inventive turn of mind and he introduced a number of new ideas and techniques to help overcome the shortage of various materials immediately after the war. 

The second was Theodore Appenzeller, a young man who came to work alongside me in the tool room.

Czechoslovakia, it seems, was then a country whose democratic system and life style were very similar to England's. In fact it was said that they were similar to us in all aspects except that they had a President while we had the Monarchy. Their English was excellent: Theodore told me that in most of their schools English was a mandatory subject. On arriving in England, via Poland and Sweden, he was puzzled, he said, by the advertisements he saw on the buses and in the streets. He knew what was meant when one asked "Did you clean your teeth today?" but was completely foxed by "Did you Maclean your teeth today?" Having always been used to single-deckers he was initially very wary of double-decker buses; he thought they might topple over. I was saddened nearly twenty years later to learn that he been killed in a road accident.

Mike Doubleday adds:  Hermon Bradley's wife was a "Bird" of the "Bird's Custard Powder" family. During the war he stayed, Monday to Friday, at the Midland Hotel in Birmingham, having moved his family out of the West Midlands to avoid the bombing. In fact it was there that he first met Turner-Hood, who became post war MD.  

Mike Doubleday's account:

My father, Clifford Norman, was the son of Norman Doubleday, the Works Manager who succeeded his father, Norman, in the post.  My father never worked at Bradley's but lived at "Penrhyl" for the first 25 years of his life.  He often talked about the firm and about "Penrhyl" to my mother, Margaret Doubleday (nee Hill).  And my mother has been re-telling the story to me.  This is what she tells me about World War 2:-

During the early years of World War II, the large cellar at "Penrhyl" was equipped with central heating by Bradley's. This despite the fact that the rest of the house was heated by coal fires which was then, of course, the norm. The cover story for the work was that the cellar was being converted into an air raid shelter for the use of the family.  But the real reason was more interesting.

During the war Bradley's, as you know, went over to munitions work - mostly bomb casings and that sort of thing - and the Air Ministry were very concerned that all documents and drawings etc. related to this should be kept in a secure location, both from the point of view of secrecy and of safety should the works be bombed.  They were insistent that the works offices were not secure enough, so the chosen location was the cellar of the Works Manager's house, ie "Penrhyl";  the heating was installed to prevent these important documents from deteriorating through damp etc..

Very few people knew of this as some of these drawings etc. were classified "top secret" at the time.  Obviously all the people in the house knew, but nothing was said of it until the war was safely over and then my father Clifford Doubleday, was able to tell my mother about it.

At the end of the war the heating remained and apparently it was a great boon to my grandmother who used to dry her washing down there!

My mother also recalled that during the war Bradley's went over to 24 hour working, employing a two, 12 hour, shift system, 7am to 7pm and 7pm to 7am.  Norman, my grandfather, used to be picked up by the works chauffeur (a man named Williams) at 6am to go to the factory and oversee the end of the night shift and the start of the day shift.  He then went home at 9am for breakfast, walked back to the factory for 10am, stayed until 5pm, back home for dinner, then back to the factory at 6pm to close the day shift and start the night shift.  He would often then stay until 11pm despite having to be back at 6 the following morning.  This working pattern took a terrible toll on his health.  Despite this however, sometime after the war, a shopkeeper who ran a business on the Willenhall Road said to my mother: "Your father in law had a cushy number during the war.  I used to see him strolling in about 10 in the morning and he'd be back home at 5."  Such is life!!

I mentioned that Hermon Bradley moved his family out of the Midlands during the war.  My mother recalls that they went to a home the family had in Wales (I speculate whether it was at "Penrhyl" in Brecon - hence the name of the house?).  It seems that one weekend some Air Ministry people needed a meeting with Hermon away from prying eyes and Norman, as works manager, was involved.  Hermon suggested that they meet at his Welsh weekend home - it was quite large apparently, more of a country house.  Every weekend he drove down from Bilston to Wales in his high powered sports car and on the weekend in question took Norman with him. Apparently Norman said later that it was the most terrifying drive of his life!  As a young man Hermon had been a racing car enthusiast (he'd driven at Brooklands etc.) and it seems that the bug was still with him.  The speeds were hair raising apparently!  Quite how he got hold of the petrol to fuel such a car during the war was a mystery which many speculated on, but then as his factory was engaged in vital war work I guess that "the powers that be" looked after him.

I found that fact that the cellar at "Penrhyl" was a top secret document vault fascinating. One thing's for certain: if the Germans had known about, it the house probably wouldn't still be here!

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