Many of the major manufacturing companies in Darlaston were founded in the 1870s and 1880s. Some of them became the largest employers in the area, with a worldwide reputation for quality. This happened against a background of depression, as many people were out of work. There were riots in Wednesbury by the unemployed, and deaths from starvation were not uncommon.
    
    Read about some of the larger companies:
  Charles Richards and Sons Limited
  David Etchells & Sons Limited
  Rubery Owen & Company Limited
  Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds
  Garringtons Limited
  Wilkins and Mitchell Limited
  The Steel Nut & Joseph Hampton Limited
  The Darlaston Bolt & Nut Company

E. C. & J. Keay Limited


An advert from 1963.

Another well known company, E. C. & J. Keay Ltd. was founded in 1879 at New Street, Birmingham. They were builders and ironmongers. In 1884 they moved to Cyclops Works, West Bromwich and began to manufacture fencing, fittings, and steel fabrications.

In 1887 the company moved to "Bridge Yard", James Bridge where they produced many products over the years and specialised in structural steelwork for all types of buildings, such as schools, hospitals, factories, offices, and warehouses. Bridge Yard site had three large open shops, and good access to the railway, nearby ironworks and rolling mills. By 1890 the firm had added an iron foundry to the site for the production of bearings and cast ironwork.

The firm provided the steelwork for Birmingham Snow Hill railway station, which consisted of  6,000 tons of steel. Keays also supplied 1,000 tons of steelwork for Leicester railway station, and the steelwork for Neachells No.1 and No.2 power stations, the latter using 8,000 tons of steel.

Other contracts included the Great Western Hotel at Paddington, many bridges, hoppers, bunkers, riveted platework, welded fabrications, and railway signalling equipment.

Keays produced the steelwork for this 100ft clear span warehouse.

Keays provided the structural steelwork for the Midland Counties Dairy on the corner of Lea Road, Wolverhampton. Built in 1930/31.
In 1957 they became part of the Hingley Group and were absorbed into F. H. Lloyds in 1960. Sadly they were another victim of the recession of the 1980s. The F. H. Lloyd group collapsed in 1982.
W. Martin Winn Limited

W. Martin Winn Ltd. opened their factory at Heath Road in 1907. It was a family business that started by making wrought iron nuts and bolts. They quickly realised the advantages of steel and produced some of the first steel nuts and bolts in Darlaston. The business quickly grew and many of the company's products were produced from bright drawn steel. Between 1920 and 1930 the cold heading process was introduced which led to the production of high tensile steel bolts. Heat treatment was later introduced for the production of high tensile carbon steel bolts, and alloy steel bolts. They also produced extra large bolts weighing two or three hundredweights each.

In the 1950s the firm began to produce bolts and studs that were suitable for high temperature installations. Large numbers of them were sold to oil refineries, and to manufacturers of steam raising equipment. In later years the company benefitted from the decision to introduce a unified thread to make British and American screws interchangeable. Large numbers of the firm's unified nuts and bolts were produced. The factory closed during the recession in the 1970s, but a small tool making business called Winn Tools remained in the original office building until a few years ago. Winn Tools was founded in 1964, and survived until June 2009.


An advert from 1946.

 


An advert from 1909.

Samuel Platt Limited
Samuel Platt Limited was based at Kings Hill Foundry, and produced a wide range of products including machinery for tube making, nut and bolt making, drop hammers, and stripping presses, reeling and straightening machines, stamping machines, and drop hammers.

Other products included lathe chucks, pulleys, mill gearing, shafting, shaft fittings, and pressings.

 


Samuel Platt Limited, King's Hill Foundry. From the collection of the late Howard Madeley.

Wilkes Limited

The business was founded in 1840, and in 1897 took over Wilkes’ bolt, nut, and fencing manufacturing business. In 1890 it became a limited company, and by 1914 employed 350 people.

The old Darlaston Nut and Bolt works, known locally as "Bogie Wilkes".

The factory stood on the corner of Cemetery Road and Kendricks Road.

A view of the rear of Darlaston Nuts and Bolts. The factory was demolished in 2006.
A view of Darlaston Nuts and Bolts from the railway bridge in Kendricks Road.

The factory, originally called the Grand Junction Works was named after the railway (originally the Grand Junction Railway) and located there because of it.


An advert from 1902

 


An advert from 1921.


 


Some of the last buildings from the Grand Junction Works in Cemetery Road. They were demolished in the late 1990s.


An advert from 1884.


The Staffordshire Bolt, Nut, and Fencing Company's factory, London and North Western Works, stood near Bentley Road South, in between the Walsall Canal and the London & North Western Railway. It was connected to the railway by a siding which also served the nearby canal interchange goods station. The importance of the railway to the company can be seen from the name given to the works. This advert is from 1884.

 
The Wellman Smith Owen Engineering Corporation

The business was founded in 1919 to acquire a major share of the American company, Wellman-Seaver and Head, steel works engineers and contractors; and also James Smith Hoisting Machinery Company Limited, specialists in dockside cranes and hoisting machinery. The new corporation also took over the engineering department of Rubery Owen. Mr A. E. Owen was chairman.

It became a public company in 1924, and had a number of factories in the UK, including the one at Darlaston.

During the Second World War the company manufactured shell forging machines, bridge laying equipment, cranes, and shot furnaces.

The firm's shell forging machines were used in Australia, Canada, India, and the USA. The machines could produce in excess of 350 anti-aircraft, 3.7 inch shell forgings an hour, and produced around 80 million shell forgings during the war, using over two million tons of steel.

Other war work included the production of machinery for the Mulberry harbours, and the Pluto pipeline, and a large number of steel smelting furnaces, and gas producers.


An advert from 1946.


A Wellman Smith Owen level-luffing jib crane.

In August 1965 the name was changed to the Wellman Engineering Corporation, which consisted of five main subsidiaries, including Wellman Machines Limited, and the Wellman Incandescent Furnace Company, both based at Darlaston. The Darlaston factory closed in the 1980s and was acquired by Wilkins and Mitchell.

The crane opposite uses the company's patented level luffing gear which ensures that the hook remains at the same level whilst moving the jib up and down. Cranes of this type were sold in France, and also manufactured for the Russian Ministry of Supply. The crane was designed for the handling of coal or iron ore, and could deal with loads of up to 15 tons.

It was electrically operated and ran on 10.5 metre-wide track. With ballast it weighed around 240 tons, had a hoisting speed of 35 metres per minute, and could travel on the track at a speed of 35 metres per minute. There were two 75 BHP. Metrovick motors, each of which drove a winch. One of the winches raised and lowered the grab, the other opened and closed it.

The superstructure of the crane.
The crane legs and the self-reeling drum for the power cable.
The crane was operated from a 3-phase 380 volt, 50 hertz supply, to which it was connected via a 60 metre length of trailing C.T.S. flexible cable. The cable was automatically payed-out and taken-up as the crane ran along the track, by means of a weight-operated self-reeling drum.

Five 1kW heaters were fitted so that the cranes could work in low temperatures. Three were in the machinery house, and two in the operator's cabin.


The operator's cabin.


A Wellman 85 ton scrap charger in use at Richard Thomas & Baldwins Limited, Spencer Works, Llanwern, near Newport, South Wales. The 2 charging boxes are being lowered onto the scrap charger.
The company's many products included an 85 ton scrap charger.

This was ideally suited for use with LD convertors, a German designed refinement of the Bessemer convertor, that blows pure oxygen instead of air through the molten metal..

One charging box is in the tilted position to charge an LD convertor.

After charging, the box will be lowered, and the electrically powered scrap charger, which runs on rails, will be moved forward to position the second charging box over the mouth of the convertor.

A final view of the scrap charger, showing an empty charging box returning to the horizontal position.

Partridge & Company

Sometime before 1850, Simeon Partridge, a grocer, began to make tallow candles for sale in his shop at 28 Pinfold Street, which he produced in a small backyard workshop. He soon opened a small factory behind Slater & Company (solicitors) in Walsall Road, not far from the Bull Stake. Unfortunately the building burned down in 1900 and manufacturing ceased. His son Alfred soon opened another factory on the southern side of Heath Road next to several old flooded mine shafts, one of which supplied the works with water. Products included tallow candles, yellow and carbolic soap.

The candles were made by repeatedly dipping candle wicks, suspended from a frame, into molten tallow, until the required thickness was obtained. After each dipping the tallow was allowed to cool. One ton of tallow made around 25,000 candles, and in a record year in the 1930s the company made 4,000 tons of candles of various kinds.

In 1910 Gilbert Partridge took over at the works which were sold to ESSO Limited in 1957. Within a few years the factory closed.
 

Read about a local pioneer
of the trade union movement
      


An advert from 1922.


An advert from 1963.

Comrade Cycles

Simeon Taylor had a shop at 76 Pinfold Street, where he sold sports goods, and repaired bicycles at the back. He suffered from hearing difficulties and so his wife helped in the business.

The Taylor family lived upstairs above the shop and had several children. Simeon built a workshop and started to assemble bicycles.

Sometime later Simeon purchased an old nut and bolt factory on The Leys, in between Alma Street and Stafford Road, in which to manufacture bicycles and tricycles. The factory was previously occupied by David Harper & Sons

It became a family business. Simeon's daughter Florence, sons Jack and Richard, grandsons John and Philip, and granddaughter Lynda also worked at the factory.

They became well known for their high standard of craftsmanship.

Simeon died in 1960 after a long illness. By this time half of the company's products were exported, and many competitors had ceased to trade because of cheap foreign competition. Comrade went on to become the largest independent cycle manufacturer in the country. The company was hit by the recession in the late 1970s and 1980s, and moved to new premises near the Bull Stake.

Unfortunately it all came to an end in 1987 because of the continuing recession, and the large number of cheap foreign imports that flooded the market.


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