One of Darlaston’s great industrial success stories is that of the Owen Organisation, which began in a small factory in Booth Street, and grew into a large empire with eighty eight subsidiaries, and a workforce of over 14,000.

The Owen Organisation began in 1884 when John Tunner Rubery and his two brothers, Samuel Rubery, and Thomas William Rubery acquired the Victoria Ironworks in Booth Street to manufacture light metalwork, fences, gates, and hurdles.

John Tunner Rubery was born in Darlaston in 1848 or 1849. His father, Samuel Rubery was an iron and steel merchant with a business in Blockall. He became secretary to the board of the Darlaston Iron Bridge and Roofing Company which was founded in 1867. The company obtained a number of orders for structural steelwork for projects in the Liverpool area including part of the roof of Liverpool Lime Street Railway Station.

In about 1874 John Tunner Rubery opened an agency in Liverpool to represent the Bridge and Roofing Company of James Bridge, Darlaston, founded by Simeon Carter. He advertised in the Commercial Directory and Shippers Guide as an agent for the Bridge and Roofing Company Limited, Horton and Sons, David Lloyd and Company Limited, Llanelly (anthracite and steam coal suppliers), and the Darlaston Galvanising Company Limited.

In 1881 John Tunner married Catherine Mary Anne Wilkes in Rushall, and in 1883 he returned to Darlaston where he founded Rubery and Company with his two brothers. On 29th February, 1888 the partnership was dissolved by mutual consent. John was then joined by a new partner, Alfred Ernest Owen, an engineer from Wrexham, who had been premium apprentice at a factory in Chester. John Rubery, who lived round the corner from the factory in Willenhall Road, put £2,000 into the partnership, and Alfred Owen put-in £1,000, supplied by his father, Alfred Owen, from Woodhey, Wrexham.

At this time the infant Victoria Ironworks covered barely an acre of ground, and found jobs for around a hundred men and boys. The machinery and working conditions were comparatively primitive, with long hours of hard work being endured by all.

An advert from 1890.

Victoria Ironworks in 1885, based on the O.S. map.

The firm's listing in Kelly's 1896 Staffordshire Directory is as follows:

Rubery & Co. (established 1884), manufacturers of iron roofs and buildings, hurdles, grates, fencing and tree guards, wheelbarrows, trucks and troughs, open and closed tanks, black and galvanised riveted built girders & compound beams, columns, brackets & ladders, forgings, bolts & nuts, tie rods & fastenings, The Green; telegraphic address, "Roofs, Darlaston".

An advert from the mid 1890s.

The remainder of the story is told in the following parts:

1.   The Early Years
2.   Expansion
3.   Easiclene
4.   The Later Years
5.   The Sons of Rest Workshop
6.   Sports and Leisure Activities
7.   Subsidiary Companies


An advert from 1896.

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Early Years