In 1776 Joseph Carver went into business as a saddle, collar, and whip thong manufacturer, based in Upper Rushall Street. It is believed that he purchased his premises, which had previously been a warehouse, from John Cotterill senior and John Cotterill junior after they became bankrupt. The yard adjoining the building became known as Carver's Yard.

By 1789 the business was being run by John Carver, Joseph's son, who was twenty four years old. At the time he had just four employees, but the business slowly grew. John had a short life, which ended in 1813. After his death, his eldest son Joseph took charge of the business, which continued to expand, and began to specialise in whip thongs.

A second premises was acquired at Town End Bank, between Wolverhampton Street and the canal, in an area known as Wharf Yard.

Possibly because of the nearness to the canal, Joseph began to sell coal which was easily transported to the site from the many pits that were alongside the canal. In William White's 1851 History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Staffordshire, Joseph Carver is listed as a coal merchant, and whip thong maker.

After Joseph's death in 1866 the business came under the control of his eldest son, also called Joseph. He ended the coal business and vacated the Town End Bank site. He also acquired a premises at 84 Ablewell Street which adjoined the back of the original building in Upper Rushall Street to greatly extend the factory.

Around this time a range of custom-made whips was produced for the very well to do. An engraver from Birmingham was employed to add monograms, mottoes, crests of arms and such like to the intricate silver-plated caps and ferrules. Other products included watch guards, walking sticks, hearth rugs, bedside mats, and a variety of brass collars for waggon whips. The firm had an important export market which included Kangaroo Thongs for Australian customers. Thanks to its high quality exports, the firm received several awards including a gold medal in Chicago in 1883, another in New Orleans in 1885, gold and bronze medals in the International Exhibition in Jamaica in 1891, and a bronze medal at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 which celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of the voyages to the Americas by Christopher Columbus between 1492 and 1503.

In the early 1880s Joseph Carver invented the steel whip, made of fine tempered steel instead of traditional whalebone. The new whips were being sold by 1884.

Another innovation was the Carver unbreakable stick gig whip, made from a special wood which could be bent into the shape of a rainbow, and finished to resemble holly, hew, or thorn etc. By the late 1880s the firm also produced the usually more expensive American style glued whips at the same price as the cheaper English counterparts. In 1886 the firm launched a range of braided goods including worsted cords, blind cords, and sash cords.

In the 1887 catalogue, Joseph Carver describes his entirely new process for manufacturing whips, as follows:

The old system, the one used by all other whip makers, is to put the pieces of cane and bone together with wax, which upon a hot day naturally becomes soft, and in frosty weather brittle; paper is also put on the stock in the hand part to make the whip tapered.

By my new process the canes are all spiced to each other and to the bone by a waterproof cement, which will not give in any weather; there is no paper stuffing in the handle, and the whip, before braiding is in one solid piece. This process enables me to make a much lighter whip, with more elasticity and durability, of better appearance, and not affected by heat, cold, or wet.

New Premises

In the late 1880s work began on a new purpose-built factory on the western side of Eldon Street, which became known as the Steam Whip Works, the only one of its kind in the country. The buildings, which still survive, are now called Eldon Court. After the new factory came into operation in 1889, production greatly increased and first class bridle cutters who had worked for the best manufacturers in London, Birmingham, and Walsall were employed.

In August 1892 Carvers had a set-back when a fire broke out in the new factory. It was spotted at lunchtime, and the fire brigade soon arrived.

Unfortunately the water pressure was too low for the water from the hoses to reach the top two floors, which were badly damaged.

The fire caused nearly five thousand pounds worth of damage, a great deal of money in those days. Luckily most of the plant was saved, along with a large stock of holly bush shafts which were used as handles for the whips.

In 1893 Joseph Carver and a number of employees went to the Great Chicago Exposition to display over 700 types of whips to potential customers. In February of that year, before leaving for America, customers were invited to a private viewing of the exhibits in the Eldon Street factory. When Joseph returned to Walsall in December, he was presented with an attractive brass-bound writing companion case by his employees, to thank him for his efforts in promoting the firm's products in Chicago.

Three years later, Carver's whips were being produced for the Cape and Transvaal markets in South Africa, just before the outbreak of the Boer War. In 1903 the company was offering special cheap lines of bridles, head collars, saddle bags, and money belts to the South African dealers.

The early years of the twentieth century must have been a worrying time for the firm because of the introduction of motorised vehicles. Horses were rapidly being replaced by more modern forms of transport. Carver's salesmen travelled far and wide to find orders for their many products, but the writing was on the wall, as it was for all of the manufacturers of saddles, harnesses and bridles.

Joseph's second son, John David Carver joined the business in 1895 at the age of 17. After a short spell in the factory he went to Spain to learn Spanish in order to fully exploit the export market in South America. He spent eighteen months in Madrid, living with a family of engineers, and became interested in engineering. On his return home he told his father that whip-making was a dying trade and so he intended to become an engineer. Although his father was greatly dismayed, it would eventually lead the family business into new areas, and allow it survive after the inevitable decline in the demand for whips.

David became an apprentice at Siemens in Stafford, and towards the end of his apprenticeship in 1902 he built a car, one of the first to be seen on the streets of Walsall. He greatly wanted his father to acknowledge him as a skilled engineer and to realise that he had no intention of returning to the old business. David rented a small workshop from his father, in the Eldon Street factory, and began to trade as J. D. Carver. He built machines for many Walsall companies, including some for his father, to automate the production of whips. In 1910 he built a boat called 'The Endeavour' which was powered by the engine from his 1902 car.

Joseph refused to believe that the whip trade was dying and informed customers that he could now make whips better, and cheaper due to the installation of up-to-date machinery. The First World War gave a short reprieve to the industry because large numbers of horses were used by the army, and orders flooded-in.

David also greatly benefitted from war work. He produced shell fuse carriers and devised many new production techniques that were adopted by other makers of munitions. His workshop greatly increased in size as orders grew, and he employed over one hundred people, working in three shifts.

At the end of hostilities all munitions contracts were immediately cancelled, and David was left with over two hundred tons of partly finished, and completed components, with no compensation.

After the war David's workforce dwindled to two or three people, and he concentrated on making special purpose machines and mechanisms for local companies. He also took out a series of patents for everyday domestic articles ranging from a pair of coal tongs to a self-locking gramophone lid.

Joseph's business was in a serious position. Motorised vehicles were superseding all forms of horse-powered transport, and in order to survive, the firm had to develop a new range of products. Joseph felt that he was too old for this task, and so in 1920 at the age of 75 he retired, and appointed Mr. C. A. Williams as Production Manager. In 1922 new products included a range of rim locks under the 'Supreme' name, brass box locks, cupboard locks, hasps, staples, and shelf brackets. Two years later the firm launched the 'Torpedo' brand of golf clubs which were sold to wholesalers.

In 1924 Joseph's son-in-law Mr. Charles Brazier became Managing Director. He introduced a range of walking sticks, and drains and chimney cleaning apparatus, which were widely exported.

World War 2  

The Second World War revitalised the almost dead whip trade. It was like old times again. For a short while large Ministry orders for horse whips to the 1914 pattern flooded-in, and production returned to its previously high level.

David's company again became involved in the armament industry after receiving an order for the same shell noses that had been produced in World War One. Sadly David was taken ill in February 1940. His son Joseph, who was only sixteen years old, took the business over during his father's absence. Sadly David never recovered and died in June 1942. Joseph had been studying engineering at the time, but his college had closed due to a lack of fuel.

Charles Brazier also died in 1942. He was replaced by his brother-in-law, Frederick Charles Hall.

Reorganisation and Changes

In 1944 the engineering section was registered as Carver & Company, and in 1948 Joseph's eldest brother Leonard John Carver, known as John, joined the company as Technical Manager. History repeated itself in 1950 when Joseph and John decided to build their own car, a four-seater Tourer, known as 'The Bomb'. For many years it was used in hill climbs and trials events.

Although whip making continued in a small way, it came to an end in 1958 after the death, in close succession, of three of the company's oldest employees, William Musgrove, Frank Owen, and William Smith. Their combined service amounted to over 150 years.

In the 1950s the main products were cleaning rods for drains, and chimney sweep brushes, along with a wide variety of machines and mechanical devices including mechanised golf tees, moulding machines, shell moulding machines, and precision flame cutters, with a cut of up to eight inches.

In 1952 the company name was changed to Carver & Company (Engineers) Limited, and five years later John and Joseph became joint managing directors. In the same year John designed a 'C' clamp for use in welding, initially for the company's workshops, but its sales potential soon became apparent, and large numbers were produced. Customers included Rolls Royce at Derby, and many engineer's merchants. Within a short time a whole range of clamps was introduced including the 'Buttress Clamp' for use on shallow work pieces, the 'Snap Clamp' for the DIY market, and the 'Flexitool' range of clamps for various craft industries. The clamps sold well at home and abroad. By 1964 the demand in the U.S.A. alone led to the formation of a distribution and service company in Florida.

An advert from 1954.

In the mid 1950s the company's range of capstan, combination turret, automatic, and copying lathes, and also their vertical and horizontal milling machines were used for repetition work such as light aircraft components,

In 1958 the company acquired the Guy Electrical Company, formerly based in Broughton Street, Birmingham. They manufactured flexible shaft grinding and polishing machines, rotary burrs, and small tools. The manufacture of these machines continued for several years under the Carver name, and the Guy Electrical Division became a distributor of portable industrial tools made by Bosch and Duplex.

Another important development took place in 1962 when John Hawley & Company of Walsall asked Carvers to build a tube bending machine for the manufacture of garden furniture. This led to the development of a whole range of bending machines for tubes and flat strip steel, featuring hydraulic and numerical control. Carvers also produced a range of light alloy drain plugs in standard sizes up to 36 inches.

New Premises

In order to increase production, more factory space was needed. The Eldon Street site was fully occupied and no suitable land could be found in the immediate area. The decision was taken to purchase a two and a half acre site, at Coppice Side Industrial Estate, in Brownhills. A new factory and offices were built at a cost of £75,000. The move to Brownhills took place over two days in November 1967, and went so smoothly that it had little impact on production. The extra space was soon fully utilised, and the workforce, and production increased accordingly.

In 1971 the bending machine part of the business was sold because it had become too vulnerable, depending upon the whims of the largest customers in the motor trade. It was replaced by the manufacture of caravan and boat heating appliances, manufactured under licence from Phillip Kreis of Munich. A year later John Carver became Chairman and Joseph Carver became sole Managing Director.

The number of heater products continued to grow, and within a few years there were seven liquid gas heaters in Carver's 'Trumatic' range. Carvers eventually sold the product range to Truma. Some years ago the business moved to its present location at Stoke Prior, Bromsgrove where clamps are still made.

Much of the information came from "200 Years of Carvers Walsall", published by the company in 1976.

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