The Patent Shaft & Axletree Company - Take Over

After the acquisition of Monway Works and Old Park Works, the company continued to prosper under the management of Thomas Walker.

The local iron ore contained too high a percentage of phosphorus, for reliable use with traditional smelters. This problem was overcome in 1879 with the invention of the Gilchrist-Thomas process, in which the converter had a lining of dolomite brick. The dolomite combined with the phosphorus to leave good quality steel.

The Patent Shaft acquired a furnace using this process in 1882, but difficulties led to its temporary abandonment. The company also used Siemens open-hearth regenerative furnaces, where the waste gases were used to heat the air for the blast. The furnaces were lined with refractory dolomite brick to allow them to efficiently use the local iron ore. They also had another advantage, they could use scrap.

At this time the company also had four 12 ton traditional Bessemer converters, and a 12 ton and an 8 ton Bessemer, both lined with dolomite brick. The slag from the furnaces was sold to Germany for use in agriculture.

In 1885 the company built the world's first steel bridge at Benares on the Ganges, which used 6,500 tons of steel, and in 1900 built a 7 span bridge at Natal in just 2 months.

The Patent Shaft blast furnace in about 1890.

The company had some financial difficulties in the late 1880s and so in 1889 a new company, using the same name was formed to take over the assets. The difficulties continued for a few years, during which time new plant and machinery was added to the factory. In 1891 work began on a new plate mill, and a mill for rolling steel channels at Brunswick works. In 1896 a new cogging mill and soaking pit were added. All of the new plant continued in use until 1958/59.

Brunswick Works in about 1895.

On the 18th April, 1902, the Patent Shaft & Axletree Company became part of the Metropolitan Amalgamated Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited, which had been proposed by Mr. Dudley Docker, who had joined the Patent Shaft's Board in 1899. The new company was formed with a share capital of £1.5m to take over the business of the Metropolitan Company and to amalgamate with the following rolling stock companies:

The Ashbury Railway Carriage and Iron Company Limited, Brown and Marshall's Company Limited, The Lancaster Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited, The Willingsworth Iron Company Limited and The Oldbury Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited.

The Patent Shaft became became part of a new conglomerate. From then-on until nationalisation in 1951, the Patent Shaft was wholly owned by the Metropolitan Company, and was treated as one of its branches.

An advert from 1900.

An advert from 1902.

An advert from 1909.

After the take over a considerable amount of development work was carried out including new buildings at Monway Works and Brunswick Works. The company spent over £300,000 on the new buildings, and new plant, including electrically driven machinery. The workforce greatly increased in size, and the new business prospered. Many of the double-decked trailers that were pulled by the local steam trams were built at the works during the early years of the 20th century.

An advert from 1909.

The business continued to thrive, even during the severe depression in 1907 when the annual profit was over £300,000.

In 1911 the company received an order from the Great Central Railway for 6,500 wagons, the frames for which were made at the Patent Shaft.

At the time, the Patent Shaft produced a wide range of products including: railway wheels, axles, patent weldless steel spoked wheels, rolled iron plates, steel plates, steel bridges, wrought iron and cast iron girders, constructional iron and steel work, wagon under frames, plant for gas works and water works, and every kind of pressed work.

Railway bridges had been built for all of the railway companies in the UK, and the company also built some of the largest bridges in Egypt, India, Japan, South Africa, and South America.

In 1912, Dudley Docker, the company's Chairman, proposed changing the name of the company from the Metropolitan Amalgamated Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited to the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Company Limited.

One of the spans built for the bridge over the Tugela River in South Africa, by the Patent Shaft in 1899.

The old Patent Shaft turntable that is in the town of Realicó, in the province of La Pampa, Argentina. Courtesy of Arch. Néstor D. Dalmasso.

The makers plate that is on the turntable above. Courtesy of Arch. Néstor D. Dalmasso.

An advert from 1916.

During the First World War the company concentrated on war work, and as a result made record profits. Products included gun carriages, railway mountings, and tanks. The tanks were built at Old Park Works, and shell steel was produced at Brunswick Works.

In 1919 it was decided that the whole of the wagon-building side of the business at Old Park Works should be managed by the Metropolitan Company, and the bridgework and other activities carried on there by Patent Shaft gradually diminished.

In 1919 the Metropolitan Company was purchased by Vickers Limited of Sheffield, and in 1929 Vickers Limited and Cammell Laird & Company of Birkenhead, amalgamated their steel making and carriage building businesses.

This resulted in the formation of the Metropolitan Cammell Railway Carriage and Wagon Company. The take over had one immediate effect at Wednesbury, the separation of Old Park Works and the Patent Shaft. Vickers, who had already been using part of Old Park Works took over the remainder.

In the early 1920s it was also decided that the manufacture of wheels, tyres, and axles at should take place at Taylor Bros & Company Limited, at Trafford Park, later a subsidiary of English Steel Corporation. That side of the company's business gradually diminished and finally ceased, so that steelmaking and rolling were its sole remaining activities.

The machine shop in the 1920s.

Development between the wars was limited, owing to continued depression in the steel industry, but a new open hearth steel plant, with three 75 ton basic furnaces was added, followed by a fourth furnace in 1938.

A letterhead from 1929.

A single 40 ton furnace from the old plant was retained and operated as an acid furnace. A scheme for the electrification of the 10 inch and 15 inch section mills, and a new furnace for the 15 inch mill was finally carried out between 1946 and 1951.

In 1949 Old Park Works were sold outright to Metropolitan Cammell to become part of the Metropolitan Cammell Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited, which also had factories at Elmdon, Saltley, and Washwood Heath.

In 1951 the company was nationalised under the Iron and Steel Act 1949, but returned to private ownership in 1956 when 75% of its shares were purchased by Cammell Laird, and the remaining 25% by Metropolitan Cammell. In 1959 its name was changed to the Patent Shaft Steel Works Limited, and by 1961 the company had 1,500 employees.

In the late 1950s a development scheme costing £8.75 million was undertaken with the aid of loans from the shareholders, and from Finance Corporation for Industry Limited. As part of the scheme the existing four 75 ton furnaces were converted from producer gas to oil firing, and the old 40 ton acid furnace was scrapped. The 10 inch mill was closed down, and two 75 ton oil fired furnaces were added. By this time the 15 inch section rolling mill produced over 300,000 tons of steel a year.

As a result, annual output increased nearly threefold to over 300,000 tons of ingots, 200,000 tons of plates, and 30,000 tons of bars and sections.

An advert from 1949.

Because the company now concentrated on steel making, its name was changed to The Patent Shaft Steel Works Limited, on 8th May, 1959. In 1962-63 improved finishing facilities were provided for the new plate mill, and in 1968-69 new buildings, cranes, and a reheating furnace for the 15 inch mill were added.

The Patent Shaft offices.

An advert from 1954.

An aerial view of Patent Shaft's Brunswick Works.

The blooming and slabbing mill at the steelworks.

On 1st January, 1969 Cammell Laird acquired the whole of the Vickers interest in the Metropolitan Company, so that Patent Shaft became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cammell Laird.

Shortly afterwards, the Patent Shaft share and loan account balances held by the Metropolitan Company were transferred to the parent company.

In 1969-70 an additional reheating furnace, increased slab storage and stacking facilities, and further improved finishing facilities were provided for the plate mill, and the steel plant capacity was increased by strengthening the building, installing a new 157 ton casting bay crane and converting the two newer furnaces to 118 tons capacity. Four of the other furnaces were converted to 98 tons capacity, and the output greatly increased.

On 25th September, 1970, following a reorganisation, Cammell Laird & Company Limited was renamed The Laird Group Limited. Record outputs were achieved in 1973 when 372,146 tons of ingots, 233,745 tons of plates, and 43,676 tons of sections were produced.

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