My parents and the start of the family business

My father was a keen young motor cycle owner in the 1920s. I understand that dad was sitting on his bike, at the corner of Bridge Street in Hockley, when my mother came along the street and said to him: "Do I know you?" And that is how it all began. They were married in 1929 and obtained a rented house, 79 Carpenters Road, Lozells, Birmingham. In order to get possession of the property they had to buy its contents from the previous tenant, a Mr. Leadbeater. 

Shortly after they were married they converted the front room of this house into a cycle shop. My mother looked after it during the day time and my father did the repairs when he returned from work in the evening and at weekends. My mother was a tremendous asset to my father in the business field. My mother's father, William Toussaint, had a cycle component manufacturing business, in Bridge Street, Hockley. Prior to her marriage she looked after the office side of the business for her father and was therefore well experienced in this field and was absolutely brilliant at figure work.

Eventually they moved on from Carpenters Road and this was the end of the cycle business. 

In about 1934 they bought a new semi-detached house, 67 Foden Road, Great Barr, Birmingham, (shown in the photo on the left) for £250 - and wondered what they had let themselves in for with such a high capital expenditure on mortgage. 

I was born at Foden Road on 19th June 1936.

In 1938 my father joined Wilton & Co Stampings Ltd as the works manager. The origins of the company go back to about 1935 when it was founded as a sole trader business by a Mr Arkinstall, who lived in Wilton Road, Handsworth. From this was derived the name Wilton & Co. 

The principal product of the company was a bakelite spinner called the Pools-Poppet. The spinning part had a slot in it and was mounted on a base with a series of numbers and Xs, one of which appeared in the slot when the spinner stopped spinning.

It was used to select the numbers to fill in the football pool coupon. I have made a rough sketch of it on the right.  It sold quite well between 1938 and 1939, although the company was making heavy losses at that time.

Bernard Shewell was the Finance Director at Kalamazoo Ltd. He bought out Arkinstall's business for his eldest son, John, to run. Oliver Moorland, was also a Director. He was one of the founders of Kalamazoo. The company's auditor was Mr Jeff Gillett, of Littleboy Gillett & Co. All these gentlemen were Quakers. Mr Arkinstall was retained in the business as a director but he only served until the August 1939. 

On the 15 September 1939 the following was reported in the company Minute Book.

The Outbreak of War 1939:  The Chairman reported that Mr J. M. Shewell had been called up to the Royal Air Force on September 1st, three days before the declaration of war and that Harry Rollings was carrying on the management of the works.

The trading losses continued and at the Annual General Meeting in 1940 a loss of £836-13s- ld was reported. This was a difficult time due to the company changing over to the manufacture of goods for the war effort. My father secured orders from the Ministry of Defence for the manufacture of component parts for the Sten Gun Sear Mk 11 such as the magazine catch and the butt; and for a lot of 2" and 3" circular springs used inside shell ammunition and parachute connecting links.

On the 26th September 1941 Harry Rollings was appointed a Director of the company. In the following financial year, 1942, a profit of £1,596-4s-0d net was made. From this date the company has continued right up to the present time without making a loss in any year, although some trading years have been more satisfactory than others.

At the Annual General meeting on the 3rd September 1942 the following was reported to the meeting by J.B.Shewell, Chairman: "Wing Commander John Morland Shewell is reported missing and we earnestly hope that news of his safety may soon be received." Sadly the news that came later was not good. Below this entry is an addition: "John M Shewell never returned to us. He was killed on the borders of France and Germany on the night of August 24/25 1942. His memory will always be cherished by his Co-Directors".

Mabel Rollings.

The factory started to expand a new workshop was built over the yard. It was equipped with a new plant and machinery to enable the company to cope with its expanding order book. 

On the 22nd October 1943 my mother, Mabel Rollings, was appointed to the Board of Directors to fill the vacancy created by death of John Shewell.

She had taken an active interest in the company for several years in running the company's office, and she continued to do so up to the time of her demise in 1960.

My father and I when I was 12 years old.  The photo was taken at Wilton & Co's Annual Dinner in 1948 at the New Inns, Handsworth, Birmingham.

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