Industry in the Twentieth Century by etssetcf


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									Industry in the Twentieth Century

Women assembling switchgear at Crabtree’s in about 1930.
Courtesy of Electrium Sales Limited

New technological developments and a changing society at the start of
the twentieth century created new opportunities which local firms were
quick to exploit.
Rubery Owen was one of the first local firms to manufacture products
for the British motor industry. The firm was founded in Darlaston in 1884
by John Tunner Rubery, becoming Rubery Owen after Alfred Ernest Owen
joined the enterprise in 1893. Their products included a wide range of
iron work. The company produced its first motor car chassis in 1896, and
this was followed in 1911 by the introduction of products for the aviation
industry. Alfred Ernest Owen himself invented a pressed steel motor

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     Industry in the Twentieth Century

     chassis, enabling the construction of lighter, faster vehicles. By the 1960s,
     Rubery Owen was one of the largest manufacturing groups in Britain, with
     production plants across the country. The factory site at Darlaston alone
     employed 7,000 people. Unfortunately the economic problems of the 1970s
     badly affected the firm. The main Darlaston factory was forced to close in
     1981, with the loss of many jobs. The company scaled back its operations
     during the 1980s and 1990s, although it is still based in Darlaston today.
     Another local firm involved in the motor industry was Helliwell’s, who had
     been based at Aldridge Airfield since 1938, initially specialising in aircraft
     maintenance. In 1945 they acquired Swallow Sidecars, and were soon
     producing their own range of motor scooters. This was taken a stage
     further in 1954, with the introduction of the Swallow Doretti sports car.
     The car was well received, but pressure from rival car manufacturers led
     Helliwell’s to cease production of it only a year later. Former employees
     recalled that 500 chassis for the cars were ordered, but in the end only
     about 270 cars were completed. The remaining chassis were sold off or
     simply dumped.
     The increased use of electricity in homes and businesses from the
     early twentieth century onwards created another opportunity for local
     companies. John Ashworth Crabtree established a factory on Upper
     Rushall Street, Walsall, in 1919, making electrical apparatus such as
     switches, sockets and plugs. By the late 1920s the firm was able to
     move to a large purpose-built factory, the Lincoln Works, in Chuckery.
     Crabtree’s soon became one of the biggest private employers in the
     town, with a workforce of over 2,000 people. The importance of the
     firm was recognised by a Royal visit by Queen Elizabeth II in 1962. The
     company became Electrium in 1997, and two years later the Lincoln Works
     was closed and most production transferred to the Far East. Crabtree
     products may no longer be manufactured in the Borough, but many
     local residents who were once employed by the company retain happy
     memories of their working lives there.
     Local firms didn’t just manufacture new products, they utilised new
     materials as well. The Streetly Manufacturing Co. had begun making
     products from plastic during the First World War. In 1929 they were taken
     over by British Industrial Plastics (BIP), who had recently developed the
     world’s first white moulding powder for plastic, named Beetle. This new
     form of plastic was odourless, tasteless and could be produced in a range
     of colours. The Streetly Manufacturing Co. was soon manufacturing items

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Industry in the Twentieth Century

such as mugs and picnic sets from Beetle. These products proved to be
a great hit, with Woolworths rapidly becoming a major customer. Further
success followed with the launch of the Gaydon range of melamine
tableware in 1961. Gaydon products had an excellent reputation, being
light, colourful, well-designed and resistant to chipping and cracking.
During its heyday, the Streetly Manufacturing Co., was so busy that it had
to run a night shift in order to keep up with the demand for its products.
Despite this success, a refocusing of operations within its parent
company led to the closure of the Works in the mid-1990s, and there is
now a housing estate on its former site.
In Bloxwich, an innovative use of another new material, stainless steel,
was made by the Old Hall company. The firm had started life in 1893 as
the family-run business of J & J Wiggin, manufacturers of saddler’s
ironmongery. During the 1920s, they switched to making bathroom fittings
from stainless steel, a material which had only recently been perfected.
The firm began experimenting with the development of stainless steel
tablewares in 1928, producing the world’s first stainless steel teapot in
1930. The name ‘Old Hall’ was adopted for the company, from the former
Salvation Army hall where they were based. Tablewares soon became an
important part of their products, and in the 1950s they employed the
services of Robert Welch as a consultant designer. Welch produced many
brilliant and original designs for Old Hall, which won numerous awards.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, Old Hall tablewares found their way into
many homes in Britain and abroad. The late 1970s however, saw the firm’s
products undercut by a flood of cheap stainless steel imports from the
Far East. In 1984 the business was forced to close. Nevertheless, Old Hall
tablewares remain highly popular with collectors today.

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