GKN - Moor Pool History

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1870 onward
 


GKN    Guest Keen and Nettlefolds

 
Of course without the successful business interests of the Nettlefold family Moor Pool would never have come into existence.

In 1826 the first John Sutton Nettlefold, then thought to be an ironmonger in Red Lion Street, London, founded a business for the production of wood screws at Sunbury-on-Thames, using an old water-mill to provide the power.

Some years later he saw at an industrial exhibition—possibly the Great Exhibition in 1851—an American patent which would greatly facilitate the manufacture of his screws. He was unable to put up sufficient money to acquire it, so invited his brother-in-law, Joseph Chamberlain, to go in with him in partnership. It is not clear whether this was before or after the little original business had so far expanded that he had already moved it up to Birmingham in order to obtain the greater industrial facilities to be had there. He and Joseph were both advanced in years and neither felt inclined to remove themselves to the Midlands, as now seemed desirable, so each sent a son, both named Joseph, to carry on the expanding business. The new factory was in Baskerville Place, off Broad Street, with offices in the latter adjoining it, and the firm was known as Nettlefold & Chamberlain. 

The introduction of automatic machinery greatly reduced the cost of production, and caused a great stimulus in demand. This led to the erection of a large new factory for those days in Heath Street. The main screwmill covered nearly three acres, and was completely equipped with automatic screw machines, the power transmission being entirely underground, and so no overhead belting was required. The foresight and capacity of the two original partners were great factors in consolidating the position of the firm.

Their sons came to Birmingham with a family tradition behind them of consideration for others and devotion to the furthering of political and municipal life. 

The son, Joseph Chamberlain was a constant visitor to the factories, and interested himself in classes and clubs for boys and men, in improving the public amenities of the town, etc., and became Mayor. His brothers Walter and Herbert were also connected with the firm and were like minded. Walter, living at Harborne Hall, took a prominent part in the formation of the Smethwick school board.

At some point these three brothers retired from the firm—Joseph specifically in order to devote himself to political work. Edward J. Nettlefold (still in London) and Joseph NettIefold were now getting on in years and young blood was needed so the two young Steers, Charles and Edward, now sold their business in London and joined the firm under their Uncle Joe and it is a proof of the flourishing state of the firm that the Chamberlain share in the business was paid off in three years. Edward Nettlefold’s sons Edward, Hugh, John and Godfrey were in turn brought into the business. It had now become known as Nettlefolds Ltd. Previously four other firms had been absorbed— Imperial Mills at Sheffield, Field and Cornforth, and lastly in 1866 the King’s Norton works and the firm of James and Avery. Both these last made wood screws and in addition King’s Norton now made screwdrivers, button hooks (to do up the then fashionable ladies’ button boots), cork-screws, tin and bottle openers, as well as box-making and label printing for the whole department.

In 1886 the parent company established a works at Rogerston, nr. Newport, Mon., for the production of steel bars, hoops and wire, and Edward Steer was sent to manage it. (Later John NettJefold, succeeded by his cousin Ronald Wyman, was sent to work under him.) Edward moved his family to Woodlands, a very charming family house at Malpas, then a small scattered village a short drive from Newport. Edward drove to work daily and made frequent business journeys to the board meetings held in Birmingham when he stayed the night either with Charles or with his bachelor friend George Kenrick in Edgbaston.

In 1901 two small works in Birmingham were bought up and closed down, and the work of wire drawing that they had done was transferred to Rogerston. It must have been at about this time that Elsa Steer, staying at Woodlands, was taken to see this process. It was a dusky November evening and the works were dark, but for the light from a huge cauldron high up in the roof and filled with molten steel. An enormous ladle stirred it up, the cauldron was tipped and a huge fiery stream fell sizzling to the ground where the men, their faces shining in the light, stood ready to seize it with long iron grabs and guide it between rollers, a great writhing snake on the floor, diminishing in size and brightness, till the required size was reached. It was an extraordinary scene, calling for a painter to put it on canvas. Possibly the process became outdated and the works at Rogerston no longer needed, for in later years the factory was taken over by Northern Aluminium and altered for their purposes. Around this time an entirely new factory was started at Cwmbran, and Edward made himself largely responsible for the building of a new church for the use of the employees on the housing estate that had to be built. Eva Pemberton and Elsa were present with Edward at the dedication by a very dull old bishop.

Sometime in the early days at Northfield, Charles Steer conceived the idea of forming a Union with the screw-makers on the Continent, and it must have been in connection with this that he made a visit t0 Russia and had a narrow escape from having his face frost-bitten. The journey was unfruitful, as was, apparently, a later one to the United States, but a number of the French, German and Belgian screw-makers were enthusiastic. Meetings were held in each country by turn, Charles always in the Chair, and there was a great spirit of co-operation amongst the members. After his death this Union seems to have lapsed. Mention has already been made of the little home of rest that Charles started at Northfield, and restarted at Stoke Prior, for the Nettlefold employees. He also inaugurated a canteen where the workpeople could get a good meal cheaply, the first thing of the sort, it is believed, in Birmingham at any rate.

In 1902 the important firm of Guest Keen, a near neighbour of Nettlefold Ltd., approached the latter with the suggestion that they should amalgamate, and here a short account of it may be of interest. The same year Crawshay Bros., Cyfarthfa Ltd., iron and steel manufacturers and colliery owners, was acquired, and the amalgamation with Nettlefold Ltd. was negotiated, the new company being titled Guest Keen Nettlefold. This fusion of interests was not accomplished without difficulty. There was strong opposition from many Nettlefold shareholders who were reluctant to see their old established and renowned business lose its separate identity. But the advantages of the proposal were evident. Guest Keen’s furnished products in the way of steel wire and the bars, which provided material for Nettlefold’s screws, and the works of the two concerns were contiguous at Smethwick and offered facilities for considerable economies in production. Arthur Keen retained the Chairmanship of the Board of Directors which comprised his two sons, with Edward Nettlefold and Charles and Edward Steer representing the newly acquired interests— 30,000 people were provided with employment. But still one has heard it said that Nettlefolds carried Guest Keen on its back! However that may be, it is well worthy of note that from the inception of each of the two great businesses before and after their amalgamation there has been complete accord between management and employees.


Tail-Piece Another length has been added to the little piece of family tapestry that Catherine Biddlecombe started to weave in response to the request of her friends more than a hundred years ago. One generation overlaps the next in all families, and so in different parts of the lengthening and broadening pattern therc arc many loose thread, left to be picked up by later generations of Charles Steers, Edward Steers, and Tollits and woven into the incomplete picture frm their own memnories, each for their, own branch of the family.

Much more could have been given about the way of life in the early days of the Nettlefolds and Chamberlains when they were still living in London, and also of their business, but a very good idea of it, together with a genealogical table, can be found in the early chapters of J. L. Garvin’s “Life of Joseph Chamberlain”, published by Macmillan and Co. in 1932.

This little book would never have seen the light of day but for the expert and most kind and patient assistance of Ailsa and Quintus Tollit in putting it into shape for the printer. The deepest thanks are owed to them for doing so.

April, 1957.
ELSA STEER, Mallards, Moulsford, Berks.

The London Gazette August 4th 1863


Notice is hereby given that the partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned, John Sutton Nettlefold, Edward John Nettlefold, Joseph Henry Nettlefold and Frederick Nettlefold, carrying on business as wholesale and retail ironmongers at No.54 High Holborn, in the county of Middlesex, under the style or firm as Nettlefold and Sons has been dissolved as of the 30th day of June last by mutual consent so far as regards the said John Sutton Nettlefold - Dated this 29th day of July 1863 
J. S. Nettlefold    E. J. Nettlefold    J. H. Nettlefold   F. Nettlefold

Amalgamation of Nettlefolds and Guest, Keen 

In 1826 John Sutton Nettlefold, then thought to be an ironmonger in Red Lion Street, London, founded a business for the production of wood screws at Sunbury-on-Thames, using an old water-mill to provide the power.

Some years later he saw at an industrial exhibition—possibly the Great Exhibition in 1851—an American patent which would greatly facilitate the manufacture of his screws. He was unable to put up sufficient money to acquire it, so invited his brother-in-law, Joseph Chamberlain, to go in with him in partnership. It is not clear whether this was before or after the little original business had so far expanded that he had already moved it up to Birmingham in order to obtain the greater industrial facilities to be had there. He and Joseph were both advanced in years and neither felt inclined to remove themselves to the Midlands, as now seemed desirable, so each sent a son, both named Joseph, to carry on the expanding business. The new factory was in Baskerville Place, off Broad Street, with offices in the latter adjoining it, and the firm was known as Nettlefold & Chamberlain. The introduction of automatic machinery greatly reduced the cost of production, and caused a great stimulus in demand. This led to the erection of a large new factory for those days in Heath Street. The main screwmill covered nearly three acres, and was completely equipped with automatic screw machines, the power transmission being entirely underground, and so no overhead belting was required. The foresight and capacity of the two original partners were great factors in consolidating the position of the firm. Their sons came to Birmingham with a family tradition behind them of consideration for others and devotion to the furthering of political and municipal life. Joseph Chamberlain was a constant visitor to the factories, and interested himself in classes and clubs for boys and men, in improving the public amenities of the town, etc., and became Mayor. His brothers Walter and Herbert were also connected with the firm and were like minded. Walter, living at Harborne Hall, took a prominent part in the formation of the Smethwick school board.

At some point these three brothers retired from the firm—Joseph specifically in order to devote himself to political work. Edward J. Nettlefold (still in London) and Joseph NettIefold were now getting on in years and young blood was needed so the two young Steers, Charles and Edward, now sold their business in London and joined the firm under their Uncle Joe and it is a proof of the flourishing state of the firm that the Chamberlain share in the business was paid off in three years. Edward Nettlefold’s sons Edward, Hugh, John and Godfrey were in turn brought into the business. It had now become known as Nettlefolds Ltd. Previously four other firms had been absorbed— Imperial Mills at Sheffield, Field and Cornforth, and lastly in 1866 the King’s Norton works and the firm of James and Avery. Both these last made wood screws and in addition King’s Norton now made screwdrivers, button hooks (to do up the then fashionable ladies’ button boots), cork-screws, tin and bottle openers, as well as box-making and label printing for the whole department.

In 1886 the parent company established a works at Rogerston, nr. Newport, Mon., for the production of steel bars, hoops and wire, and Edward Steer was sent to manage it. (Later John NettJefold, succeeded by his cousin Ronald Wyman, was sent to work under him.) Edward moved his family to Woodlands, a very charming family house at Malpas, then a small scattered village a short drive from Newport. Edward drove to work daily and made frequent business journeys to the board meetings held in Birmingham when he stayed the night either with Charles or with his bachelor friend George Kenrick in Edgbaston.

In 1901 two small works in Birmingham were bought up and closed down, and the work of wire drawing that they had done was transferred to Rogerston. It must have been at about this time that Elsa Steer, staying at Woodlands, was taken to see this process. It was a dusky November evening and the works were dark, but for the light from a huge cauldron high up in the roof and filled with molten steel. An enormous ladle stirred it up, the cauldron was tipped and a huge fiery stream fell sizzling to the ground where the men, their faces shining in the light, stood ready to seize it with long iron grabs and guide it between rollers, a great writhing snake on the floor, diminishing in size and brightness, till the required size was reached. It was an extraordinary scene, calling for a painter to put it on canvas. Possibly the process became outdated and the works at Rogerston no longer needed, for in later years the factory was taken over by Northern Aluminium and altered for their purposes. Around this time an entirely new factory was started at Cwmbran, and Edward made himself largely responsible for the building of a new church for the use of the employees on the housing estate that had to be built. Eva Pemberton and Elsa were present with Edward at the dedication by a very dull old bishop.

Sometime in the early days at Northfield, Charles Steer conceived the idea of forming a Union with the screw-makers on the Continent, and it must have been in connection with this that he made a visit t0 Russia and had a narrow escape from having his face frost-bitten. The journey was unfruitful, as was, apparently, a later one to the United States, but a number of the French, German and Belgian screw-makers were enthusiastic. Meetings were held in each country by turn, Charles always in the Chair, and there was a great spirit of co-operation amongst the members. After his death this Union seems to have lapsed. Mention has already been made of the little home of rest that Charles started at Northfield, and restarted at Stoke Prior, for the Nettlefold employees. He also inaugurated a canteen where the workpeople could get a good meal cheaply, the first thing of the sort, it is believed, in Birmingham at any rate.

In 1902 the important firm of Guest Keen, a near neighbour of Nettlefold Ltd., approached the latter with the suggestion that they should amalgamate, and here a short account of it may be of interest. The same year Crawshay Bros., Cyfarthfa Ltd., iron and steel manufacturers and colliery owners, was acquired, and the amalgamation with Nettlefold Ltd. was negotiated, the new company being titled Guest Keen Nettlefold. This fusion of interests was not accomplished without difficulty. There was strong opposition from many Nettlefold shareholders who were reluctant to see their old established and renowned business lose its separate identity. But the advantages of the proposal were evident. Guest Keen’s furnished products in the way of steel wire and the bars, which provided material for Nettlefold’s screws, and the works of the two concerns were contiguous at Smethwick and offered facilities for considerable economies in production. Arthur Keen retained the Chairmanship of the Board of Directors which comprised his two sons, with Edward Nettlefold and Charles and Edward Steer representing the newly acquired interests— 30,000 people were provided with employment. But still one has heard it said that Nettlefolds carried Guest Keen on its back! However that may be, it is well worthy of note that from the inception of each of the two great businesses before and after their amalgamation there has been complete accord between management and employees.

Screw Making

Screws .—­In olden days the threads of a screw had to be filed out by hand, and the head struck up on the anvil. The next step was to turn them in a lathe, but in 1849 a Gerimn clockmaker invented a machine by which females could make them five times as fast as the most skilful workman, and, as usual, the supply created a demand; the trade for a few years received many additions, and the “screw girders,” as the hard-working lasses were called, were to be met with in many parts of the town. 1852, 1,500 hands were employed, the output being from 20 to 25 tons per week, or 2,000,000 gross per year. Gradually, however, by the introduction and patenting of many improvements in the machinery, the girls were, in a great measure, dispensed with, and their employers as well, Messrs. Nettlefold and Chamberlain having, in 1865, nearly the whole trade in their hands, and sending out 150,000 gross of screws per week. Nearly 2,000 people are employed at Nettlefold’s, including women and girls, who feed and attend the screw and nail-making machines. Notwithstanding the really complicated workings of the machines, the making of a screw seems to a casual visitor but a simple thing. From a coil of wire a piece is cut of the right length by one machine, which roughly forms a head and passes it on to another, in which the blank has its head nicely shaped, shaved, and “nicked” by a revolving saw. It than passes by an automatic feeder into the next machine where it is pointed and “wormed,” and sent to be shook clear of the “swaff” of shaving cut out for the worm. Washing and polishing in revolving barrels precedes the examination of every single screw, a machine placing them one by one so that none can be missed sight of. Most of the 2,000 machines in use are of American invention, but improved and extended, all machinery and tools of every description being made by the firm’s own workpeople.


 
 
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