A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 7, the City of Birmingham. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1964.
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INDUSTRY AND TRADE, 1880-1960
The Size of the Business Unit or Establishment, p. 141. The Growth of the Integrated Firm, p. 154. Price Associations and Trusts, p. 163. Financial and Managerial Changes in the Firm, p. 167. Occupational Distribution of Labour, p. 171. Labour Relations and Welfare, p. 178. External Associations of the Firm, p. 184. Marketing Conditions, p. 190. New Techniques, Materials, and Products, p. 197.
THE SIZE OF THE BUSINESS UNIT OR ESTABLISHMENT
Between 1880 and 1960 new influences played upon the existing industrial structure in Birmingham but the metal industry continued in its predominant role, although changing in character with the times. The traditional individualism of the Birmingham man, whether as employer or worker, gave way to various forms of co-operative activity in groups such as trade unions, price and trade associations, mergers, and co-operative enterprises. Some of the small concerns typical of 19thcentury industry were replaced by or expanded into firms large both in technique and in organization. These units and the whole economy were increasingly influenced and controlled by the government.
Meanwhile, trading conditions became harder with growing competition and mounting tariff protection at home and abroad. Exports took a smaller proportion of output. Raw materials were purchased from farther afield and new sources of power were harnessed to supplement home-produced coal. The motor vehicle challenged the railway and canal. These and other factors affected the location of industry.
In the internal organization of the firm the trained man gradually took the place of the talented improvisor in management, while mechanization increased the numbers of semi-skilled and unskilled workers, reducing the training required for many jobs. The entrepreneur gave way to the inarticulate shareholder with limited liability and to the professional manager with an increasing office staff at his back. All together these forces produced a considerable revolution in the character and appearance of Birmingham industry over these eighty years.
One of the most outstanding features since 1880, nationally and in Birmingham, has been the continuous increase in the size both of the business unit and of the business concern. The extent and statistical basis of this growth needs detailed consideration since it lies at the heart of the industrial story, varying in degree from trade to trade but common to all and throwing into sharp relief the contrasting fortunes of the expanding modern trades and the declining 19th-century ones. The economic basis of this growth in scale was briefly stated by the Balfour Committee thus:
'Among the forces operating to increase the scale of production are the extended possibilities of specialization, subdivision of processes, and use of mechanical power and elaborate machinery, and all the other well known advantages which tend to make mass production cheaper than production on a small scale. . . On the other hand have to be weighed the increasing difficulties of control and higher direction, the possible weakening of the "personal touch", the limitations of markets and other factors which impose restrictions on the size of the business unit which can be most economically managed.'
While saying this, the committee agreed that the typical scale of production which results from a balance of these factors has tended to grow with the development of new industrial methods. (fn. 1)
Other influences unmentioned by the committee have also been at work. The pressure of competition, both home and foreign, has forced firms to adopt these cheaper methods, with the incidental increase in size. The trend has been strengthened in Birmingham by the decline in the relative importance of those trades for which a smaller scale was economically practical, and by the elimination in other trades of the smaller firms which failed to or could not afford to adopt the new techniques. Parallel with this has been the expansion of the new industries which started on a relatively large scale, and in which firms often became still larger by amalgamation and commercial success. The integration of processes and the inclusion of outworkers to make a unit more self-contained have also increased its size. This growth was made possible by changes in transport, particularly in widening the area from which labour could be drawn. The need to find room for expansion and for the large open shop layout required by the new techniques has, however, often necessitated movement from the centre of the town. This has been further encouraged by the availability of cheaper sites, with lower rates and with positions on the arterial roads and room for further expansion. Also important in making practicable the growth in size was the availability with the development of joint-stock organization of trained and trustworthy managers and executives, professional men quite unconnected with the firm's owners, and of the capital supplies required. New sales techniques provided for the distribution of the larger production.
The growth in scale was a gradual development, spreading through the Birmingham economy. In 1880 the only important trade in which the large establishment existed exclusively was the military rifle trade. (fn. 2) Machinery was also used to a considerable extent in the wire, screw, tube, sheet-metal, pin, cut-nail, ammunition, and coining trades. These metal trades became more mechanized still and mechanization spread to others so that by 1914 hand labour had been largely superseded although mass production and standardization had not gone far except in military rifles, tyres, cycles, and engineering, (fn. 3) and amongst the most progressive firms in other trades. The majority of firms was still Victorian in method and scale. The First World War speeded up and further extended the trend. By 1927 there were many Birmingham concerns employing several thousand workers and average size had increased in every trade except the declining ones — jewellery, leather and gun manufacture — and some larger plants then existed in these trades. Nevertheless, opportunities remained for the small man in cycle and car repairing, key-making, and electrical contracting, and production of accessories. (fn. 4)
It is not easy to back these statements up with statistics. The factory inspectors can help a little for their Birmingham district. In the 1890s their figures suggest an average of some forty workers per factory. (fn. 5) The official distinction between a factory and a workshop was at first one of size (fifty workers being the dividing line) and then one of power — a 'workshop' having no power. Thus, the average would have been lower if the workshops had been included. In Warwickshire as a whole in 1895 the average number employed in factories was 26.3 and in workshops 9.4, that is 20.7 persons per works or half that calculated for Birmingham factories. For Birmingham, employment figures have not been found, but the numbers of factories and workshops at various times during the period are available. In 1895 there were 3,321 factories and 3,872 workshops; in 1910 the respective totals were 3,193 and 4,868; in 1931, 5,856 and 2,545; and in 1951, 7,877 and 726. The decline in the number of workshops, continuous since 1910, indicates the growing importance of the larger establishment employing some kind of power-driven machinery. (fn. 6) The position in the late 1950s is clearer and the local figures can be compared with the national ones to indicate local differences (see Table 1).
Despite increasing scale, 76 per cent. of the Birmingham establishments in 1957 employed between eleven and 99 workers and less than one per cent. over two thousand workers. Nationally, however, and probably locally too, only some 20 per cent. of the total workers were employed in these small works, while an almost equal number worked in the very large factory. The average size of establishment calculated from the national figures was 141 workers. Establishments employing under ten persons are not included in the table at all; if they had been the percentage of workers employed in works employing under a hundred might well have reached 40 per cent. (fn. 7)
|Distribution of Workers in the Metal Trades by Size of Establishment a|
|Workers per plant||Plants||Employment|
|Number||% of total||Number||% of total|
More detailed figures are available for the metal trade alone. Table 2 sets out the distribution in 1949 of plants and employment in Birmingham and the Black Country for the metal trades (including jewellery and guns). (fn. 8) The 3,599 plants with over ten workers are further analysed in Table 3.
The figures given in these tables indicate that although the very small plant did not provide much of the total employment in 1949 yet it remained of considerable importance numerically, and perhaps psychologically, in giving the satisfying illusion to many that Birmingham was still the home of the small firm.
Much more valuable than the overall figures are the changes in size associated with individual trades since 1880 and comparisons between trades at different dates. There is a clear distinction in the scale of production between the trades important in 1880 and those which have become important since. The intention here is to indicate with the aid of such figures as are available what is meant by 'large' and 'small' in each trade as these differ very considerably. Averages and percentages of numbers of employees or plants are backed up by figures for employment in particular typical, well-known, or large concerns at different dates. In some trades, national figures have to suffice. Except for large firms, the plant and the firm will normally be one and the same. The traditional Birmingham trades will be examined first.
|Distribution of Workers in the Metal Trades by Size of Larger Establishment a|
|Workers per plant||Number of plants||% of plants|
|200 and over||499||14|
In the gun trade the military and the sporting gun are manufactured on a quite different scale. On the military side, while the trade has had a chequered career, production has been by a few large units throughout the period, the main producer being the government-run factory at Enfield (Mdx.). Indeed, on several occasions, for instance 1870 and in the years 1882 to 1884 and after the Boer War, private military rifle production was entirely concentrated in the Birmingham Small Arms' wellappointed factory at Small Heath. From 1872 until its winding up in 1883 the National Arms and Ammunition Company, formed to take over the Westley Richards Arms and Ammunition Company, the Ludlow cartridge works, and to build a new factory, was also in the trade. (fn. 9) Six hundred were employed in their new Holford Works in 1873. (fn. 10) With the revival of demand in the eighties and particularly after 1890, new large concerns like the Gatling Gun Company (registered 1888) opened but were forced to close again or go into other lines after the Boer War. Even the Birmingham Small Arms Company had to enter other trades, albeit very successfully, to supplement falling, or non-existent, (fn. 11) demand.
On the sporting-gun side only barrel making, stamping, and action loading were done by machinery by 1914; (fn. 12) otherwise, outworkers co-ordinated by gunmasters, who delegated and assembled work often without a factory of their own, were the rule. Little change has taken place in method since 1860 in this side of the gun trade, machinery being employed merely to assist, not replace, hand labour; indeed, stand renting and outwork still continue. (fn. 13) The trade has, however, steadily declined and is now negligible in the total employment of the town. Birmingham Small Arms alone have produced sporting and air guns by machinery, since 1890, although attempts to do this were made by the trade as a whole and by individual firms, such as C. G. Bonehill in the 1880s. (fn. 14)
In both the military and the sporting gun trade there were no factories in 1914 with a hundred, and few in 1927 with 50 workers, (fn. 15) apart from gunmakers employing outworkers and the Birmingham Small Arms Company, whose interests were by then diverse. Particular firms in the late 19th century employed over 100 workers at particular times. They included, for instance, Charles Reeves, with 400 making rifles and swords in 1864, (fn. 16) Ward and Son (still existing in 1960), with between 120 and 150 workers in 1894, (fn. 17) and C. G. Bonehill at the time of his attempt to enter the machinemade gun trade in 1883. (fn. 18)
|Distribution of Workers in the Gun Trade by Size of Establishment a|
|Workers per plant||Plants||Number Employed||% of workers|
|200 and over||4||2,209||84|
In 1924 the census takers found that 16.6 per cent. of national output came from plants employing under ten workers. (fn. 19) In 1935, of the 31 plants employing over ten workers apiece, eighteen were in the Midlands, with 938 of the total 1,400 workers in them, outworkers being excluded from the count. In 1949 it was found that 51 establishments employing 2,651 workers remained in the trade in Birmingham and the Black Country. The size distribution of these is given in Table 4.
The four largest plants were self-contained concerns, using considerable machinery and probably some form of line production. (fn. 20) The Birmingham Small Arms factory, now at Shirley, was included among them.
In jewellery, the other trade traditionally associated with Birmingham, the convenience of the gas engine and better trade had produced some large concerns by 1900 but the large unit was still exceptional in 1914, though not as exceptional as some authorities seem to consider. (fn. 21) G. E. Walton, said to be the largest watch-key, and gold and silver chainmakers in the world, employed as many as 300 in 1887, (fn. 22) and numerous other examples of firms employing over 100 workers have been found. Certainly, the small factory as opposed to the mere workshop was spreading, scale varying with the article made. Wedding rings were still made by outworkers in 1914 and even in 1952 twenty workers constituted a large firm in this line. (fn. 23) In high class jewellery, few firms exceeded 40 employees in 1914; in 1952 the largest firms employed between 100 and 120 workers in self-contained factories. (fn. 24) In silverware, a firm of 150 workers was considered large in 1914, and some of 250 workers existed in 1952, (fn. 25) while chains have been made in small factories since 1860, with machinery in use since 1914. In costume jewellery, the average in 1952 was 40 workers but one firm at least employed 200. (fn. 26)
One large firm, Elkington's, has commanded the electroplate trade since their patent of 1838. They employed between 700 and 800 workers in 1860, (fn. 27) rising to 2,000 in 1887. (fn. 28) The firm, now a subsidiary of Delta Metal, moved to Walsall after the Second World War. A few other large firms had grown up by 1927 on the plating side to supply standardized articles to the hotel, shipping and railway lines. (fn. 29) Bullion refining is another side of the industry working on a larger scale, in this case resulting from the equipment and research needed. Nevertheless, whatever the article made, scale in the jewellery trade was, and is, relatively small. Even these exceptional instances are small compared with many other trades. Several recent inquiries support this. (fn. 30) An inquiry of 1946, (fn. 31) for example, found 191 firms employing 1,000 persons between them in the real jewellery trade in Birmingham and 109 employing between 4,000 and 5,000 in imitation and fashion jewellery, a few of the latter firms having up to 250 employees. Sixty per cent. of output, however, still came from those employing under ten persons.
By contrast, the steel-pen, or, more accurately, pen-nib trade, has always been a factory trade with a few firms manufacturing on a large scale, factory organization being found convenient for co-ordination of unskilled presswork rather than as a consequence of the use of power machinery. (fn. 32) In 1884 only about twenty names are listed for this trade in a Birmingham directory; by 1914 there were but ten or eleven producers, the largest employing about 1,000 workers, the average 450. (fn. 33) Joseph Gillott and Sons, a firm resident (1960) in Dudley, employed between 500 and 600, mainly women, in 1864, (fn. 34) and 350 in 1897 and 1927. (fn. 35) Hinks, Wells and Company employed 500 in the 1900s. (fn. 36) W. E. Wiley, said to be the largest maker of gold pens and pencil cases in the world, had 300 workers in 1878, (fn. 37) by which time the firm had entered the group controlled by the largest producer of all, Perry and Company, who had as many as 1,500 workers in 1891, not exclusively, however, in the pen trade. (fn. 38) Certainly, therefore, the pen trade could be said to be on a large scale long before 1900. When the demand for pens declined, the suitability of the machinery, largely presses, for stationers' sundries and small metalwares enabled most firms to maintain their size. In 1949 1,845 or 69 per cent. of the workers in the trade were employed in four plants with between 200 and 1,500 workers each and only one per cent. in the three plants employing between one and 24 workers. There was still a total of seventeen plants and 2,662 workers in the trade in Birmingham and the Black Country. (fn. 39)
In the edge-tool industry (spades, hoes, chisels, and similar articles) in Birmingham and the Black Country there were by 1914 some six firms monopolizing the trade, employing between 200 and 700 workers each, the small firms having become less important since 1880. (fn. 40) In Birmingham, for example, Robert Mole and Sons, one of the two firms able to undertake government sword contracts, employed 100 in 1894; (fn. 41) John Yates and Company 400 in both 1864 (fn. 42) and 1891; (fn. 43) and Ralph Martindale and Company, who had changed over from making guns to making cane cutters and the like after 1870, 300, plus outworkers, in 1911. (fn. 44) They have since become the proprietors of Robert Mole. These were among the largest firms in the trade.
In 1949 in the heavy edge-tool industry only six plants, employing just one per cent. of the workers, had under ten employees each. Sixty-five per cent. of workers were in the eight plants employing between 200 and 749, and the remainder in firms employing between ten and 200. A total of 43 plants and 3,943 workers were in the trade, including those in the Black Country. (fn. 45) No plant, therefore, had over 750 workers.
In the leather trade, tanning, centred in Walsall, was mechanized and on a large scale before 1914. For the fancy and finished leather goods side, including saddlery and harness, little power machinery was employed, although the Birmingham section of the trade was noticeably more mechanized than that in Walsall. (fn. 46) One sewing machine, of the type patented by Singer in 1851 and perfected by 1880, could by then replace 50 hand stitchers, (fn. 47) and in 1948 686 of Singer's machines were spread between 55 firms in Birmingham, with 50 per cent. of them being owned by six firms; one firm alone had 120, and another two 50 each. (fn. 48)
By 1914 few firms in this trade in either town could boast more than a hundred workers, and the average was about 30. (fn. 49) Moreover, because of the decline in demand, many firms were smaller than in the prosperous early eighties. By 1927 200 workers still made a large firm and opportunities were many for the firm with under 20 workers; (fn. 50) indeed, in 1924, 18.2 per cent. of national production came from those with under ten workers. (fn. 51) Government and export work had always been given out to the larger concerns such as D. Mason and Sons, who had 200 workers in 1889, (fn. 52) or William Middlemore, with 400 workers in 1860 and considered one of the largest firms in the country, (fn. 53) although they in turn gave out some work to smaller neighbours in busy times.
In 1935, over the whole country, there were only four plants in this trade employing over 300 workers and another seven with between 200 and 300. In the Midlands, 85 plants employed 4,766 workers between them, giving an average of 56 workers per plant, (fn. 54) and indicating a relatively small scale of manufacture.
On the cycle-saddle side of the industry the firms were usually small, although there was one large concern employing 1,000 workers in 1914. (fn. 55) The firm of Middlemore and Lamplugh, formed in 1896 by amalgamation, was another large producer before the First World War, though it was, as we have seen, not confined to the cycle-saddle trade. Since then, the few firms in the trade have tended to grow larger.
In 1935 2,733,000 cycle saddles were made by ten firms, the largest being J. B. Brooks, who in the 1950s commanded some 60 per cent. of national saddle production, a trade concentrated in Birmingham. Dunlop's entered the field with foam rubber saddles in 1928. Recently, eight per cent. of the workers in Birmingham and the Black Country were in the four plants employing between ten and 49, the remaining 1,411 workers being in the six plants employing up to 800 workers each. (fn. 56)
In the glass trade little change in size took place after 1860. On the whole the trade was declining in the town. The Flint Glass Makers' Friendly Society claimed only sixty members in Birmingham by the mid-1920s and reported nine glass furnaces closed since 1914. (fn. 57) The main centre of the trade in any case had always been at Stourbridge and the principal local firm, Chance Brothers of Smethwick, who employed 2,000 in 1884, (fn. 58) lay just outside Birmingham.
Birmingham firms were smaller in size and mainly engaged in the trades using glass as part of such finished products as mirrors, chandeliers, and car windscreens. William Gammon is known to have employed between 150 and 200 in the 1870s making table ware and lamps; (fn. 59) O. C. Hawkes, the mirror and overmantel makers, who were established in 1857 but had only seven workers as late as 1870, rapidly became the largest firm in this line in the country, employing 300 in 1878 and 800 in 1899 as a result of their commercial success rather than a change in technique. (fn. 60) F. and C. Osler employed 100 in 1900 in making crystal-glass and metal light fittings. (fn. 61)
In the brush trade scale was small but mechanization increased after the Trade Board for the industry cut out the cheap labour before the First World War. About fifty firms were then in the trade locally. (fn. 62) In 1891 at least one firm, Lee and Burman, employed over 100 workers. (fn. 63) In 1935 the Midlands had 22 plants employing 1,372 workers in the trade. Many of these were not, however, in Birmingham itself, but at Stoke Prior working for L. G. Harris. (fn. 64) These figures compare with 159 plants and 10,971 workers nationally—only three of which plants employed over 400 workers. Scale was therefore small compared to other trades.
Owing to the dimensions of the final product, the manufacture of railway rolling stock has always taken place in large concerns. In 1884, for instance, the Metropolitan Railway Carriage and Brown, Marshalls and Co. both employed about 1,100 workers at Saltley. (fn. 65) In 1914 some local plants employed from 800 to 3,000 workers (fn. 66) and in 1927 some were employing between 2,000 and 5,000. (fn. 67) In 1949, although one per cent. of the workers was still in plants employing under ten workers and seven per cent. in the fourteen plants employing between 11 and 99, the remaining six plants between them employed 92 per cent. or 7,979 workers. A total of 9,033 workers were employed in forty works. (fn. 68)
The screw trade was mechanized by the 1880s with Nettlefolds in a commanding position, employing 3,000 in 1914. (fn. 69) There was room, however, for small concerns to make special types of screws economically. Hawkins and Company and Herbert W. Periam, for instance, each employed 150 workers on this sort of work in the 1890s. (fn. 70) Metal thread screws for vehicles have supplemented the declining demand for wood screws since 1900. In 1949 there were reported to be 40 plants in Birmingham and the Black Country employing a total of 5,109 workers; seven of these plants employed only 28 workers between them but, at the other end of the scale, 2,343 or 46 per cent. of. the workers were employed in the three plants having between 400 and 750 workers. (fn. 71)
Scale of manufacture in the nut and bolt trade grew rapidly after 1880 and small scale production units gave way to several factories before 1914. By 1927 employment was mainly in plants with between 200 and 1,400 workers. (fn. 72) The main seat of the trade was, however, at Darlaston. Demand from building and oversea railways was replaced by demand from the electrical-engineering, machine-tool, cycle, and motor trades, and later the engineering trade required bright machined nuts and bolts. (fn. 73) In 1949 one per cent. of the workers was employed in plants with under ten workers and 48 per cent. in those with between 750 and 1,500 workers, making up a total in Birmingham and the Black Country of 90 plants and 15,281 workers. (fn. 74)
Conditions in the nail trade varied considerably between the different types of nails. In the production of wrought nails in the villages on the periphery of south-west Birmingham, domestic workers remained until the trade died out, actual manufacture being on a small scale. In his heyday, in the 1870s, however, the large nailmaster might have had 1,500 such workers on the books. (fn. 75) Eliza Tinsley of Sedgeley, who died in 1882, had employed 3,000 at one time. (fn. 76) By 1880 the wrought nail was giving way to the machine made cut-nail. In turn, the size of unit in cut-nails fell as demand moved to the wire-nail. At the 1935 census, using the national figures, the average plant in the nail trade had 120 workers. (fn. 77)
The nature of ferrous-tube manufacture demanded a large scale to facilitate the manipulation of the heavy materials. By 1914 there were three or four large plants in the welded tube trade, the largest employing some 3,000 hands. (fn. 78) Most of the small firms had disappeared, and competition with weldless tubes was serious.
The weldless or seamless steel tube began to be manufactured on a large scale in the eighties, particularly for the cycle trade. By 1927 the typical plant employed about 600 workers, and the largest 1,650. (fn. 79) Moreover, each worker controlled a large amount of capital equipment making employment a poor estimate of size. In 1949, in Birmingham and the Black Country, scale was predominantly large in the iron and steel tube trade and smaller in tube fittings. (fn. 80) Seventy-three per cent. of plants in the welded-tube trade employed 400 and over; 81 per cent. of the plants in the solid drawn-tube trade employed between 750 and 2,500. Only 43 per cent. of tube-fitting plants had 100 or more workers. Several important national steel-tube concerns operated locally, including Stewarts and Lloyds, and Tube Investments.
The scale of production in the making of hollow-ware has varied with the material used. In the old black hollow-ware branch of the trade, small firms have persisted as the trade declined. In galvanized hollow-ware, in both 1914 and 1927, a few firms reached 200 workers on the standardized side of the trade taking the place of the outworker and workshop of the 19th century. In enamelled stamped steel hollow-ware, a relatively new side of the trade which included steel goods, sanitary ware, and stoves, the typical unit by 1914 was the plant employing between 250 and 300 workers, and the largest a concern employing 800 workers in both 1914 and 1927. (fn. 81) In aluminium hollow-ware, which developed only in the 20th century, the unit was rather larger, but the largest firm, London Aluminium of Witton, only employed 400 in 1927. (fn. 82) The same differences in scale remained in 1949. (fn. 83)
The metal smallwares trade included the making of anything small in metal, and firms making such goods as buttons, hooks and eyes, pins, buckles, and pens turned to small wares when their own trades declined. The machinery employed by all was the press, the large firms having power presses and the small ones hand presses. Firms varied between jobbing work and steady contracts for the motor and engineering trades. (fn. 84) The button trade may be taken as an example of the size structure.
In this traditional Birmingham trade many variations in size existed, from the garret master upwards. The largest firm, Buttons Limited, an amalgamation of four local firms in 1907, employed 2,000 workers or half of those in the whole trade in 1914. (fn. 85) There were then several firms employing between 50 and 150 hands, (fn. 86) but the garret masters were disappearing. On the pearl button side, it was economic for very small operators to cut blanks for the larger button makers from the scrap pearl left by fancy goods makers. (fn. 87) Earlier, when trade conditions had been easier, larger firms had been common: William Aston, for instance, employed between 700 and 800 in the 1860s; (fn. 88) Smith and Wright 1,000 in 1889; (fn. 89) Watts and Manton, later part of the combine, 470 workers inside and 100 outworkers in 1871. (fn. 90) Comparison is made more difficult by the mixture of buttons, along with other metal wares, made by some firms. Linen, metal, silk and pearl were common as well as horn and compositions such as would be termed plastics today. The 'erinoid' button made in Stroud, for instance, was a threat to the trade in the 1920s.
Separate figures are not given for the button trade in the census inquiries, but the Trade Board, set up in 1919, reported 109 firms in Birmingham in 1925, (fn. 91) although in 1928 eleven firms controlled 80 per cent. of national output. (fn. 92) In small wares, as a whole, 242 plants employed, in 1949, 5,863 workers, 35 per cent. in the twelve largest plants with between 100 and 749 workers, and 11 per cent. in plants with under 10 workers. In hooks and eyes fewer than three plants employed over 1,000 workers, (fn. 93) one firm being predominant. (fn. 94) In the buckle trade, 79 per cent. of the workers were employed in the largest plants employing between 100 and 399 workers. Thus 300 workers constituted a large firm in this trade.
The manufacture of brass and other non-ferrous metals was a trade which was changing with the needs of fashion and other industries. It was the only basic 19thcentury Birmingham trade which continued to grow by serving the new industries of the area. Scale varied according to the particular section of the trade, but, on the other hand, few firms specialized exclusively in any particular section.
In the metallic-bedstead trade, where the better class bed frames were made of brass and the worse of iron, the size of plant fell as trade declined after 1890 and the number of producers increased. (fn. 95) Some concerns had been quite large. Middleton's Bedstead Company, for instance, employed 300 workers in 1891 and S. B. Whitfield and Company 200 at the same date. (fn. 96) The trade was, however, generally carried on in conjunction with other brass or iron articles and, with its decline, metal furniture and other articles were made.
In 1914 firms in the lighting and cabinet brass-foundry trade commonly employed between 200 and 300. (fn. 97) Larger firms in this line were Robert Walter Winfield and Company, which went out of existence in the nineties with the last of the Winfield family, with 800 employees in 1860, (fn. 98) and James Cartland and Sons, with between 600 and 700 in 1899, which lasted until 1954. (fn. 99) Scale as judged by employment has tended to fall, however, and William Tonks, later Tonks (Birmingham), employed 370 in 1871, (fn. 100) 170 in 1907 (fn. 101) and 200 in 1950. In cock founding several factories employing between 100 and 150 workers had appeared by 1914, although no power had been used in this trade until after 1900, when division of labour was applied and firms began to specialize in particular types of cocks. (fn. 102) In coffin furniture a combination, Ingall, Parsons, Clive and Company, had been formed out of fifteen firms in 1888, and in 1928 600 were employed by this the largest firm in the trade. (fn. 103) In general the changeover in this trade from stamping to pressure die-casting required a larger capital equipment and a higher output to make this improvement economical.
Several large non-specialized firms existed in 1914 making non-ferrous sheets, tubes and finished articles. (fn. 104) Kynoch's, now I.C.I. Metals, was one such firm. Another was Evered and Company, with 1,000 employed in their Birmingham works and 300 in their Smethwick works in 1900. (fn. 105) Some firms of over 2,000 workers existed by 1927. (fn. 106) In 1949 75 per cent. of the workers in brass and copper rolling and 67 per cent. in brass-tube making were in plants of over 400 workers, and, in brass extruding, all plants lay within the range employing between 100 and 749 workers. On the finished products side in 1949 in Birmingham and the Black Country a few large plants absorbed most of the workers though none employed over 400. (fn. 107)
In contrast to these traditional trades, in which Birmingham was a particularly important centre and in which scale expanded slowly with increased mechanization, the new industries, which began to be important from the 1890s onwards, tended to be very much larger in scale, more rapidly mechanized and less exclusively localized in Birmingham. The earliest of these was the cycle trade.
Many small cycle firms buying parts from outside and assembling them existed in the eighties. Harry James, later the James Cycle Company and now part of Tube Investments, employed 160 in 1891 in such a firm. (fn. 108) By 1895, however, large units were appearing, not necessarily as yet displacing the small manufacturer. William Bown, who was the first to use ball bearings in a cycle in 1877, gave employment to between 600 and 700 as early as 1889 (fn. 109) and to 1,250 by 1894 in two works, (fn. 110) although the firm became unprofitable soon after this. (fn. 111) The Osmond Cycle Company which later joined up with James had between 500 and 600 workers when visited by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1897. (fn. 112) Since then the larger units have grown still larger as the advantages of more mass production increased and the small man has been confined to the repair, the accessory and the specialist racing or tradesman-cycle side of the industry. In 1960 the trade is dominated by Tube Investments in the guise of the British Cycle Corporation. In 1949 82 per cent. of the workers were employed in plants employing from 400 to 3,000 workers and only a mere two per cent. worked in plants with under 10 workers; on the components side, scale was smaller, with 58 per cent. employed in the largest plants, those of between 400 and 1,499 workers, compared with one per cent. in those employing under ten. (fn. 113)
The picture in the motor industry shows a similar trend to the cycle trade except that its recent progress has far outstripped that of the languishing cycle trade. Large and small plants have succeeded in existing side by side but the vast majority of the output now comes from the few large producers. In 1914 the typical firm could employ from a few hundred to a few thousand workers. (fn. 114) The largest concern in Birmingham, the Austin Motor Company, employed about 800 in 1907, (fn. 115) 10,000 in 1927, (fn. 116) 14,000 in 1934, (fn. 117) and 18,500 in 1948. (fn. 118) In 1934 1,500 cars were produced a week; weekly output in 1960 reached 6,758 cars from a labour force not proportionately larger. In 1949, in Birmingham and the Black Country, 26 plants employed 42,283 workers, six of these plants taking 28,638 workers between them in plants of over 2,500 workers each. There were, however, still four plants employing under 100 workers. (fn. 119) Large scale methods in this industry, therefore, entailed the employment of a few thousand rather than a few hundred workers, quite apart from a huge investment in capital equipment.
On the accessory, car body, and components side a true picture is hard to obtain as so many firms, particularly in the early days, kept only one foot in this market, the other being in the more traditional trades of jewellery, metal smallwares, guns, or brass and iron founding. In 1949 in Birmingham and the Black Country there were 58 plants engaged in making car bodies, employing 20,467 workers. Of these plants, 13 employed over 400 workers each, or 87 per cent. of the total number of workers. Similarly of the 14 plants producing radiators and employing 2,723 workers, three (with more than 100 workers each) accounted for 90 per cent. of the labour force. The 6 plants making wheels employed 3,542 workers, but 97 per cent. of these workers were employed in 3 of these plants each with over 200 men. Ninety-six per cent. of the 2,490 workers in the 7 plants producing such goods as furniture were employed in 3 plants, each with between 100 and 200 workers. (fn. 120)
More and more individual plants have become linked to the great combines in the industry. Mulliner's, a coachbuilding firm converted to motor carriage body building in 1897, employed 20 in making landaus and the like in 1885, 200 in 1897, (fn. 121) and 1,000 in 1948. (fn. 122) Acquired by Cammell's in 1903, (fn. 123) it was closed by Standard's in 1960 and production moved elsewhere. Fisher and Ludlow, established by Fisher in 1849 to make tinsmen's furniture and kept busy making such goods as kettles and mess tins until it entered the motor trade in 1920, employed 3,600 in 1948, (fn. 124) and 14,000 in 1956. (fn. 125) In 1912 only 200 had been employed. In 1953 it joined the British Motor Corporation and since then has supplied bodies for the Austin Company as well as making washing machines and refrigerators on its own account. One of the few independent firms, Wilmot-Breeden, employed 7,000 in 1960 making bumpers and door handles. (fn. 126)
The motor-cycle industry grew up as a step between the cycle and the motor car, and, indeed, many of the firms in the trade also made cycles or cars or both at some time. In 1949, out of the 22 plants and 4,826 workers in the local industry, 71 per cent. of the workers were in four plants with between 400 and 1,500 workers, and only one per cent. of the plants had less than ten workers. (fn. 127) One of the largest local firms, Ariel Motors, which employed 2,000 workers in 1932, (fn. 128) is now (1960) part of the important Birmingham Small Arms motor cycle group.
In the tyre industry large firms were common from the start and national and local production has been dominated by the Dunlop Rubber Company. Through their investment in Byrne Brothers which was intended to increase their capacity to produce their patent tyres, Dunlop, in effect, employed 400 in Birmingham in 1894. (fn. 129) Renamed the Rubber Manufacturing Company in 1896 and Dunlop Rubber in 1900 (despite the fact that J. B. Dunlop himself had never been associated with them), they employed 4,000 in 1914 (fn. 130) and 12,000 in 1927 (fn. 131) at Castle Bromwich. They were not, however, the only producers locally. Capon, Heaton and Company, as the Tubeless Pneumatic Tire and Capon Heaton Ltd., (fn. 132) made Boothroyd cycle tube tyres and the first Welsh air tube tyre. (fn. 133) Clipper Tyre, now part of Dunlop, also had a works in Aston.
Except for the small contracting side of the industry, electrical engineering has also always been on a relatively large scale. One large concern, the General Electric Company, stands out in the trade in Birmingham, and indeed in Great Britain. It established a branch there in 1896 and acquired land at Witton in 1899. The company employed 2,000 in Birmingham in 1914, (fn. 134) and 10,000 in 1932. (fn. 135) In the 1930s another great concern, the Telsen Electric Company of Aston, employed 5,000 in making wireless components in what was said to be the largest factory of that kind in the country. (fn. 136) Joseph Lucas, making electrical apparatus for motor vehicles and lamps for cars and cycles, was another big concern, which employed 7,000 in 1927 (fn. 137) and 17,400 in 1948. (fn. 138) Below these giants were firms like Veritys (liquidated 1960), with 800 employees in 1900 (fn. 139) and 1,800 in 1913, (fn. 140) and J. H. Tucker, now (1960) a subsidiary of Midland Electrical Manufacturing, with between 600 and 800 workers in 1928, (fn. 141) and others smaller again. In 1949 the statistics for Birmingham and the Black Country show that in the wireless trade the five largest plants (with over 100 workers each) employed 78 per cent. of the labour force. Ninety-nine per cent. of workers in the magneto trade were employed in three of the six plants, each of these three having between 400 and 750 workpeople. Out of 30 plants in the switchgear trade four, with between 200 and 1,500 workers each, accounted for 72 per cent. of the labour involved.
These were the major trades, new or established, of the Birmingham area. The diversity of scale was equally prevalent in the lesser ones. In aluminium casting, which came to the fore only after 1900 and practically since 1918, one firm, Birmingham Aluminium Casting, had as many as 2,000 workers in 1927 in their Smethwick works, (fn. 142) and the 1949 figures indicate three large plants on the rolling side with 85 per cent. of the 5,572 workers and three other plants also on the founding side with 43 per cent. of the workers. (fn. 143) In machine tools the average size of plant rose from between 30 and 40 employees in the 1890s to between 300 and 400 in 1914 with the increase in the demand for their services, and a few firms, like B.S.A. Tools, employed over 2,000 workers by 1927. (fn. 144) In 1949 48 per cent. of the 14,886 workers in the trade worked in plants of between 750 and 5,000. One leading firm, James Archdale and Co., established in 1869, employed 450 in 1889 and 600 in 1910. (fn. 145) As a corollary to this should be mentioned that in 1949 14 per cent. of the total plants in the whole of the local metal industry employing up to ten workers were found to be in engineering, a significant indication of the multiplicity of possible scales in the trade. (fn. 146)
Outside the metal trades, the cocoa and chocolate industry had a strong foothold in the Birmingham area particularly in the firm of Cadbury Brothers. On moving to Bournville in 1879, they gave employment to only 230 but this had risen to 1,193 in 1889, (fn. 147) 6,000 in 1914, (fn. 148) and 10,000 in 1927. (fn. 149)
Birmingham firms were on a larger scale than was general nationally. The Census of Production of 1935 for the Midland areas (Warwickshire, Worcestershire, and Staffordshire) shows that the average number of workers employed in each establishment in the Midlands exceeded that for national establishments in electrical engineering (448.1 in the Midlands compared to 290.3 nationally; in electrical machinery the local figure was more than double the national), motor and cycle manufacturing (399.1 to 268.9), railway-carriage making (342.6 to 149.6), and machine tools (238.2 to 171.3). In the manufacture of tubes, non-ferrous metals, hardware and hollow-ware, and tools and implements, the figures were virtually the same. Scale in the plate and jewellery trade and the gun trade was very similar locally and nationally. Of course, it must be remembered that the national average is weighted in all these figures by the inclusion in it of the local figures, making this comparison less striking. One side of the jewellery trade, that of gold and silver refining, was, however, significantly different. Here, Birmingham establishments, with an average of 39 workers each, were hardly more than a third of the size of national ones, where the average was 102.9). Wire manufacturing was another trade where Birmingham establishments were smaller than national ones (81.4 to 106.4).
Thus the proportion of establishments employing fewer than a hundred workers, as well as the proportion of workers in establishments of that size, varied widely from trade to trade. Clearly the most striking figures are those for the jewellery and smallarms trades on the one hand, and for the electrical engineering and the motor and cycle trades on the other. (fn. 150) Since only 15,000 were engaged in the Midland jewellery and small-arms trades compared with 48,000 in electrical engineering and 124,000 in the motor and cycle trades, the effect of the latter on the local economy has been far greater. The old adage about Birmingham being the home of the small manufacturer is, therefore, of only limited application in recent times. (fn. 151) In the period 1880–1960 Birmingham industries, with few exceptions, have grown very considerably in scale and expanded to a greater degree than has been the case nationally.
THE GROWTH OF THE INTEGRATED FIRM
Alongside the growth of production units in Birmingham since 1880, and as a result of additional pressures, business firms as distinct from mere units of production were growing in scale during the same period. Firms grew by vertical or horizontal integration or simply by entering other trades. The same kind of effect was obtained from association or linkage with other firms not formally connected. Each of these will be examined in turn as they took place in Birmingham, with details of the growth of some of the well known and largest groups.
Vertical integration has resulted in the establishment of firms which are more selfcontained, and larger. Firms like Dunlop's and Cadbury's have purchased plantations in the tropics or milk depots at home to supply some or all of their raw materials, although Cadbury's found it more economic in the thirties to replace their fleet of lorries and canal boats by independent local carriers. (fn. 152) Averys, the weighing-machine makers, Kunzle's in cakes and chocolates, and the breweries with their tied houses, have opened retail shops for the sale of their products. Manufacturers with their own selling organizations have absorbed the functions of factors and export houses. Larger scale production in the main line has meant that plating shops, rolling mills, and polishing, packing, and printing departments have become economic units to firms which previously employed jobbing concerns for these purposes. The integration sometimes involved amalgamation with other firms. Wrights' Ropes, for instance, united with their wire suppliers, Rollason Wire, in 1937; the British Motor Corporation absorbed their body suppliers, Fisher and Ludlow, in 1953; Tube Investments took in cycle and cycle-saddle firms; Wright, Bindley and Gell amalgamated with their Sheffield steel wire supplier, Crownshaw, Chapman and Co., in 1899; and Nettlefolds integrated with Ketley Colliery, Castle Ironworks, and the Guest, Keen group in 1902. Such integrations were exceptional in the brass, jewellery, and gun trades, where fully integrated concerns were rare enough often to be specifically mentioned. In these trades, the juxtaposition of the processes in particular parts of the town in the 19th century postponed the need for more formal relations between firms for a long time.
Vertical integration tended to increase security, to exclude the middleman, and his profits, and to produce economies. In the main, it was not a limitation upon competition, though it strengthened a firm's ability to face competition. Far more effective as a brake on free competition was the horizontal combination which was done simply by producing on a larger scale, by duplicating existing productive capacity or by buying or uniting with other firms in the same line. The extent and effectiveness of the control varied from product to product and from firm to firm.
Horizontal integration in the form of duplicating existing production took place principally in the metal trades prior to 1900 before much technical innovation had taken effect. The laying down of a second tube mill or the installation of a second power press has the same effect. Generally, however, new capacity yields some economies of scale and incorporates some technical improvements. This has been the simplest and most common way for firms to grow. Austin's in the motor trade and Cadbury's in cocoa and chocolate are two major examples in Birmingham. Joseph Lucas, too, has grown mainly out of its own resources — a growth made possible by the expansion of the demand for cars. These are some of the giants. More typical of Birmingham industry is the growth of William Newman and Sons, makers of door fittings, door springs, and window gear. Transferred to Birmingham from Wolverhampton, the firm employed 30 workers in 1885, 250 in 1914 and 400 in the 1930s. Its expansion was largely based on the success of the 'Briton' door spring patented in 1909. (fn. 153)
This is the form of growth most likely to lead to monopoly. After the Second World War Joseph Lucas, for instance, had a monopoly of 17 per cent. of the goods supplied for motor vehicles. (fn. 154) Other motor accessory and component makers like Hardy Spicer, Burman & Sons or Triplex virtually monopolize the production of individual accessories or components simply by virtue of mass production. A necessary corollary of expansion of this sort is that demand must also increase to take advantage of the lower price resulting from the mass production. Lack of such elasticity explains the slight increase or actual decrease in the size of firms in some of the depressed trades of Birmingham where technical changes have or could otherwise have taken place.
The absorption of other firms in the same line of business was another form of horizontal integration which spread rapidly in the early 1900s and since 1918. It led both to rationalization, often with government encouragement, and to monopoly with consequent investigation and control. (fn. 155)
Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds, already mentioned as a vertical combine, was also one of the earliest and biggest local examples of horizontal integration. It was formed in 1902 when the south Wales iron and steel concerns of Guest and Co. and the Dowlais Iron Co., and the Patent Nut and Bolt Co. of Smethwick (itself a combination of Watkins and Keen, Fox, Henderson & Co., and Weston and Grice and other firms dating from 1864), all already united, (fn. 156) absorbed Nettlefolds. The name Keen came from that of Arthur Keen, an initiator of the move and the first chairman of the new company. (fn. 157) This was the culmination for Nettlefolds of twenty years of amalgamation with smaller firms in the Birmingham screw trade. Under the guidance of several Nettlefolds and of Joseph Chamberlain, (fn. 158) this company had already reached a leading position in the wood screw trade. In 1880 the Nettlefold organization, comprising four screw and wire works in Birmingham and Smethwick, Ketley Colliery and Castle Ironworks, Shropshire, and six subsidiaries, namely, James, Son and Avery of King's Norton (purchased 1865), Imperial Mills of Birmingham (purchased 1869), the Birmingham Screw Co. (added in 1880), John Cornforth, a Birmingham wire firm, and Lloyd and Harrison of Stourport, and the Manchester Screw Co., was launched with an issued capital of £630,000 and £420,000 in debentures. (fn. 159) In 1888 a Newport shoe-nail firm was acquired and the Shropshire steel works was moved to south Wales.
As Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds, the policy continued. In 1919 the south Wales firm of John Lysaght was added and later a link with Baldwins was formed. In 1921 an interest in the coal industry was acquired. (fn. 160) By 1957 seventy-eight subsidiaries and 76,000 employees were included in the group, including United Wire Works (Birmingham), George Goodman, Kirby, Beard and Co., Birwelco, Brown Fintube (Great Britain), Thomas Haddon and Stokes, Thomas P. Hawkins and Son, Ionic Plating, Lincoln Electric (with a factory in Marston Green), Frederick Mountford (Birmingham), L. H. Newton, A. Parson and Sons, William H. Small, and the Sankey group in the Birmingham area — forming a formidable force in the iron and steel, screw, wire, nut and bolt, and pin trades. (fn. 161)
Another national combination was formed in the welded-tube trade. In 1890 and 1894 several Scottish firms had combined and in 1902 Lloyd and Lloyd, the largest tube makers in England, established in 1859 by Samuel Lloyd of the banking family, (fn. 162) joined with them in a deliberate attempt to extinguish competition. (fn. 163) Thus, Stewarts and Lloyds started with a capital of £1,750,000 in 1902. In 1957 the capital was £20,000,000. The 1930 liaison shares in Tube Investments and subsequent joint subsidiaries were broken up in 1946. In 1932 an agreement was made with United Steel to avoid duplication of research, sales, and equipment. (fn. 164)
The manufacture of railway carriages, where eleven firms competed for the private trade in 1900, was an obvious candidate for combination. In 1902 three Glasgow firms formed the North British Locomotive Company with over half the workers in the industry; Beyer, Peacock & Co. with a seventh of the workers, remained independent as did the Midland Railway Carriage and Wagon Company of Saltley and the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company of Smethwick; the remaining five companies united. These five — Metropolitan Railway Carriage and Wagon, and Brown, Marshalls of Saltley, Lancaster Railway Carriage, Ashbury Railway Carriage of Manchester, and the Oldbury Railway Carriage — formed the Metropolitan Amalgamated Railway Carriage and Wagon Company in April 1902. With them were also grouped the Hadley Works of Stafford, Docker Brothers, a Birmingham paint and varnish firm, and, shortly afterwards, Patent Shaft and Axletree of Wednesbury, and Willingworth Iron. Frank Dudley Docker of Docker Brothers was considered to be the instigator of the combine, (fn. 165) which in 1911 employed 14,000 people and occupied 475 acres of factory space. (fn. 166)
Metropolitan Railway Carriage, Wagon and Finance, the investment side of the concern, also owned carriage and steel works in Belgium and an investment in the electrical industry in the British Westinghouse, South Metropolitan Electric Light and Power, and West Kent Power companies (fn. 167) and was connected with the sewingmachine, machine-tool and heavy oil-engine trades. This was a fusion of supplementary interests rather than an extension of control over more of the same line of production.
In 1919 Vickers took control of the group. In 1901 they had acquired the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car and the Electric and Ordnance Accessories companies in Birmingham. Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company was not involved for the car production side had been started in a separate works under Herbert Austin and only this was sold to Vickers. In 1927 it passed to Morris Motors as part of the re organization. (fn. 168) By then Vickers were also interested in Harcourts (fn. 169) and in James Booth and Co. (1915), the makers of the alloy 'Duralumin', and its subsidiary John Wilkes, Sons and Mapplebeck, the cable makers, in Birmingham. (fn. 170) Joint ownership and then amalgamation with Cammell Laird brought the Midland Railway Carriage and Blake Boiler into the group, giving them control of 60 to 70 per cent. of the rolling stock manufacturers in the country. (fn. 171) This side was then renamed Metropolitan Cammell Carriage and Wagon Company, with a part holding also in Metropolitan Cammell Weyman Motor Bodies of Marston Green and Surrey.
The Birmingham Small Arms Company grew largely through expansion of its own productive capacity in several fields but it also played its part in the combination movement. On the cycle side it united with Eadie Manufacturing of Redditch in 1907 to acquire the advantages of their patent coaster hub, (fn. 172) and later with the Sunbeam Cycle and New Hudson Cycle companies. The cycle side was, however, sold to Raleigh Industries of Nottingham in 1957, and so has since become part of the Tube Investments group, although the B.S.A. name and trade mark continue to be used. Interest in the cycle naturally led into the motor cycle and car trades. B.S.A. cars were first produced in 1907, (fn. 173) motor cycle frames in 1903 and complete motor cycles in 1910. (fn. 174) In 1910 the Daimler Company of Coventry was acquired and the 1911 B.S.A. car had a Daimler engine. Car production was later transferred to Coventry. In 1931 the Lanchester firm was taken over. The services of F. W. Lanchester had been acquired earlier for he became consulting engineer to Daimler in 1910. (fn. 175) The car side was sold to Jaguar of Coventry in 1960. The Ariel Motors Company, which had shown a motor tricycle at the 1898 Crystal Palace Show, (fn. 176) was also acquired after the Second World War to form an important part of the group's motor-cycle interests.
The ammunition side made solid drawn-brass cartridges (fn. 177) in part of Adderley Park Rolling Mills (established in 1863 by John Abraham and acquired by B.S.A. in 1873 to form part of Birmingham Small Arms and Metal, as the firm was then called). It was sold to Nobel Dynamite Trust in 1896. (fn. 178) A B.S.A. Radio existed in the 1930s. (fn. 179) On the tool side several distributing firms have been acquired and B.S.A. Tools, dating from 1919 but a natural development out of the firm's need to supply itself with tools for the gun, cycle, and car side in the 19th century, provided some of the tools to be distributed. Precision Alloy Castings (Birmingham) and Metal and Plastic Compacts are two other Birmingham concerns in the group. The three Sheffield steel firms of J. J. Saville, William Jessop and Bromley, Fisher and Turton supply some of the raw materials from within the group.
One of the largest public companies, Imperial Chemical Industries, has developed in part, at least, out of the small percussion-cap business of George Kynoch. (fn. 180) The firm grew and difficulties, started with some Russian cartridge contracts in 1872, were temporarily avoided by taking John Abraham into partnership, his capital making expansion again possible. In 1884 Kynoch converted the firm into a limited company, taking most of the shares himself. The Russian commitments, the purchase and upkeep of Hamstead Hall, the election of 1886, which he won as a Conservative candidate in Aston, and losses from a gun factory at Aston Cross, caused him to go to South Africa. There he died in 1891, amid more commitments and the echoes of the complaints of his neglected constituents and shareholders. (fn. 181) A new team took over and one with many revivified insolvent companies to their credit. With Arthur Chamberlain, (fn. 182) S. Leitner, J. P. Lacey, (fn. 183) and J. S. Nettlefold (fn. 184) as directors, with others, immense strides forward were made. After 1888 brass, copper, and later steel castings were produced and, after 1897, other articles as well. In 1903 when Chamberlain reviewed the resources of the firm for his shareholders, there were ten Kynoch factories. Six were in Birmingham (Lion Works, Witton; Lodge Road; Holford Works, Perry Barr, acquired from Accles; Endurance Works, Stirchley; Eyre Street wire works and rolling mills; and the Forward Engineering works in Scholefield Street which were soon sold), one on the Thames at Kynoch Town where a building estate as well as a cordite works was owned, two in Ireland, a paper mill near Dublin and the Arklow gunpowder works, and a gunpowder works near Barnsley. Six thousand workers were employed in these works which covered 1,800 acres. The firm made soap and candles, (fn. 185) Siemens-Martin and crucible steel for shells and for its own tools and machinery, (fn. 186) railway fog signals, (fn. 187) cupro-nickel, brass and copper. In 1888 it started its own rolling mills to ensure the quality of the metals used as its raw materials, turning out sheets, wire, and tubes both for itself and for outsiders, (fn. 188) laying the foundations of the present (1960) I.C.I. Metals Division. It also manufactured roller bearings for shafting, under its own patent, (fn. 189) gas and oil engines, wire and cut-nails, paper, (fn. 190) cycle fittings, (fn. 191) and, by far the most important at this stage, sporting and military cartridges of all kinds, and steel shells. It even owned three steamers to carry the products on the Thames and its own printing department to print the cartridge wrappings.
The gas and oil engines were made by the Forward Engineering Company, registered in 1898, and acquired by Kynoch in 1902. (fn. 192) It was while he was manager of this firm that Lanchester developed his motor car in 1896. Hadley and Shorthouse, whose Eyre Street works were the source of the wire and cut-nails, had been formed in 1898 to amalgamate the firms of the same name with Chamberlain and Lacey as directors. It was acquired by Kynoch in 1901. Afterwards sold, it was absorbed by Tube Investments, as part of John Reynolds and Sons. The cycle fittings were almost an accident, being made on some of the machinery left by Accles in the Holford works, which immediately adjoined the Lion Works.
In 1907 the iron foundry at Witton was closed, the steel foundry having been shut after the Boer War. In 1908 a factory for explosives was started in South Africa. The paper interests were sold. The concern, however, remained immense. During the First World War, for instance, 18,000 were employed at Witton alone. (fn. 193)
In 1918 Explosives Trades Ltd., whose name was soon altered to Nobel Industries Ltd., with holdings in 28, later extended to 78, explosives firms, (fn. 194) was formed with Kynoch's, as part of the combine. It had a monopoly of sporting cartridge production and was the leader of the Fog Signal Association. (fn. 195) Some 20 per cent. of its interests, however, were not in explosives of any kind. (fn. 196) Nobel Explosives, founded in 1877 out of the British Dynamite Trust of 1871 with an explosives factory at Ardeer in Scotland, first entered Birmingham industry with the acquisition of the Birmingham Metal and Munitions Company and the Streetley Works from Birmingham Small Arms in 1896. This company (floated in 1897) was liquidated in 1920. Nobel Industries also obtained a part interest in the Frederick Crane Chemical Company in 1915 on the death of the American, Crane, who had established the firm. Full control was acquired in 1924. (fn. 197)
The period 1918 to 1926 saw further changes at Kynoch's. The Eyre Street and Lodge Road works were closed down. The production of detonators, cycles, soap and candles, and engineering goods was discontinued and the iron foundry again closed. New products and subsidiary companies took their place. The firm Amal, established in 1900 by J. G. Accles to make speed gears and carburettors, was acquired in 1919. Linked with other firms, it was made a public company in 1927, as Amalgamated Carburettors. (fn. 198) Electricars was acquired in 1920, Excelsior Radiators of Leeds in 1920, Edison Accumulators in 1919, John Marston of Wolverhampton in 1919, and British Leather Cloth Manufacturing in 1925. In 1921 Rotax Motor Accessories was purchased, the shares in it later being exchanged with Joseph Lucas. (fn. 199)
Patent rights in an American zip fastener were acquired in 1919 and production commenced in Birmingham. In 1923 a factory in France and later factories in Germany and Austria were started to make fasteners behind continental tariff barriers. A separate organization, Lightning Fasteners, took over in 1923. Kynoch Press which had lapsed during the war was also revived, extending its activities to general printing.
Another local firm which had joined the Nobel organization in 1918 was the King's Norton Metal Company founded in 1889 to make ammunition, wire, rivets, strip, and sheet by T. R. Bayliss, (fn. 200) the son-in-law of John Abraham and one-time managing director of B.S.A.'s Adderley Park Rolling Mills. A mint was installed in 1912. The Metal Company also owned works in Kent and a subsidiary, Engraving Metals. (fn. 201) The production of Eley Brothers, another Nobel company, was split amongst the different works in the group.
In 1926, with a capital somewhat overvalued at £56,000,000, (fn. 202) Imperial Chemical Industries was formed out of Nobel Industries, Brunner Mond, United Alkali, and British Dyestuffs. (fn. 203) In the main, these were non-Birmingham concerns and need not be considered here.
Kynoch's, which changed its name to I.C.I. Metals in 1929 and became a private company again in 1934 with a capital of £4,500,000, (fn. 204) continued to have large Birmingham interests. To these were added, in 1930, Allen Everitt and Sons of Smethwick, makers of brass, copper, and condenser tubes, and in 1928, Elliott's Metal Company of Selly Oak. At the same time, British Copper Manufacturers was included in the group. (fn. 205) Elliott's Metal Company was a combine on its own. Established about 1861, it had acquired William Cooper and Goode, brass, copper, and white-metal rollers with works in Bradford Street, Hughes Stubbs Metal, and Muntz's Metal. (fn. 206)
In 1950 this huge firm controlled eighty factories, divided between eleven manufacturing divisions, and gave employment to 18,000 persons over the whole country. The Metals Division alone controlled nineteen factories. (fn. 207) The issued capital of £56,000,000 of 1926 had risen in 1936 to £72,000,000 and in 1957 to £176,000,000. (fn. 208) Expansion raised the number employed in 1960 to 110,000 persons.
Tube Investments was registered as a public company in 1919. Its main constituent was then Tubes Ltd., formed in 1897 as Weldless Tubes to acquire the Climax Weldless Tubes, New Credenda Tube, Star Tube, and St. Helen's Tube and Metal companies. All these firms made weldless or seamless steel tubes under various patents. (fn. 209) Star, for instance, worked those of Stiefel. The New Credenda concern was started by W. C. Stiff, a Birmingham merchant-turned-manufacturer and inventor, at the end of his ten-year agreement not to produce under his own patent in competition with the assignees. (fn. 210)
In 1919 Accles and Pollock was purchased. This firm, as Accles Ltd., was registered in 1896 by J. G. Accles to acquire Grenfell and Accles and the Accles Arms and Ammunition and Manufacturing Company. (fn. 211) Cycle parts, especially tubes, were also made. The firm went into liquidation in 1898 and the stock and other assets were sold. In 1901 Thomas Pollock purchased some of these and moved production to Oldbury as Accles and Pollock. Tube Investments followed this purchase by others. Reynolds Tube, a firm of nailmakers which started the Patent Butted Tube Company in 1898 to use J. Reynolds and J. T. Hewitt's patent to make tubes for the cycle trade, was purchased in 1928. (fn. 212) Other local subsidiaries are National Tube of Halesowen, Tube Products of Oldbury, and Perfecta Tube of Aston.
Tube production led naturally into the production of cycle components and complete cycles, a trade which, as the British Cycle Corporation with headquarters at Handsworth, it came to dominate. J. A. Phillips and Company of Smethwick, Walton and Brown, Brampton Fittings, Hercules Cycle, Armstrong, and the James Cycle Company (Harry James amalgamated with the Osmond company and both were owned from 1950 to 1954 by Associated Motor Cycles) (fn. 213) were acquired and Aberdale, Rudge Whitworth, and Norman were added to the group from outside Birmingham. Wright Saddle was later purchased. Then, in early 1960, it was announced that Raleigh Industries, the only other large firm remaining in the trade, was joining the group, bringing with it B.S.A. Cycles and J. B. Brooks. The group is responsible, therefore, for some 90 per cent. of British cycle production.
Tube Investments' decision to enter the cycle trade was announced to the shareholders as recently as 1946. The reason given was that other firms were making their own components rather than buying from the group which was thus left with surplus capacity. Now, with the relative decline of cycles, scooter and moped production is being expanded by the group.
Tube Investments also have a foot in the electrical industry. A. P. Lundberg and Sons of London, makers of switches, was acquired in 1946, Simplex Electric of Oldbury, and Metallic Seamless Tube Company of Birmingham, started as Metallic Tube and Flask in 1892, are other subsidiaries in the field dating mainly from the years between the World Wars.
On the engineering side Brookes (Oldbury), New Conveyer Company of Smethwick, and W. H. A. Robertson are Tube Investment firms; tubular furniture is made by Pel of Oldbury; enamels in Shaftsmoor Lane by Drynamels; traffic signs by Gowshall of Oldbury; cold rolled sections by Metal Sections of Oldbury; and plastics by Mange Plastics of Aston. The aluminium field has recently been broached through Reynolds T.I. Aluminium of Acock's Green and through the Aluminium Wire and Cable Company of Redditch, a joint subsidiary, founded in 1946, with British Aluminium and Hawker Siddeley.
Such are the Birmingham and local interests of this rapidly growing concern—a growth considerably stepped up since the end of the Second World War. Over sixty subsidiaries are listed under this firm in a publication of 1959. (fn. 214) In 1946 its joint holding with Stewarts and Lloyds in Bromford Tube, Tube Rolling Mills, and Jarrow Tube was dispersed, the latter two firms joining Tube Investments along with a holding of £375,000 in Stewarts and Lloyds stock. From 1930 to 1951 500 liaison shares in Tube Investments had been held by Stewarts and Lloyds, giving them dividend and voting powers equivalent to £100,000 worth of ordinary shares. (fn. 215)
The Dunlop Rubber Company, a horizontal and vertical combine of great importance, commands the motor and cycle tyre trade. (fn. 216) Dunlop's controlled 90 per cent. of national production in 1927 but, owing to the imports of both cars and tyres, only controlled 60 per cent. of national tyre sales and that figure was only maintained by a vigorous sales policy. This position was based on rapid internal development on the pneumatic-tyre side and, on the solid tyre and rubber-goods side, on the purchase in 1925 of Charles Mackintosh of Manchester. Factories in the United States, in France (as early as 1893), and Germany had been opened. Production of raw rubber (in 1910), cotton fabric (1914), rims (1906), wheels (at Dudley and Coventry), and cycle saddles (1928) was started. In 1954 Dunlop had 135 manufacturing and selling organizations round the world and some 10,000 workers were employed at Fort Dunlop alone. (fn. 217)
The General Electric Company was registered in 1900 to take over a firm started in 1889. Its interest in Birmingham dates from 1896, several works being used in succession after that until land at Witton was acquired in 1899. In 1909 the Ilene Works in Edgbaston were acquired and in 1927 the Magnet Works in Landor Street were built. (fn. 218) Besides large non-Birmingham interests in the electrical and allied fields there were its three local subsidiaries, Chamberlain and Hookham (fn. 219) (registered in 1883 to take over the existing firm of meter makers and electrical engineers with Arthur Chamberlain and George Hookham as directors), Express Lift and Steel Conduit.
A considerable horizontal integration resulted from the 1919 agreement between Cadbury Brothers, and J. S. Fry and Sons of Bristol in the chocolate trade. Mutual organization, experience and also joint committees on selling and other aspects of business were to be facilitated by the British Cocoa and Chocolate Company, the amalgamating concern. (fn. 220)
Beneath these nationally important amalgamations there were hundreds of smaller ones of which only a few can be mentioned. In the button trade, in 1907, Buttons Ltd. was formed out of Thomas Carlyle, Plant, Green and Manton, and Harrison and Smith. R. H. Clarkson and Sons was added shortly afterwards. The combine was led by J. R. Green. (fn. 221) Factories were closed down and production concentrated in efficient plants. (fn. 222) The largest linen-button manufacturers in the world, the new company also made metal buttons, buckles and metal smallwares. Half the workers in the trade in Birmingham were in this firm in 1914.
In the coffin-furniture trade Ingall, Parsons, Clive and Company was formed in 1888 to take over fifteen small firms in Birmingham, London, and Scotland. Capital was written down in 1894 and the debentures paid off. The House of Peter Marsh, General Coffin Furniture Company, and Taylor and Osborne (fn. 223) have been acquired and pressure die-casting both for coffin furniture and other trades undertaken.
Bindley and Gell, a partnership in the umbrella-rib and furniture trade in Birmingham, took over Bindley's old employer James Boyce and Son in 1880, W. L. Barber and Company in 1900, (fn. 224) and in 1899 amalgamated with Crownshaw, Chapman and Company of Sheffield. (fn. 225) In 1902 the concern, which went by the name of Wright, Bindley and Gell, expanded still further to take in Corder and Turley, Cox Brothers and Holland, Henry Holland and Company — all of Birmingham — and Marmont and Taylor of Stroud. (fn. 226) Since that date, more firms, including Messenger and Sons, which may date from as early as 1747, (fn. 227) have been acquired, widening out production into the brass trade.
Examples of similar amalgamations could be multiplied. Their story would only echo that of the giants on a smaller scale. Pressed by economic laws and events individual firms have sought strength by association with others either in the same line of business where greater influence over marketing conditions is desired or in other lines where diversification of product is seen as a possible source of strength or profit. There have been two main periods for this. The later 1890s and early 1900s saw many firms combining although some trades were relatively unaffected. The older Birmingham trades, for instance, remained highly individualistic. There were few amalgamations in the gun trade (apart from that between W. and C. Scott, P. Webley and Son, and Richard Ellis and Co. in 1897), (fn. 228) the leather trade, or the edge-tool trade.
The second phase includes the period since the end of the Second World War. It was mainly during these years that groups like Evered and Co. of Smethwick, the Delta Metal Company of East Greenwich and Birmingham, and J. Brockhouse of West Bromwich, acquired their interests in Birmingham. Many old family businesses were swallowed up in the process, like that of Elkington and Co., taken over by Delta Metal, Alldays and Onions (which included two bellows-making firms dating from 1780 and 1650), taken over by Mitchell Cotts, and Perry and Co. the penmakers of the 19th century, now, through Perry Chain, part of Renold Chains of Coventry.
PRICE ASSOCIATIONS AND TRUSTS
Formal amalgamations and take-overs were not the only means of combining to gain strength in the face of competition and economies of scale. Less formal terminable associations among firms producing similar products were a substitute. These were at once able to embrace a larger number of firms (the aim was to embrace all producers) but on account of this more liable to break up. A great many such associations varying from gentlemen's agreements to closely knit organizations ready to apply sanctions were tried and usually they failed after a short period. Their policies varied from the prevention of suicidal price cutting to a determined price fixing, and their ability to implement these monopolistic policies has increased since 1880, with more general acceptance of their advantages by manufacturers.
Even before 1880 a few attempts had been made to influence prices, such as that between the makers of 'marked bars' in the iron trade, (fn. 229) that which operated in the military arms trade from the Crimean War (to distribute government orders between the Birmingham and London Small Arms companies, and, after 1878, the National Arms and Ammunition Company), and the similar arrangement in the saddlery and harness trade. These were similar to later contract combinations.
The iron and steel industry was an early field for this kind of combination. (fn. 230) The 'marked bar' was a high-grade article and price control led to the substitution of lower qualities. So in 1895 the Unmarked Bar Association was formed covering Yorkshire and Lancashire as well as Midland producers. Home market prices, but not export prices, were regulated. The association, however, collapsed in the slump in the early 1900s to be revived temporarily but ineffectively in 1904. (fn. 231) The part played by the ironmasters' meetings at the Birmingham Exchange in facilitating agreement is apparent. (fn. 232)
The Birmingham Exchange was also the meeting place of the Galvanized Iron Trade Association of 1883, revived in 1895 and 1905–7 as the National Galvanized Sheet Association, which covered 95 per cent. of national production and imposed sanctions on those who exceeded their output quotas. (fn. 233) The Small Iron Makers' Association of 1903, the Association of Axlemakers, Tinned Sheet, Hoopmakers and Heavy Ironfounders of 1887, and associations in the steel sheet-metal trade in 1914, (fn. 234) and in the galvanized hollow-ware in 1906 (fn. 235) were other temporary attempts at co-operation to influence prices. In wire netting the 1906 association had an agreement with German as well as national producers. (fn. 236) In 1927, out of twenty firms in the trade, ten were members of such an association and an international agreement had again been operative since 1926. (fn. 237)
A Gas Strip Association covering eighteen out of the twenty firms was formed on a national basis. Output quotas with penalties and compensation were agreed. This association succeeded in driving German competition out of the British market in 1902. Trouble over the exclusion of an underselling member, however, caused its demise in 1905. (fn. 238)
The National Light Castings Association of 1911, which included 80 manufacturers out of a possible 120, a tenth of whom came from the Midlands (making such goods as grates, stoves, pipes, and baths), controlled output and prices and advised members on costing systems suitable for the trade. (fn. 239) By 1912 95 per cent. of the trade was included, but the building and ironmongery trades had been forced to set up their own parallel organizations. (fn. 240) A rebate to merchants selling association goods ceased in 1927 (fn. 241) when the association collapsed. It was succeeded in 1930 by the British Ironfounders' Association and the 'Rainwater' agreements of 1933, which in 1951 received the attention of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices Commission. (fn. 242)
Also involved in house-building equipment was the British Metal Window Manufacturers Association which started in 1932 with 30 firms. (fn. 243) Since 1954, as the Metal Window Association, it has had 38 members led by Crittall Manufacturing. Nineteen firms, including Price and Saveker of Birmingham, remained outside the association. Crittall had had an agreement with Henry Hope and Sons of Smethwick since 1936, preceding the quota system of the association. Three other Birmingham firms, Hoskins and Sewell, John Gibbs, and W. and J. H. Oldaker, were members (fn. 244) in 1956.
In the screw trade, Guest, Keen and Nettlefold already an example of both a horizontal and a vertical combine (fn. 245) was also the maker of an agreement with a German syndicate in the trade in 1905 to refrain from competing in each other's markets, (fn. 246) and of another in the steel-rail trade in 1904 which included the U.S.A. (fn. 247)
In the nut and bolt trade, 30 out of the 44 firms in the trade locally (fn. 248) were included in the Midland Nut and Bolt Manufacturers Association which was established in 1919 out of the Darlaston Rivet and Nut Makers Association. A price increase of ten per cent. took place in 1920. (fn. 249) In 1927 it was reported that there was little foreign competition, G.K.N. alone being responsible for 50 per cent. of the trade. (fn. 250)
Price control had a longer history in the cut-nail trade. A Cut Nail Association was formed in 1904 covering thirty firms and 99 per cent. of the trade. (fn. 251) Output was pooled and prices controlled. The Standing Committee on Trusts found the situation as a result of the association quite changed from what it had been before the First World War. Competition and declining trade had given way to an export of 25 per cent. of their output of nails. (fn. 252)
In hinges, a combination with its headquarters in Birmingham was reported in 1906 to have been set up to prevent underselling. (fn. 253) In 1927 the Saw Manufacturers and the Edge Tool Manufacturers Associations covered the whole output of these articles and provided a uniform price list. (fn. 254) The Small Tool Manufacturers controlled 75 per cent. of the trade and had an arrangement with the High-Speed Steel Association. Other associations like the British Cycle and Motor Cycle Manufacturers Union, the Motor Trade Association, and the Washing Machine Makers Association operated price regulating agreements.
The tube trade (predominantly a Birmingham trade), quite apart from the Stewarts and Lloyd amalgamation of 1902, was the scene of other attempts at association. A start had been made in the eighties but it had failed. The British Tube Association was revived in 1902 for the home market but became important after 1906 when all the trade except one boiler-tube firm was covered. (fn. 255) A Gas Tube Association established in 1901 with a minimum price list collapsed in 1905. (fn. 256) A Wrought Iron Tube Association successfully regulated prices in 1906. (fn. 257) It was revived in 1923 but was not very effective and an international agreement was attempted in 1926. (fn. 258) The Cased Tube Manufacturers Association controlled prices in 1905 in that trade. (fn. 259) Later, a Tube Association with 32 members was reported in 1927 (fn. 260) and a Weldless Steel Tube Makers Association with seven members.
In other trades largely situated in Birmingham similar attempts were made. In nonferrous metals a Brass Wire Association and a Cold Rolled Brass and Copper Association came into existence in 1912 to control quality and prices because both were suffering as a result of excessive competition but no output control was attempted. (fn. 261) A Master Brass Founders Association was set up in Birmingham in 1897 largely to negotiate with the unions. (fn. 262) There was reported to be little interest in combination in the trade at this time. Discounts were revised in builders' ironmongery, gas fittings, plumbers' brassfoundry, fenders and fireirons, enamelled hollow-ware, and tin and japanned goods, yielding a small increase in prices. (fn. 263) The brass trades as a whole were too competitive, diverse and individualistic to make successful agreements although these were being developed after 1945. Then exchanges of opinion on reasonable minimum prices, on policy in relation to rises in metal prices and wages and even some comprehensive price lists of articles common to groups of firms were made. (fn. 264)
In explosives, the Nobel Dynamite Trust led to a price association in 1902, but this trust had such a dominant position in the industry that no formal agreements were necessary. (fn. 265) Local ammunition-making firms like Kynoch's have inevitably been affected by the trust's price policy.
In the electrical lamp industry, the Tungsten Lamp Association of 1913 of the four main firms including General Electric and British Thomson-Houston gave way to the Electric Lamp Manufacturers Association of Great Britain Ltd. of 1919, which covered between 90 and 95 per cent. of the trade. (fn. 266) In electrical engineering as a whole competition in 1927 was said to be active although an organization existed. (fn. 267) On the electrical-machinery and plant side, where the General Electric Company. with British Thomson-Houston, Metropolitan Vickers, English Electric, and C. A. Parsons (the last four being outside Birmingham) again are important, the number of firms has remained about the same since before the First World War with the market divided among them. (fn. 268)
A distinctive form of trade organization indigenous to Birmingham was the 'trade alliance' between manufacturers and workers. It was conceived by Edward James Smith, (fn. 269) who, with J. W. Hoyland, bought the bedstead works of Tylor, Gilkes and Co. of Heath Street South about 1880. (fn. 270) In 1891 he formed an alliance between the Bedstead Manufacturers' Association and the Bedstead Workmen's Association. (fn. 271) A uniform price-list was drawn up, (fn. 272) and the manufacturers agreed to employ only union labour, and to pay workers a percentage of price increases. At first there was some success. All the employers had joined the alliance by 1894, some as a result of the strike threat, (fn. 273) and workers in the trade had received a 35 per cent. increase in wages. (fn. 274) The alliance system was also adopted by other trades including those making spring mattresses, cased tubes and stair-rods, spun-brass bedstead and fender mounts, rolled metal, tubes and wire, fenders, china door furniture, china electrical fittings, earthenware, coffin furniture, pins, bricks, and jet and Rockingham ware. Almost all these trades were centred in Birmingham. By 1899 500 masters and 20,000 men were said to be involved. (fn. 275)
The alliances were, however, attacked as being anti-social and monopolistic (fn. 276) and the difficulties of operating them caused them to fail one by one as the 20th century came in. Cost determination was one stumbling block. Only one-third of the bedstead firms, for example, kept accounts and quite different scales and techniques applied. Some producers thus made disproportionate profits. New firms were attracted into the trade by the higher profits, (fn. 277) and there was competition from wooden bedsteads. Moreover, it was found difficult to discover the many evasions used to undercut the agreed prices. (fn. 278) Finally the strike sanction did not work in practice because the alliance could not afford prolonged strike pay and union labour was found to be replaceable. In 1900 one-third of the bedstead makers were outside the alliance (fn. 279) and the fierce competition of the late eighties returned. The other alliances were even less fortunate.
Another attempt in the bedstead trade to combine and make a price list, in the years 1905 to 1906, (fn. 280) also failed. In 1912 the Bedstead Federation was formed covering wood and metal bedsteads and fittings and two-thirds of the trade. Elaborate agreements were made. Total output was fixed and each firm given a quota with accompanying penalties or compensation; minimum selling prices for the home and export markets were decided, and conditions of sale were carefully laid down, including the rebates to dealers for selling federation goods. Some central buying and selling was envisaged and a central tool and pattern shop was started to encourage standardization, cost reduction and to promote a possible future merger of the whole trade. The conciliation board was revived.
The federation was fairly successful. A price increase of ten per cent. was obtained in 1914, and after the war, profits were found to have risen four times and costs only three. (fn. 281) In 1927, however, the federation was described as 'recently dissolved'. (fn. 282)
FINANCIAL AND MANAGERIAL CHANGES IN THE FIRM
One of the striking features of the period has been the conversion of many personal and partnership firms into private or public companies to obtain the advantages of continuity of ownership, limited liability, and new capital resources. The separation of management from ownership often involved in this step increased the number of professional managers (fn. 283) working for a salary. It produced the professional director (such as Arthur Keen, Arthur Chamberlain, J. S. Nettlefold, F. Dudley Docker and Bernard Docker, W. H. Wiggin, and W. H. Newton), who was paid a fee for his general knowledge of industry and finance. Such a man was, in some cases, employed by several companies, perhaps in quite different industries, in each of which companies he might hold only a very small shareholding. And finally, it produced the inert shareholder with a small investment and little power to influence the direction of the company.
Family firms, even though public companies, nevertheless continued with management, direction, and shareholdings in the family. Many proprietors accepted shares as part payment for the concern on its flotation, thereby obtaining holdings which often remain today. The Cartlands in 1899 retained all the ordinary shares in James Cartland and Sons, putting only the debentures and preference shares on the market. (fn. 284) Southall Brothers and Barclay in 1898 after flotation had three Barclays and four Southalls on the board and the families took one-third of the preference and all the ordinary shares. (fn. 285) In 1957, before sale to Smith and Nephew, there were still two Barclays and one Southall on the board. J. B. Brooks (fn. 286) in 1897 took all the ordinary shares in the company of the same name, some of these shares still being in the family. The son of the founder was a director until 1951 and a great-nephew was managing director in 1960.
Striking differences in voting power distinguish the family firms. In 1951 the largest shareholder in Birmingham Small Arms held only 1.8 per cent. of the voting capital, in Dunlop's 2.3 per cent. and in General Electric 3.2 per cent. In British Cocoa he held 12.7 per cent. while the Cadbury family holding in 1951 was over 70 per cent. of the voting capital; (fn. 287) and the family holding in Mitchells and Butlers covered 14 per cent. of the voting capital in 1951. (fn. 288) Sir Herbert Austin in 1936 owned over 14 per cent. of the shares in his firm, (fn. 289) or 22.4 per cent. of the voting capital. (fn. 290)
The need to meet death duties without selling up the concern has driven many family firms into becoming public companies to obtain a market quotation for their shares. (fn. 291) The conversion of Alfred Case and Company in 1952, for example, was reported to be to cover the death duties of E. C. West, who had purchased from the founder, Case, in 1933. Despite this step, the West family continued to provide all the directors and to hold 50 per cent. of the ordinary capital. Another solution has been to become part of a larger public concern, as indeed Alfred Case and Company has been since 1959. The firm became part of the Delta Metal group, although four of the family still remained on the board. (fn. 292)
Because of amalgamation and the policy of converting subsidiaries into private companies after absorption, the number of public companies has not grown as much as one would expect. Tube Investments and Imperial Chemical Industries have habitually followed this course. The number of public companies with Birmingham addresses listed in the Stock Exchange Year Book was 4 in 1875, 12 in 1880, 25 in 1890, 114 in 1900, 74 in 1936 and 102 in 1957. (fn. 293) Some 18 non-Birmingham companies had subsidiaries there in 1936, and at least 24 in 1957. The national figures for all kinds of limited liability companies increased from 2,543 in 1890, to 4,509 in 1900, and to 20,665 in 1957. (fn. 294) The number of private companies in Birmingham is unascertainable. In the Birmingham and Black Country metal trades, however, it has been reckoned that out of the 3,599 plants employing over 10 workers, only 619 were unlimited in 1949, and only 21 of these employed over 100 workers. (fn. 295)
The great upsurge in the figures for public companies occurs in the 1890s, and was associated with the new industries developing in the area, especially those of cycles, cycle fittings, tubes, and tyres. Birch's Manual of Cycle Companies of 1897 gives details of some 233 companies in the cycle and accessory trades, then newly registered. Of these 88 were resident in Birmingham. Overcapitalization was rife and some companies were floated and refloated. (fn. 296) The slump of 1897–8 eliminated many of the newcomers.
Harvey du Cros, who was associated with Dunlop Rubber Company, Clipper Pneumatic Tyre, the Components Tube Company, and, later, with the Austin Motor Company, was an outstanding personality in these promotions. (fn. 297) Less creditable elements also existed. (fn. 298)
These flotations, typical of the enterprise of the time in other fields as well, were usually based on the possession of a patent, or a licence to produce under a patent, for a particular feature of a cycle. The Aeolus ball bearings of 1877 made the name of William Bown; J. B. Brooks, formed in 1866 on the saddlery and harness side, used a patent for an American saddle to enter the cycle trade and build up a flourishing trade and a world-wide reputation; Clipper Pneumatic Tyre worked under a licence from Dunlop's and a Westwood cycle rim patent; and other examples could be given. Only some were permanently sound. The Fairbanks Rim Manufacturing Company's wooden rim soon passed out of use. The Dunlop Rubber Company's pneumatic tyre patent, (fn. 299) purchased from J. B. Dunlop for £3,500, (fn. 300) was almost immediately cancelled by the courts. (fn. 301) The company was, however, able to buy others, for instance, from Doughty, Bartlett, and Welch. The car industry revolutionized the demand for Dunlop's tyres.
The decline in the numbers of public companies indicated by the 1936 figures (fn. 302) was probably due to the amalgamation policy already referred to rather than to the depression. The increase after the Second World War reflected the need for new capital to meet increased stock prices, taxation, and business, and avoidance of death duties. The 1957 figure would probably have been greater if the parents of all Birmingham firms could have been traced and included.
Flotation as a company has generally been a secondary stage in the career of a firm in the older Birmingham trades, although many of the newer trades required a scale and equipment beyond the capital of one man. Although W. J. Davis could recall only five members of his 7,000 strong Brassworkers' Union who had left the ranks of the workers between 1883 and 1889 to become employers, (fn. 303) yet when the origins of firms are examined, one or two persons are generally found to have set up on their own account in a small way. They were not always strictly workmen like Davis's members but travellers, like Smith and Davis, who worked for Hipkiss and Co. until they started on their own in 1901, (fn. 304) or managers with commercial rather than technical experience. James Archdale, (fn. 305) and James Hughes and Edward Johnson, (fn. 306) who founded Hughes-Johnson Stampings in 1877, had all been foremen at Tangyes, a great forcing ground for engineers. Joseph Brown, pincer and hammer maker of Carlton Works, Nechells, however, had definitely been a workman. (fn. 307)
Brown set up with £500 capital borrowed from a sleeping partner. Owing to this partner's rascality, he lost everything. He started again with his tools on credit and by the 1890s had built up a comfortable business, worth some £2,800 in 1895. He employed between ten and 22 men according to the state of trade. Since he considered machinery would kill his hand-made tool business, he trained his one son on the commercial side so that later he would be able to apply his experience to other trades and his other sons emigrated or entered other trades. His sensible acceptance of change may be compared with the blindness of the union of flint glass workers which restricted entry to maintain employment. (fn. 308)
A few other examples have been found. Gabriel and Co., who made brass railway and bus fittings, began in a small brass-foundry purchased for £235 around 1900. (fn. 309) The Smith and Davis already mentioned was formed in 1901 as a partnership, three dwelling houses being converted to make a works and hand presses, lathes, and an antique gas engine purchased to form the equipment. A bank overdraft of £1,370, a loss of £180, and £320 owed to creditors remained at the end of the first year to balance a factory, fittings and machinery worth £653, stock worth £882 and debtors of £476. (fn. 310) The partners had drawn £350 between them in salaries. Such goods as chandelier chains and curtain rods were made. In 1909 the concern was converted into a limited company with a capital of £20,000 of which £14,000, however, was represented by 'goodwill'. (fn. 311)
The main source of industrial capital has continued to be reinvested profits from within the concern, assisted in some cases by marriage and partnership agreements. From outside, the use of a bank overdraft was not always feared as it was by the Best family, (fn. 312) nor employed with such unfortunate results as by Thomas Smith. (fn. 313) The rising property market assisted mortgage loans. For instance, land purchased in 1900 in Northfield by Morland and Impey for £5,500 was revalued in Kalamazoo's accounts at £47,000 in 1937, and its value has risen further since. (fn. 314) The rate of interest on short loans, however, was sometimes high in early days. (fn. 315)
Before the First World War, the provision of working capital through the credit of factoring firms was declining in local trades. Oversea merchant houses were tending to buy on definite orders rather than on their own account, (fn. 316) while the telephone too pushed the responsibility for holding stocks on to the manufacturers. (fn. 317) Expanding stock needs and rising prices have been a particularly serious drain on working capital since the Second World War, which also left arrears of excess profits tax to be paid. A bank overdraft often provided the help needed, as for Perry and Company in 1953 and the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company in 1951. The latter borrowed £125,000, a sum exceeding their issued capital but quickly repaid by two issues of £50,000 of shares in 1951 and 1952. In contrast Harrison (Birmingham) Ltd., with an issued capital of £348,000 in 1954, held £319,000 in government securities and £275,000 in the bank.
National government assistance schemes like Export Credits, (fn. 318) Trade Facilities, (fn. 319) and the officially sponsored Finance Corporation for Industry, and the Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation, (fn. 320) were available to Birmingham firms. Serck Radiators were able to borrow £100,000 from the latter in 1951 for seven years to finance, with an overdraft, stocks and a new tube mill. (fn. 321) John and Edmund Sturge, makers of fine chemicals since 1822, were also assisted by I.C.F.C. in 1960. Ninety-five thousand shares at 11s. each (£52,250) were purchased by I.C.F.C. and they are underwriting the present (1960) issue of shares. (fn. 322)
Such sources of outside capital left control unaffected. On the other hand, the issuing of shares either privately or to the public usually did affect control. As we have seen, however, it was increasingly done. Debentures were another source and were readily saleable in the 1890s, often up to or exceeding the share capital in amount. For instance, Midland Railway Carriage and Wagon had £210,000 in shares and £220,000 in debentures in the nineties; the Aluminium Company £65,000 in shares and £100,000 in debentures in 1900, and even smaller firms like Middleton's Bedstead had £10,000 in debentures and £40,000 in shares in 1900. (fn. 323) Since 1914 the proportion of debentures has noticeably fallen except where mortgageable property like brewery tied houses is important. The interest rate and security of debentures are now more than matched elsewhere and the habit of investment in shares has spread, while the bad trade of the thirties discouraged such debt burdens on the part of firms.
Figures on this subject are hard to obtain. Firms with overdrafts do not appear to be frequent, probably for the reason given by the Balfour Committee, namely the reluctance of banks to lend to industry. (fn. 324) Some national figures for locally important trades indicate the overwhelming importance of retained profits in financing new investment since 1945 despite the incidence of taxation. (fn. 325)
The need for capital was reduced by various expedients common in the Birmingham trades, though not introduced for that purpose. They included outwork, stand renting, factoring, the practice of workmen supplying tools, and factory renting. The use of outworkers reduced the capacity required by a firm and, particularly, allowed it to hive off the less utilized and so less economic sides of production. Outwork has declined but remains in the jewellery and the gun trades. A rather similar effect is produced by the practice of the motor trade of buying its components from outside. Stand renting and payments for gas, light, and cleaning and for the use of machinery were common at the end of the 19th century. The provision of tools sometimes amounted to a considerable saving of capital. Samuel Mason's workers, for example, provided their own tools, which at £20 a head for 50 of them saved Mason £1,000. (fn. 326) Apart from saving capital these expendients meant that in bad times the costs of idle plant could be passed on to the workers or to component makers.
OCCUPATIONAL DISTRIBUTION OF LABOUR
The Census Reports make it possible to assess both the importance of local in comparison with national industry, and the significance of each industry in the local community. Comparison of the percentage of Birmingham's population occupied in particular ways with similar percentages for England and Wales have been calculated from the census figures for 1881, 1911, 1931, and 1951 (see Table 6 below). These location quotients (fn. 327) indicate the degree of localization of particular trades in the Birmingham area, although it must be noted that while the figures for each census are internally consistent, comparisons between censuses are made less certain through changes in ways of classification and by Birmingham's changing boundaries. (fn. 328) No attempt has been made here to overcome this difficulty.
a Census, 1881 (Birmingham and Aston Sanitary Districts). The figures for Birmingham and Aston have been added together. The total population concerned (in thousands) was 459.5, of unoccupied population 252.7, and of occupied population 206.8.
a Census, 1911, Birmingham (after 1911 boundary changes). The total population (in thousands) was 659, of unoccupied population (over 10 years) 259.7, and of occupied population (over 10 years) 399.3.
a Census, 1931, Birmingham. The total population concerned (in thousands) was 1,002.5. The total occupied population (over 14 years) was 444.9 (excluding 61.9 out of work), and of unoccupied population (over 14 years) 264.8
In the overall groupings which cover in aggregate the whole population of Birmingham, the industries and occupations which provide the food, clothing, and housing of the industrial population and the professional and other services needed by industry will be seen from Tables 5 and 6 to be below average in Birmingham. The quotients for government, defence, the professions, and domestic service are considerably below those for England and Wales at each census, while those for commerce, transport, and printing have fallen since 1881. This suggests that Birmingham has been deficient in providing these services, perhaps because of its proximity to London, an influence increasingly heightened by easier communication.
The quotients for agriculture, mining, ship-building, and textiles indicate these trades to have been almost completely absent. The overall groupings of chemicals, paper, leather, and non-metalliferrous mining products, although above those for England and Wales in 1881, were below in 1951; particular lines within these groupings, however, like cartridges, and glass, were still important in 1951 in Birmingham. The quotients for the engineering and metal trades, so important in Birmingham, averaged over the period about three times those for England and Wales as a whole. Moreover, when these large groupings, which vary in name at every census, are broken down into smaller divisions, the real traditional 'Birmingham trades' show up. These are trades in which only a small proportion of Birmingham labour has been engaged, yet in which the town has provided a very significant proportion of national production. They include steel pens (93 per cent. of the penmakers of England and Wales lived in Birmingham in 1881), small arms (55 per cent.), pins (61 per cent.), jewellery (33 per cent.), weighing machines (33 per cent.), and buttons (78 per cent.). Over the period some trades, like the chandelier and metal-bedstead trades, have almost disappeared and many which produced essentially 19th-century products have fallen on bad times. The newer trades which have taken their place, like vehicle production, electrical engineering, and tyre making, were less localized in 1951 but employed a considerably greater proportion of the Birmingham labour force.
Within this setting how was Birmingham's labour force distributed between industries at the different census years? The largest employed at all periods was clearly the metal and engineering industry which employed 35 per cent. of the occupied population in 1881 and 45 per cent. in 1951. The other important occupations in 1881 were domestic service, and the dress industry (including button and umbrella makers), with 10 per cent. of the population in each. In 1951 they employed only one per cent. each. Their place had been taken by commerce, public administration and defence.
The metal and engineering industry, when the figures are broken down, consisted virtually of those trades mentioned as having high location quotients, and the processes like brassfoundry and metal rolling which supplied their raw materials. Their relative importance as sources of employment is given in Tables 5 and 6. Although individually not important, in aggregate they formed a considerable industry made stronger by the variety of its parts, since bad trade was unlikely to hit all at once. Labour, however, was not freely transferable within the industry and many with specialist skills found themselves unemployed when their particular trade was hit by competition or a change in fashion or their skill replaced by a machine with a less skilled minder.
Much of the content of the metal industry has changed very little over the years and some 1881 staples still maintain their relative importance in the 1931 and 1951 figures. As a percentage of Birmingham's occupied population, the makers of pins, lamps, weighing machines, wire, and cartridges remained the same; those of bolts and screws doubled. During the period the jewellery trade has, however, fallen from 5 per cent. to 1½ per cent. and the small arms trade from 2 per cent. to less than ½ per cent. Some of the figures disguise a revolution; the lamp and candlestick trade, for instance, has seen the utilization, in turn, of candles, oil, gas, and electricity, and the disappearance of the ornate Victorian chandelier, which involved so much workmanship.
The two large new trades that absorbed a large part of the 45 per cent. engaged in the metal trade in 1951 were electrical engineering and vehicle production. Neither are very new, for 0.02 per cent. of the occupied population made electrical goods in 1881, and 1.2 per cent. in 1911, while 4.4 per cent. were making cycles and cars by 1911. It is not until after the First World War, however, that these trades really became significant. In 1951 7.4 per cent. of the occupied Birmingham population were in electrical engineering and 15.1 per cent. in vehicle production. The latter figure does not include the secondary products that finally went into a car. The motor trade dominated Birmingham's industry in 1951 far more than did the small arms or jewellery trades in the eighties of the 19th century. In the 1881 census, for instance, the pen trade employed 2,500 and the gun trade 4,500 in Birmingham and Aston. In 1951 46,500 were employed in electrical engineering and 94,400 in the motor trade. This change is significant even allowing for the increase (partly resulting from boundary changes) (fn. 329) in the working population from 206,000 in 1881 to 624,000 in 1951.
Apart from the metal trades other industries had become important to Birmingham by 1951. The brush trade, for instance, had absorbed 0.3 per cent. of the occupied population since 1881; the manufacture of cocoa and chocolate absorbed 0.9 per cent. in 1911 and 1.5 per cent. in 1951; the manufacture of rubber goods, mainly tyres, occupied 1.9 per cent. of the population in 1951. Paint, varnish, and lacquer for the metal and motor trades, leather for saddlery, (fn. 330) cycle saddles and car upholstery, and glass are other trades which have grown in importance.
Figures separating the population into classes exist only for 1951 (see Table 7). They show that the combination movement, the growth in scale, and the spread of limited liability have taken effect at the expense of the small man so commonly described as typical of Birmingham business. This trend was a national phenomenon but the Birmingham figures indicate noticeably fewer employers and fewer workers on their own account in Birmingham than in England and Wales as a whole, and more managers and directors.
The problem of training and recruiting skilled labour has attracted much local concern but the introduction of machinery and mass production created a surplus of skilled men in some trades, as, for instance, in die-cutting for the jewellery trade, (fn. 331) and attempts have been made by some craft unions to restrict entry. (fn. 332) The Brass Trade Arbitrations of 1900 and 1907 indicate that mechanization and the organization of the trade were creating the 'process' worker — a man skilled at only one process and unable to do the complete range of jobs even in a section of a trade, and that many skilled men were forced to work at wages below the minimum under the journeymanunderhand system in the trade. The new trades like cycles required machine minders, sometimes women, rather than skilled men. This was merely a continuation of the trend started in the pen trade. In engineering it was found that over the whole country the number of semi-skilled workers as a percentage of all workers had increased from 20 per cent. to 45 per cent. between 1914 and 1926, while the number of skilled had fallen from 60 per cent. to 40 per cent. and unskilled from 20 per cent. to 15 per cent. (fn. 333)
Mechanization has, however, produced an increased demand for skilled tool-makers to maintain and change the tools in the machines and to design machines and tools for new products and models. (fn. 334) This is one shortage that has developed since 1914. Die-sinkers for drop forging is another and in the craft trades like metal spinning skilled men have proved lacking to replace those now reaching retiring age. In such trades, the general work has been done by machinery. Persistent bad times in jewellery and the gun trade have driven men out of the industry. H. Allen, for instance, quit jewellery for carpentry when the depression came in the 1880s, though he remained secretary of the Working Jewellers' Trade Society. (fn. 335)
Quite apart from criticism of its effectiveness as a method of training skilled workers, apprenticeship has become less common with the increase in semi-skilled work. It has never existed to any extent in the brass trade, (fn. 336) where the boy-man ratio had always been a sore point and where 16–22 year-olds were at a discount. (fn. 337) There was no apprenticeship in the pin, gun, (fn. 338) bedstead, and perambulator trades either. It remained important in engineering, (fn. 339) vehicle building, and sheet-metal working, (fn. 340) though affected by the First World War and the attraction to would-be apprentices of better wages elsewhere. (fn. 341) The Technical and Art Schools and Mason's College, later the University, supplemented such training as existed.
The Jewellers' Association, a trade in which apprenticeship was the exception, (fn. 342) introduced a training scheme at the Vittoria Street School in conjunction with the Faculty of Commerce of the University, (fn. 343) and from the late 1940s there was a course providing a systematic training from school leaving age to 21 years. (fn. 344) In the gun trade a school begun in 1901 with classes at the proof-house, and later in Whittall Street, was closed in 1912 for lack of support. This was done by the Birmingham Education Committee, which had controlled it after 1911, with the help of a £250 grant from the Proof House Guardians. (fn. 345)
Throughout the period the adequacy and form of all these facilities were much criticized and the backwardness of English design and mechanical application was forwarded as an explanation of declining trade. Emulation of foreign schemes was encouraged. (fn. 346)
For the majority who received no formal apprenticeship or secondary education, the factory Acts generally brought control of working hours and the 1867 Act the half-time schooling system. By 1900 there were virtually no half-timers left in Birmingham (fn. 347) and the gap left by their labour, once considered so essential, had been filled. The age at which a child could start work has been gradually raised to 15 years and a minimum wage has eliminated employment of youths as a means of keeping adult wages down. Smirke's analysis of the labour market of 1913 to 1914 gives a very sound picture of the relative opportunities for school leavers at that time in the town. (fn. 348)
Apart from children, women continued to provide an important source of labour in Birmingham. (fn. 349) In 1893 the number of girls of between 10 and 15 years of age employed in Birmingham was 19 per cent. higher, and of those between 15 and 20 years 79.9 per cent. higher than the average for the country. (fn. 350) So many married women worked that there was great concern for family life. In 1907 18 per cent of the women workers over 18 years of age in Birmingham were married, a figure which differed little from the national one. (fn. 351) In 1951 46.2 per cent. of the women working in Birmingham were married, although one-third of these worked only part-time. (fn. 352) This compares with 39.8 per cent. nationally, one quarter of whom worked part-time.
The threat to men's employment by lower-paid women workers (fn. 353) was considerable in several industries and grew worse as power eased the physical effort and skill needed. Substitution of women for men in the brass trade was referred to in 1900 with considerable bitterness, (fn. 354) but as far back as 1872 J. and W. Breeden and Booth were criticized for changing over to machinery worked by women. (fn. 355) In 1876 Smith and Chamberlain were substituting women for men in lathe turning. (fn. 356) Substitution was also taking place in other trades before the First World War (see Table 8). In the 1870s there was no recognized division of jobs between men and women, although Elkington's and an unnamed screw firm later said that they had seen no changes of jobs between the sexes since the 1860s. (fn. 357)
By 1914, the respective occupations of men and women were fairly clearly defined. (fn. 358) Custom was important and caused differences even between Birmingham and the Black Country where brickmaking and other heavy work was done by women. The factory Acts kept women out of casting shops, where they had made the cores, the process having to be transferred to outside premises, (fn. 359) and restricted their employment in other trades such as those using lead. The unions also had strong feelings on this subject. (fn. 360)
Outworkers of both sexes (as distinct from the outwork firm) existed in large numbers in Birmingham, particularly in the jewellery, leather, and gun trades but also in trades like metal burnishing, and plating. (fn. 361) Some outwork or homework amounted to sweating and as such was gradually controlled by government legislation. Metal burnishing, however, was relatively well paid. A two-year training and the cost of tools kept out would-be competitors, and most burnishers were married women who had previously worked in a factory or for their mothers.
The number of outworkers in all trades has steadily fallen since 1900 as factory managers preferred to have full control of production, and as machinery replaced hand work. In jewellery, however, some remains (1960), providing a labour cushion adjustable to the state of trade. (fn. 362) The Census of Production found only 1,090 outworkers in 1924 and 473 in 1935 over the whole country and believed that they were dying out. The Jewellery Working Party, however, felt that it was still of considerable importance in the jewellery trade in 1946. (fn. 363)
Apart from children and women as a source of unskilled cheap labour, newcomers were attracted to Birmingham from the country-side, from Ireland, and, since 1945, from the West Indies and Pakistan by a higher wage level than their own and by more opportunities for employment. A survey of 1952 reckoned the Irish population of Birmingham at between 50,000 and 100,000, the women working in transport and the men in building and civil engineering rather than in industry. (fn. 364) It was estimated that in 1960 there were about 23,000 West Indians, 8,000 Pakistanis, and 5,000 Indians in the town. (fn. 365) The number in industry was then still increasing. During the years between the World Wars the relatively low unemployment rate had attracted those in other towns. In 1881 only 0.3 per cent. of the population were aliens, including 295 Germans. (fn. 366) American engineers, successors to the earlier mercantile community, (fn. 367) came in the 1890s and 1900s to install American automatic machinery, machine tools, and manufacturing methods. (fn. 368)
The labour supply was reduced by migration and emigration. Many brassworkers, for instance, moved to London in the nineties as wages were higher there, (fn. 369) and others went to the United States (fn. 370) and Germany. (fn. 371) Jewellers and buttonmakers went to the United States in large numbers, the American Consul reporting a jewellery firm with 600 Birmingham-trained workers there in 1900, (fn. 372) and a pearl-button works revived in Newark (U.S.A.) using Birmingham workers behind the protection of the McKinley tariff of 1890. (fn. 373) The Flint Glass Makers' and the Brassworkers' unions, amongst others, had funds to assist their members to emigrate. (fn. 374)
Labour recruitment was principally through newspaper advertisement, supplemented by a few private labour exchanges, like Owen's bureau after 1883 and the temporary municipal one in 1905. (fn. 375) A permanent Labour Exchange was set up in 1909. Application at the factory gates and through friends and relatives also took place.
LABOUR RELATIONS AND WELFARE
During this period working conditions improved as a result of the activities of the trade unions, extension of government regulations, and the general influence of public opinion on the proper treatment of workmen. At the same time the division between workers on the one hand, and employers on the other tended to broaden, resulting eventually in a continuous test of strength between the two groups.
In 1880 the unions that existed and possessed any strength were the craft unions, fighting a battle with the employers on the one hand (particularly with the small employers who evaded the factory Acts and wage agreements and undercut the larger firms), (fn. 376) and with the unskilled and underhands on the other. Often their interests were plainly closer to those of the employers than to their own class. Thus, in 1876, the officials of the Brassworkers' Union opposed the raising of the age at which boys could start work. (fn. 377) This was to keep an inflow of cheapening labour into the underhand class which was employed by the journeymen who were the backbone of the union. Such cheapening might be needed to enable the journeymen to earn a fair wage under the piecework and sub-contracting system then prevailing in the brass trade.
The Flint Glass Makers, several groupings of carpenters and joiners, the Plasterers, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, the Brassworkers, the Typographical Association, and the Tinplate Workers were the main unions in Birmingham in 1880, soon joined by the Amalgamated Toolmakers, an offshoot of the A.S.E. in 1882. (fn. 378) Apart from these larger unions, there were many smaller craft unions like the Filemakers, the Fendermoulders, and the Brass Cock Finishers. The last had only 57 members in 1910 and 27 in 1926. (fn. 379) Most unions were affiliated to the Birmingham Trades Council, which had held regular meetings since 1866 (fn. 380) and sent representatives to the Trades Union Congress. The council's magazine, the Birmingham and District Trades Journal, began in 1896.
During the eighties the picture changed. The underhands and labourers became restive. The Amalgamated Society of Gasworkers, Brickmakers and General Labourers was organized in 1889 (fn. 381) in Birmingham by W. F. Beston of the Toolmakers' Union and R. Toller. The National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers, started in London in the same year, spread to Birmingham, with S. Lakin as local secretary from 1895. (fn. 382) The Workers' Union had a local branch in Birmingham after 1905. (fn. 383) The less skilled also gained ground within the Brassworkers' Union so that from 1892 Davis was to be heard pressing for a minimum wage, (fn. 384) which was granted by arbitration in 1900.
The weak link was the few women in the unions, although unions existed temporarily among women in the bedstead trade from 1890 (fn. 385) and in the cycle and pen trades from 1897 to 1904. (fn. 386) The weakness remains (1960), though the clearer definition of women's work and the movement for equal pay for equal work has reduced the pressure on men's wages.
For a short space of time in the 1880s, a few branches of the American Knights of Labour existed locally amongst glass and iron workers in Handsworth, Winson Green, Smethwick, and Spon Lane. (fn. 387)
Since 1900 the national unions have spread absorbing the local ones, and the unskilled and semi-skilled have since often developed the strongest unions, like the Transport and General Workers with 80,000 members locally. The craft unions strive to maintain their pay differentials. The Amalgamated Engineering Union had in 1960 about 42,000 local members and the Sheet Metal Workers some 14,500, compared with the 3,000 in its predecessor, the Birmingham and Midland Society in the years 1925–6. In 1892 4.1 per cent. of the Warwickshire population were members of some trade union, a figure a little below the average for the whole country. (fn. 388)
The unions' main aims were to obtain increased wages and to assist their members in ill health and unemployment. The Brassworkers, for instance, superannuated their casters at 55 years and the Tinplate Workers had a similar scheme introduced by their president J. V. Stevens in 1880. (fn. 389) Unemployment pay, travelling allowances while looking for work, and sick benefits were enjoyed by the craft unions whose contributions were large enough to permit this but only spread gradually to the unskilled unions, by which time the welfare state was beginning to provide these benefits as a right. Restriction of child and female labour was also attempted. Juggins, the secretary of the Nut and Bolt Makers' Union, proposed a usually successful resolution annually from 1883 to 1886 to the Trades Union Congress to exclude girls from the nail and chain trades but he opposed the exclusion of boys. (fn. 390)
Machinery, which caused skill and experience acquired over years to be wasted, was opposed by some unions and restrictions placed upon the number of apprentices or boys to limit entry to the trade and so maintain employment for their members. An example was the Pearl Button and Stud Workers' Protection Society, established in 1843, which had some 500 members in the 1880s. Its rules for 1873 and 1887, still operative in 1911, prohibited members under a fine of £5 from working for employers who used steam power in the manufacture of pearl buttons, (fn. 391) and the training of youngsters without permission. Their strike at Smith and Wright in 1881, however, failed as non-unionists and women workers replaced members (fn. 392) and finally the flood of machine-made German buttons knocked Birmingham out of the industry.
The 1879 rules of the Flint Glass Makers' Friendly Society (which was established in 1845), which had 1,700 members in 1868 falling to 386 in 1947, (fn. 393) regulated the number of apprentices that could be taken on. Other of their restrictive practices were 'black ratting', blocking of work, and limitation of the number of apprentices per 'chair', (fn. 394) the latter rule still being operative in 1913. (fn. 395) The same rules provided emigration grants for unemployed members. (fn. 396)
Many of the restrictive practices and emigration grants were to combat redundancy on a large scale which usually entailed block dismissals, and received more publicity than the mere non-replacement of quitting workers or short-time work. (fn. 397)
Demarcation disputes (fn. 398) occurred even in the 1890s although agreements between unions later reduced their incidence. Changes in piecework rates have always been liable to cause trouble and the introduction of the Bedaux system caused strikes at the works of Henry Hope in 1933 (fn. 399) and of Lucas (fn. 400) in 1934. Motor-trade disputes often follow new car designs which upset the relation between piece rates.
The greatest strike in 19th-century Birmingham was in the brass industry. (fn. 401) The brass-bedstead workers, who suffered sweating conditions, were organized into a union of 600 members in 1889 by an employer, Walter Mills, who remained its secretary for many years. He was supported by William Frazer of Frazer Brothers. (fn. 402) In December 1889 the bedstead workers struck for higher wages and the brassworkers came out in sympathy. After the Bedstead Manufacturers' Association had been founded in reply by the employers the dispute went to arbitration and the bedstead workers were awarded their claim of a 15 per cent. bonus on piece rates in 1890, as the Brassworkers had been theirs in 1872. With the absorption of local unions into the national bodies, nationally organized stoppages increasingly affected Birmingham, as in the general strike of 1926. (fn. 403)
The most unusual use of the strike in Birmingham was in support of the employers' alliances already discussed. (fn. 404) The action was an application of W. J. Davis's policy of working with the employers for mutual benefit. He demanded, and obtained, an employers' organization in the brass trade in 1896, with which his union could discuss differences appertaining to the smallest subsections of the trade. Insoluble differences went to arbitration. Respect for the ability and strength of Davis on the part of the employers influenced very considerably the relations between employers and workpeople in all trades in Birmingham.
Davis was secretary of the Brassworkers' Union from its inception in 1872 until 1921, except for the years 1883 to 1889 when he was a factory inspector at Sheffield. He was one of the few trade unionists specially chosen. He had attended the first Trades Union Congress at Birmingham in 1868 as the representative of the Barr Street Reform Association and subsequently represented the Brassworkers there, becoming president in 1913 and one of the congress's historians. Outside the trade union movement, he was said to have founded the Labour Party in the city and certainly he stood as Labour candidate, sometimes in alliance with the Liberals, in local and parliamentary elections. He was made a magistrate in 1906. Accepted by the ranks of both unionists and employers and by townsfolk generally, he was a powerful force on the side of reform in all fields of community life. (fn. 405)
Conciliation and arbitration, quite apart from Davis's influence, were popular in the Midlands at that time. Joseph Chamberlain's arbitration in the nut and bolt trade in 1877, (fn. 406) and George Dixon's in the chandelier and gas-fittings trade in 1879 (fn. 407) were early examples. Davis's policy and the alliances created many conciliation boards in the brass and allied trades all except four of which lapsed before 1907. (fn. 408) Building, basketmaking, and boot and shoe making also had local boards, while the local South Staffordshire Bolt and Nut Trade Wages Board, set up in 1889 in Birmingham, (fn. 409) and the Midland Iron and Steel Wages Board (fn. 410) had ramifications beyond Birmingham.
The failure of the 1907 arbitration in the brass trade (fn. 411) to agree to an increase in the minimum wage of 4½d. an hour plus 20 per cent. bonus, previously granted by Sir David Dale in 1900, was a severe setback to conciliation at a time when it was already on the decline. It was felt that middle-class arbitrators were incapable of fair decisions. Not until the 1920s was there a revival.
These were unofficial and voluntary bodies. On the official level there were instituted conciliation and wages boards for trades where voluntary machinery was lacking. (fn. 412) Under the Trades Boards Act of 1909, legally enforceable minimum wages were fixed by joint boards of employers and workers for the chain trade in 1910. Boards for hollow-ware, buttons, (fn. 413) paper boxes, sugar confectionery, brushes, rope, coffin furniture, stamped and pressed metal wares, (fn. 414) and pin, hook and snap fasteners (fn. 415) were created subsequently. In 1945 the boards which remained were converted into wages councils by new legislation. (fn. 416) Whitley or Joint Industrial Councils under the Act of 1919 were set up voluntarily for joint consultation in cocoa, bedsteads, paint, locks, wire, and other trades important locally. (fn. 417)
Apart from pressure from the unions and the government, employers themselves have improved conditions in their works with such things as provident and superannuation schemes, canteens, and holidays with pay. Profit sharing or the issuing of shares to employees as a bonus on production has spread. Early attempts at such schemes were made at Lloyd and Summerfield in 1867, at Bailey, Nokes and Co. in 1890–1, and at Charles Joyner and Co. in 1890–4, while that started at Tangyes in 1883 was abandoned in 1889 to escape the publicity attracted to their profit figures. British Cyanides started a scheme in 1916. (fn. 418) Many more firms, such as Lucas and I.C.I., have such schemes, often combined with extensive joint consultation. Kalamazoo started the Kalamazoo Workers' Alliance in 1947, which by 1948 had given the workers over 30 per cent. of the share capital and in the end aims to give them all, when the family interest of Morland and Impey, the founders, dies out. (fn. 419)
Labour has sought an alternative to capitalism in co-operative production. One co-operative society, the Midland Productive Co-operative Tinplate Workers' Society, was formed in 1887 by members of the Birmingham Operative Tinplate Workers' Society and lasted 25 years. Its highest annual sales, however, were only £4,559 in 1892, and by 1899 only nineteen people were employed. (fn. 420) It was taken over by Speedwell Gear Case Company, a firm which still exists (1960) in Witton. Another cooperative was the Iron Plate and Braziers Industrial formed in 1892–3. There were other attempts in the button, (fn. 421) nail, (fn. 422) and filemaking trades. The Birmingham Printers, (fn. 423) set up in 1902, alone has proved a lasting success.
Government legislation was a very big influence on industrial conditions principally through the factory Acts first applied to the Birmingham trades in 1864 and 1867. Dangerous trades, like percussion-cap (fn. 424) and alkali manufacture, (fn. 425) were separately inspected and controlled. Lead-using works, file-cutting (fn. 426) and brass-casting, (fn. 427) and the making of enamelled plates were regulated. Truck, sweating, outwork, and lowwage trades like the nail and chain trades were investigated and finally controlled. The installation of safety devices like fans and machine guards as well as accident prevention was undertaken, and the hours of work and age of starting work were controlled and half-time schooling introduced. Piece-rate orders were published for trades where rates were not easily ascertainable by the workers. These trades included brass in 1907, chains and locks in 1897, and pens in 1900 as well as outwork electroplating. (fn. 428)
Sweating and home and outwork were prevalent in Birmingham (fn. 429) though perhaps not as seriously harmful as in the East End of London. Publicity concentrated on the nail and chain trades of south Staffordshire but the hook and eye and button carders and the nail-box makers in Birmingham were also cruelly underpaid, to the extent that machinery was less economical. (fn. 430) Mechanization and regulation finally killed the practice by 1914, although outwork in plating continues in 1960.
Improvements in wages and hours of male labour have been the main ambition of the unions. Hours have been steadily reduced without cuts in wages. Kynoch's were ahead of the general movement when they granted the eight-hour day in 1894, (fn. 431) although in 1876 Sir Josiah Mason considered as much work was done in 50 as in 59 hours. (fn. 432) The brass arbitrations of 1900 and 1907 were argued on the basis of a 54 hour week, though this was not necessarily the hours worked in the trade, complaints being made by the employers of 'Saint Mondays' being taken off to watch football and by the workers of compulsory 'holidays' resulting from lack of orders as a cause of shorttime. (fn. 433) The sweated trades worked very long hours to earn enough to live. The flint glass workers worked six hour shifts to fill the 24 hour day, each man working one hour off and one on from Monday to Friday making up a total of 48 hours a week, without a thorough night's sleep. (fn. 434)
Reduction of hours has been continuous since then. (fn. 435) Moreover, public transport services, the cycle and the car, as well as better street lighting, have simplified getting to and from work. The principle of paying for overtime at a time and a quarter was accepted by the brass employers in 1900 and for night work at a time and a quarter in 1904. (fn. 436) Since then higher rates for these have been paid under union wage agreements for many trades.
Wages also improved except when bad trade enabled or forced employers to reduce them, as happened with the bonus on wages in the brass trade. This bonus was first proposed in 1872 by Maddocks and Davis, the young secretary of the new Brassworkers' Union, as the simplest way of administering a wage increase without recalculating all the differentials between workers and jobs. (fn. 437) Fifteen per cent. increase was granted following the boom in trade but it was cut to 10 per cent. by the arbitrator George Dixon in 1879 when trade fell off again. The full 15 per cent. was restored in 1889 and another 5 per cent. added in 1896, the latter being restricted to union members.
In other trades, national and district scales were negotiated. These applied to all grades (fn. 438) and to both time (fn. 439) and piece rates. (fn. 440) In 1903, following Rowntree's report on poverty in York, Kynoch's gave all their workers a 'living' wage of 22s. a week minimum, some 200 to 300 receiving an increase. (fn. 441) The problem in the brass trade had been 'blind' piece rates, where, because of pressure of competition, the subcontracting journeyman sometimes worked at rates which left no wages, let alone profit, for himself at the end of the contract. The contract might cover weeks, funds to pay his own and his underhands' wages meanwhile having been drawn from the employer. A balance of indebtedness to the employer and cut-throat competition even in the same shop resulted. Illegal under the Act of 1901 in general, the practice was outlawed by the brass trade in particular in 1907. By then, however, sub-contracting itself was dying out, the employer preferring to employ and pay all his workers directly.
Apart from blind piece rates, deductions for such things as gas, light, and rent of standing, and for use of tools and lathes, as well as for lateness, were made in many trades. In one factory, about the turn of the century, the women paid sixpence a week to have the place cleaned. It must have been bitter for a skilled brass worker to pay 2s. 6d. a week for the use of a lathe that rendered his skill redundant or that he did not in fact use, and that plainly operated to the employer's advantage. In the brass trade, these deductions were ended in 1900 as part of the arbitration award, but lingered longer in the jewellery and gun trades. Payments such as 1s. a week for a stand or 6d. a week for gas were required locally in 1913. (fn. 442) Truck was mainly confined to the nail and chain trades areas. Both these abuses have been controlled by legislation or have fallen into disuse.
A minimum wage, now an accepted part of wage negotiations, was pressed for before the First World War. The Brassworkers' Union obtained one in 1900, the Tinplate and Gas Workers in 1890. Since then the rise in piece-rate earnings in many Birmingham trades has left the minimum wage far behind except temporarily when workers are laid off or on holidays with pay. Women's wages, despite the movement for equality, have lagged behind.
EXTERNAL ASSOCIATIONS OF THE FIRM
Corresponding to the Birmingham Trades Council was the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, founded before our period (fn. 443) but only then becoming a force in the community with its expanding membership and funds. In 1880 its membership was only 282, and rooms were merely rented from the Birmingham Exchange, whose secretary was shared. A reorganization in 1901 involved the appointment of a full-time secretary, offices of its own in Victoria Square, incorporation as a company (in 1902), (fn. 444) and a drive for members which had by 1913 raised the membership to 2,000. In 1951 there were 3,000 members. (fn. 445)
The chamber gathered information and made representations to the appropriate authority on local matters like particular tariffs, railway rates, and the brasscasting regulations, (fn. 446) and on national questions which excited their interest, (fn. 447) like income tax, (fn. 448) patent and bankruptcy law, the aged poor, and the depression of trade. (fn. 449) An inquiry into the condition of the gun trade, however, had to be abandoned in 1900 for lack of funds. (fn. 450) The Birmingham Chamber was the first chamber to publish a journal, in 1903, and a directory and yearbook was begun in 1905 to circularize members' names abroad. (fn. 451) Representatives were sent to the annual meetings of the Association of Chambers of Commerce.
The National Union of Manufacturers and the Federation of British Industries opened branches in Birmingham in 1915 and 1918, and a Regional Board for Industry (fn. 452) exists locally (1960).
Manufacturers in individual trades were also becoming organized. The Birmingham Jewellers' and Silversmiths' Association was formed in 1887 after abortive attempts at organization in 1851 and 1875. Its main aims included the promotion of technical education. Another aim was to examine government legislation concerned with the trade, especially hallmarking, the repeal of the plate duties, (fn. 453) and the exclusion of jewellery from the Stamped or Pressed Smallwares Trade Board. It attempted also to encourage the detection of thieves and receivers of stolen goods, to promote oversea trade, and to secure uniformity of action in cases of insolvency. In 1919, its powers were extended to allow negotiation with the unions on wage matters. (fn. 454)
Another leading association was that in the brass trade. Established as the Brass Masters' Association in 1897 at the instance of the Brassworkers' Union, it changed its name, also at their request, in 1906 to the Brassfounders' Employers' Association and, since 1944, it has been part of the National Brassfoundry Association. (fn. 455) Within these organizations the many sections of the trade had their own associations, as did the trade in London and Yorkshire. Negotiations with the union and with the government and trade promotion were their main work. Independent associations, like the Copper and Brass Extended Uses Council and the British Non-Ferrous Metals Federation established in 1945 with headquarters in Birmingham, were also formed in the trade.
The Birmingham gun trade has seen many bodies to deal with government contracts and such matters as organizing the Birmingham Small Arms Company. In 1896 the Birmingham and Provincial Gunmakers Association (fn. 456) was formed, uniting in 1912 with the London Makers into the Gunmakers Association (fn. 457) to deal with fraudulent markings, and to promote British registered trade marks. In 1919 the Birmingham Registered Gunmakers was formed as a limited company to buy materials and parts co-operatively for the trade and to enable a hammerless gun to be mass-produced in Birmingham. (fn. 458) The company was, however, wound up in 1935.
Early organizations also existed in the building, engineering and printing trades. (fn. 459) Wage negotiation was their main raison d'Être. Since then nearly every trade or division of a trade has developed its own organization, usually at national and local level, to promote trade, often through pricing and output policy, to provide wage negotiating machinery, and to advise on and co-ordinate marketing and research. Where such organizations have been lacking, the government has promoted their creation through trade-board, industrial, and development-council legislation.
Ancillary institutions and industries have also developed in Birmingham. The assay office and the proof-house have continued from the earlier period. (fn. 460) Their trade influence was considerable, though the latter has declined in importance with the gun trade. The Birmingham Exchange, (fn. 461) founded in 1861 and incorporated in 1880, after its new building had been opened, has provided a meeting place with telephones, and a library and reading room for members, and, incidentally since about 1876, for the Midland ironmasters and others. Since 1954, the exchange has set up the Engineering Centre with a permanent exhibition of engineering products, following the tradition of the 'novelties' shown by manufacturers at ironmasters' meetings in the 19th century at the exchange. (fn. 462) Samples have also been sent overseas, for example to the 1960 New York Exhibition.
Educational facilities exist in the Technical School and in the Birmingham and Midland Institute. (fn. 463) The work of the Workers' Educational Association and the University Extra-Mural Department should not be forgotten. Bournville, too, had special facilities. (fn. 464) In 1912 evening and day schools had 21,344 students, 616 of them in jewellery, 4,000 in technical subjects and 9,857 in evening classes. Afternoon classes were organized by the engineering, gun, and jewellery trades. (fn. 465) A great expansion in facilities and student numbers has taken place since then.
The municipal authorities provide library, statistical and information services, particularly in the patents' library, a rarity outside London, and in the commercial and technical libraries. The art gallery and science museum (fn. 466) with their gun, jewellery, and machinery exhibits have been supported by local manufacturers as a source of inspiration to students, especially designers.
Financial institutions and services have developed with the growth of industry and joint-stock organization. The eleven banks of 1884, which only included two branches of national banks, have been absorbed into the great national groups. The Birmingham Municipal Bank, set up in 1916 in connection with war savings, became permanent in 1919. The Birmingham Stock Exchange Association, formed in 1845, has a periphery of issuing houses and brokers to conduct its business. Some shares, like those of Belliss and Morcom up to 1952, are only quoted on the Birmingham Exchange, avoiding conformity with the more stringent London rules. The telephone now reduces considerably the advantages of a London quotation.
In 1884 there were seventeen brokers listed in Birmingham, ten of whom were members of the stock exchange. In 1960 the association has 111 members and is held to this limit only by restriction on entry. Several of the 1884 members, such as Margetts and Addenbrooke, N. Lea, and G. and W. Beech, remained in practice in 1960. A new issuing house, the Birmingham Industrial Trust, was opened in 1959. (fn. 467) Another, Neville Industrial Securities, has floated many local firms since 1945. (fn. 468) The professional services of accountants, lawyers, patent agents, engineering and management consultants, advertising agents, photographers, and printers are available locally. Service industries, telephone, postal and municipal administrations have also expanded to provide for the increased population which in turn provides the labour of local industry.
During the period societies for sales managers, directors, engineers, metallurgists, and others, started. Some national bodies, like the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (in Birmingham from its start in 1847 until 1876), (fn. 469) the Institute of Metals (formed in Birmingham in 1908), an Aeronautical Society of 1886, (fn. 470) and the British NonFerrous Metals Research Association (resident in Birmingham 1920–9), were initiated in Birmingham. The Society of the Chemical Industry formed a Birmingham branch as far back as 1883. (fn. 471) An Institute of Scientific Research was founded in Birmingham in 1880, funds being provided in part by H. O. Field of Holt Brewery. Dr. George Gore was employed by them for a time. (fn. 472) The Cast-iron Research Association is still (1960) resident locally, in Alvechurch. Birmingham has in fact been a regional centre for a population larger than that of the town alone. (fn. 473)
The relations between industry and the government, whether local or national, have become increasingly important since 1880 as government legislation has been employed to assist and control industrial development. Assistance has been given financially through export credits, trade facilities, and other schemes to provide funds when other sources proved inadequate. Oversea trade commissioners, a development out of the consular services, have sent home careful reports on markets and products and have supplied samples as well as guiding representatives on oversea visits. (fn. 474) Local business men, like Charles Reeves, the sword and gun manufacturer, Edwin Lander, the gun manufacturer, or W. F. Haydon, the secretary of the Birmingham Exchange, have acted as consular agents for some of the seventeen countries represented in Birmingham in the 1880s. Treaty negotiations, especially over inequalities or misunderstandings in foreign tariffs, have been continuous. (fn. 475)
Protection and assistance merged into control in such matters as hire-purchase agreements, the factory Acts, bankruptcy, (fn. 476) income and profits tax enactments, (fn. 477) and control of monopolies. (fn. 478) Employers, for instance, were greatly concerned about actions under the 1880 Workmen's Compensation and Employers' Liability Act, and insurance firms were established, like the Employers' Liability and Workpeople's Provident and Accident (1881). One such company, the Midland Employers' Mutual Assurance, set up in 1898 to insure against the later Workmen's Compensation Act, in 1960 paid the equivalent of £1,050 to each of its original £1 shareholders. (fn. 479) Consumers' protection, including the work of the assay office, and the proof-house, included the adoption of standards and safety regulations, such as those of the British Standards Institution, first set up as a committee of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1901. (fn. 480) In the matter of food adulteration, the first Act of Parliament in 1860 in this field was the work of a Birmingham M.P., William Scholefield, and the controls may have been influential in the success of the makers of 'pure' cocoa, Cadbury's, by the elimination of spurious cheaper qualities. (fn. 481)
Protection from imitations of trade marks, designs and patents was provided by legislation, and under the Merchandise Marks Act of 1926 (fn. 482) foreign goods had to be clearly marked as such. A National Association for the Protection of Trade Marks and Designs in Foreign Countries was formed in Birmingham in 1865. (fn. 483) Frauds, however, were not all on one side. In 1886, for instance, the German gaselier makers may have had grounds for proceedings against some British imitators. (fn. 484)
Encroachments of municipal (fn. 485) and government trading on the industrial sphere have been watched by manufacturers and 'fair wages' insisted upon in government contracts. (fn. 486) They strongly opposed the spread of government gun, leather, and other enterprises, (fn. 487) which had serious consequences for Birmingham trades, especially so in the case of the Enfield small arms factory. Feelings also ran high against the manufacture and retailing of gas fittings by the corporation gas department in Birmingham. (fn. 488)
Unemployment and bad trade generally have produced trade boards, (fn. 489) joint industrial and development councils, (fn. 490) working-party and productivity reports, (fn. 491) and municipal attempts to attract new firms to the city, a brochure and an information bureau being used in 1930 to assist the letting of sites. (fn. 492) Since 1945 the trend has been the other way and the national government has been directing firms away from Birmingham to the development areas. Town planning in Birmingham itself has also affected the location and housing of industry.
Government contracts, though seriously intermittent in their nature and perhaps at times unfairly allotted, (fn. 493) have brought a great deal of trade to Birmingham. The military-gun trade, virtually killed by government production at Enfield during successive periods of peace, was expected in wartime to fill the gap, and always did so. (fn. 494) Saddlery and harness, for which the leading contractors were the firms of D. Mason and Middlemore, (fn. 495) fell into disuse after the Boer War, the cutlass and the sword gave way to the bayonet and new items of government equipment have come along. J. Hudson and Co. (Whistles) has supplied Scotland Yard, and even the American army, with whistles since 1870; (fn. 496) W. J. Myatt and Co., who turned from jewellery when that trade languished, obtained the contract to supply the army with safety razors and blades in 1930, taking the contract from an American firm; (fn. 497) P. Webley and Son have supplied the army and navy with revolvers since 1887, at one time being virtually the only maker in the empire. (fn. 498) Metal buttons, mess tins, (fn. 499) cartridges, cycles, motor cycles, and ships' engines (fn. 500) have also been supplied. During war, of course, a far greater proportion of capacity has been harnessed to these contracts.
Industry has been attracted to Birmingham since 1880 by the reservoir of ingrained knowledge of the metal industry there rather than by any convenient juxtaposition of raw materials. Skilled labour, technical knowledge, machinery and machine-tool firms, rolling, plating and polishing facilities, and the ancillary administrative and transport services once in existence were self-perpetuating advantages. Raw materials were ceasing to come from the Black Country with the passing of the age of coal and iron and that area was slow to turn to manufacturing steel and steel alloys. The finished metal trades originally attracted to Birmingham because of the abundance of metals for their needs, now enabled these earlier metal-making processes to survive. (fn. 501) Swedish and Sheffield steels (pens, swords, umbrella-ribs, and other articles had long been made of Sheffield steel but consumed relatively small quantities compared with the new cycle, motor, and engineering industries), Liège gun barrels, Warrington wire, tropical rubber and cocoa, copper, nickel, and zinc from the empire were brought to Birmingham to be made into finished products or components and accessories. Only the fund of labour, capital equipment, and metallurgical knowledge was locally bred, and that was ceasing to be such an exclusive advantage.
This period saw the final end of water as an influence on location either as a source of power or of transport. It has furthermore seen the rise of road transport, enabling firms to move out of the town centre, and away from the railway lines.
The greatest influence upon location, however, in Birmingham has been the overcrowding of the centre of the town, fully developed before 1870 with mixed residential and workshop building. The local practice of building a workshop behind the house in the yard or garden, (fn. 502) except in Edgbaston where restrictive leases prevented it, increased the density of development. Slum clearance, road and station building, town planning, bomb damage, and the falling-in of leaseholds have increased the shortage of room for industrial purposes. Up to 1914 expansion and new industrial building took place in a series of industrial pockets (fn. 503) about three miles from the city centre, interspersed with terraced housing. There, in Washwood Heath, Witton, Saltley, Aston, Small Heath, and Ladywood, conveniently placed on the railway routes, (fn. 504) are to be found the new trades of that period — the cycle, electrical-goods, car, and machine-tool factories. The boundary changes of 1911 merely recognized that these once separate entities had become integral parts of the city.
The outer ring of post-1918 industrial building has spread down the main roads leading out of the city to the south, east and north-east, away from the Black Country and the older industrial areas of the town in a somewhat better-planned type of development. (fn. 505) The Tame valley has been further developed from Perry Barr to Castle Bromwich; Stirchley and the Bournville estate have been filled out alongside the Cadbury factory; the Selly Oak, Northfield, and Longbridge area and the districts along the Outer Circle Ring Road to Bromford have been extended with the production of a variety of products made, often, in small modern factories. A trading estate has been built on the edge of the town at King's Norton.
In the centre of the town, however, the jewellery and gun quarters remain (in 1960) awaiting re-development. The heart of the jewellery quarter, where 82 per cent. of the firms were in the trade in 1955, (fn. 506) lies in Vyse Street (fn. 507) where the leases were falling in in the 1950s. Growth before the First World War had extended the quarter to the north of St. Paul's Square and since 1914 many factories employing over a hundred workers in substantial buildings, have spread up Great Hampton Street. Only 14 per cent. of these factories are in the trade. Plans have been made for flatted factories to house the smaller firms without disrupting the links between firms and processes. (fn. 508) One such factory in Dartmouth Street housed twenty-five firms in 1959. The sporting-gun quarter round the General Hospital has been declining since 1870 but faces (1960) the same problem on a smaller scale. (fn. 509)
Since 1945 national planning has encouraged the foundation and movement of factories to the high unemployment areas like north Wales, south Wales and Northern Ireland. (fn. 510) Since the Second World War many concerns have been induced to start plants in these areas, putting to the test the importance of trained labour and linked processes so much emphasized in the past. Before 1900, in an attempt to reduce the incidence of freight rates on exports and on imported raw materials, firms had been attracted from Birmingham to south Wales.
During the period exports accounted for a smaller proportion of the output of individual firms, while fashion and change hit some trades, like those making steel pens, metal bedsteads, and chandeliers. The Birmingham jewellery trade saw changes not all to its advantage, while the gun trade, despite the introduction of target guns and airguns, declined. The rise in the standard of living, however, increased the demand for other home-produced goods including many of the type made in Birmingham. The expansion of sales of cars, cycles, and electrical goods, and of domestic goods go far to explain the industrial growth of Birmingham since 1880.
Location of industry in these years has been affected by changes in transport. Proposals by Samuel Lloyd in the 1880s for more direct water communications between Birmingham and the sea by linking the Severn, Trent, and Thames, like the schemes of George Cadbury in the 1920s, did not come to fruition. (fn. 511) Canals and railways declined and even before the use of motor transport the roads were important for the carriage of local freight. (fn. 512) In 1884 there were 64 carriers by 'wagon, van, and cart' going to places up to 30 miles round Birmingham in all directions. (fn. 513) With the advent of motor-vehicles factories have tended to be attracted to sites near arterial roads, except where heavy goods are concerned. Freight transport by air remained negligible in 1960.
Complaints at various times by the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce of unfair discrimination against Birmingham in freight charges of all kinds (fn. 514) were sometimes justified (fn. 515) and some firms like Elliott's, (fn. 516) and Nettlefolds, (fn. 517) moved part of their production to Bristol and south Wales to be near imported raw materials and oversea markets. American gun barrels sent to Birmingham to be proved (fn. 518) and Birmingham cycle tubes supplied to the United States, (fn. 519) however, recrossed the Atlantic for sale, suggesting that the chamber exaggerated the importance of freight charges as a cause of depression. (fn. 520)
As new methods of transport were also opening up markets to competition, selling methods became increasingly important. Birmingham goods ceased to sell themselves. Other countries, especially Germany, were by 1880 able to produce goods equal in quality and design and, above all, lower in price than Birmingham could. Quality, upon which many Birmingham manufacturers rested their case, was less important to consumers who could only afford the cheapest lines. New products and new customers, moreover, required new techniques of selling.
The factor was in decline by 1880. He had ceased to supply capital to the manufacturer while the need for the co-ordination of production between small units disappeared except in the declining gun, leather, and nail trades, where, in any case, this function was taken over by the manufacturer. The factor's domination of the market was also killed by direct selling by the manufacturer. (fn. 521) The larger scale of industry made this economically possible and the deficiencies of the system made it necessary. Several considerations made firms send their representatives and agents to promote their own trade-marked goods in oversea markets. (fn. 522) They included the reluctance of Australian merchants to promote Birmingham goods against American competition, and of ironmongers to stock some of the new lines which were therefore sold through drapers, tobacconists, and general stores. The excessive charges of exporting ironmongers and merchants had priced manufacturers' goods out of some markets. Moreover, the advantages gained by firms like Tangyes, who had depots in Australia in the 1860s, (fn. 523) by direct representation were apparent as was the importance of exhibitions where direct sales and contracts with shopkeepers were made. In addition direct supply of goods from factory to ironmonger, oversea buyer, or customer by-passed the middleman, and his profit. Finally the factors' and merchants' insistence on cheapness, rather than quality, took them away from the more reputable Birmingham houses to the Black Country and small producers. Sometimes the manufacturer factored goods in lines which he could not economically make himself. (fn. 524) A few firms, like Kynoch's, stood out against the trend for some time and refused to sell direct to the customer by by-passing the ironmonger. (fn. 525) In the export trade, the merchant remained important longer, (fn. 526) but the general merchant house was increasingly replaced by one connected with particular manufacturers. (fn. 527)
Direct selling by the manufacturer entailed offices, showrooms, warehouses, or, at least, agents and travellers in the main markets. By 1889 firms employing only 200 workers, like T. Wilkinson in electroplate, S. B. Whitfield in metal bedsteads, Samuel Mason in beer fittings, and W. Soutter in lamps, had showrooms in London and elsewhere. (fn. 528) R. Foster, a ventilator firm, had showrooms or agents as far afield as London, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Natal, and Sydney; (fn. 529) James Boyce, an umbrellarib maker, in Paris, London, and Antwerp; (fn. 530) and William Blews, the bell-maker, in London and Moscow. (fn. 531) Catalogues, often in several languages, became common. (fn. 532)
Although in the 1880s the cost of an agent might be £500 a year (fn. 533) or his salary £2 3s. a week plus 5 per cent. commission (fn. 534) perhaps with expenses of up to 18s. a day, (fn. 535) firms increasingly undertook the expense for themselves rather than continue to depend on merchant houses. In 1960 a combined-selling group was formed amongst small firms in the brass trade. (fn. 536) There has also been an extension of sales promotion by trade associations and chambers of commerce.
Catalogues and showrooms have become more elaborate, and a great number of trade magazines have appeared to carry advertisements, a tendency which began in local magazines in the 1880s. Coupled with increased advertisement was registration and use of a trade mark, such as the 'Busy Bee' of J. B. Brooks, and the 'King of the Road' of Joseph Lucas's cycle lamps, referring to specialities of the firms, rather than of the merchant. The days when Mason's pens could be marketed under the 'Perryian' label were passing.
This tendency, however, produced its own troubles with stolen patterns, (fn. 537) infringed trade marks, and patent actions, often long and costly, against home and foreign imitators. Birmingham Small Arms, for instance, fought a successful case lasting two years against a German merchant using 'B.S.A.' on cycles in Cologne. (fn. 538) Another case occurred in the 1890s in the gun trade when damages were awarded to Tait, trading as Isaac Hollis and Sons, against Abrahams who had stamped 'Hollis' on inferior Belgian guns sold in Australia. (fn. 539) About the same time German goods were even brought to Birmingham to give them a local finish, better to suit English customers. (fn. 540) Legislation has not altogether succeeded in preventing this and court action cannot bring redress after the competing goods have been sold.
A prime example of successful advertising was that of the Patent Borax Company. The virtues of borax were discovered in California in 1874. By advertising and colourful packaging it became the basis of a firm employing 500 in Birmingham in 1887. (fn. 541) The Patent Enamel Company of Selly Oak even grew out of the practice of advertising on enamelled iron plates on hoardings. (fn. 542) It used a process invented by Benjamin Baugh and then applied the technique to decorating table tops and ceilings.
Another form of sales promotion which originated in the 1849 exhibition in Birmingham was the general or trade fair. The winning of medals at such a fair was proclaimed in advertisements, as was success in shooting and racing trials, by such firms as James, Birmingham Small Arms, Greener, and Kynoch's. Early cycle tracks existed at Bingley Hall and Aston Lower Grounds for local enthusiasts, and pioneers like Austin, Lanchester, and Arthur du Cros appeared in such events on their own machines.
An electrical and industrial exhibition was held in Birmingham in 1889 as were some of the first cycle and motor shows. (fn. 543) The idea of an annual British Industries Fair, first proposed by the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce in 1913, was promoted nationally to show German products no longer obtainable because of the First World War in the hope that British producers would start to manufacture them. Good business was done at the first full show held in 1920, the local section occupying a redundant aircraft hangar at Castle Bromwich, and at subsequent shows. The popularity of specialized fairs, however, caused the chamber to discontinue this Birmingham promotion in 1957. (fn. 544) Leather goods, cycles, motor cars, hardware, and other goods have their own shows and a permanent exhibition of engineering goods from 260 firms, not necessarily local, is kept at the Birmingham Exchange.
Hire purchase has also promoted sales. In 1891 John Johnson offered his landaus, broughams, and victorias on three-year hire purchase, but was reported to be the only person in the district offering this facility. (fn. 545) At that time instalment buying of cycles and sewing machines was also common, even if unpopular with vendor and manufacturer. (fn. 546) H. H. Mulliner sold second-hand carriages as well as new ones at his showrooms in Broad Street, and was the first to offer insurance of his carriages against accidents 'at very moderate rates... considering the risks undertaken'. (fn. 547) The corporation gas department also hired out gas fittings and stoves and offered hire-purchase terms in the eighties. (fn. 548) The practice has since grown enormously and with it the renting of consumer goods, power units, and machinery. Post-sales service has grown to repair and maintain machinery and goods sold. Averys have opened their own shops to facilitate the sales and servicing of their scales. Large distributing concerns like the Halford Cycle Co., (fn. 549) formed in 1893, market the new consumer goods. Gun firms, like Westley Richards, have long maintained a retail shop to sell their wares.
While essential to a full understanding of the Birmingham industrial scene since 1880, few trade figures for Birmingham alone exist and national indices have to be used instead. These have been adequately discussed elsewhere. (fn. 550) Their main feature is the absolute decline of the exports of such local trades as bedsteads, umbrellas, and saddlery and the stagnation in traditional Birmingham trades like hardware, hollowware, railway rolling stock, jewellery, and small arms. This stagnation, with the decline in the value of sterling since 1900, entails a decline in quantity. An expansion has taken place, however, in the exports of tubes, cycles, cars, tyres, and electrical goods, but as part of the general development of those trades, rather than as a turning to exports. Since 1945 the concentration upon developing export markets has produced a widespread expansion in all exports, in which even the traditional trades have shared, though the process has not gone far enough (by 1960) to redress the balance of trade.
Figures for the overall exports of industrial countries show the success of foreign competition. In 1880 this country, and with it Birmingham, was still ahead in the industrial race, although German and Belgian competition was becoming apparent. (fn. 551) The United States entered the field in the nineties. Later the Japanese became serious rivals in the Far East. Pforzheim jewellery, (fn. 552) Liège guns, (fn. 553) Belgian glassware, and Solingen edge tools (fn. 554) have undercut particular Birmingham staples. Germany was the great threat before 1914. (fn. 555) In small arms, Belgian competitors took over the cheaper side of the sporting-gun market. In umbrellas it was the Japanese, and in cycles, for a short time only, the United States whose trade expanded at the expense of ours.
This competition showed itself particularly in a decline in the proportion of home production exported, which was not always evident from mere trade figures, since changes in output and the value of sterling affected the totals. This decline in the importance of exports had several causes. First, trades like railway rolling stock, guns, saddlery, and agricultural implements were affected by the decline in demand as fewer areas remained to be opened up. Secondly, these same areas (which at this time included the United States) as well as industrial countries like Germany were developing many industries for themselves. Thirdly, the new industries developing in Birmingham itself produced first and foremost for the home market, influenced by foreign tariffs and the severe competition to be met abroad.
The direction of trade also changed, influenced by the slowing down of economic development in areas like South America, Australia, and South Africa, and by tariffs, prohibitions, currency depreciation and exchange regulation. The growth of tariff walls was, after foreign competition, the main influence upon export markets. Native industries were fostered behind their protection and such producers have been able to dump goods abroad at prices below cost using their protected home market to balance profit and loss. The extensive home market of the United States built up behind the McKinley tariff of 1890 helped American producers to compete abroad, and severely hit the gun, pearl-button, bedstead, and other trades of Birmingham, which had previously found ready sales there. Since 1890 the situation has worsened with the spread of protection and the growth of native industries, being particularly serious in view of our dependence on exports and our earlier free-trade principles.
Restrictions, like the prohibitions on the gun trade to India and the Middle East (fn. 556) in the 1890s, and the New Zealand threat to cocoa imports of 1938 (fn. 557) were disastrous to particular trades and firms. The First and Second World Wars complicated currency arrangements and after 1918 and 1945 firms with good connexions in particular markets overseas found their places taken by other importers or by home producers. The initial boom following the two wars evident in the figures for 1920 and 1946 was followed by a slump and a hard climb back into many export markets.
With increased competition abroad, British exports tended to follow the flag to colonial and dominion countries. Even there ground was lost. Preferential treatment and the Sterling-Area links further encouraged this trend.
Overall, in most trades, the home market in Britain was successfully reserved to home producers, although small arms and buttons were two of the worst placed. Competition between home producers, however, was made more severe by pressure overseas. This led to greater attention to export sales and to the promotion of British goods, as, for example, in the marking of foreign goods for sale here, and in the 'Buy British' campaigns of the 1930s. Protection of the home market followed. Since the Second World War special efforts have been made to find new markets to redress the balance of trade.
While contemporary comments present a picture of sharp and prolonged trade fluctuations hitting the area periodically, an examination of individual trades leaves no such impression of general boom and slump but rather of curtailed profit margins all round and a few depressed trades. The 'great depression' of the late 1870s was by no means uniform in its effect in Birmingham. (fn. 558) It is true that it marked the advent of foreign competition to the main industries of the town and so necessitated adjustments in industrial structure and technology which tended to create pockets of distress amongst a specialized labour force and industrialists. The steel-pen trade, the bedstead trade, jewellery, brass, and leather, however, were relatively unaffected, at least until the years 1885–6 when the decline in colonial demand hit the leather and edge-tool trade and jewellery became temporarily unfashionable.
The gun trade was less fortunate since peace conditions, Enfield military-gun production, Belgian competition, and the U.S. tariff of 1890 severely cut trade. The pearl-button trade was hurt by the price of shell and by German and French competition. The glass trade took its stand on quality and let the cheaper, and expanding, side of the trade go to the Belgians. These trades tended to remain depressed, the pearl-button trade, for instance, being successively hit by the McKinley tariff of 1890, mechanization in 1895, Austrian and Japanese competition, and cheaper alternatives to pearl. (fn. 559)
The atmosphere of better trade after 1886 was engendered by the expansion of the trades least hit by the previous depression at the expense of the others, and by the growth of the new cycle, tube, tyre, and electrical trades, and, after 1900, the motor trade. Cost-reducing factors introduced into these trades to meet the depression and competition reinforced this contrast.
Similar periods of relatively bad trade came in the early 1900s, in 1921, and in the years 1931–6. The depression of the 1930s paralleled the earlier one. Some industries suffered, others, such as the motor and electrical industries, hardly hesitated in their expansion. (fn. 560) Birmingham was fortunate in possessing industries that were growing fast nationally and, equally important, in not possessing those that were declining, rather than in the presence of specifically local factors. Of local trades, only jewellery declined nationally. The decline in the gun trade was of earlier origin and merely continued. The motor trade, however, did not expand as much in Birmingham as in Coventry. (fn. 561)
Unemployment as a result was relatively less in Birmingham than elsewhere, being 17.7 per cent. in 1931 falling to 8.1 per cent. in 1934. (fn. 562) This was conspicuously different in extent from the state of affairs in the Black Country, (fn. 563) where, as in 1880, depression had hit harder and lingered longer through lack of the newer industries. Employment in the motor and the metal trades was in fact relatively well maintained over the whole country, as was employment in electrical engineering, cocoa, leather, and rubber amongst local trades. New factories replaced those that had to close down. (fn. 564)
Since the Second World War, no unemployment of this widespread nature has threatened, although the Ministry of Supply's ban in 1950 on a wide range of brassfoundry goods was only withdrawn after the united action of the National Brassfoundry Association. (fn. 565) Too great reliance on the motor industry for employment in Birmingham and its dependence on the vagaries of overseas trade has also caused concern, particularly since the redundancies of 1956.
Bad trade whether temporary or permanent has produced remedial proposals. Rationalization, combination, and mechanization have been discussed elsewhere. Others, which looked outward at market influences like exchange rates, currency regulations and tariffs, found widespread support. Bimetallism was supported by the chamber of commerce in the eighties. (fn. 566) Both the Reciprocity League in the seventies and the Fair Trade movement in the eighties found some of their leading exponents in Birmingham. Frederick Blood was the founder of the Birmingham Reciprocity League (fn. 567) and Sampson S. Lloyd was the first president of the national Fair Trade League, (fn. 568) while Henry Hawkes was also on its executive. A supporting resolution was passed by the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce in 1887. (fn. 569) A branch of the Fair Trade League was formed in Birmingham in 1888. (fn. 570) When the general election of 1885 was fought in part on this issue, Joseph Chamberlain refused to support the movement at that stage of his political career, (fn. 571) and in May 1887 he refused the presidency of the chamber of commerce because he was opposed to protection 'in every shape or form'. (fn. 572)
Imperial federation was proposed by the chamber in 1885 (fn. 573) and was unsuccessfully campaigned for nationally by Chamberlain after 1896, reaching a climax in his 1903 speech as Colonial Secretary. (fn. 574) Support for some form of protection was spreading in Birmingham as competition worsened, especially after the American McKinley tariff duties of 1890 and 1897. W. A. Bindley, of Wright, Bindley and Gell, the umbrella-rib manufacturers, R. G. Evered, of Evered and Co., brassfounders, and R. P. Yates, of John Yates and Co., edge-tool makers, and many others supported tariff reform.
The McKenna duties of 1915, intended to discourage trade in particular products during the war, were the first duties on which some imperial preference could be given, as it was in 1919. These preferences, taken off in 1924, were restored in 1925 to safeguard products like gas mantles, cutlery, and domestic hollow-ware. Extensions to other articles were discussed, (fn. 575) and as a result of the Imperial Economic Conference of 1932 this was done. In comparison with the German or American tariff, however, they constituted slight protection to industry in general. The position has changed since then and in 1960 our home market is one of the most protected in Europe with many duties in the 20 to 30 per cent. range and even some in the 60 per cent. range.
The chamber of commerce and other trade associations gave valuable help to traders by arguing particular points in foreign tariff law where hardship occurred. Reform of maritime law, the introduction of the metric system, and changes in the Birmingham wire gauge were other matters on which they gave their assistance. The metric system, discussed by the chamber in 1887, (fn. 576) was adopted throughout the Kynoch works and in all their dealings with oversea customers in 1906. (fn. 577) Earlier, Chamberlain had been able to extend Nettlefolds' connexion with France by using French and the metric system. (fn. 578)
In answer to the tariff barrier many Birmingham firms set up factories in the country concerned. Brampton Brothers started a plant at Calais in 1896 to make cycle chains, (fn. 579) the G.E.C., Kynoch's, (fn. 580) and Charles Wade (fn. 581) had subsidiaries in South Africa in the early 1900s, and by 1957 some twenty local firms had departments or associates in Australia. (fn. 582) The European Common Market has caused firms to establish connexions in Europe.
NEW TECHNIQUES, MATERIALS, AND PRODUCTS
The pressure of foreign competition in the eighties pushed industrialists into technical changes at a time when great strides were being made in technology and new materials and products were being developed. The most important metallurgical innovation was the development of cheap steel and steel alloys. This followed Bessemer's basic steel-making process of 1856 and the basic open-hearth process of 1875. As long as wrought iron, which was hard to machine, continued to be used by the staple metal trades of the area, advance in mechanization was limited. Moreover, the machine tools of carbon steel in use in the 1850s had a relatively short life and a low speed limit. Carbon steel cut cast iron at fifteen feet per minute compared to tungsten carbide's rate of 250 feet per minute. (fn. 583) The discovery of high speed tool steel in 1898 by Taylor and White made a 60 per cent. increase in working speeds possible. Thus both the material machined and the machine itself were greatly improved.
The lack of local demand for machinery comparable to that of the railway or the textile industry had kept the engineering industry in Birmingham small in size, local in importance, and with none of the advantages of specialization. (fn. 584) Hand presses were the only line developed to any extent, though a few firms did a considerable business in stationary engines. James Archdale and Company, for instance, specialized in certain sizes of high speed drilling and milling machines only after 1918, (fn. 585) while another firm, H. W. Ward, date their specialization from about 1912. (fn. 586) Lack of demand had prevented the early work of Watt, Murdock, and Boulton at the Soho Foundry in producing steam engines, and of Whitworth in pioneering 'co-ordinated manufacture', (fn. 587) from being exploited.
Yet by 1914 the engineering trade had become one of the largest employers in the district. This transformation followed the mechanization of the older trades consequent upon the adoption of steel and the development of the cycle trade. The principle of inter-changeability of parts, introduced into Birmingham with the setting up of the Birmingham Small Arms factory at Small Heath in 1861 to make military rifles by machinery, was then applied to the cycle trade. In fact, so adaptable was the gun factory to the manufacture of cycle parts (and so uncertain the gun trade) that many firms like Abingdon Works, Accles, Kynoch's, the National Arms and Ammunition Company, and the Birmingham Small Arms Company itself went into the new trade. The sewing-machine makers in Birmingham, and in Coventry, like the Royal Sewing Machine Company and William Bown, also found their equipment suitable.
The cycle trade and the electrical industry, which was growing in the late eighties, required large quantities of standard parts accurately machined at low prices. Even more decisive in its influence was the demand of the motor trade, which was steadily expanding after the repeal of the red flag regulations in 1896. This demand created the machine-tool industry in Birmingham, and set up a chain of innovation in machinetool design and production methods which ramified far beyond these trades. The effect was not immediate, but the demand for general automatic and semi-automatic tools set the trade thinking and in due course radical changes in design both in special purpose and in general tools resulted. (fn. 588)
By 1914 the machine-tool industry had become a considerable specialist trade in Birmingham, particularly on the locally-important power-press side. The First World War further speeded up and extended mechanization and the use of tool steel from the most advanced firms in each trade downwards. New plant was purchased, often with government financial help, and knowledge and personnel were pooled in a way impossible under normal competitive conditions. With the advent of the cheap massproduced car in 1923, a further boost was given to the machine-tool trade.
Multiple boring spindles, compound dies, the use of ball bearings and hydraulic feeds have followed. Other improvements in machine tools from the 1930s have been the use of anti-friction bearings, quick-return mechanisms, hardened and ground gears, automatic pump lubrication, independent motors, remote button control, and visual reading speed and feed dials. (fn. 589) The extension of milling produced a revolution in machining between 1900 and 1915. Grinding machines, now able to work to very close tolerances almost automatically, came into general use, with the parallel development of abrasives like emery and carborundum. The jig (fn. 590) trade has developed with its own machine tools. Automatic feeding and ejection, and the turret lathe were but preliminaries to the development in the 1930s of transfer machines, in which the article is moved automatically from one linked machine to the next, and, since the Second World War, of automation. (fn. 591)
The work of F. W. Lanchester in applying new techniques to car manufacture was also significant. The first British car was made at his Birmingham works in 1896 and in the course of its production and that of later models, he made a hobbing machine for machining worms and worm wheels, (fn. 592) was the first to develop ball bearings in a car, and invented the multi-splined shaft. (fn. 593) A worm drive of the new type used in the Lanchester car found another use in an Archdale heavy-duty worm-drive milling machine. (fn. 594)
In the 1920s flow production using a similar concept to that of the transfer machine but applied to overall production, was installed in some works. This often involved an actual moving conveyor belt to carry the product through the different processes, (fn. 595) and thus involved a revolution in the arrangement of a factory. Separate shops sending their output to a central store for distribution to the next process and for inspection gave way to an arrangement of machines, workers, inspectors, and finally despatch departments that would take each individual product through successive processes from start to finish with components and accessories available along the course as required. (fn. 596) This fitted in with developments in other parts of the firm. The system of production in separate shops had suited the converted house which so often formed the factory of the 19th century, but flow production required large open spaces, preferably on one floor, where overhead cranes, and moving belts could operate. The re-housing and re-location of industry in Birmingham enabled this change to take place. Again, an essential pre-condition to the introduction of such methods was a huge, steady demand for the product, reinforcing the need for a progressive sales policy.
New uses were developed during the period for steel and its alloys, (fn. 597) such as manganese steel, chromium steel, and tungsten steel. They spread in Birmingham, particularly in the motor industry, and stainless steel was used in the 1920s for Perry pens, Accles tubes, and kitchen equipment. Other industries, especially the electrical trades, also benefited.
Aluminium, (fn. 598) the use of which increased enormously during the period, was commercially manufactured for the first time in 1877 by James Webster at the Crown Metal Works, Holywood, Solihull, near Birmingham. (fn. 599) Ten years later, the plant was taken over by Castner and moved to Oldbury, as the Aluminium Company. Electrolytic methods of making aluminium, however, rendered the plant obsolete and it was turned over to the production of sodium, later becoming part of I.C.I. (fn. 600) Since 1914 specialist foundries have been developed locally making crankshafts, gear boxes, and wheels for heavy vehicles, while considerable quantities of hollow-ware have long been made in this material.
In 1909 James Booth and Company developed Duralumin, a particularly durable alloy. Phosphor bronze, Mond metal, manganese bronze, (fn. 601) Delta metal, (fn. 602) and other alloys have been introduced into the brass trade. (fn. 603) The research work of firms like Imperial Chemical Industries (Metals Division) (fn. 604) and Henry Wiggin and Company, which since 1892 (fn. 605) and more formally since 1931 has been linked with the Mond Nickel group, has led to new alloys and new applications.
In Birmingham, as elsewhere, interchangeability and standardization necessitated a more scientific attitude to measurement, quality, and testing of size, shape, and chemical content of products and materials. With regard to shape and size, the machinetool industry developed machine tools with tolerances inconceivable under the old system. Electronic devices have carried the process to near perfection. During the First World War, when production was scattered between many works, the problem was solved, or greatly eased, by the use of 'go-and-not-go gauges', (fn. 606) which made inspection simplicity itself. More accurate manufacture has meant that the fitting shop could give way to the assembly shop with less skilled labour. Testing devices, gauges, pyrometers, (fn. 607) micrometers, and other gadgets have been developed locally by Averys for the larger machines, (fn. 608) and by the instrument makers for the smaller. X-rays can now be used to show up defects in castings before time is wasted on machining.
In the matter of the chemical content of the materials, the metallurgist and the chemist have been called in and laboratories set up to test materials, (fn. 609) deficiencies in which could cost large sums in broken machine tools and defective products. (fn. 610) Thus the attention to quality required in the ammunition and cartridge trades after the Woolwich Arsenal ruling of 1886 (fn. 611) spread to raise the standard of brass in other trades. (fn. 612) This has applied as much to industries like the paint and varnish or the cocoa as to the metal trades. During the Second World War, statistical methods of quality control were introduced in many works, often to satisfy the inspectors of the Ministry of Supply. (fn. 613)
Heat treatment and alloy production have led to advances in furnace construction. Although in 1914 more than half the local furnaces were still coke or coal heated, (fn. 614) with the concomitant danger of impurities entering the product, gas, oil, and electricity were gaining ground. Ease of control and handling and the coal strike of 1926 were important influences in the changeover, while the electric arc furnace for making alloys further reduced contamination by impurities. (fn. 615) The first electric furnace for melting copper in Birmingham was of the resistance type and was installed at Kynoch's in 1920, followed by an electric induction furnace for brass melting in 1921 and for annealing copper alloys in 1926. (fn. 616) A considerable industry specialized in furnace design and installation, (fn. 617) including firms like Birlec, registered in 1927 as Birmingham Electric Furnaces and later part of Associated Electrical Industries, and Birwelco. The 'tank' furnace in the glass trade, (fn. 618) and drying ovens in the enamelling trades also benefited from this attention. Continuous ovens and furnaces were a later development.
Chemical engineering also affected and indeed created local trades. The paint and varnish industry (fn. 619) long prominent for black varnish and lacquer for the galvanizing and hollow-ware trades found new customers in the nineties in the cycle, motor, and domestic-appliance trades at a time when the old demand was declining. Enamels for industrial purposes were developed and paints for decoration as well as protection; synthetics took the place of natural resins; mechanical spraying was introduced. (fn. 620) The Frederick Crane Chemical Company developed cellulose esters for the brass trade commercially. (fn. 621) Arthur Holden and Sons, established in 1830 by Jeremiah Barrett and taken over by Arthur Holden in 1865, built new works in the 1930s which were reported to contain the latest in machinery. (fn. 622) The importance of the railway-carriage trade as a market for varnish was indicated by the inclusion of Docker Brothers in the carriage combine of 1902.
The development of the gas industry provided in its waste products the raw materials of the gas liquor and tar industries. Three Black Country firms founded in the mid-19th century, Lewis Demuth and Co., Major and Co., and Robinson Brothers, united in 1918 as Midland Tar Distillers with works at Oldbury and at Nechells. Robinson Brothers had started tar manufacture about 1908. In Birmingham itself, a works producing chloride and sulphate liquors was started at Nechells, and became part of Brotherton and Co. about 1900. Josiah Hardman used tar from the local gasworks at the same date. (fn. 623)
Just before the First World War, the plastics industry began to develop new materials such as thermoplastics and thermo-setting resinoids as alternatives to metals. (fn. 624) The first successful synthetic resin of the thiourea-formaldehyde type was produced by British Industrial Plastics at Oldbury. (fn. 625) The first white moulding powder was discovered in their works. In Birmingham the work of Swinburne and H. V. Potter led to the Damard Lacquer factory at Tyseley, known as Bakelite after its purchase in 1926 by an American, L. H. Baekeland, who had patented the unpatented discovery of Swinburne in 1907. (fn. 626)
Plastic mouldings are now in general industrial use since they possess qualities as varied as metal alloys. Gears, such as those made by Tufnol of Perry Barr, of laminated synthetic resins with a paper or fabric base, couplings, electrical fittings, car upholstery, and metal smallwares, like thimbles and buttons, are made in the new raw materials. Synthetic 'leather cloth' and moulded fibre glass have replaced real leather in the local fancy and travel-goods trades. In another field, also, the rubber industry whether using synthetic or real rubber has depended on the chemical engineer for new processes and uses.
The rubber industry had early links with Birmingham. Thomas Hancock first vulcanized rubber by curing it with sulphur and sent Matthew Boulton a coat made out of it. Hancock was involved in patent litigation with the American Goodyear who saw the commercial possibilities of the process in 1843. Rubber vulcanized by the cold process was made in Birmingham by Alexander Parkes, in 1852, but the process was sold to Charles Mackintosh of Manchester, later part of the Dunlop organization. (fn. 627) A local firm, Swallow Raincoats, continues (1960) in the mackintosh field, while Dunlop's used rubber for tyres and many other purposes. Parkes is also considered the father of the plastics industry for his invention of the celluloid known as parkesine in 1861. (fn. 628)
In 1900, in conjunction with their manufacture of ammunition, Kynoch's started making soap and candles, at Witton in competition with the soap trust. The common factor was the use of glycerine. (fn. 629) During the period changes in the older chemical trades have taken place mainly outside Birmingham, for instance, in the phosphorus and alkali firms at Oldbury. Greater scientific skill was also applied to the refining of scrap both in the jewellery trade where new methods of extracting the last ounce of gold and silver were found and in the metal trades in dealing with their scrap.
Other engineering advances have carried mechanization into every field of industry. In the brass trade, the First World War saw the use of hot pressings and stampings instead of castings with the advantages of increased speed in manufacture and of a reduction in skilled work and in subsequent machining. (fn. 630) Spinning on a lathe, in turn replaced by pressing, began in the hollow-ware trade during this period. The extrusion of brass and copper tubes was a major innovation by G. A. Dick, founder of Delta Metal, in 1894 to replace rolling and drawing. Extrusion had previously been confined to softer metals like tin and lead. It is now used in the manufacture of curtain rods and of articles in plastic materials. The capstan lathe came into general use at the turn of the century (fn. 631) replacing the ordinary brassworkers' lathe, which had, in turn, been replacing hand work during the previous thirty years. (fn. 632) The lathe made possible the employment of women in the trade. (fn. 633) John Webb and Co. for instance introduced the brassworkers' lathe in 1882 and capstans in 1905. (fn. 634)
Electric and acetylene welding has spread into many local trades since the 1930s (fn. 635) replacing the skilled hand-welding process which came into use in the 1890s, for instance, for tube welding. (fn. 636) It is used in the motor and railway-carriage trade to avoid bolting parts together. The cutting power of an acetylene flame had other applications. Despite this, however, welded steel tubes have given way to the weldless or seamless drawn variety (fn. 637) manufactured on quite different principles, such as were already employed in brass and copper tube making. (fn. 638) Very many new uses have been found for the seamless tube, including golf sticks, hypodermic needles, tubular furniture and bus-seating, and sten-gun barrels. (fn. 639) Gun barrels ceased to be damascened and were drawn as steel tubes.
In the field of both ferrous and non-ferrous metals, technical advance has taken the form of improved drawbenches, dies, and the like, in an increase in the diameter of the tubes that can be drawn, and in the degree of automation used in the handling of the materials and the tubes. (fn. 640) Three-, four- and five-high rolling mills have been installed locally. (fn. 641) The first four-high mill in Great Britain was installed at the Henry Wiggin plant in 1930. (fn. 642) Kynoch's works also led in this field. (fn. 643) Early work on rollingmill development had been carried out by George Bedson and Bernard Lauth, both Birmingham men. Bedson was the first to apply the continuous rolling mill (fn. 644) to rod rolling in 1862, the mill being installed in Manchester. (fn. 645) Lauth introduced the threehigh principle to his works in Birmingham in 1862. In this the third roller was placed above the other two to enable metal to be passed back again without reversing the engines. (fn. 646)
In the edge-tool trade, pressing replaced hammering for some articles like shovels, and machinery was applied to the making of handles. Mechanical spraying and continuous ovens have greatly speeded up the enamelling of hollow-ware and articles like car chassis and mudguards.
Sandblasting had replaced pickling by 1916 in a few local firms. (fn. 647) The electrically driven tandem machine in the wire trade has provided an improved method of wire drawing. (fn. 648) Chain making machinery was in use in the 1920s in one Birmingham firm, Aston Chain and Hook, although this was generally a Black Country trade. (fn. 649) Only 160 workers were employed by this firm in 1954 indicating that advanced management and engineering techniques are not restricted to the large firm. (fn. 650)
In the foundry, plate moulding, whereby the pressing of the sand round the die was done by machinery, was introduced in the 1880s. Machine moulding (fn. 651) (the making of the moulds by machinery) was coming in before the First World War where demand was large enough to justify the increased cost of the machinery. Patterns were being made in metal, and later even in plaster, rather than wood. (fn. 652) Diecasting, an extension of the earlier chill casting used in the bedstead trade, spread after the First World War. (fn. 653) In 1931 there were only three or four pressure diecasting plants (fn. 654) in the country, one of which was that of Birmingham Aluminium Casting of Smethwick. (fn. 655) Lucas (Electrical)'s diecasting shop has been described as one of the most modern in Europe. (fn. 656) After 1945 about 60 per cent. of the output of the diecasters has been used in the motor and cycle trades. A car may contain 100 to 150 separate castings. (fn. 657) Articles like coffin furniture are also diecast. The place of the skilled smith was taken more and more by the drop forger, backed by increasingly heavy hammers and dieblocks of hard steel as introduced by Thomas Smith of Saltley to replace those of iron with a steel face welded on, (fn. 658) while shears able to cut sheet steel were an important development.
These advances had several other common denominators. They used the power made available by gas, electricity, oil, and steam engines, they required a standardized, steady, as well as considerable, demand to be economic, and they took full advantage of new materials and machine tools. Their introduction spread the factory system wider and deeper, so that by 1914 the machine was in the ascendant over hand labour in almost every trade, though not necessarily in the majority of firms in every trade. (fn. 659) The overall effect was to extend standardization and simplification, which was helped by the passing of the Victorian taste for the ornate. Small machined parts replaced castings allowing the power press, lathe and machine tool to replace much foundry and hand labour. Better castings made more quickly by machinery produced a contrary trend in some lines as a means of reducing machining time. Power presses, capstan lathes, drills, steam stamps and hammers replaced the treadle lathe, hand press, and punch and kick stamp. Machine shops became essential departments in new factories, emphasizing the part played by the skilled toolmaker. Automatic feeding, multiple action, compound dies, and continuous processing with increased speeds and tolerances followed. Where long runs were not possible, or did not have time to develop in a new product, batch production was the rule. Where demand did not even justify that, jobbing firms existed with general though often highly efficient machinery, perhaps fitting customers' dies to their machines.
All this has produced a growth in scale, partly through the elimination of smaller firms and partly through the expansion and amalgamation of others, and the disappearance of hand labour. Even in trades like sporting guns, jewellery and leather, where hand work is still important in 1960, more machinery and power and more large firms exist than formerly.
Over the period mechanization in the main processes spread to subsidiary ones as well. Mechanical carding of pins, hooks and eyes, and buttons, paper-box making and button holing are some of the developments which have eliminated the worst of the sweated trades. Fork-lift trucks and the use of pallets and stillages have revolutionized the warehousing of goods and in conjunction with overhead cranes the transport of goods within the factory.
Methods have changed since 1880 on the administrative as well as the productive side of industry. Specialist departments now do what, if done at all, had often been the responsibility of one man in the 19th century. They cover statistical work, the organization of a production line, quality control, work study (introduced at I.C.I. for incentive purposes in the 1920s and more generally in 1947, (fn. 660) and at Aston Chain and Hook (fn. 661) and Phosphor Bronze in 1937), (fn. 662) personnel management, and time-andmotion study. Apart from mechanical office aids, specialist sales, (fn. 663) accounting, sales forecasting and market research departments have developed. More attention has been paid to accounting techniques and costing, lack of which through bad pricing were often held responsible for cut-throat competition. Encouraged by the incidence of the tax laws, new methods of stock valuation, asset depreciation and standard costing (fn. 664) have been applied in many firms. Standard costing, for instance, was introduced at Phosphor Bronze in 1936. (fn. 665)
All this has meant a great expansion in the administrative side of the firm with the concomitant increase in overheads, and has opened up clerical careers to women. Moreover, it has caused the growth of the office equipment and stationery trade. Morland and Impey were one of the first firms to cater for this with their loose leaf books of 1905. However, as far back as 1868 a patent was taken out by a Birmingham accountant, J. S. Adcock, for 'a system of keeping accounts and arrangements of books employed for that purpose' and the following year, James Booth, of the printers and stationers Martin Billing, Son and Co., patented an improvement 'in the indexes of account books' indicating a new interest in 'paper work'. Since then, the metal trades locally have found themselves able to produce typewriters, computers, and steel office furniture.
The economics of innovation in terms of costs and increased productivity is hard to discover. A few individual examples may be given. The T.U.C. in 1888, supporting the proposal for an eight-hour day, considered that there had been a 33 per cent. saving in the metal trade and an average saving of over 40 per cent. over the previous forty years from the use of labour-saving machinery. (fn. 666) Arthur Chamberlain of Kynoch's described the effect of automatic machinery in cartridge making. In 1905 55 processes were being done at a cost of one-fifth of a cent in labour. Wages had risen over the previous ten years but had fallen from 28.48 to 15.50 per cent. of costs. (fn. 667) Three men took a year to make a car at the Austin Motor Company in 1907. In 1922 one man made one car and a bit, and in 1934 four cars, in a year. (fn. 668) Since the Second World War the use of overhead cranes, which replaced manhandling, was said to have speeded up handling by 600 to 700 per cent. in one Birmingham firm. (fn. 669)
Several indirect economies often accompanied the new machinery. First, the new processes often reduced costs by lessening the amount of subsequent machining that was necessary. Secondly, skilled labour was superseded by semi-skilled and often female labour. Union rules and conservatism on the part of the labour force sometimes, however, prevented full advantage being taken of economies. An American criticism indicates that this difficulty existed before 1900, when it was reckoned that American machinery installed in Birmingham could only be expected to yield two-thirds the output normal in the U.S.A., production being also hindered by the practice of one man per machine. (fn. 670)
The provision of new sources of power and their better application to factory uses form another essential ingredient in this tale of technical change. Mechanization depended on power, and the increase in the supply of efficient engines to harness the different sources of power is part of the engineering revolution that has occurred since 1880. There were two general trends. First, the small-capacity engine at an economic price made mechanization possible for the small firm as well as the large, and secondly, the general tendency has been to replace engines supplying the whole factory by small motors attached to individual machines, which are cleaner, steadier, more adaptable, and, moreover, avoid the belting so reminiscent of the 19th-century workshop. (fn. 671) A leading manufacturer considered 1925 to be the last year in which sales of belt-driven machinery equalled those of other types. After that they declined. (fn. 672)
Water (fn. 673) and wind power had been replaced long before 1880 by steam, and, by then, gas, oil, and electricity were coming into use. For a few years, another form o power was available. The Birmingham Compressed Air Power Company, (fn. 674) formed under an Act of Parliament in 1884, began to supply power in 1889. Among the firms that adopted this system was a wire-making firm, W. H. Moore and Sons, but as no way of sealing the pipe joints under the necessary pressure was found, the supply ceased in 1890. (fn. 675) Since the 1930s compressed-air devices have come back into use for such purposes as the ejection of articles from presses. (fn. 676)
In 1871 the factory inspectors found 17,418 steam horse-power being used in 4,873 factories in Warwickshire as a whole, (fn. 677) mainly in iron (4,435 h.p.), edge tools (1,180 h.p. and 40 h.p. water), brass finishing (1,317 h.p.), and miscellaneous metal (2,838 h.p. and 54 h.p. water). Apart from the iron mills, these were very small amounts per factory. In 1883 the amount of steam-power being used in the three Birmingham wards of St. Bartholomew, Deritend, and St. Martin, as returned for rating purposes, was 164 engines giving ½–10 horse-power, 59 giving 11–20, 15 giving 21–30, 6 giving 31–50, 10 giving 51–100, and 4 giving 101–289 horse-power, making a total of 3,558½ nominal horse-power from 258 engines. (fn. 678) Individual horse-powers were given: for instance, Kirby, Beard and Co. employed only 18 h.p. in their works in Bradford Street making such things as pins and hairpins; William Tonks and Sons employed 32 h.p. in brassfounding and tube making in Moseley Street; John Wilkes, Mapplebeck and Co. had 289 h.p. for making tubes in their works in Liverpool Street, which with Allen Everitt's 277 h.p. in their Adderley Street works were among the highest in the three wards, these two bearing out the point that tube making was one of the most mechanized trades at this time. In 1931 5,856 factories in the Birmingham area used power and 2,545 workshops used none; in 1951 these figures were 7,877 and 726. The workshop with no power was still not completely extinct. (fn. 679)
Throughout the period steam engines were made locally by Tangyes, (fn. 680) Belliss and Morcom, (fn. 681) and John Hands and Sons, amongst others. Making boilers for the engines was also a local trade. The steam turbine developed in 1884 by C. A. Parsons (then of Clarke, Chapman and Co. of Gateshead) increased the efficiency of steam. The great disadvantage of the steam engine was its size, in horse-power and in space on the factory floor (including the belting to connect it with the machinery), and the trouble in starting it up. The problem of excessive horse-power was solved by firms sharing engines on a 'hiring out' system, which only came to an end with the introduction of gas and oil engines.
The Otto gas engine (fn. 682) was patented abroad in 1878 but, although manufactured in England, with agents and repairers in Birmingham, was costly to buy until the exhaustion of the patent in 1885. Tangyes started making gas engines, using the Robson patents of 1877 and 1879, in 1881. (fn. 683) The Turner Gas Engine Co. and T. B. Barker (fn. 684) also produced their own models.
Gas supply was available also from the municipal gas department for those not making their own. In 1913 twenty per cent. of the gas sold was for manufacturing and motive power; (fn. 685) by 1924 this had reached 30 per cent. (fn. 686) Low prices were charged. Gas furnaces were instanced as conspicuously economical in 1913 for glass and metal (fn. 687) and in 1924 90 per cent. of the aluminium castings of the district were produced by such furnaces. (fn. 688) By 1933 gas furnaces were in use for heat treatment at British Timken, Wolseley, Birmingham Aluminium, and Midland Electrical Manufacturing. (fn. 689) A special industrial department was started by the gas department in 1909, and in 1916 an industrial research laboratory was set up to assist manufacturers in adopting gas. (fn. 690) Waste products provided the raw materials for the new tar distilling industry in the Midlands. (fn. 691)
Diesel and oil engines played a similar part to the gas engine. Diesel engines were supplied locally by Belliss and Morcom, and Tangyes. (fn. 692) After a period of competition with electricity a revival has taken place since 1945 in the use of oil for firing furnaces and for other heating purposes, but its main use has been in motor-cars, lorries, and diesel locomotives.
Electricity was first supplied in Birmingham by the Birmingham Household Supply Association set up in 1880–1, using Tangyes' engines. Arc lighting was put in at Brown, Marshalls and Co., John Wilkes, Cadbury's, and the Elkington showrooms. (fn. 693) A concert in the town hall was lit in 1882 by a combination of the skill of Winfield's, and Crompton's (fn. 694) (later associated as the Incandescent Electric Lighting Company). (fn. 695) A local engineer, Henry Lea, was employed both by the Birmingham Household Supply Association and Winfield's. Owing to difficulties with the Birmingham Council and in obtaining the necessary capital, however, the provisional order from the Board of Trade to supply the town centre lapsed. (fn. 696) The Birmingham Electric Supply Co. Ltd. supplied current from 1891, being taken over by the corporation in 1899. (fn. 697)
By 1886 Chamberlain and Hookham were making dynamos and electric magnetic machines, paying special attention to their use in electric deposition, an important application in Birmingham since the Elkington patent of 1838. Use of electricity in industry spread on account of its greater convenience in storage, supply, and cheapness. (fn. 698)
By 1919 Birmingham had 11,000 consumers of electricity compared with 8,746 before 1914, (fn. 699) and power consumption had doubled. (fn. 700) By 1932 13,000 horse-power was provided on hire purchase or rental. (fn. 701) Apart from supplying power for industry, this increased consumption of electricity was the basis of the new electrical engineering industry.
A few instances are known of when these changes in power supply were introduced into individual firms. The Birmingham Battery and Metal Company (fn. 702) used steam engines at Digbeth to work its battery hammers for making hollow-ware. These totalled 102 horse-power in 1883; (fn. 703) by 1900 there were five large and several smaller engines in the new works at Selly Oak. A gas engine was installed to work the new tube mill using town and the company's own gas. This gas engine was sold in the 1920s and the steam engines were gradually scrapped from 1908 onwards. By 1926 the factory was all-electric.
Best and Lloyd, the chandelier makers, enlarged their steam engines in 1868 and installed gas engines in 1900 and 1909. Electricity was laid on in 1907 but was then found to be more costly than the Watt steam engine, which was still functioning well. (fn. 704) Barker and Allen, nickel refiners, electrified their plant in 1908, (fn. 705) as did W. H. Moore, whose experience with compressed air has already been related.