This is one of the Black Country’s
industrial success stories, about a business that thrived
and expanded, taking over a large number of manufacturing
companies throughout the UK and abroad. In the 1970s the
group employed over 4,300 people in the UK alone.
John Brockhouse was born and brought-up
in Wednesbury. He arrived in the world on 31st December,
1844 and was baptised at Spring Head Wesleyan Chapel. His
father was a smith, but by the age of twelve both parents
had died, leaving him an orphan. He began to serve an
apprenticeship at the local firm of R. Disturnal & Company
at Bridge Works where springs and axles were produced. John
had a terrible time there due to his master, a man named
Deeley, who would beat the boy, half-starve him and overwork
him as much as possible. After nearly three years he
couldn’t stand anymore of the harsh treatment and left on
Christmas Eve, 1859, a week before his 15th birthday.
He managed to obtain a week's board and
lodging from a Miss Amos in Queen Street, Wednesbury, on the
understanding that he would pay later. He quickly managed to
find a job at John Rigby & Sons, at Rigby Street, Holloway
Bank, who like R. Disturnal & Company made springs and
axles. At the age of twenty he moved to Richard Berry & Son,
of Alma Street, Birmingham who were spring makers. Around
this time John Brockhouse married Maria Roberts from
Wolverhampton and they had a sizeable family of six sons and
In 1865 John Rigby wanted him to return
to his company as a manager, but Richard Berry did not want
to loose him and so offered him an identical post at an
identical salary. John was unsure what to do and asked John
Rigby if he would pay the cost of moving his furniture and
belongings back to Hill Top. John Rigby agreed and John
Brockhouse returned as a manager, remaining at the firm
until John Rigby's death, nearly 20 years later.
An advert from 1914.
John Rigby junior was not such an able
businessman as his father and the business began to suffer.
John Brockhouse felt uneasy about his future because he had
a family to support and so discussed the matter with Maria.
There were two options, emigrate to Australia or enter into
business on his own, to produce springs and axles in direct
competition with his current employer. They decided on the
second option, which Maria made possible by opening a
haberdashery shop that would pay for the upkeep of the home
and the education of their children, until the business
could take off.
In March, 1886, John Brockhouse opened
his first factory, making springs and axles in a small
rented building behind James Lloyd’s butcher's shop at
Harvills Hawthorn, West Bromwich, adjoining the Samson and
Lion Inn. John’s first employees were James Adams (fitter),
Jerry Colley (blacksmith), William Colley (horse driver),
Robert Stokes (spring roller), Ernie Walters (cutting-off),
William Wheeler (grinder), William Wilkes, and James Wooton
The venture was so successful that in
1888 John Brockhouse could have a small factory built in
Howard Street near Joseph and Jesse Siddons’ foundry at Hill
Top where there was a canal wharf next to Daniel Howard’s
factory where boiler and gasometers were made. John’s
factory, which initially produced springs for broughams,
hansom cabs, Jaunting cars, costers' barrows, and springs
for rickshaws, flourished and was soon extended.
In the mid 1880s forgings were added to
the firm’s products when the first drop hammer was installed
in the factory. Axles and coach fittings were added to the
product list. In 1897 new extensions including an office
block were added and the factory became Victoria Works to
commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The business
continued to prosper and Maria could now close her shop.
Their son John had a good job with the Metropolitan Bank and
three of his brothers were also in good employment. The
other two sons Frederick and Henry both worked in their
In February 1898 John Brockhouse’s firm
became a public company and J. Brockhouse Limited was formed
with a nominal share capital of £50,000. John had been
advised to make this move by Charles Akrill of Golds Green
Foundry who wanted to be a director of the new company. The
business had been valued at £24,580.9s.6d. and John
Brockhouse received £15,747.9s.6d. in cash and £8,833 in
shares. There was also an agreement that John and his two
sons could continue working for the firm for at least five
years, at a salary largely dependent on profits. John
Brockhouse became Managing Director, Henry Brockhouse,
Company Secretary, and Frederick Brockhouse, Works Manager.
The chairman being Samuel W. Smith of the Imperial Bedstead
Company. At the end of the first year a reasonable profit
was made and the shareholders received a ten percent
Acquisitions and New Products
John Brockhouse’s old employer Richard
Berry & Son of Birmingham were suffering from intense
competition. Richard and his son had died and springs were
selling for just 14 shillings per hundredweight.
In March 1899 the declining business
was purchased by J. Brockhouse Limited. Over the next few
years the company also acquired J. Bradley & Company, Insole
and Grinley, and the Duncan Spring Company.
John Brockhouse soon realised that the
sale of cart and carriage springs would soon decline due to
the coming of the motor car. The company ensured that it
would be ready for the inevitable demand for motor springs
Before the First World War there was a
boom in bicycle making and so the company opened a
department for the production of the 'Oxford' bicycle, but
production soon came to an end when road axles were added to
the company’s products.
Other businesses were also acquired to
obtain a better stake in road axle manufacturing.
An advert from the late 1920s.
In 1910 another of John Brockhouse’s
old employers was acquired when the firm purchased R.
Disturnal & Company Limited of Wednesbury, and in 1911 the firm acquired A. H.
Taylor (Springs) Limited. In the same year, Samuel Smith, who was Chairman
of the Board, died. Sir James Smith took over his role and
Henry and Frederick Brockhouse were elected as Directors at
the annual general meeting.
John Brockhouse had a great interest in
politics and in 1895 became the Liberal councillor for Hill
Top Ward. He became a Justice of the Peace in 1906, and was
elected Mayor in 1909 and 1910. In 1911 during the company’s
Silver Jubilee, John attended the Coronation of King George
V in Westminster Abbey. The company’s shareholders presented
him with some silver plate and his portrait, painted by C.
Maria Brockhouse died in 1913 after
being married to John for 47 years. By this time the
company’s products included axles and ironwork, motor,
carriage and van springs. There were now around 700
employees. Two of John’s other sons joined the firm. Arthur
became a coach spring fitter and Frank became a foreman in
the factory. In 1914 the firm acquired Richards & Company
Limited, of Wednesbury who made axles, and in 1915 acquired
James Leach & Company Limited of Leeds. The following year
saw the purchase of Joseph Gibson and Company.
John Brockhouse's fourth son, John
Thomas Brockhouse, left the bank and joined the board of
directors. Unfortunately his brother Henry, who had been
Company Secretary since 1898 disagreed with him about future
policy and left the firm to start a spring manufacturing
business for Vickers of Sheffield. It was a sad time for the
family because Frederick Brockhouse died in October 1918 and
Henry Brockhouse died in 1921. Frederick Brockhouse was
succeeded as Works Manager by Frank Brockhouse.
Further acquisitions followed including
the purchase of Lones, Vernon and Holden Limited of
Smethwick, in February 1919. The firm produced railway
1922 was a significant year. The
company’s founder and Managing Director John Brockhouse,
died at the age of 77. He was succeeded by his son, John
Thomas Brockhouse. It was also a bad year financially
because the company made a loss of £19,196 even though 1921
had been the firm’s most profitable year. The loss was due
to a general depression in trade.
Conditions improved in 1923, when the
company made a profit of £21,166. Sales continued to
increase in the following years, although arguments between
members of the Board in 1924 led to a reshuffle. Sir James
Smith and Mr. F. Leach resigned, Mr. Thomas Hampson died and
Sir T. Harris Spencer, K.B.E., became Chairman. John Thomas
Brockhouse continued as Managing Director and his brother
Frank continued as a Director. Two new Directors were
appointed, Mr. E. B. Burton and Mr. N. S. Shaw. Mr. E. P.
Ash became Company Secretary.
In 1928, profits were over £30,000 and
a dividend of ten percent was paid, but profits then fell
for a time due to the slump in the early 1930s. R. Disturnal
& Company of Wednesbury began to specialise in fittings for
coach and motor body work, as well as manufacturing large
quantities of brass and aluminium sections.
In 1932 J. Brockhouse & Company of
Smethwick took over the manufacture of AGA cookers from
Bell's Heat Appliances. In the following year Aga Heat
Limited was formed to acquire the two companies concerned
with the manufacture and sale of Aga appliances: Bell's Heat
Appliances and B. H. A. Production. In 1935 it was taken
over by Allied Ironfounders.
When Brockhouse’s Chairman, Sir T.
Harris Spencer died in April 1934, he was succeeded by John
Thomas Brockhouse. Also in June of that year the company
opened a factory in Glasgow and in the following year
acquired Albion Drop Forgings Limited.
In 1936 John Brockhouse Limited took
over the District Iron and Steel Company of Smethwick whose
premises were next door to Brockhouse's laminated springs
and railway ironwork company. Brockhouse also acquired the
Dawkins Enamels and Foundry Company of Wednesfield, which
then became Brockhouse Castings Limited.
The machine shop in about 1935.
Brockhouse had a large display at the
British Industries Fair in 1937. The company’s exhibits
included drop forgings for railway work, tramways,
shipbuilding and general engineering. During that year,
profits doubled and the authorised capital was increased to
£1m. The company also acquired the Vulcan Motor and
Engineering Company of Southport and sold the motor vehicle
manufacturing part of the business, which would now
concentrate on general engineering.
Brockhouse also acquired Lewin Road
Sweepers Limited, Piercy and Company Limited of Birmingham,
the ironfounders, R. J. Hunt and Son of Kings Norton, and
the Vitreous Enamelling Company. At this time, John Thomas
Brockhouse’s son, John L. Brockhouse, who was lawyer, joined
the Board and the firm sold the Albion Drop Forgings
Company. In 1938 a profit sharing scheme was introduced for
all employees and Vulcan Works was renamed Brockhouse
Engineering (Southport). The company also took on a lot of
During the Second World War, more
businesses were acquired. They were Greenway Bros. Limited;
Orme Evans & Company Limited of Wolverhampton; Frank Morris
Limited (printers); Meldrums Limited of Timperley (makers of
stokers); John Brooks (Lye) Limited (maker of anvils and
vices); Harvey Frost & Company Limited (makers of garage
equipment, jacks and vulcanizing equipment); Ernest Lake
Limited of Bishop's Stortford and the Warwick Rim and
Sectioning Company Limited.
An advert from the early 1940s.
Meldrums Limited developed a new range
of municipal vehicles under the ‘Lewin’ name and a hydraulic
transmission system for use in all types of self-propelled
The company also built two prototype
prefabricated buildings which led to the formation of a
prefabricated buildings company, which in 1944 became
Brockhouse Steel Structures.
John Thomas Brockhouse died in 1944 and
was succeeded as Chairman by Mr. E. B. Burton. John L.
Brockhouse then became Managing Director.
John Thomas Brockhouse was born in
1879, and educated at West Bromwich Grammar School. In 1893
he joined J. Brockhouse Limited and after a period spent in
the workshops he became Works Manager.
He was subsequently Managing Director
and Chairman, and carried through a programme of progressive
reorganisation and expansion. He died on 10th April, 1944,
at the age of 65.
At this time the Brockhouse Group
consisted of 24 engineering companies, including the latest
acquisition, the Warwick Rim and Sectioning Company Limited.
|In 1946 the Brockhouse Group acquired a Wolverhampton
bus-building factory, from bus manufacturer AEC (Associated
Equipment Company Limited). It had previously been Sunbeam
Commercial Vehicles Limited. Around the same time Brockhouse
acquired Elms Works, Penn Road, Wolverhampton, for the
manufacture of high quality machine tools. In 1948 Brockhouse changed the name of the bus company to the
Sunbeam Trolleybus Company, and in January 1949 it was
acquired by Guy Motors of Wolverhampton.
Elms Works, Penn Road, Wolverhampton.
The tool making division at Elms works,
Penn Road, Wolverhampton produced high grade machine tools,
automatic injection moulding machines, die casting machines,
gear cutting machines, lathes, slideway grinding unit heads,
keyseating, milling, broaching machines and overhauled all
kinds of machine tools. They also carried out design work
for other companies in the drawing office. Production
continued at the factory until its closure in the late
The Brockhouse Group also acquired
companies abroad, the first being a factory in Johannesburg,
purchased in 1947. It became J. Brockhouse (South Africa)
Limited. In the same year a factory was acquired in Canada
and in 1950 Brockhouse took over a company in Massachusetts,
U.S.A. Also in 1947, Brockhouse acquired the British Motor
Boat Manufacturing Company.
Mr. E. B. Burton died in 1948 and John
L. Brockhouse became both Chairman and Managing Director. A
position he held for many years.
Acquisitions in the 1950s included the
Indian Motorcycle Company (which was sold to Associated
Motor Cycles in 1959); ball bearing manufacturer W. E. Cramp
and Sons of Tipton; and the District Iron and Steel Company.
An advert from 1953.
A special purpose grinding machine
manufactured at Elms Works.
|The factory at Southport, which had been
unprofitable since the mid 1940s, was closed in
1955. Between 1947 and October 1954 a large number
of ‘Corgi’ scooters, powered by an Excelsior engine,
were built there for the Corgi Motorcycle Company
A Brockhouse 'Corgi' scooter.
Courtesy of Brian Shaw.
In 1955 a new machine shop was
established at West Bromwich to manufacture hydraulic
transmissions and in 1957 in cooperation with
Nottinghamshire County Council, the 'Clasp' system of school
building was developed. Large numbers of schools were built
in the UK, France and Germany, using the system. 1960 was a
landmark year, the first in which the company made over £1m
profit. There was a drop in demand for automotive products,
but this was made-up by a significant rise in demand for
products for the general engineering trade. Brockhouse
factories and branches could be found in Aberystwyth,
Bishop's Stortford, Bristol, Clydebank, Leeds, Stroud and
abroad in France, Sweden and West Germany.
In 1961 the group employed around 4,300
people and produced a vast range of products. An aluminium
foundry, Kaye Alloy Castings Limited moved to a new factory
at West Bromwich, and the Glasgow factory where prefabricated
buildings were produced, was extended.
An advert from 1961.
In 1967, Brockhouse acquired Redler
Industries, H. J. H. King and Company and 51 percent of the
Duodec Development and Construction Company.
In 1984 the Brockouse Group, which was
now making a loss, was acquired by Evered Holdings and seven
of the associated companies were sold. Three years later
Brockhouse Castings of Wednesfield was sold to Saxonforge.
It then became Brooks Castings.
Today the Brockhouse Group Limited is
still on the same site in Howard Street, West Bromwich,
where it was in 1888. It specialises in a wide range of
products including forging, pressing, stamping and
roll-forming of metal, powder metallurgy, cad/cam design,
die manufacture, machining, assembly and fabrication, and
global sourcing and supply.
It is now one of the longest surviving
Black Country manufacturers. Long may it continue.
Read Gordon Fryer's
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