Darlaston was well known for its nut and bolt manufacturers, most of which have long disappeared. One of the largest and longest surviving of them was F. W. Cotterill, later to become part of G.K.N. The company was founded by Alexander Cotterill between 1800 and 1810, and by 1818 he was listed as a tool maker at Butt Croft Works. His son Frederick took over and the company rapidly grew in size, utilising the latest powered machinery.


An advert from 1922.

By 1850 they were making nuts and bolts and in the early 1860s they were also manufacturing machines.

In 1874 the company moved to its Station Street site and the Atlas Works were built. The company's trade mark depicted Atlas standing on a nut and bolt while holding the world on his shoulders. The 1870s were not good years for the company due to a bolt forger's strike and a recession. In order to make the manufacturing processes less labour intensive, many automatic machines were installed.

In 1880 the business became a private limited company and in 1900 Tom S. Peacock, who joined Cotterills as Company Secretary in 1892, became the new Managing Director. He had been General Manager since 1893. The company purchased the forging works of John Garrington and Sons in 1912 and in August, 1919 the whole concern was taken over by G.K.N.

The early days.

A treadle-operated 'Oliver' bolt forging machine in operation.

From the 1948 catalogue.

The company went through difficult times during the recession after World War 1.

In October 1921 Peacock reported that the company had a scarcity of orders and was in a price-cutting war which led to heavy losses. In order to ensure the future of Atlas Works, G.K.N. took over the neighbouring Vulcan Works, run by Jabez Yardley and Company, to extend the screwing shop.

The company also decided to take-over and control some of the major competitors in Darlaston to gain control on manufacturing and pricing.

As a result, in 1923 G.K.N. purchased the Alma Works of Horton & Son, the Britannia Works of Enoch Wilkes & Company, and the Acorn Works of James Simpson & Sons (the last two of which closed during the recession in 1929 to 1930).

Details of the 1923 acquisitions:

The three companies went into voluntary liquidation in the summer of 1923, and by October 1923 had been acquired by G.K.N. The liquidator was Albert Enoch Horton of Alma Works.


An advert from 1884.


An advert from 1861.


An advert from 1884.

One of the reasons that Darlaston's nut and bolt manufacturers were so successful was a high degree of mechanisation. Horton & Son Limited developed some of their own machinery which greatly improved the manufacturing process. The machines allowed vast numbers of nuts and bolts to be produced quickly and cheaply, and also ensured a greater uniformity in the size and shape of blanks, reducing the amount of scrap and waste metal, and increasing the life of tools. On 26th November, 1903 the company took-out a patent for an improved machine to manufacture nut blanks. It consisted of a vertical die plate, into which a heated bar of iron or steel was fed, and worked-on by cam-operated tools. Two hollow punches, acting in conjunction with a die, fashioned the nut blank, which was then cut-off, and fed out of the machine.


Horton's improved machine for making nut blanks.

Enoch Horton had been designing machinery for producing nuts and bolts for many years. In 1861 he produced the machine shown below, which is fully described in the edition of 'The Engineer' dated 26th April, 1861.


Enoch Horton, J.P.

Enoch Horton was born in Darlaston on 10th April 1829 and educated locally. His mother died at an early age, and so Enoch started work at the age of seven, making waxed hemp threads for shoemakers.

Over the next ten years he had a variety of jobs. For about five years he worked at Darlaston Green Ironworks, owned by Samuel Mills, then becoming a bellows blower for a local gunlock maker, and later finding employment at a foundry in Spring Vale.

At the age of seventeen he became a nut and bolt forger working with an Oliver, and in 1849 entered into partnership with his father, and they started business in Bell Street.

The venture was so successful that a larger factory was soon acquired, and so in 1852 the Old Alma Works were converted from a wire-drawing mill into a nut and bolt factory.

The partnership with his father ended, on his father's retirement in 1864, and in 1870 work began on the first part of New Alma Works in Station Street. The business grew to become one of the largest manufacturers in the trade. In addition to being managing director and sole proprietor of Messrs. Horton & Son, Limited, Mr. Horton became sole proprietor of Messrs. Enoch Wilkes & Company, Britannia Works, Darlaston, and also for over thirty years, manufactured bricks.

New Alma Works was extended to join New Britannia Works, and by the early years of the twentieth century, the firm employed over 600 people.

He was a director of a number of local companies, and became a member of Darlaston Local Board, and succeeded Mr. James Slater as chairman. On the formation of the District Council, Mr. Horton was elected a member, and retained his seat until the time of his death, twice becoming chairman.

He was a member of the School Board throughout the whole of its existence, and was chairman for twelve years. He was also a member of Staffordshire County Council, defeating Mr. J. Yardley in a memorable election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Mr. James Slater.


An advert from 1900.

Mr. Horton was also a County magistrate, and an ardent Liberal. He was a Wesleyan Methodist, and gave many thousands of pounds to the cause. He was also largely instrumental in the erection of Pleck Methodist Church, giving and collecting £2,000 for the building, and erecting, at his own cost, a handsome choir vestry.

Enoch became a wealthy man, and acquired Bescot Grange which was opposite Bescot Hall, the home of James Slater. He was also Chairman of the West Gloucester Water Company, a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, and a member of the Iron and Steel Institute.

In the latter part of his life he suffered from heart problems, and died at Bescot Grange at the age of 76, on the evening of Monday 15th May, 1905 after an attack of pneumonia .

Shortly before his death, a fund was set up pay for a portrait in oils, which would be presented to him in recognition of his long public service. The sum of £385 was quickly raised. When he died he left behind an estate valued at £160,808.

Some of the staff at Horton & Son's Alma Works in about 1910. Courtesy of Irene Bishop. Irene's grandmother Sarah Ann Smith is 3rd from the left in the back row, and her sister Florence Norwood is on the extreme right of the front row, kneeling. Horton's Managing Director was Leonard Wilson Horton.
Sarah Ann Smith who is in the photograph above. Courtesy of Irene Bishop.

Back to G.K.N.
Unfortunately even after all these measures were taken G.K.N. still continued to record losses in their nut and bolt factories and so Tom Peacock decided to allow competition, to eliminate surplus capacity through the bankruptcy of weaker producers. The G.K.N. Board gave him full control of the nut and bolt and railway fastening departments of the Midlands and Cwmbran so that he could make drastic changes where necessary and close any loss-making factories.

As part of the reorganisation, individual company names were abandoned and every factory traded under the Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds'  name. The head office of the nuts, bolts and fastenings division would be at Atlas Works and a new warehouse was built there at a cost of £40,000.

 

View some of the company's products 
from 1926


Atlas Works in 1926.

Tom Peacock also recommended that in the future steel should be purchased from the cheapest source, rather than from G.K.N. steelworks.

In the early 1920s the Darlaston Steel & Iron Company had been acquired by G.K.N. from Tolley, Sons and Bostock in order to gain control of the source of raw materials.

The works was very old fashioned and of limited size and so difficulties arose in competing with the larger companies. As a result Tom Peacock recommended its temporary closure.


The offices.


The canteen and works institute.

Tom Peacock also closed the London Works at Smethwick and its manufacturing capacity was transferred to Atlas Works. Numbers of staff were also reduced by making long-serving employees redundant.

By 1925 Tolley, Sons and Bostock at Darlaston Steel and Iron Works took over the company's puddling and rolling operations in order to reduce transport costs.

F. W. Cotterill was put into voluntary liquidation in 1925 and its assets were incorporated into G.K.N. so that the company's nuts and bolts could be marketed under the G.K.N. name.

At the time Cotterills was valued at £600,655.

In 1926 Peacock personally purchased a piece of land and donated it to G.K.N. on the understanding that a recreation ground would be built there for the employees of Atlas Works.

He also persuaded the company to install a heating system at the works and improve the toilets.


The screwing shop.


The automatic shop.

The worldwide recession continued and by the late 1920s short-time working was introduced and G.K.N. continued to buy-out some of its smaller and less efficient rivals.

By the early 1930s things began to improve and Atlas Works soon became busier than it had been for sometime, but not yet fully up to capacity.


The finishing shop.

In order to aid the recovery a new cold forging shop was built at the cost of £40,000. By 1936 many more orders flooded in, and in October of that year the building of a new hot press shop, costing over £30,000 was approved.


An advert from 1937.

The demand for nuts and bolts rapidly grew and in January 1937 many employees were asked to work overtime to enable orders to be fulfilled.

In May 1939 a modernisation scheme costing £60,000 was introduced. Four National bolt making machines were installed along with two open die headers, and in December of that year the decision was taken to build a new fitting shop and central toolroom and to demolish the existing antiquated shops.


A dinner for the G.K.N. Male Voice Choir, on February 24th, 1934. It was at the Anchor Hotel, Wednesbury. Brian Groves supplied the photo, and Norman Newton kindly passed on the details.


Courtesy of Brian Groves.

During World War 2 great demands were put on the factory. In November 1942 the Ministry of Supply asked the works to double its output of cold forged nuts and bolts, which resulted in double shifting and the extension of the works at a cost of £29,000 (half of which was paid by the Government). By the end of the war Atlas Works covered an area of over 20 acres and employed about 3,000 people. Nuts and bolts were sold world wide and included the following products:

black, bright, high tensile, alloy steel, stainless steel, brass and aluminium bolts, set screws, studs and stud bolts, coach screws, push rod pins, bolt ends, washers, and railway fastenings, including spikes, clips, and keys.

In the late 1940s the Darlaston company became Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds (Midlands) Limited, a subsidiary of GKN.


The extended factory in the late 1940s. From the 1948 catalogue.

A section of the Plant Department.

From the 1948 catalogue.

Part of the Cold Nut Department.

From the 1948 catalogue.

A battery of bolt makers.

From the 1948 catalogue.

A bolt making machine.

From the 1948 catalogue.


From the 1948 catalogue.


From the 1948 catalogue.

A battery of bolt pointing and threading machines.

From the 1948 catalogue.

Part of the Forging Department.

From the 1948 catalogue.

A corner of the Bright Department.

From the 1948 catalogue.


A bolt making machine. From the 1948 catalogue.

Part of the vast Warehouse.

From the 1948 catalogue.

An advert from the mid 1950s.

Courtesy of Christine and John Ashmore.

   
View some of the products from
the 1948 catalogue.
   


Warehouse staff. Courtesy of Brian Groves.


Central tool room staff. Courtesy of Brian Groves.


Stationery department staff. Courtesy of Brian Groves.

Sports and Social Activities

Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds opened the  sports ground in Hall Street, which is now the Darlaston Community Association's Sports and Social Centre.

It was home to the company's cricket club, football teams, netball teams, bowls teams, and keep fit groups. The pavilion was used for all kinds of social events, the work's dance band, and the male voice choir.


Sports teams and friends outside the pavilion at the Hall Street sports ground.


The G.K.N. (Darlaston) cricket team on June 1st, 1946. Back Row, left to right: J. Russon,
N. Marsh, L. Bagbee, H. Winfield, R. Kendrick, J. Gough, and H. Davis. Front Row, left to right: D. Hood, J. Shakespeare, A. Thursfield, T. Lowe, H. Sirdefield, and A. Harris.
Activities were organised by the General Sports Committee which held regular meetings.

One popular event was the departmental cricket knock-out competition in which only one G.K.N. cricket team member was allowed in each departmental team, to encourage non-cricketers to have a go. 

Up to twelve teams took part, each encouraged by the great rivalry between individual departments. There were two main football teams, the senior team which played in the Wolverhampton Works League, and the junior team for youths between 14 and 18, which played in the Walsall Minor League.

The recreation ground was used by several netball teams, including the works first VII, second VII, and teams from local youth clubs and factories. The bowling green was used by several G.K.N. teams who played in the Staffordshire Cup Competition, the Wolverhampton League, the Darlaston Works League, and the annual sports day bowls competition. The bowling green was also used by competitors in the Staffordshire County Individual Merit Competition.

A works dance band was formed in 1946. It performed in the pavilion and consisted of two violins, an accordion, a piano, and drums. G.K.N. also had a male voice choir which competed in events such as the Leamington Festival. In the 1940s the soloists were W. Ford, C. F. Jones, Albert Webb, and Reg. Morgan.


The male voice choir's annual dinner on 1st June, 1946.

There was also a G.K.N. angling club which held many contests, and a works rifle club that practiced on the range at Nuts and Bolts Limited in Foster Street on Monday and Wednesday evenings. There was a club championship, a handicap competition, and team members entered the Black Country Small Bore League.

Children of G.K.N. staff that are featured in the July 1946 edition of the company's Sports and Social Magazine.
The photograph opposite is of Rosemary Holmes, one of the switchboard operators who worked at GKN Darlaston.

The following six photographs are of people from the factory who Rosemary knew in 1947. Unfortunately the names of the people are not known. If you can recognise anyone in the photographs, please send me an email.

The photographs were kindly sent by her second cousins, Christine and John Ashmore.

 


Rosemary and Ada Dallaway on the switchboard. Ada (born in 1905, and died in 2002) married Major Herman C. Wilkes in 1951. I must thank Norman Newton for the information.

Another view of Rosemary and Ada at work.
More of Rosemary's friends at GKN.
 


Another group of workers.


Rosemary (2nd left) and four ladies, possibly from the office.

 
Another member of staff, again possibly from the office.

The Cost Department Rifle Club, in about 1962. Courtesy of Norman Newton. They were runners-up in the Inter Departmental Rifle Competition. They were as follows:
Left to Right: ?, Norman Newton, Mr. Silk, the Financial Director, Gerard Machin, Ken Churms, and Gerry Evans.
GKN Darlaston had a male voice choir. The photograph below shows the choir in 1937.


Courtesy of Norman Newton.

   
View a copy of the GKN (Darlaston) Sports and Social Magazine, and some annual choir concert programmes
   


An invitation for Tom Peacock. Courtesy of Norman Newton.

The sports ground was the venue for the company's annual sports day in July, which featured many of the teams mentioned here, and also racing events on the running track. In the evening a dance was held in the pavilion. The ground was also used for school sports days by local schools, including Pinfold Street J.M.I.

Unfortunately G.K.N. suffered during the depression in the 1970s. The factory closed in 1979 and has now been broken up into smaller industrial units.


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