E. C. & J. Keay Limited was founded in 1879 at New Street, Birmingham by Ernest Charles Keay and his brother James Keay. They were builders and ironmongers. In 1884 they moved to Cyclops Works, West Bromwich and began to manufacture fencing, fittings, and steel fabrications.

The site that would eventually be occupied by the company at James Bridge, originally belonged to Samuel Mills, the wealthy industrialist and land owner who ran Bills and Mills ironworks at The Green. After his death in 1864 much of his land was sold-off by his executors, Richard Mills, Martha Mills, and James Slater.

In January 1870, just over an acre of land alongside James Bridge Railway Station and Walsall Road was purchased for £150 from the executors by Simeon Carter, who three years later formed his own firm, Carter, Ford & Company Limited, manufacturers of wrought-iron bridges, girders, roofing, railway ironwork, and cab axles etc. The firm opened James Bridge Ironworks on the site, but only had a relatively short life, going into liquidation in September 1886.


A Keay builder's plate.

In December of that year, the company's property and assets were put up for sale, and in January 1887 were acquired by the Keay brothers.

In 1887 Keays moved to "Bridge Yard", as they called the James Bridge site, and in June 1888 they purchased an adjacent three acres of land from Martha Mills and James Slater, along with a strip of land on the opposite side of Heath Road. Originally there were no buildings, only open gantries.

E. C. & J. Keay was incorporated in 1893, and listed in the 1896/1897 Peck's Trades Directory of Birmingham as makers of steam boilers. By 1898 the whole business had moved to James Bridge, and within twelve months the firm added an iron foundry to the site for the production of bearings and cast ironwork.

The firm produced many products over the years, eventually specialising in structural steelwork for all types of buildings, such as schools, hospitals, factories, offices, and warehouses. Bridge Yard had three large open shops, and good access to the railway, nearby ironworks and rolling mills.


An advert from 1912.
 

Keays provided the structural steelwork for the Midland Counties Dairy on the corner of Lea Road, Wolverhampton. Built in 1930/31.

Machines included saws, angle croppers, punches, shears, guillotines, presses, planers, drilling machines, bending rolls, riveting machines, and welding machines. In fact everything needed for the production of structural steelwork. There were facilities for the trial erection of complicated structures, and ample storage space for finished materials so that deliveries of steel could be phased to suit erection.

For erection purposes there were electric scotch derricks, hand cranes, derricks and winches, mobile cranes, and electric compressors to provide power on site. Keays undertook the complete design, fabrication and erection of their structures.


An advert from 1963.

The firm provided the steelwork for Birmingham Snow Hill railway station, which consisted of 6,000 tons of steel, transported to the site on the firm's Pollen railway girder wagons.

Keays also supplied 1,000 tons of steelwork for Leicester railway station, the cast iron pillars used in Kensington High Street Underground Station, and the steelwork for Neachells No.1 and No.2 power stations, the latter using 8,000 tons of steel.

Other contracts included the Great Western Hotel at Paddington; Llandudno Railway Station; large sheds at Southampton Docks; the first aeroplane hanger at Elmdon; Walsall Technical College; Typhoo Tea Buildings and Warehouse; Offices at Birmingham; Midland Counties Dairy at Wolverhampton; and McKechnie Brothers factory at Aldridge.

The firm built many bridges including Norfolk Bridge at Shoreham-by-Sea; hoppers; bunkers; railway signalling equipment; the fencing and gates for Willenhall Memorial Park; also bus depots; and carried out riveted platework, and welded fabrications. Structural steelwork was also supplied for building projects abroad.


The gates and fencing at Willenhall Memorial Park.

In 1957 Keays became a subsidiary of N. Hingley and Sons, Limited, and in November 1960, part of the Lloyds Group. Sadly they were another victim of the recession of the 1980s. The F. H. Lloyd group collapsed in 1982.


An advert from the mid 1950s. Courtesy of Christine and John Ashmore.

An advert from 1954. Courtesy of Christine and John Ashmore.

In 1962 Lloyds celebrated British Steel Foundry Year with a large exhibition at James Bridge Steelworks. The photograph above is of Keay's stand at the exhibition.
 

Keay's 'Hydrocon Highlander' 6 ton mobile crane, acquired in 1962.
1962 saw the installation of a 54 inch Noble and Lund vertical cold circular sawing machine, which could cope with the largest sections of the company's new universal beam range.

It could vertically cut steel joists of up to 40 inches by 18 inches, at any angle.


In 1971 Keays designed and built the new 3,600 square feet storage bay and works canteen for fellow Lloyds Group member, The Mechanical & Electrical Engineering Company (Walsall) Limited.
 
A small, but relatively complex installation took place in 1971 at George Johnson & Company (Birmingham) Limited in Shirley. The new building had to be erected over the top of an existing building that had to remain in use during the building work, in order to maintain production. When the new building had been completed, as seen on the right, the existing building was demolished.
The erection of a two-bay warehouse at Wednesbury in 1971 for Brinton, Adams & Richards Limited.
Another view of the warehouse during construction.

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