One of Darlaston’s great industrial success
stories is that of the Owen Organisation, which began in a small
factory in Booth Street, and grew into a large empire with
eighty eight subsidiaries, and a workforce of over 14,000.
The Owen Organisation began in 1884 when
John Tunner Rubery and his two brothers, Samuel Rubery, and
Thomas William Rubery acquired the Victoria
Ironworks in Booth Street to manufacture light metalwork,
fences, gates, and hurdles.
John Tunner Rubery was born in Darlaston in
1848 or 1849. His father, Samuel Rubery was an iron and steel
merchant with a business in Blockall. He became secretary to the
board of the Darlaston Iron Bridge and Roofing Company which was
founded in 1867. The company obtained a number of orders for
structural steelwork for projects in the Liverpool area including
the roof of Liverpool Lime Street railway station, Egremont Ferry Pier,
and Sandhills Lane canal bridge.
In about 1874 John Tunner Rubery opened an
agency in Liverpool to represent the Darlaston Iron Bridge and
Roofing Company and advertised in the Commercial Directory and
Shippers Guide as an agent for the Bridge and
Roofing Company Limited, Horton and Sons,
and Company Limited, Llanelly (anthracite and steam
coal suppliers), and the Darlaston Galvanising Company
In 1881 John Tunner married Catherine Mary
Anne Wilkes in Rushall, and in 1883 he returned
to Darlaston where he founded Rubery and Company
with his two brothers. On 29th February, 1888
the partnership was dissolved by mutual consent. John was
then joined by a new partner, Alfred Ernest Owen, an engineer from
Wrexham, who had been premium apprentice at a factory in Chester. John Rubery, who lived round the corner from the
factory in Willenhall Road, put £2,000 into the partnership, and
Alfred Owen put-in £1,000, supplied by his father, Alfred Owen,
from Woodhey, Wrexham.
At this time the infant Victoria Ironworks
covered barely an acre of ground, and found jobs for around a
hundred men and boys. The machinery and working conditions were
comparatively primitive, with long hours of hard work being
endured by all.