The Steel Nut & Joseph Hampton Limited, of Woden Works, Franchise Street, in Butcroft, was founded in 1851. For most of its life the company was in Wednesbury, but in April 1966, under the terms of the Local Government Reform Act, Wednesbury lost its status as a Municipal Borough, as did Darlaston. The boundary between the towns changed, so that Kings Hill, Butcroft, and Fallings Heath, joined Darlaston to become part of Walsall, which is why I have included the company here.

The business was founded by 27 years old Joseph Hampton, who lived in Franchise Street. He had a tool making business producing a wide range of products including carpenters' bench screws, copying presses, flooring cramps, lifting jacks, pipe wrenches, and ratchet drill braces. In the 1881 census he is listed as a tool maker employing twelve men, 6 boys, and a woman. He lived with his wife Nancy and children Arthur and Sarah. Joseph's eldest son William lived at number 19 Franchise Street with his wife Mary and children Charles, Sarah, Thomas, Joseph, William, Rueben, and Samuel. In the census William is described as a cramp and tool maker, as is his eldest son Charles.

It seems that in 1897 the firm joined forces with The Steel Nut Company, also based in Franchise Street, to form The Steel Nut and Joseph Hampton Limited with its 'Woden' trade mark. During the following year, William's sons Charles and Joseph left the family business and moved to Sheffield where they founded a firm called C & J Hampton, based at Eagle Foundry, Livingston Road, Sheffield. They initially produced marlin spikes, and specialised castings, but by 1908 were making a range of tools including woodworking vices, pipe vices, pipe cutters, all kinds of cramps, wrenches, and jacks. The firm became a limited company in 1908, and in 1909 registered the 'Record' trade mark, which became well known. The two brothers soon fell out and so Joseph returned to Wednesbury, leaving Charles to run the business alone. He was soon joined by his two sons Horace and Charles, and the business went from strength to strength.


A group of workers, date unknown. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.

Back in Wednesbury a number of patents were taken out for tools, and it seems that members of the family also briefly produced cycles at the Hampton and Hampton Cycle Works in Franchise Street, which is listed in the circular directory in the 1901 edition of Ryder's Annual.

The factory initially covered a small area on the northern side of Franchise Street, and slowly grew to cover a large area of derelict land to the north, which extended to the end of All Saints Road, off Walsall Road. It was known locally as “The Woden”.


The factory in 1901.

By 1914 the nut and bolt department produced a wide range of nuts, bolts, set screws, studs, and washers, in bright, and semi-bright finishes, from one eighth of an inch to three inches in diameter, manufactured from solid steel bar.

They were supplied to all kinds of industries including shipbuilding, electrical engineering, vehicle manufacturing, cycle manufacturing, and met Admiralty specifications.

The steel department produced bright drawn, and boiled mild bars in rounds, squares, and hexagons etc., including versions that complied with Admiralty specifications, suitable for high speed machining and case hardening.

The tool department made a wide range of joiners' and engineers' tools including vices, cramps, tube cutters and lifting jacks.

The foundry produced castings in the best malleable, and grey iron for such applications as ship building, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, vehicle manufacturing, cycle manufacturing, and tramways.

In 1916 the company took out another patent, this time for improvements to screw nuts.

 

View some images from the 1924 Woden catalogue


The factory in 1938.


An aerial view of the factory from the 1952 tools catalogue.


An advert from 1918.

In 1937 patents were taken out for improvements relating to vices, and the company had a stand at the British Industries Fair held at Birmingham. Products displayed included a wide range of nuts, bolts, set screws, studs and washers; vices; engineers', joiners, and pipe tools; sash and 'G' cramps; bright-drawn, free-cutting steel shafting; and a range of malleable grey iron and non-ferrous castings. It became a public company in 1938, and by that time also produced bright drawn, free-cutting steel shafting to Air Ministry and Admiralty specifications, non ferrous castings, and introduced ebonising as a protective finish.

In 1939 at the outset of war, the company concentrated on supplying products to the Admiralty, the Air Ministry, the War Office, the aviation industry, and produced heavy steel vices for many manufacturers. After the war production returned to normal, concentrating on nuts, bolts, and tools.

Parts of the factory were re-built and modernised, and went into production in 1951. In the same year a patent for improvements to quick release vices was taken out, and in 1952 the firm took over tool and hand plane manufacturer the W. S. Manufacturing Company, at Quadrant Works, Sheepcote Street, Birmingham.

The following products are from the company's 1952 catalogue:

Woden planes appeared on the market in early 1954, around 18 months after the acquisition of Birmingham hand plane manufacturer W. S. Manufacturing Company. The range, including bench planes, rebate planes, and block planes was very successful, thanks to the growing demand for hand tools.

In 1957 the company founded Woden Tools Limited, which took over the manufacture and distribution of the hand tool part of the business. The tools continued to be manufactured at Woden Works, and many new products were added, and advertised in a separate Woden Tools catalogue, which included tools made by other manufacturers.

Hand tool production continued at Woden Works until early 1961 when Woden Tools Limited was taken over by Record of Sheffield, which of course had been started by two members of the Hampton family in 1898 and traded as C & J Hampton Limited. Production moved to Sheffield where hand tools carrying the Woden name were produced until the early 1970s.

By 1961 The Steel Nut & Joseph Hampton Limited had become one of the larger local employers, employing 850 people. At the time the nut and bolt department produced a wide range of products, including the following:

Bright steel hexagon head set screws, or bolts, with or without hexagon nuts, in lengths of three quarters of an inch to six inches, and diameters of a quarter of an inch to one inch.

Bright mild steel hexagon nuts in diameters of three sixteenths of an inch to three quarters of an inch. Also available as lock nuts, slotted nuts, or round top castle nuts.

Bright steel engineers washers in diameters of three sixteenths of an inch to five eights of an inch.

Bright mild steel studs in Whitworth or B.S.F. threads, with diameters of three sixteenths of an inch to one inch, and lengths of one inch to six inches.

Other products included high tensile hexagon head bolts or set screws in diameters of a quarter of an inch to half an inch, and lengths of half an inch to four inches.

High tensile bolts and set screws were also available. They were made of medium carbon steel, and supplied to engineering companies, particularly motor car and heavy vehicle manufacturers. They were heat treated to withstand a tensile strain of 45 to 55 tons per square inch.

The steel department produced a range of bright drawn steel bars, as the raw material for the nut and bolt department. In the early 1960s the steel mill was extended, and became one of the largest up-to-date plants in the country for the production of  bright steel bars.

They were made from several different steels. Woden "XX" free cutting steel was suitable for use in electrical fittings, car parts, cycle parts, wireless and telephone equipment, sparking plugs, screws, and many repetition parts. It was available as rounds from three sixteenths of an inch to three inches in diameter, hexagons (across flats) from a quarter of an inch to two and three quarters of an inch, and squares of a quarter of an inch to two inches.


From an early 1960s catalogue.


The steel department in the 1960s.

The sections were available in lengths of 16 feet (hexagons and squares), and up to 25 feet (rounds).

The same products were also produced in Woden "HH" steel, a low carbon mild steel, for general engineering purposes, and Woden "BB" steel, a medium carbon steel, combining high tensile strength with good elongation, and excellent machining properties.

The company also produced Woden shafting steel, a bright drawn rolled bar, produced for overhead line shafting. Steel bars were also produced to Air Ministry specifications.

In 1965 the company was purchased by F. H. Tomkins, Limited. A Walsall-based buckles and fasteners company.

The following year The Steel Nut & Joseph Hampton Limited acquired steel stockholders Monkhouse and Brown, which was sold to Hall Engineering (Dies) of Shrewsbury, in 1969.

In 1981 part of the company’s assets were sold to Brasway, which was subsequently acquired by Essanbee Products, a distributor of fasteners.


Another view of the steel department in the 1960s.

After acquisition by Brasway, the Woden factory specialised in a range of seamless steel and stainless steel tubes. It became known as Brasway Tube, and in the twelve months to 2nd May, 1992 made a pre-tax profit of £182,000, but in the first six months of the following financial year it lost £157,000 and was put-up for sale. Much of the factory was acquired by Corus and used as a steel warehouse.


The factory in the 1960s.

The steel store.

The laboratory.       

Another view of the laboratory.

The test house.      


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