Edwin Richards & Sons

Edwin Richards & Sons became one of Wednesbury’s longest surviving manufacturers, producing forgings for over 150 years at Portway Works in New Street, at the junction with Potter’s Lane. The firm is listed in Pigot & Company’s Staffordshire Directory of 1842 as Henry Richards & Sons, Potter’s Lane, patent axle, and coach spring makers. It was founded in 1810.


Portway Works.


An advert from 1861.


An advert from 1876.


Edwin Richards. Courtesy of Lynn Yates.

 


An advert from 1897.

Edwin Richards was born in Wednesbury in 1820. He married a Wednesbury girl, Mary Anne, and lived at The Limes, 75 Wood Green Road. They had at least one child, a son called Henry, after Edwin’s father.

The firm produced coach axles, coach springs, and all kinds of ironwork for coaches, including coach bolts.

Edwin Richards died in 1880, and within a few years his widow Mary sold the business to William Thomas from Wolverhampton.

In 1861 William moved from his native Wales to Wolverhampton, where he set up several malting businesses, supplying malt to the brewing trade. In 1885 he decided to change direction, sold his malting businesses and purchased Edwin Richards & Sons.

Everything carried-on much as before. The firm retained its old name, and production concentrated on parts for carriages.


William Thomas.  Courtesy of Lynn Yates.

By the 1890s the product range included patented iron carriage wheels with pneumatic tyres, called ‘The Portway’, wheel rubbering machines, sliding seats, and carriage step treads.

The firm was also quick to realise the importance of the motor car. In 1899 Richards were manufacturing parts for motor cars, including axles, ironwork, and springs, and all kinds of drop forgings. Other products included axles for ox-carts, which were exported to South Africa.


Edwin Richards also made parts for early cars, as can be seen from this 1897 advert.


An advert from 1897. Courtesy of Lynn Yates.

One of Queen Victoria's pony-drawn invalid carriages which still survives. The axle carries the name 'Wm. Richards & Sons, Manufctrs Wednesbury' and so must have been made by Edwin Richards & Sons.

Courtesy of Lynn Yates.

From Staffordshire County Biographies, 1901.

After William Thomas’s death in 1905, two of his sons, Hugh and Hubert ran the business. In January 1916, Edwin Richards and Sons Limited was registered as a private company, with a capital of £30,000. During the First World War the company produced axles for gun carriages.

Hugh Thomas died in 1939, by which time his brother Hubert had left the business. Hugh was replaced by his two sons, Edward and Philip. The Second World War quickly intervened, and the firm produced a range of products as part of the war effort, including shell cases and gun carriage axles.

 

Two adverts from 1897.

 

Two more adverts from 1897.


Courtesy of Lynn Yates.


Edwin Richards & Sons' workforce in about 1910. On the extreme left at the back is Hubert Thomas (in the trilby hat), and 6th from the left on the back row is Hugh Thomas (the tall man in the flat cap). Courtesy of Lynn Yates.
 

Two adverts from 1899.

 

Two adverts from 1899.

 

Two adverts from 1899.

 

Two adverts from 1899.


An advert from 1899.

 

Two adverts from 1899.


An advert from 1918.

After the war the government began its nationalisation programme, nationalising the coal industry in 1947, the railways in 1948, and iron and steel in 1949. As a result the Thomas brothers could not continue running the business, but continued there as works managers until their deaths.

The business was eventually taken over by Norton Industries, and began trading as Portway Forgings (Wednesbury) Limited. By the late 1950s the directors were J. Norton (Chairman), M. Norton, J. D. Norton, and M. I. Page.

The firm now produced all kinds of upset forgings and stampings, and was a contractor to the Air Ministry, the Admiralty, and the War Office. Other products included handrail stanchions, handrailing, and tie rods.

Edward Thomas’s daughter Lynn remembers visiting the works on Saturday mornings where she saw the massive drop-hammers, and the furnaces belching out flames and heat. There were steel rods and rails all over the place.


An advert from 1957.


An advert from 1954.
 

Portway Forgings was founded on 9th August, 1948.

The firm survived for forty years. It was dissolved on 27th December, 1988.

Edwin Richard’s legacy to the town


Mary Richards. Courtesy of Lynn Yates.

Edwin Richards was passionate about art and had a collection of over 300 paintings. He wished to donate the collection to Wednesbury, but before this could be achieved, he died.

His widow Mary died in 1885, and left the collection to the town. Most of the paintings were by contemporary English artists, but because of his love of landscape paintings there were several by Dutch and Flemish masters.

 

In 1884, the Wednesbury historian Frederick William Hackwood described the collection in his publication “The Wednesbury Papers”. This is what he wrote about it:

An Art Collection

The Limes, the residence of Mr. Henry Richards, which, of itself does not claim notice as an architectural feature, although it is a comfortable and substantial modern residence, with a fine garden attached to it. But Mr. Richards possesses a collection of paintings unequalled in this district. Within the walls of The Limes are gathered together some 200 or 300 paintings. The catalogue includes the names of Sidney Cooper, R.A., Leader, A.R.A., Goodall, R.A., Henshaw, Syer, Birket Foster, Webb, Marcus Stone, and numerous other artists equally high in the world of painting. Large as this collection is, and it is no exaggeration to say that the house is positively littered with paintings, drawings, and etchings, it was even more extensive in the time of the late Mr. Edwin Richards.

Mr. Richards has offered, more than once, to give to the town some of his art treasures, if the authorities will but go to the expense of providing a suitable building to receive them. A little enterprise on the part of the Local Board might long ago have initiated a movement for establishing a public Museum in the town.

Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery

The museum & art gallery was built in 1891 to house Edwin Richards’ collection. Mrs. Mary Richards had left £2,000 towards the cost of the building, an endowment of £1,000 for a caretaker, and £500 for renovating the picture frames.

By May, 1890 the remainder of the cost had been raised by local people, and work on the project soon began.

The architects were Wood and Kendrick from West Bromwich, and the builder was Henry Willcock & Company of Wolverhampton.


The Richards Room in Wednesbury Art Gallery. From an old postcard.
 

The Richards family grave, next to the entrance to St. Bartholomew's Church and graveyard.


Two of the inscriptions on the front of the grave.


The other inscription on the front of the grave.

The grave also contains the remains of Edwin's parents: Henry Richards who died on 21st September, 1849 at the age of 52, and Catherine Richards who died on 9th February, 1874 at the age of 77, and also Edwin's sister Arabella.

The inscription on the back of the grave reads: William Richards, son of Henry, September 5th, 1879, aged 53 years, interred at the Finchley Cemetery, London.

 

 

 

 

Edwin Richards, from Ryder's Annual.

St. Paul’s Church is close to the site of The Limes, and was generously supported by the Richards family.

It has a stained east window, which was given as a memorial to Edwin Richards, and a lich gate, which was built in 1926 by Arthur Richards of The Limes, in memory of his son, Edwin Arthur Richards.

 

 

 

 

Mary Richards. From Ryder's Annual.

 


I would like to thank Lynn Yates for her help in producing this section. Three generations of Lynn's family ran the company, which apparently had its own coal mine. Lynn remembers an elderly uncle describing a visit to the works during the Second World War. During the visit he was shown a large metal plate, lying flat in the yard. When it was lifted it exposed a shaft, which went to the coal mine that once supplied the works.


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