C. & L. Hill Limited

Iron foundries and brass foundries were once a common sight in the Black Country, where cupola furnaces could be seen in every town. Some foundries produced finished products that were sold under their own name, but the majority supplied the essential castings that formed some of the major parts of locally made items.

One such foundry was C. & L. Hill Limited, which started life in Doctor’s Piece, Willenhall. The business was founded by Charles and Lemuel Hill, on 13th December, 1899, to manufacture small brass castings for the trade. Early products ranged from stair rod eyes to six inch diameter door knobs. Around thirty moulders were employed in the foundry, and business was good. The company soon outgrew the small factory and looked around for a new site on which to expand.

In 1913 a new factory was built in Stringes Lane, which consisted of a brass foundry, and an iron foundry. During the First World War considerable numbers of cast iron annealing pans, cast brass shell adaptors, brass shell hoses, and petrol can caps were produced.

In 1920, the two company founders died within a few weeks of each other. On 29th June, 1921 a limited company was formed under the chairmanship of Mr. Maurice Slater. The board of directors (of which there were four) included Mr. A. E. Owen, Managing Director of Rubery Owen in Darlaston. The new company operated from the premises in Stringes Lane, and owned houses in Victoria Street and John Harper Street.

In the early 1920s there were large numbers of brass foundries in the area, and so competition in the production of small brass castings for the trade was rife.

The directors decided that the best way forward was diversification, and so the foundry was extended to produce non ferrous castings for the engineering and electrical trades, and annealing pans. An aluminium foundry was added in 1922.

On 30th December, 1929 Mr. A. E. Owen died. He was replaced on the board by his son Mr. A. G. B. Owen, who was appointed Managing Director in March 1930.

Mr. Maurice Slater. From 'Goodwill' staff magazine, spring 1948.

An advert from 1943.

Hand casting in the foundry. From 'Goodwill' staff magazine, spring 1947.
In 1930 the foundry was extended again, this time to produce chill cast phosphor bronze bars for the engineering trade.

In 1934 the annealing pan business was sold, and in early 1935 the decision was taken to reduce the company's capital. This resulted in the business being put into voluntary liquidation, and reconstructed by the formation of a new company with the same name (C. & L. Hill Limited) to take over the business and part of the assets.

The new company was incorporated on 10th April 1934.

With the sale of the iron foundry, the firm specialised in non-ferrous sand castings and non-ferrous alloys.

Chill cast phosphor bronze bars known as "Hilchil Phosphor Bronze Bars" were also produced.

Admiralty contracts were secured for the production of bronze castings for electric switch boxes, and cores, which in 1937, as part of the rearmament programme, led to large Admiralty orders. Products for the Admiralty included torpedo parts, switch boxes, and electrical equipment for navy vessels. This led to the enlargement of the foundry, and the installation of new plant.

Casting a large mould. From 'Goodwill' staff magazine, spring 1948.

A corner of the aluminium gravity die casting department. From 'Goodwill' staff magazine, spring 1948.

During December 1939 a branch works opened in Wednesfield Road, Willenhall.

At the outbreak of war, both foundries began producing war work for the Admiralty, the Ministry of Supply, and the Ministry of Aircraft Production.

The two foundries worked flat-out to complete the orders and new plant was installed at Wednesfield Road. One important product was bronze compass coil corrector cases to combat German magnetic mines.

Hill's jubilee dinner at the Rubery Owen Concert Hall, on October 13th, 1949. From 'Goodwill' staff magazine, Christmas 1949.

An advert from 1954.

During the Battle of Britain, the company began to manufacture press tools for the aircraft industry, and developed a range of zinc base tools for the production of air intakes, and fuel tanks etc. Hill’s produced the oil fuel tanks for De-Havilland Mosquitos, petrol tanks for Supermarine Spitfires, and tools for the Short Brothers’ Sunderland flying boats.

In 1944 the company became part of the extensive Owen Organisation, after Rubery Owen & Company Limited began to invest in the business. Hill’s war work for the aircraft industry led to the development of zinc alloy tools for the production of items made from Perspex, and also tools for the production of rubber handle bar grips. In order to ensure that demand could be met, a number of centrifugal machines were installed at the factory.

The two foundries were organised into six departments, which included a laboratory and research department. Castings were made in brass, gunmetal, phosphor bronze, copper, aluminium alloy, light alloy, zinc, and lead. Chill cast bars, and gravity die castings were also produced. One of the departments specialised in metal refining.

Castings were produced to 44 specifications, in weights of 1 oz. to 1 ton. Zinc tool castings were made up to 4 tons. Customers included the motor, and aircraft manufacturers, atomic energy companies, and the general engineering trade.

New offices were opened at Stringes Lane in June 1949, followed by a new canteen in September 1951.

Staff members fully participated in the various social activities that took place within the Owen Organisation. Hills had an active horticultural society, a rifle club, and an angling club, which regularly competed with similar clubs run by the other factories in the organisation.

Staff members also competed at sports events, often held locally at Rubery Owen’s sports ground at Bentley. There were also day outings, and social events in the canteen, organised by the canteen committee.

In the canteen, workers could play darts, and snooker etc.

The stone laying ceremony at the new offices. Left to right: Mr. A. G. B. Owen, Mr. Maurice Slater, Mr. W. Bradley (builder), Mr. A. Griffiths (Rubery Owen), and Colonel Lindop (director). From 'Goodwill' staff magazine, autumn 1949.

Mr. A. G. B. Owen making a speech at the opening of the new canteen. From 'Goodwill' staff magazine, Christmas, 1951.

Examples of some of the intricate, high quality castings that were produced in the foundry. On the left is a gun metal sand casting, and above are aluminium gravity die castings.

From 'Goodwill' staff magazine, spring 1948.

Two gun metal sand castings, sectioned to show the cored ports.

From 'Goodwill' staff magazine, spring 1948.

In 1971 Rubery Owen & Company Limited bought the last remaining 33.3% preference shares. Sadly the factory closed in 1972 and the property was sold. C. & L. Hill Limited had the following subsidiaries: Central Patternmaking Company Limited; Hill, Alzen Sales Limited; and C. & L. Hill (Die Castings) Limited. In 1981 the dormant company changed its name to Rubery Owen (Pressings & Fabrications) Limited.

Based on articles and reports from editions of ‘Goodwill’, the Owen Organisation’s magazine; and the Owen Group records.

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