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British Industrial History

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Avon India Rubber Co

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of Melksham Wiltshire and 343-5 Euston Road, London, NW1. Telephone: Museum 4420. Cables: "Avonnes, Phone, London". (1929)

of Melksham, Wiltshire. Telephone: Melksham 120. Cables: "Rubber, Melksham". Export Division at Mabledon Place, London, WC1. Telephone: London Euston 2201. Cables: "Avonnes London". (1947)

1875 The owners of Avon Mill, at Limpley Stoke had once been timber merchants but switched to the more lucrative trade of manufacturing articles from rubber.

1885[1] Messrs E. G. Browne and J. C. Margetson acquired a small, near derelict cloth mill, known as Avon Mill, at Limpley Stoke, which was already an established rubber manufacturing business and came ready-equipped for their new business. Browne was the financial partner and Margetson provided a practical knowledge of india rubber manufacture combined with elementary chemistry.

1885 Gottleib Daimler invented the internal combustion engine, which in the following year powered the first motor vehicle. The event had a major effect on the development of both Avon and the world's rubber industry.

Avon's earliest orders came from the War Office, the India Office, railway companies, wagon works and collieries. The business proved so successful that soon additional space was needed.

1890 The entire business had moved to Melksham and The Avon India Rubber Company Limited was formed.

1891 The works were extremely busy, and excessive overtime caused severe cash flow problems for the company. This was exacerbated by a consignment of poor quality buffers sent to India, costing the company £550 in their first year of trade.

1894 The finances of the original partners were soon outstripped and Mr Browne resigned his position as Managing Director.

1896 November 14th was known as Emancipation Day in the motor industry. For the first time a motor car was allowed to travel on the highway without the well-known "red flag man" walking in front.

1897 The opportunity for developing pneumatic tyres was discussed by the directors - at the time there were less than 50 cars of British make on the roads. Electric power and light was installed; Avon had previously relied on steam to power its machinery, but the installation of electricity meant that production capacity could be greatly increased.

1899 The company had built up a substantial trade in carriage tyres and pneumatic cycle tyres. The partners bought another derelict cloth mill and land at Melksham, which became the Company's Corporate Headquarters and remained so for over 100 years.

1900 The buildings then included a general mechanical moulding department, pneumatic tyre shop, laboratory, compound stores and warehouse.

1901 A new pneumatic tyre shop was built along with additional houses as the factory had grown so large that there was a serious shortage of housing available in Melksham for the employees.

1902 Three new mixers were purchased and nearly three acres of adjacent land acquired for expansion. The mechanical shop was extended and waste-grinding shops were built. A new boiler and chimney were also erected. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders was founded in July, with 50 members and under its auspices.

1903 The first set of 29 beaded edge motor tyre moulds was ordered. By then the three main product groups were rubber components for railways and electrical engineering work, solid tyres and pneumatic bicycle tyres.

1904 The first ever Motor Show was held at Crystal Palace, the year that Avon became a member of the Motor Manufacturers Society.

1906 was a milestone in the development of the company. Avon car tyres were advertised for the first time. Cycle tyres were selling particularly well and one order from Rudge-Whitworth was for 23,000 covers and 40,000 tubes. An order was also won for 10½ miles of window strip. Site improvements included a new compound and rubber stores and a new telephone system and a small depot was opened in London at 31 Brook Street.

1908 The Trilithon (Stonehenge) trademark was registered with the phrase "Symbols of Endurance".

1910 Research began into the manufacture of golf balls, which quickly went into production. Years later, this profitable business was sold to Dunlop who still manufacture golf balls today.

1914 The outbreak of World War I coincided with an important and successful artillery transport test that involved 14 high-powered cars, all equipped with Avon pneumatic tyres, which moved a battery of heavy guns at 21 miles per hour without mishap. The Admiralty was a particularly large user of Avon products and called for some 40 tons of rubber sheeting and 20,000 feet of hose and tubing. Avon was also the leading manufacturer of paravane diaphragms used in minesweeping operations.

1915 Avon took over the Sirdar Rubber Works at Greenland Mills in Bradford on Avon. The company had gone bankrupt the previous year and Avon took it over to supply munitions for the war effort. This acquisition swelled the workforce by another 300 people. Throughout the war, Avon tyres were used on naval and military bicycles, motorcycles, cars, lorries, aeroplanes, ambulances, traveling workshops and mobile field kitchens. Manufacture was also directed towards munitions of sorts, including suction and delivery hoses for draining the trenches, fuse cap protectors and tubing. To conserve its productive capacity and ensure adequate supplies of its products, Avon output was controlled by the Ministry of Munitions from November.

1919 The number employed by Avon at Melksham had increased by 50 percent and new distribution depots were being set up in London, Newcastle, Leeds and Bristol. After the war, Avon switched its efforts to producing sporting equipment for tennis, football, golf, swimming, etc.

1921 The first tennis ball was made at Melksham and within a year thousands of dozens were being sold weekly. The Avon tennis ball was the first to be mass produced in stitchless form.

1927 Avon had 12 tyre distribution depots around the country carrying full stocks and manned by expert tyre fitters. A healthy export trade was also building up from the London depot and a plethora of articles were being manufactured including carriage, cycle and pram tyres, footwear, including rubber soles and heels, bath mats and sponges and rubber carpet. They exhibited at the1927 Motor Cycle and Cycle Show at Olympia Stand No. 60.

1929 Listed Exhibitor - British Industries Fair. Manufacturers of Golf Balls and General Sports Rubber Goods, etc., Toilet Rubber Sponges, Sponge Rubber Bathmats and Domestic Rubber Sundries, etc. (Stand No. B.24) [2]

1933 Avon became a public limited company; its shares were issued on the London Stock Exchange. In the same year Avon tyres were chosen for the first time as original equipment for Rolls-Royce cars as the Avon air cooled duo-tread tyres were launched, practically doubling tyre mileage.

1939 With the outbreak of World War II, Avon, together with other rubber manufacturers, concentrated on the war effort. The factory worked around the clock at full capacity to meet military demands and twenty million gas masks were produced at Melksham. Amongst many new developments was the bonding of solid rubber tyres to steel for tank wheels. Supplies of natural rubber were minimal following the loss of the plantations in Malaya and Indonesia, and new formulas and techniques had to be developed to use the early forms of synthetic rubber.

The post war years were a period of rapid growth which saw Avon transformed from a single company to a group of companies.

1947 British Industries Fair Advert for Sports Rubbers: Patent Valve Football Bladders; Grips for all games; Golf Ball Cleaners; Squash Balls; Tenikoit Rings, etc. (Sports Goods Section - Olympia, 1st Floor, Stand No. F.1836) [3]

1951 A factory was opened at Bridgend in South Wales to manufacture gas masks which were being stockpiled for the Government.

1952 Because of a dollar shortage in Europe, an arrangement was made with Sieberling Tyres of Akron, USA, for Avon to manufacture their giant car tyres at Melksham for export to Sieberling's non-US customers who found it easier to pay in Sterling. At the same time, the first Avon tyre was manufactured in Sweden.

1953 A tyre remoulding factory was opened in Nairobi, Kenya and later extended to take in the production of cycle tyres and footwear components. Also that year, the City of Bath commissioned Avon to provide white rubber road marking blocks on all roads in the city.

1956 George Spencer, Moulton and Co was acquired and the pioneers of the rubber industry in the West of England were united. Founded at Bradford on Avon in 1848 by Stephen Moulton, the company had achieved world renown for the design and development of its products for the railway industry. Subsequently, automobile and aircraft products had been developed, as well as tennis balls. The acquisition included the jointly owned French company, Societé Française des Caôutchoucs Spencer Moulton, located in Paris and later moved to its present site in Malesherbes where it is now known more simply as Avon Spencer Moulton. It also included Abbey Mills and Kingston Mills in Bradford on Avon. Avon acquired J. W. and T. Connolly of High Wycombe, manufacturers of wheels, hubs and axles for the agricultural industry.

1957 Avon bought Henleys Tyre and Rubber Co of Gravesend, Kent and the manufacture of Henley tyres was transferred to Melksham.

Avon's entry into the highly demanding sport of motor and motorcycle racing led to a long-lasting association with leading international riders and drivers.

1959 Work began in Melksham on the development of inflatable dinghies. Manufacture was transferred to Abbey Mills at Bradford on Avon in January of the following year.

1960 The Bridgend factory had ceased gas mask production in 1957 and the workforce had dwindled to 500 with manufacturing switched to production of footwear. By 1960, 120 tonnes of boots, including 5,000 pairs of wellingtons, were being made each week. Avon continued to dominate the world motorcycling scene.

1961 The Melksham plant alone was producing 1½ million tyres annually.

1963 By acquiring the Normeir Tyre Co, Avon became involved with tyre distribution for the first time. This chain, strengthened by future acquisitions, was to form the basis of the Motorway Tyres and Accessories Company. The word "India" was dropped from the title which was shortened to Avon Rubber Co.

1964 Further growth was achieved with the acquisition of two companies - David Moseley and Sons of Manchester, manufacturers of industrial rubber and plastics products and their subsidiary, Capon Heaton and Co, makers of rubber and plastics components and a highly specialised range of medical products. A new factory for the manufacture of inflatable craft was also set up at Dafen, near Llanelli, where production of these items transferred from the Abbey Mills factory at Bradford on Avon.

1966 The Great Fire at Melksham destroyed the Finished Goods store, in which it raged for many hours and threatened to engulf the whole factory. The company lost 25 per cent of all its new stocks, plus all moulded rubber products awaiting despatch. The biggest fire in Wiltshire's history cost more than £1 million. A further move in the distributive side was made when Tyrebatt, a West of England tyre distributive chain, was purchased and a year later the tyre and accessory distributive interests of Kerrys were bought. Avon also began an involvement in the manufacture of rubber for hovercraft skirting.

1968 At Bridgend, footwear presses were removed to make way for new tyre remoulding presses. Tyre remoulding in Bradford on Avon was beginning to outgrow production capacity, manufacturing was transferred to the footwear factory in Bridgend which was now struggling.

1969 Avon Reifen began operations in Dusseldorf, Germany. This marketing arm was set up to promote sales of Avon tyres in the Federal Republic of Germany.

1970 The tyre company also continued to expand in Britain where Howcroft Tyre and Battery Co was purchased. This tyre distributor was integrated into the Motorway Tyres distribution chain, and Avon won an order from Volkswagen to supply tyres to the famous Volkswagen Beetle.

Early 1970s the decision was made to expand Avon Medicals into the highly demanding business of designing and producing disposable blood transfusion sets and also dialysis equipment for patients suffering from kidney disease.

1972 A 33 per cent shareholding was acquired in another specialist company, Lippiatt, Hobbs and Co. Based in Westbury, Wiltshire, the business had been formed to develop and market new products for the repair and maintenance of gas distribution networks. The company was re-named Avon Lippiatt Hobbs.

Avon Industrial Polymers was actively reinforcing its reputation. Following the granting of a licence to develop and manufacture hovercraft skirt components, work had been undertaken with leading hovercraft manufacturers.

The tyre division was expanding the scope of its distribution network with the opening of new depots at Birmingham, Glasgow, Reading, Leeds and Newcastle making a total of over 140 branches in the UK and Ireland.

1973 A new division was formed at Bridgend, grouping together products such as remould tyres and materials, wheel and undergear equipment, and the marketing of footwear and industrial tyres. Avon Medicals began to develop the export side of the business by opening a marketing company in Dietzenbach, West Germany.

At Melksham, Avon Ames was formed as the result of a joint venture between Avon Industrial Polymers and the Ames Rubber Corporation of the US. Avon Ames designed, developed and manufactured reprographic roller coverings for the high speed copying machines which were quickly becoming an office essential.

1974 Avon Illinois Inc, located in Chicago, was established as a marketing subsidiary of Avon Industrial Polymers - selling golf grips, aerosol gaskets, milking machine parts and automotive hoses and Avon's first European manufacturing base was opened at Tessenderlo, Belgium.

The decision by the oil-producing countries to impose massive price increases caused worldwide economic and social crises. Energy costs soared, together with those of oil related chemicals and rubbers, transport and other services. A period of exceptional inflation and economic instability was the inevitable consequence. Every sector of industry suffered and there were particular problems for the tyre manufacturers. With fewer new vehicles being sold and radials giving a far greater mileage, sales of new tyres plummeted. A serious worldwide over-capacity of tyre production resulted and, as competition for customers increased, Avon's year-end accounts for 1975 reported a loss of over half a million pounds.

1977 British Gas awarded a licence to Avon Lippiatt Hobbs to promote the worldwide sales of products and systems relating to the maintenance and sealing of gas distribution pipelines.

1978 Avon Industrial Polymers and the Ames Rubber Corporation formed a second joint venture company, based in New Jersey, USA. Ames Avon Industries began by manufacturing a range of injection moulded gaiters for front wheel drive American motor vehicles.

1978 Avon acquired the remaining 67% of Lippiatt Hobbs that it did not already own[4].

In Britain, the progressive decline of traditional industries which had been evident for some years, was accelerated with traumatic social and financial consequences. Extreme competition for the reduced volume of business caused a sharp decline in profits in 1980 and, together with the cost of reorganisation, led to losses being made in the following two years. For Avon, an urgent programme of product rationalisation and costly reorganisation formed the basis of the Group's survival. Avon became a public limited company in December 1981.

The first grim effects of recession began with the closures of the Moseley factory in Manchester and of the Capon Heaton factory in Birmingham. The Group sold Avon Medicals. Avon Industrial Polymers was reorganised to provide a single management structure and a reduction in the size of its workforce. After only two years, the second Avon Inflatables manufacturing unit at Henley was closed and all production concentrated at the Dafen site. The Bridgend factory was closed with a loss of 260 jobs, and the manufacture of remould materials transferred to Melksham. The axle business was sold and a management buyout agreed for Avonride suspension equipment. Footwear production and marketing had already ceased. Throughout 1982 there were many redundancies.

The company survived and a range of racing tyres developed by Avon Tyres quickly won successes in numerous championships and attracted orders from many parts of the world. There then followed a programme of expansion and amalgamation with many companies throughout the world, particularly in America.

Today, well over a hundred years after its formation, Avon Rubber is an international polymer engineering group with modern, well-invested global facilities. It is a significant supplier to the world's automotive, engineering, dairy and defence markets with a blue chip customer base served by approximately 4,500 employees.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. [1] Avon Rubber plc: History
  2. 1929 British Industries Fair p12
  3. 1947 British Industries Fair Advert 420; and p19
  4. The Times, 17 November 1978