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Baldwins: 1934 Review

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Note: This is an abridged version of a chapter in British Commerce and Industry 1934

ONE of the largest of British industrial groups manufacturing iron and steel in semi-finished forms such as ingots, bars and billets, as well as fully finished sheets, including galvanized, lead-coated, tinned, electrical, etc.

Baldwins has nineteen separate establishments or works in South Wales, Monmouthshire, Herefordshire, the Midlands and London. In regard to a section of its coal and steel interests, these have been linked up since 1930 with certain parallel activities of Messrs. Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds], the joint enterprise being conducted as a separate unit, the British (Guest Keen, Baldwins) Iron and Steel Co. This fusion was a notable contribution towards the unification of the heavy steel industry in South Wales, and was significant as one of the earliest steps taken within the industry itself in the process of rationalization as affecting similar interests between two of the leading iron and steel groups.

The "Baldwins" group, therefore, is a powerful and self-contained organization controlling the supply of raw material, fuel, and the manufacture of finished products. The activities of this vertical combination — from raw materials to finished products — begin with the ownership of coal and iron ore mines, blast furnaces and coke ovens, steel works and rolling mills, and proceed through numerous metallurgical processes in manufactories where the half-finished materials in the shape of steel bars are developed into highly processed black sheets, galvanized sheets, lead-coated sheets, tinned sheets, tinplates, and in many cases to the final utilitarian products represented by tanks, cisterns, cylinders, drums, kegs, cans, troughs, bins, gutterings and pipings, etc.

These comprise, with Baldwins subsidiary and associated companies, eight collieries, five quarries and iron-ore mines, two large brickworks, eight iron and steel works, four coke ovens and by-product plants, fifteen sheet, tinplate, and galvanizing works, and one electrical sheet lamination and stamping works. A few of these are properties which are controlled jointly with some other prominent group.

Some conception of the output of this vast organization, representing six million sterling of capital and the activities of its subsidiary and associated companies, may be gleaned from the following table of annual capacities:—

  • Pig Iron ... 975,000 Tons.
  • Steel Ingots... 990,000 Tons.
  • Iron and Steel Castings ... 40,000 Tons.
  • Bars, Billets, Tin and Sheet Bars, Rails and Sections ... 590,000 Tons.
  • Light and Heavy Plates ... 250,000 Tons.
  • Black Sheets and Blackplates ... 110,000 Tons.
  • Galvanized, Lead-coated and Tinned Sheets .... 53,000 Tons.
  • Tinplates (boxes) ... 2,600,000
  • Tanks, Kegs and Drums Ironstone ... 5,000 Tons.
  • Ironstone ... 600,000 Tons.
  • Limestone ... 360,000 Tons.
  • Basic Slag ... 28,800 Tons.
  • Coal (Gas, Steam, etc.) ... 1,290,000 Tons.
  • Furnace Coke ... 390,000 Tons.
  • Pitch ... 3,750 Tons.
  • Tar ... 6,500 Tons.
  • Naphthalene Salts ... 650 Tons.
  • Sulphate of Ammonia ... 4,200 Tons.
  • Silica Bricks ... 4,850,000 Bricks
  • Firebricks, Ganister, etc. ... 2,600,000 Bricks
  • Benzol ... 700,000 Gals.
  • Carbolic Oils ... 200,000 Gals.
  • Anthracene ... 187,500 Gals.
  • Solvent Naphtha ... 25,000 Gals.

Neither can it be said that the group responsible for this output is a latter-day industrial aggregation. Many of its composite units were rooted in the earliest pioneering days of the iron and steel industry in the last century, and all are indispensable components in the productive machine represented by Baldwins as a whole. Some witnessed, and took part in, change after change in the evolution of the industry—each change a partial revolution.

To give a few instances; the first rolling of iron sheets, superseding the more laborious hammering by hand; the patient experimenting of Dr. Siemens which led eventually to the open-hearth method of producing steel, and of the co-operation in the work of a certain furnace manager, Captain Wright of Swansea, who was later to become Sir J. R. Wright., Bart., Chairman of Baldwins Limited and father of the present chairman.

Similarly, in the case of the Midland branch, founded by the Baldwin family in the 'sixties, its early record is associated with the "Cookley Tinpot," which marked an outstanding advance in tinning over the previous method of dipping. The famous tinplate, the "Cookley K ," is produced to-day by the same original process now unique to Baldwins, its position in the markets of the world being still unchallenged for the making of dairy utensils, gas meters and other purposes.

Just over thirty years ago, in 1902, two neighbouring firms in Glamorgan and Monmouthshire which had maintained mutual trading relations for more than a generation previously, decided to unite. These were Wright, Butler and Co, and Alfred Baldwin and Co. The first were steel manufacturers and colliery owners, founded by Captain Wright; the second, steel makers and manufacturers of galvanized and black sheets. The principals in this fusion were the fathers respectively of the present Chairman of Baldwins and of the Rt. Hon. Stanley Baldwin, M.P.

At the same time the business of another branch of the Baldwin family was brought in — E. P. and W. Baldwin, makers of tinned, lead-coated and black sheets, and Staffordshire tinplates. This was the nucleus of the present Midland branch of the group.

The London branch was secured by including the Blackwall Galvanised Iron Co, which had prior to this acquired the famous Gospel Oak Co, and whose brands of galvanized sheets, the well-known Poplar, Blackwall and Gospel Oak, were widely traded in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, and other parts of the world.

Finally, the inclusion of the Bryn Navigation Colliery Co completed the 1902 merger.

To-day the combination and associated companies include, in addition to the companies hitherto mentioned, the Fairwood Tin Plate Co, Oxfordshire Ironstone Co, (jointly with Stewarts and Lloyds), Elba Tin Plate Co (jointly with the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Co), the Briton Ferry Works, the Cribbwr Fawr Collieries, Dowlais Collieries, and the Basic Slag and Phosphate Co.

It may be mentioned that Baldwins Limited have recently acquired the whole of the share capital of the old-established and well-known business of Robert B. Byass and Co, Mansel Works, Port Talbot, with ten mills, including blackplates and terneplates.

Outside the United Kingdom, Baldwins is naturally equipped with a strong and old-established export organization covering the whole of the British Empire and the leading markets of the world. Australia, Canada and South Africa have distributing companies — Baldwins and J. C. M. (Aust.) Pty. Ltd., Baldwins, Montreal, Ltd., and Baldwins (South Africa) Ltd.

At Panteg and Pontypool in Monmouthshire the greatest changes have occurred. Alongside of the Wright, Butler and Co.'s Steel Works were the Alfred Baldwin Tin Mills, and the steel bars manufactured in the former were passed to the latter for their flourishing business in the best quality tinplates.

After 1902 the Baldwin site was converted into sheet and galvanizing works — the nucleus of the works shown in one of the accompanying illustrations, and now known as the Panteg Sheet and Galvanizing Works. These have been repeatedly enlarged in recent years, and are installed with the most modern mills, rolls and other equipment. Within the last few months a normalizing furnace of the latest type has been installed. In addition the galvanized sheet plant of the Blackwall branch was dismantled and transferred to the company's Monmouthshire branches at Panteg and Pontypool.

At the neighbouring steel works, the furnace charging machine by Wellznan, installed in 1902, was the first machine of its kind to be introduced in the Welsh area, and its installation was only the prelude to the equipment of the works with improved bar mills to roll steel ingots without hammering. More recently the hammering process, not only for tin-bar making but for all bars, was abolished by means of the compound Galloway engine, which in its turn has been superseded by the present togging mill driven by a Galloway reversing engine of 5,000 to 10,000 h.p. and having a crankshaft weighing 25 tons. The melting furnaces have also been increased, enlarged and remodelled to produce both acid and basic steel, and the casting pit, ladles and gas-producing machines also enlarged and modernized.

Similarly the London branch, although some of its activities were transferred to Monmouthshire, has been so greatly expanded that its galvanizing department alone accounts for the largest individual output over any similar works in the country. This figure is 12,000 tons annually, and it includes such important commissions as the galvanizing of the greater proportion of the towers erected over all parts of England by the Joint Electricity Boards, of ships' plates for the British Admiralty and for shipbuilders generally, and of any class of material as may be required by contractors.

At Blackwall also are manufactured many of the final and utilitarian products of the company, those products that furnish the man in the street with some of his domestic contacts with Baldwins the cowl over his chimney, the cistern under his roof, and the bin outside his scullery door. The "Phoenix" brand cisterns and tanks are among these, also the T.O.T. cisterns of the London County Council and other housing schemes. The newest and most up-to-date machinery has been installed at this branch, and it is always working to full capacity. The output of this department alone has increased by at least 600 per cent. during the last few years.

The Keg and Drum Department, in spite of increasing competition, is maintaining a steady output. Admiralty, Air Force and War Office contracts for welded galvanized, tinned drums and tapers are handled. Special attention is given to the demands of the paint, oil, disinfectant and other trades.

Heavy plating work by the plating department at Blackwall is another Baldwin speciality. Steel chimneys, oil storage tanks, water-softening plants, compressor work, ship's tanks, duct work, water-cart tanks, etc., are undertaken, together with a host of other materials too numerous to mention here. Dust bins of all sorts, cowls, pipes, circular corrugated cisterns, cattle troughs, corn bins, coal bunkers are manufactured to standard or customers' designs.

It is worthy of note, moreover, that the Tinplate Mills at the King's Docks, Swansea, is able to claim the distinction of being the first in the country to be driven throughout by electric power, whilst the Elba Works claims to possess some of the most modern developments in plant that the world can produce.

In this connection a final note on the accompanying drawing, showing the Wilden Works in 1850, is of more than passing interest. On the site of the present works, a picture of which appears at the head of this record, only a few vestiges of the original works now remain. In 1850, as the drawing shows, the old water-wheel was in the midst of a wonderful career which has lasted well over one hundred years, and the old Beam Engines were active until they were dismantled within the last generation. On the extreme left can be seen the home of Mr. Alfred Baldwin, the first Chairman of Baldwins Limited. It was typical of the age that the old leaders of industry lived in close contact with their work-people.

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