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British Industrial History

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Birkbys

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of Liversedge, Yorkshire; London Manager: R. R. Todd, 188 Willesden Lane, Brondesbury, NW8. Telephone: Willesden 0325. Cables: "Woodfield, Liversedge." (1929)

of Liversedge, Yorkshire. Telephone: Heckmondwike 514/515. Telegraphic Address: "Elo, Liversedge". (1937)

1867 Business established. Birkby’s was a pioneer of industry in the Spen Valley. It grew to be the biggest employer in the district. Trams were the boom industry at the beginning of the 20th Century and Birkby’s started to dominate overhead line materials production and electrical insulation.

WWI The Birkby brothers worked with Leo Baekeland, inventor of Bakelite. Birkby’s became the first British firm to manufacture moulded articles. Although Birkby’s retained its other interests (tanning, carding of fibres and textile machinery manufacture), plastics eventually dominated and it was the ability to spot trends and evolve that ensured the survival of the company.

1920s The Automotive industry was the next one to boom, and Birkby’s was well placed due to its involvement with trams. It produced dashboards (sawdust filled phenolic), fuse assemblies and boxes, light reflectors, clutch discs and brake linings. London Passenger Transport was its biggest customer.

1926 Birkby’s started producing telephone handsets for the GPO. Later it also produced parts for wirelesses, including plastic casings, knobs, valve bases, coil bobbins and loudspeaker chassis. The firm became Birkby’s Limited. .

1929 Listed Exhibitor - British Industries Fair. Manufacturers of "Elo" synthetic Resin Mouldings in Black, colours and Mottled Colours, for the Fancy Goods, Electrical, wireless, Hardware and many other Trades. Also manufacturers of Synthetic Resin Moulding Powders and Varnish. (Stand No. K.91) [1]

1932 One of the founder members of The British Plastics Moulding Trade Association, formed in 1932

1937 Listed Exhibitor - British Industries Fair. "Elo" Synthetic Resin Mouldings, comprising Moulding Powders, Completed Mouldings, Spirit and Oil Soluble Resins, Cements and Varnishes. "Elo" Domestic and Fancy Ware, Fishing Reels and Fly Boxes. Overhead Line Materials. (Stand No. Cb.411) [2]

1950s The company started producing thermoplastics (acrylic) as well as thermoset plastics (phenol/formaldehyde). It moulded the first acrylic telephone cases.

1958 The last family tie, Freddie Birkby, retired and Birkby’s was sold to its biggest customer - Automatic Telephone and Electric Co. The Birkby name was kept due to its local associations.

Birkby’s expanded with a new thermoplastic moulding shop.

1961 Birkby’s was taken over by the Plessey Co with the rest of AT&E. This took it into the defence, avionics and electronics industries. The ownership lasted 28 years during which sales increased tenfold.

February 1968, a disastrous fire caused £2.5m worth of damage. Within 48 hours 10 presses were working and whatever work could not be done on site was subcontracted out. A new injection shop was completed by the end of the year with three times the original area.

In the 1970s, 1.8 million telephone sets were produced per year.

1972 Birkby’s merged with Viking Industrial Plastics to become Birkby’s Viking Ltd.

1975 Viking were bought out by Birkby’s and the company name reverted to Birkby’s Plastics Ltd. The main sales were in telecommunications, as far afield as Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong.

1980s Birkby’s made major investments in its site, buildings and technology. Its relationship with Ford strengthened, getting all Ford’s instrumentation business. They became pioneers in the use of CAD in the plastic moulding industry.

1989 The company was acquired by GEC Siemens, only to be sold to the Marubeni Corporation a year later.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  • [1] Birkby's Website