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From 'The Story of a Hundred Purposeful Years' and issued by Fisher and Ludlow in 1950
The importance of Fisher & Ludlow as a potential threat to his ambitions was early recognised by Hitler, and in August, 1939, the photo reconnaissance units of the Luftwaffe had already pin-pointed these factories as Class A targets in the war upon which he had already decided. They were to be destroyed utterly and completely, and with all possible speed, and on the fire-flecked night between December 2nd and 3rd in the year 1940 it seemed that this objective had been achieved, for during those thirteen hours of destruction, fourteen of their factories were completely put out of action.
The next morning, as the workers assembled in the debris-strewn street in which the main factory had stood, one of the first persons on the scene was the man whose efforts, probably more than any other single person, have been responsible for the vast development of Fisher & Ludlow — Mr. Arthur Keats, now chairman and Managing Director. Listen to his own words as he describes the situation and how it was tackled.
"My colleagues arrived at about the same time and we immediately had a directors' meeting and decided that we were to carry on. Unfortunately we were not able to do any work on that particular day in the factory because of unexploded bombs, but we immediately took possession of the premises which were occupied by the Social Club, and within 24 hours we started work.
In spite of all this blitz we soon employed more people than ever.
I must say that everyone who worked for Fisher & Ludlow was a hero, and I am proud to be associated with the Company which employed those men."
The bombs of the Luftwaffe could, and did, destroy buildings, machines and tools — could, and did, burn out offices and stores — could, and did, momentarily halt production and disrupt distribution; but never, no matter how severe their raids, could they break the indomitable spirit or weaken the loyalty and determination of those men and women who, throughout every grade, made up the splendid team that comprised "Fisher & Ludlow".
Fisher & Ludlow served their country through three wars, and their efforts have grown from Boer War camp kettles, brass buttons and mess tins to tanks and aircraft parts in the 19114-18 war, and to the truly amazing output of intricate and essential armaments which they produced throughout all the blitz of World War II. It is a far cry front the kettle spouts and tinmen's fittings of those early days to the vast plant now occupying over 33.25 acres of modern factory building on a site of 103 acres at Castle Bromwich, Birmingham; and the Albion Works of today is a mighty different place, with its spacious shops, canteens, washrooms, surgery, and social and welfare centres, to the "small shop up an entry" in Sherlock Street from which the firm began.
So, as the first half of the twentieth century climaxes in the year 1950, it is fitting that Fisher & Ludlow should pause for a moment and look backward down the avenue of time to review, before turning again to the future, the progress made through a hundred purposeful years.
The story of those years, told by the men and women themselves, who, through long service have helped to build Fisher & Ludlow, develops a fascinating picture of progress, coloured by the intimate personal recollections of those early times. Out of the jig-saw of their reminiscences, we can reconstruct the pattern of life in the days, when, although wages were low and hours were long, spirits were high and enterprise, resource and initiative had a razor-edged keenness — when relations between master and man were closer and more personal than ever they will be again. In those stormy days of a new century the intense team spirit and unswerving loyalty of all concerned blazed forth as brightly as their two furnace fires, and upon the anvil of industry were hammered out the basic principles which today still prosper that great organisation lustily growing in the English Midlands and across the sea in the Dominion of Canada.
An instance of the close relationship between master and man is found in the life story of Billy Hall. He was engaged at the age of 17 years by Mr. Ludlow, to drive the horse and cart, the very first transport vehicle owned by the firm. In due course Billy married, and combining the duties of caretaker with that of cart-driver, came to Its on the premises; when his daughter Rose Ada was six years old she, too, figured on the wages hooks of the firm, earning 3d a week for calling Mr. Fisher's cab; eventually she became forewoman in the warehouse and remained in that position until she married.
Billy stayed with Fisher & Ludlow until he retired on pension, shortly before his death in 1933, at the age of 81.
The first tangible record of the birth of Fisher & Ludlow dates back to 1849, when Mr. Fisher started selling tinmen's furniture which he manufactured in a "little shop up an entry at number 238 Sherlock Street", and where he was joined, in partnership, in the year 1880, by Henry Walter Ludlow.
Somewhere around 1884, Mr. Fisher bought up the business of Mr. Lomas, a clever and resourceful toolmaker, who had a shop in Moor Street, and lived above it, as was the custom in those times, with his wife and family of nine children.
At this time the partners began to extend and export their metal wares - kettle necks, lids and spouts, blacksmith forged buckets, heel protectors, and an assortment of stampings and piercings and it is perhaps interesting to recall the process of manufacture then employed in the production of kettle spouts. The halves of a straight spout were shaped out in small presses and then soldered together by hand, forming a long straight cylinder, which was then filled with lead, beaten to shape over a mandrel, and then heated until the lead core melted away leaving the finished and shaped spout.
During this stage of the firm's growth their first government contract, for producing mess tins and camp kettles for the Boer War armies, was obtained, and this contract contributed in no small measure to the first real headway the company began to make.
They made thousands of Infantry and Cavalry mess tins and once having firmly established themselves as producers of this type of article, the flow of orders for all kinds of similar work was steadily maintained. And all the time new machines and premises were continually being acquired.
The cottages on either side of the original factory were demolished, and finally a "home brew" beer house became engulfed by the rising tide of Fisher & Ludlow progress. This beer house is worthy of a short story all to itself. Its brew had long been a source of trouble to Mr. Ludlow whose strict order it was that no strong drink should be brought into his works, and the adjacency of this beer house making for easy evasion of this rule led to a relentless battle of supply and confiscation in which the "billy cans" Fisher & Ludlow were themselves manufacturing, played no small part. Its conversion into a factory seemed at first to have finally closed the chapter, but no, the old beer house had the last word, for it was in the "brew house" that the heaviest kick stamp was installed, and its each blow was struck, so from between the stone flags a spurt of home brew shot forth, "making", - as one of the oldest pensioners said, "the place smell lovely".
An important development at this time was the production of a sanitary bucket for South Africa, which was deep drawn down in one piece, seamless; it was 12 in. wide at the top, 18 in. deep and 11 in. at the bottom, and at that time was considered the most remarkable piece of press work of its kind in the country.
Fisher & Ludlow made some 25,000 of these, and became the talk of the ironmongery trade. This achievement was followed up by the production of a workpan 22 in. by 10 in. by 17 in. produced in one operation. At the time, this was indeed revolutionary practice, and yet scarce five decades have passed, before the giant presses of today are turning out the complete side of a car in a similar single operation. Such is the immense progress achieved in less than half a century by Fisher & Ludlow.
By now, the production of tinmen's furniture was obsolescent, and a striking new range of products from brass bedstead mounts to all manner of stampings and pressings for the engineering trade were flowing front the crowded works in Rea Street.
A point of interest in these developments is worthy of note; whilst digging out the foundations for one of the new Toggle Lever drawing presses that were then being installed, the labourers ran into what appeared to be a miniature coal mine . . . Subsequent investigations, however, proved this to be the coal bunker for one of the early Boulton & Watt steam engines, that years earlier had been installed for pumping water to the nearby canal.
Quite a lot of Fisher & Ludlow's original toolroom machinery came from White & Pike's factory at Northfield, now of course the world famous Austin Motor Co., and on being informed by Mr. Ludlow as to what he could expect from the sale, Mr. Corral, the then technical expert commented— "I wish you had bought the Works as well". Indeed the firm was growing so rapidly that the converted cottages and beer house in Rea Street were no longer adequate to house the plant and employees who were now numbering nearly 200, and quite a considerable amount of the packing had to be done in the street. The transport department however, still remained the same — with Bill Hall, and the old horse and cart, although to be sure Billy now had an assistant, another Billy — Billy Ash, of whom more later.
The old steam engine was replaced by a 100 h.p. gas engine and heavier stamp and power presses added a deeper and more insistent rhythm to the march of progress. The class of work was changing too, and in this period Fisher & Ludlow produced the first machine-made dustbin lid.
Mr. Edward Sharp remembers how he often called at the Sherlock Street Works as a lad, and saw Mr. Ludlow coming to work in his "Top hat, red coat, and white breeches", ready to go to the Hunt at Weatheroak or Wytha11, from which he would return in the evening to sign his letters.
One day he met with an accident in the field and returned later in the evening, with his right arm and shoulder bound up, but after considerable practice, still managed to sign all his cheques with his left hand.
One of the liveliest personalities on the staff at this time was Fred Newman, the manager, described by one of his contemporaries as a "three steps at a time man" from his habit of tackling the steep stairs leading from one floor to another. Mr. Sharp tells a lively anecdote of his old friend-
"I remember calling once, Fred was worried. A War Office inspector had rejected 100,000 brass buttons for soldiers' khaki trousers — not to a pattern which had been used since the Boer War (it was worn down). Fred had them the new ones put in a Shaking Barrel for three hours and took five years' wear off them and they passed."
And Frederick Thomas who started work in the metal stores recalls how. "There was no crane in those days; we used to have to carry all the metal in on our backs".
Thomas Bill, for forty-two years a faithful servant of the company remembers, how things were when he started in September, 9001:— "When I first came here, we had a little place in Rea Street. We had the press shop, tool room, sheet metal working, tool stores, metal stores, everything you can mention, all in one place — and that's how we went on."
Whilst Charlie Presdee, a toolmaker, says-
"Regards what they were making here then, there was buckets, bucket handles, spoons, miners' lamps, James Cycle gear cases, gravy spoons and kettle spouts."
There could be no more fitting close to this chapter than the record set up by the Ash family.
Billy retired after 32 years.
John died in harness in the 58th year of his employment by the company.
George, still at work "and enjoying it", is adding to his 31 years, and his nephew has just completed 29 years — making a total of a hundred and fifty years' service between them, a wonderful record and one of which the company is justly proud.
In those days there were no self-ejecting presses and after the operation the pressed part had to be levered out of the tools, often with the aid of a crowbar. It was heavy going, but in practically every case handled with amazing dexterity by women, who in spite of the long hours and difficult conditions seemed to find it a congenial occupation. Very often whole families came to work together, the men folk finding employment in tool room, welding or sheet metal work, and the girls almost automatically settling down in the press shops. Miss Clark, still operating a power press at Albion Works, is one of such a family, and this year father, mother, sister and brother have between them completed a hundred years "the same as Fishers" — a fine record of service.
Before we close the chapter of these early beginnings it will surely be of interest to record one or two transactions that have been remembered by some of the old business friends of the firm, for instance, Arthur Williams, now principal of W. H. Wathen and Co says-
"I have had my eye on Fisher & Ludlow for 48 years — that is a long time. I remember in 1902 getting a small enquiry for a dozen brass screws from Messrs. Fisher & Ludlow, Albion Works, Rea Street, so I dashed round there and I saw a strange man in a terrible hurry. His name was Mr. Newman, and he said "Mr. Ludlow wants to get this order rushed through, a very important order, let me have the price this afternoon. Well, I went round about 4 o'clock and I saw a very smart little fellow in red coat and white breeches and top boots, and I thought to myself, this is Mr. Ludlow. He said "What about that price?" and I quoted him 6/-, "You can have the order," he said, "but I want them to-morrow", and I said "can't do it to-morrow". "Little orders make big orders" he said. So I got the thing done and he was very, very, pleased."
And Mr. Thompson, one of the old blacksmiths, whose craftsmanship in wrought iron is once more becoming fashionable, today remembers how he quoted for the first stamping tools that Fisher & Ludlow required. The price was ten pounds, which Mr. Ludlow regarded as far too expensive, and after much discussion, it was decided that his own toolmaker would tackle this job on the premises. There was still an iron band to be wrought and, in Mr. Thompson's own words, "I was told to give a price for this, so I went outside the office, sat down on the steps and worked it out: then I went back into the office and told Mr. Ludlow and he accepted it. After that they made the stampings and sent them down to me by Billy Hall and his cart and I put the bands round them."
Many are the human stories that are remembered, little personal incidents, some humorous, some sad, that all combine to add colour to the vivid picture of the growing firm. We have Mr. Neville Ludlow's recollections of the "slow progress and keen competition", of the many anxious times through which the firm passed; in his own words "I have known the day, and more than once when we wondered where the money was coming from to pay the next week's wages".
But throughout it all runs the bright thread of true loyalty and co-operation, the bold spirit that laid a sure foundation upon which the greatness of the present organisation had been so well and truly built.
Such was the position of Fisher & Ludlow in the fateful year of 1914 when, for the second time in history, the firm was called to the service of its country . . . . Four long weary years of war.
Fisher & Ludlow, with every inch of floor space crowded to the limit, with every resource fully extended, working day and night to supply war material - Stokes bombs, Lewis Gun parts, Field Kitchens, riveting Rolls Royce Manifolds, and producing sheet metal and press work of every description — ammunition cases, camp kettles, mess tins - brass shell cases — and exhaust manifolds for aircraft. This was the position right from the start, and all the time the Government urging for more output. Fisher & Ludlow responded by acquiring new premises opposite to the old works, and equipping them with all the press plant it was possible to obtain.
This impetus gained during the war years carried the firm rapidly ahead, and when finally Armistice was declared Fisher & Ludlow had very useful factory premises and, by the standards of those days, an exceptionally modern plant. They had also a large number of employees, all of whom had to be found enough work to keep them occupied.
The high spirits of the workers at this time can be best summed up in the words of Miss Annie Smith, who started work in the warehouse in 1916, and still is in charge of it today, having through long service bequeathed it the unofficial title of "Annie's Warehouse". Said Miss Smith -
"Well I loved it, we were very busy and we worked long hours, and we worked very hard, but I was always very happy there".
There is a saying that "The hour produces the man" and for Fisher & Ludlow, the saying was justified in the person of Mr. Arthur Keats. It was at this time, when the orders for Miners' lamps, Food storage boxes, and steel trays were dwindling, when the production of clutch plates and lawn mower side parts failed to fill the new shops, that "A.K." foresaw the importance that the new motor car industry would one day assume, and with a bold stroke, hitched the fortune of Fisher & Ludlow to its rising star.
The decision to enter the motor trade was probably the greatest single step forward ever taken by the firm.
In 1920 Fisher & Ludlow Ltd., became Fisher & Ludlow (1920) Ltd., a public company, in which all its employees were invited to take shares, and the car work began in real earnest.
Contracts were obtained for Chassis Frames for the Albion Motor Co, of Scotstoun, Glasgow, and in the words of Jim Stokes—
"We used to knock them down by hand, put them on the mandrel, knock them down with sledge hammers while they were red hot and bend them to the shape that was required — and that was the chassis frames for the Albion. Then we made the step iron, that was done the same, and while red hot was bent and knocked down by hammers."
Thomas Jones, the employee who worked the very first lathe Fisher & Ludlow possessed, made the first combination tools for the firm, and Mr. Rose, the tool-setter, remembers their installation as the "hardest job I ever had".
Mr. Catsree remembers "starting on motor work, from petrol tanks — we made all the Morris Commercial tanks, small ones and large ones, all polished up by hand".
Conveyor systems were introduced, and it is interesting to note that the manufacture of this equipment is now carried on by one of the Fisher & Ludlow subsidiaries.
The work began to pour in, power presses of what seemed in those days phenomenal size made their appearance, towering like skyscrapers in the new shops especially built 14 them; the old belt and shaft drives disappeared and the press shops began to take on new and cleaner lines. Internal transport became a necessity, and first, manually operated "bogies" were introduced, only to be rapidly displaced by Lister trucks and other similar kinds of vehicles.
In spite of all this progress, nothing was allowed to interfere with the shrewd buying and careful assessment of new machines and material, always so characteristic a part of the Fisher & Ludlow business. It is interesting to listen to George Nicholls, now head of the experimental shop, as he recalls the early days of this department-
"In 1921 I tried to get a wheeling machine, it was going to cost £60; it took twelve months to get it, and during that time we had to prove its necessity and show convincingly just how much more profit it would enable us to make".
One of the members of the experimental team. Harry Bennett, also has vivid memories of this "wheeling machine"-
"I asked the manager for it, he said how much would it cost and when I told him, he said we couldn't afford it. Ten years later we had fifty in the shop, and in 1940 over a hundred, and they were machines that cost a lot more than sixty quid each."
Another sidelight which serves to show the spirit of keenness and initiative which characterised these days is recorded by Mr. Wilson who says-
"I started for Fisher & Ludlow in 1917 when Freddie Newman was Manager. I taught Mr. Keats to drive during his lunch hours to save interfering with his business."
Fisher & Ludlow were well established as producers of motor body pressings at the close of the 'twenties. It was then that Mr. Keats went to America to study manufacturing methods in the States, and to bring back with hint the necessary machinery to enable Fisher & Ludlow to start the production of all steel bodies in England.
The occasion of his first visit to U.S.A. is remembered in two different ways, firstly by Mr. Rigby who recalls with pride how "after working very hard getting our stuff out we went up to Mr. Ludlow's office and sent off a cable to Mr. Keats which read— "Don't worry everything O.K. a record month.".
And secondly by William Appleby who describes-
"And the most interesting thing as ever happened, was in No. 9 mill, about 1933, when they stopped all the presses from working and we had a 'transalastic' message come from America to say there was a Bliss machine coming and that was where it was to be put—in No. 9 mill, and that was the first big press as we had from America".
Now development crowded on development — presses so big that it was necessary to take the roof off the buildings to install them ... electric welding machines that caused the lights to dim throughout a whole district and raised a panic at the supply station, and finally warranted the laying of a special direct power supply ... new factory premises ... a wonderful new tool department at Bordesley Green opened by the Earl of Dudley ... and a magnificent fleet of vehicles that were in daily operation from one end of Britain to the other ... a vast organisation whose skill in the design and manipulation of steel was changing the appearance of Britain's Motor Industry.
So the uneasy 'thirties rumbled through their decade, and Hitler redrew the map of Europe with fire and steel, crushing out opposition with the heel of a jack-boot; then came that fateful Sunday in September, 1939, when the listening nation heard the first broadcast proclamation of war, and the Luftwaffe squadrons were briefed with the photographic maps made during the last months of the doomed peace—the industrial targets of Britain which they were to destroy.
While the "phoney" war raged with its ominous threats to the very existence of civilisation, Fisher & Ludlow relentlessly pursued their allotted tasks of producing virtually everything the Government demanded of them. Then broke the storm. First the collapse of France and the Epic of Dunkirk. Then the London blitz bringing home in deadly earnest the meaning of total war, then Coventry, a fiery beacon to guide Hitler's bombers home, the first lesson in the art of concentrated destruction; a lesson we were soon to master, and demonstrate in just retribution on its evil originators.
And then, whilst the U Boats and Dive Bombers harassed the all important convoys, whilst the ports were gutted, and the sunken hulls of ships blocked their use, whilst the industrial Midlands smouldered under stinking debris-laden clouds—then it was that the fires of destruction welded together the spirit of a nation, and forged the resolute purpose that ultimately carried us through to triumphant victory. And through it all Fisher & Ludlow never stopped, amongst the ruins of their factories the workers carried on.
Let them tell the story of those war years in their own words, for these are the men and women of whom Mr. Keats says "I am proud to be associated with the company which employed them ".
First Jim Stokes- "What sticks in my memory more than anything else was the way that everybody, men and women who worked at Fisher & Ludlow went straight to the job. They didn't stop away from the works, they came back again next morning, when the street was all ablaze and burning and water, and never an absentee, and we had our orders from the directors and our foremen and superintendents who to do, and we all went back to our work to do something."
Bombs and blackout, sleepless shelter nights, and the continual strain of work at high pressure could not deter them.
As Mr. Rose, a tool-setter puts it- "After every raid we went in tin 'ats and got the tools out of the presses . . . Mr. Keats was in the street and he asked me and Terry Tims, who I worked with, to get the tools out if we could . . . so we went in among the blitz damage and got them out, we had to pull the presses round by hand to get the clutch in, but we did it and saved the tools, and they was put in somewhere else and the job went on."
Thomas Midgeley, a millwright, recalls how one morning at 7 o'clock "we got here and found practically all the works ablaze — we had to start digging out as soon as they would let us but we were never very long before we got something going again. I remember in one department where all the glass roof had come in, we cleared up and started again with no roof on three hours after — it made a very nice light shop, more like a greenhouse than anything — but it was wonderful how we got on."
So the stories go on, told quietly, unobtrusively, in the simple straightforward language of men whose only concern was to do the job in hand to the best of their ability, the craftsmen, to whom the worst disaster that could befall seas the loss of their personal tools in this fire.
Perhaps the most dramatic of' all the stories is given by Charlie Orme, the timekeeper — "I was the only man on the gate then — I'd got the warning, and I gave it back, and switched off, just as he came over - seventeen minutes past six it was and I see it all go".
But it was the wonderful effort that put the Bordesley tool shop back in production after its almost total destruction within seven days that earned for Fisher & Ludlow the honour of a Royal visit.
H.M. The King paid a visit to the works when the toolmakers were hard at it, working in a shop, screened from the wind by tarpaulins, roofless, with temporary floors and duckboards covering up craters, surrounded by piles of rubble not yet cleared away — men and women working in the ruins of a factory, a front line industry going top speed under front line conditions, an epic of endurance, remembered simply by Mr. Huffady, who said - "Yes, I see the King come up, right through the centre and back again. Mr. Cox led him up and that was when the top was off and we was working in tin hats helmets and jackets on and we carried on."
So it was that the indomitable spirit of the people defeated the might of the Luftwaffe, and the steady floss of war material from the Fisher & Ludlow plant never stopped, the Lancaster wings, the pontoon parts, the shell cases and all the other war contracts pouring into that continuously growing stream until the tide turned for Victory.
In 1945, and for the third time in its history, Fisher & Ludlow joined in the celebration of a Peace. Boer War, World War I, and now cessation of hostilities in the Global War.
During this year of 1945, as the tide of battle had receded steadily east, and the end became only a matter of time, Fisher & Ludlow had begun to co-ordinate for peace-time production, but before any of their plans could be put into operation, it was obvious that their factories, scattered as they were throughout Birmingham and the Midlands, would have to be centralised. The Board of Trade were consulted and very soon a directive was issued from the Government itself that Fisher & Ludlow were to take over a huge self-contained site on the outskirts of Birmingham.
It was on this site that an emergency shadow factory had been built during the war specially to house the light aircraft assembly lines for Vickers-Armstrongs. This factory, occupying over 1,250,000 sq. ft. of space, comprised four magnificent blocks of works buildings, an enormous canteen with seating accommodation for 4,000 and superb office accommodation. Together with the facilities it provided for sports fields and recreation grounds it was as completely equipped as a small township.
There was only one thing wrong from Fisher & Ludlow's point of view — built and equipped for the production of light aircraft assembly, the entire distribution system was completely wrong for the heavy steel pressings of this company.
The first plan, then, had to be a complete redesign of the whole factory, virtually making a fresh start right from the drawing board stage, utilising only the standing shell of buildings and offices.
Into this shell the capacity of fourteen factories was concentrated, and a new township created, the proud, productive, and completely self-contained community of Albion Works.
In one single year the whole of the vast project was complete, and the individual voices of the machines merged into a symphony of production, so smoothly efficient that it is difficult even to imagine that this mighty enterprise has ever had any other home throughout the entire century of its existence.
And the premise upon which this successful conclusion was ultimately drawn was boldly stated in the one simple sentence which prefaced all planning.
"At no stage in the entire operation is there to be any loss of production."
That this was accomplished reflects great credit upon the engineering and transport staffs of the company, and too, upon the management and personnel involved, proving again the outstanding team spirit of which Fisher & Ludlow are so justifiably proud.
Let us now consider just a few of the many and complex problems that were involved once the decision to move was taken.
One of the oldest drivers on the firm, who for the past quarter of a century has been transporting Fisher & Ludlow products all over Britain, said- "It's the biggest job I ever had to do, or have ever seen done, and I'm proud of the part I played in it — it was wonderful"
The most spectacular equipment to be moved, was of course the giant presses, many of which weighed over two hundred tons, dead weight, and even when dismantled, presented single units of over fifty tons. Special lorries had to be designed for their transport, as also had the lifting and haulage gear with which they were handled. On several occasions these units were of awkward size and shape, and a special police escort had to be provided to ensure their safe passage through the streets: and whilst all this was going on, an army of workmen were busy at the new Albion Works preparing the huge pits for their foundations. These enormous concrete pits were 25 ft. deep and 20 ft. left to right and 12 ft. back to front, and over 6,000 tons of concrete were used in their construction.
By January, 1947, the complete administration side was housed in its new offices and the incredible task of removing over a million sq. feet of blackout from roofs and windows completed; over 100,000 feet of additional service piping carrying compressed air, water and gas to the machines had been installed and thousands of feet of overhead bus bars fitted into position.
All the time, dovetailing into each move, more and more equipment steadily arrived, and so perfect was the organisation, fitting precisely into the positions allocated for it upon the plan and prepared in readiness for its arrival. In this way thousands of tons of machinery, stores, tools and pressings in various states of finish were transferred.
And as all the advantages of the new premises with their re-planned production lines and layout came into operation, the output figures began once more to climb steadily upwards on the production charts.
But it is in the photographs that follow that the story is finally completed, for only the graphic impact of these pictures can convey the size of the vast organisation, universally acknowledged as the model layout for a factory of this kind, and to which have come industrialists from all over the world, to admire, and copy; and which has set a new standard in the handling and manipulation of steel.
In its own way the progress of this section from its inception in 1925 up to today is no less remarkable than is the growth of the parent concern, for today, in its own sphere, the size and importance of the Mechanical Handling Section is comparable to that of the main company's organisation 25 years ago. This brief history of this Division's growth is an example of the ever accelerating pace of modern industry.
In September, 1925, a Department was started to manufacture "Gridway" Open Steel Flooring, a product which was at that time entirely new to this country. The introduction of these open gratings for power station construction and industrial use generally was an immediate success and in less than twelve months from its inception the floor space allocated in Barford Street was too small and a new factory was built at the back of the original premises.
This additional capacity enabled the Company to branch out into the supply of auxiliary equipment associated with Open Steel Flooring, and manufacture was undertaken of supporting steelwork for the floors, soon to be followed by staircases, hand-railing and light structural work generally.
It was not long before the new factory became too small the expanding business and, as about this time the parent company had purchased the premises in Bradford Street which had been Cooper and Goode's Rolling Mill, a portion known as "the Stoneyard site" was allocated for another new factory for "Gridway" who, themselves, fabricated and erected the steelwork for the structure.
Production in the Stoneyard Works began in 1930, but it had hardly commenced when an opportunity arose of acquiring the business of the Gridway Steel Construction Co, at Rolfe Street, Smethwick, and these premises became the headquarters of the Mechanical Handling Division. As the Smethwick works afforded some five times the total floor space of the three factories in Birmingham, before long they were closed down in order to concentrate production at Smethwick.
The nineteen-thirties saw a steady growth of the steel flooring and the constructional business, and the development of general welded fabrications and various types of factory equipment. This period also saw revolutionary changes in manufacturing techniques due, principally, to the introduction of arc welding, which was then in its infancy, while the installation of modern types of presses and machine tools made a tremendous contribution to the industrial development during this decade.
The outbreak of war in 1939 found the Mechanical Handling Division well equipped to take part in the war effort, and even before 1939 the effect of the rearmament programme had been felt and many substantial contracts executed for equipment for Government Stores, Depots, Maintenance Units and Filling Factories.
It is interesting to recall some of the war-time contracts and to notice how their character changed from defensive to offensive. In the early days of the war, contracts were carried out for the provision of Steel Shutters and Debris Screens for Government buildings; Trailers for Fire Pumps and Gas Producers, and components for Balloon Barrage Vehicles; but, at a later stage, large scale production of Pontoon Couplings, Armoured Vehicle and Amphibious Vehicle components and Airborne Gun Mountings was undertaken.
As the Smethwick premises were inadequate to meet this department's commitments during the early part of the war, in 1940 another works was opened in Booth Street, Handsworth, for the production of Trailers, Tank Flail Arms, Bomb Racks and Landing Craft parts. In 1941 premises were taken over at Lye for the production of Fire Pump Trailers and, later, Pontoon Couplings.
The war had a profound effect upon the character of the Mechanical Handling Section. Production was expanded and work was undertaken of an entirely different nature from normal peace-time jobs, demanding completely new manufacturing methods, involving research, development and design in fields hitherto outside their range of interests.
The end of the war saw the Mechanical Handling Section with double the floor space and production facilities and double the number of people employed before the war, facing the acute problems created by the change back to peace-time production and the closing down of war-time requisitioned premises. As, however, considerable thought had been given to post-war policy the problems, although difficult, were not unexpected. The king-pin of this post-war policy was the decision to undertake the design, development, manufacture and marketing of a complete range of industrial equipment. The first of a long line of "Flow" names was the FLOWLINE Belt Conveyor system, now accepted as standard equipment in very many diverse industries.
Since then the range has been greatly expanded and today includes— FLOWLINK Chain Conveyors, FLOWROLL Gravity Conveyors— FLOWJACK Pallet Trucks- FLOWSTACK Pallets- FLOWQSTOR Mobile Storage- FLOWPAN Box Storage system— FLOWRACK Box Storage system— FLOWCLAMP Store Rack system— FLOWCHAIR industrial Seating— FLOWLOCK Adjustable Shelving and the latest addition to the line FLOWSTYLE Cabinet system.
Although this list appears to be very diverse there is, in fact, an underlying unity: all these products are made primarily from steel; they are all some form of press-work and fabrication; they all deal with some aspect of material storage and handling, and they all have the same aim as far as the user is concerned — greater production efficiency.
The development of this policy placed a considerable strain upon production facilities which, with the closing down of the war-time factories, were concentrated at Smethwick, and to relieve this pressure two factories in Birmingham were taken over from the parent company which was centralising its facilities at Castle Bromwich Works. It was decided to equip these factories for the manufacture of the original product — Open Steel Flooring — which still represents an important part of total production.
Realising the importance of keeping not merely abreast, but well ahead of the times in their own particular province, visits were made to America to study at first hand developments in those fields of industrial equipment of particular interest to the Mechanical Handling Section. As a result, it was decided to expand the already substantial stake in "Material Handling" equipment to include the science of Palletisation — a word seldom heard in the early days of 1948.
In order to support this decision with manufacturing resources the parent company's Bordesley Works, originally built and equipped as their tool room, was taken over in the middle of 1948 and modern plant installed for the mass-production of Material Handling equipment.
Side by side with the growth in factory space and equipment, the organisation has been built up to handle the increasing volume of production, and in order to concentrate their administration all the offices were centralised at Bordesley Works in the middle of 1949.
The ever-widening scope of steel products developed by Fisher & Ludlow was sooner or later bound to impinge on the domestic market in various ways. The vast experience gained in the motor-body side helped to produce at economical prices, the famous "Fisholow" stainless steel sink units, which have captured the markets all over the world, and are presenting shining examples of fine designs in the kitchens of hotels and homes in every country. There is now a complete range of these units, all available with alternative fittings to meet the specialised requirements of individual customers, or countries. It is typical of the thoroughness in design and the attention to detail which characterises all Fisher & Ludlow products, that a special sound-deadening material has been developed, with which the underside of all these units are treated.
The production of vitreous enamelled lavatory basins is another busy section of the Albion Works organisation, and thousands of these components, pressed out in the finest quality heavy gauge enamelling steel leave the factory daily, resplendent in their pastel shades, to grace the bath-room and wash-room in homes, offices, schools, hotels and ships throughout the world — in many cases to rejoin the stainless steel sink units as part of a complete "Fisholow" equipped installation.
And alongside these products even newer and wider ranges of articles in stainless steel are making their prototype appearance, becoming proven, and commencing to flow in increasing quantities from the busy production lines. Amongst these new lines are a stainless steel beer barrel, a silk stocking display unit in the smooth form of a shining leg, and bottle carriers for everything from milk to minerals.
But the main impact on the domestic market is of course made through the medium of "Bendix Home Appliances" in which company Fisher & Ludlow now have the controlling interest, and which manufactures, under licence from the American "Bendix Home Appliances Inc." of South Bend, Indiana, the famous "Bendix Home Laundry," or as it is more familiarly known in Britain, "The Bendix Automatic Washer"
This machine, of which several millions have been sold in America and overseas, is universally regarded as being one of the finest washing machines ever produced, and a most efficient labour-saving device, and has proved itself to be as necessary a part of the modern kitchen as the sink, the cooker, and the refrigerator. Throughout the world the demand for Bendix is increasing with phenomenal rapidity, and under existing arrangements with the American company a high percentage of the Fisher & Ludlow production is exported to overseas markets, many of which are in hard currency areas.
Indeed it is only this dollar saving capacity, together with the short supply of certain materials, which are limiting the Bendix sales in Britain.
The manufacture of the Bendix is carried out in a special section of Albion Works, by the most modern line-production methods, and it is a most inspiring and impressive sight at the end of each day's output to look down the long lines of Bendix machines as they complete their tour of the conveyor lines, immaculate in their porcelain finish. The functions of this Bendix machine are so unique — it is the only one of its kind in Britain — that they are worthy of a detailed description in this book, for in their describing some idea will be gained of the many intricate processes that have had to be rationalised to make line-production practical in the manufacture of this quality article.
The Bendix is fully automatic. Once the clothes have been put in, the soap powder added, and the dial set for the type of wash you require, you merely switch on and forget all about "the washing". It is a curious thing that although this is a strong sales point for Bendix, the automatic operation is so fascinating that for the first few times the Bendix is in use most people find it almost impossible not to watch the entire sequence through. First the Bendix fills itself, with water at exactly the correct temperature required to wash the type of clothe, with which it is loaded, then, revolving at high speed, it proceeds to clean them thoroughly by a rapid but gentle "tumble" action, which is an almost exact replica of the motion used by human hands, multiplied to a mechanical efficiency, thus making the most of the cleaning power in the foam of suds that are now frothing against the "porthole." At the end of the washing time, the Bendix automatically commences to rinse, completely changing the water three times until not a vestige of soap remains in the fabric, and the water is crystal clear.
Then the Bendix empties itself finally, and, speeding up rapidly, spins the clothes damp dry, and this operation completed, switches itself off. And there your washing can remain until at your convenience you are ready to take it out to the clothes line or the drying cabinet!
The Bendix Automatic Washer can handle nine pounds of clothes at a time, and the entire operation takes between 30 and 40 minutes, according to the type of wash required. All moving parts are enclosed, and in this connection it is interesting to note that the Bendix is the only machine that fully meets the requirements of the L.C.C. safety regulation, for public "self-service" laundries — or as they are known to Bendix users "Laundrettes," of which increasing numbers are now being installed throughout the country.
This newcomer to the Fisher & Ludlow organisation, although only in its infancy is already proving a lusty and prosperous youngster, and is rapidly adding a tradition of its own to the story of Fisher & Ludlow's second century.
One of the most important units of the Fisher & Ludlow organisation is the Transport Department controlling the vast fleet of vehicles which carry "Fisholow" products across the length and breadth of the country, and the scores of trucks and mobile cranes that make up the internal transport section which keeps production continuously on the move throughout the factories. It is indeed a far cry from the days of Billy Hall and his horse and cart; from the days when the old Renault lorry was all the transport Fisher & Ludlow owned, and from the days when the "heavy gang" loaded the different pressings into wooden skips and manhandled them from machine to machine.
And this vast fleet is still growing, as production speeds up, as newer and bigger units are required to be transported, so the department adds the very latest vehicles to its organisation, many of which are specially designed and built in the transport department's own workshop to meet the individual requirements of the work its hand.
It is to a toolmaker, Mr. J. F. Allen, that we are indebted for this early information.
The first surgery was in 1916 and a far cry from the hospital block at the present Albion Works, where a qualified Nursing Sister and a staff of fully trained nurses are always available. Where the routine visits of a Medical Officer taken as a matter of course bring all the advantages of modern medical treatment to the thousands of men and women who make up the community of Fisher & Ludlow.
This new and wider concept of industrial welfare, developing into a complete co-partnership is again vividly illustrated in the canteen facilities and social activities, which in ever widening circles radiate from the hub of the Personnel Department.
Neither productive, nor administrative, this department is of vital importance in maintaining the smooth running of the whole industrial machine, for to their staff come all the personal problems of employers in every grade, theirs is the responsibility of organising the entire social life — sports, entertainment and outings, theirs the responsibility for keeping square pegs out of round holes, and maintaining the delicate balance of discipline and personal freedom which combines happiness and efficiency. It is amazing how many things are laid at the door of the "Personnel Manager" and a great tribute to himself and his staff that so many cheerful and happy faces can be seen every day, when four thousand men and women meet together in the largest single canteen in Britain to enjoy the well-cooked and varied meals provided.
This gigantic catering achievement is the routine duty of a cheerfully efficient staff, and the effortless efficiency of its service, no mean piece of production organisation.
To watch the various sports activities of the Fisher & Ludlow community at play, to see their football and cricket teams take the field with professional-like agility, or at their annual sports day to observe the events run off in orderly array, provides a striking contrast to the social event of half a century ago. Perhaps some of the older workers may cast nostalgic glances back to those early days, when the fun was broader and the organisation more often conspicuous by its absence. To the days when a certain manager arrived at the outing destination only to find that his wife, in another part of the train, had gone on all alone to London, or the classic river trip when the party safely aboard the steamer, and under way for a three-hour cruise, it was discovered the beer had been left behind. To those older workers perhaps the best story will be the one which Mr. Keats himself tells —
Says he: "The workers of Fisher & Ludlow were always very keen on the social side, and any excuse would do for an outing. I always supported these outings and before the war the chief excuse was the football final, and I remember one year particularly, when we organised a trip to London; there were about a thousand workers and their wives and sweethearts, and of course we had a very long day. We started at five o'clock, I remember, for I always joined in with the fun and games with the workers, drinking Guinness in the special train we had at five o'clock in the morning, and having kippers for breakfast. After that, at seven, we got to London and we had a very fine lunch organised for twelve o'clock, and then we went back for fun and games in the evening, and a dinner. We left London at one o'clock in the morning and had a late supper and more fun and games on the train back. What aroused me most was that we were going to sec the final football match and between us all we had only one ticket—and I had that!"
There must be many to whom these recollections will bring back many personal memories, and as they sit listening to their own famous brass band, will think with pride of those pioneers, responsible for the foundation of the Fisher & Ludlow Sports Club, and the benevolent society from which so many have benefited.
So from the imaginative enterprise of a few far-seeing men, whose thought for the welfare of their fellows, was in measure as great as their loyalty to the firm, an organisation has grown as streamlined and efficient as the production lines of Albion Works itself.
As the century turns its latter half in this year of nineteen hundred and fifty, and the future dawns redly through cloud-raked skies, great changes come upon the world and the future holds a precarious balance on the razor-edge of achievement; we peer with staring gaze through the mist of half-knowledge, into the blankness of the unknown, and before us lies either Eldorado or complete finality. Never before has the eternal cry "What shall it be" so poignantly rung out, perhaps never before have we so needed faith.
For the last time let us look back . . . from the history told in this story let its draw inspiration for the march ahead. It is a strange and singularly significant fact that each great advance of Fisher & Ludlow was made at a time when industrial unrest and strife were uppermost in the eyes of the world that out of despair and chaos, by bold planning and still braver execution, they wrested achievement and crowned it with success.
Thus, the years behind encourage us, pointing the way forward, so that strong in the strength of proud tradition we turn to the future "Bold o' eye and firm o' tread", with faith in the unquenchable spirit of our great Nation. So much have we done, so much more we have vet to achieve.
From Arthur Keats himself, comes this final message-
"I have seen this firm grow from small beginnings to a vast organisation spreading throughout Birmingham and the industrial midlands. I have seen it destroyed by enemy action and like the Phoenix rise from its own ashes.
We have grown up together, this organisation and I, its story, my autobiography, and so I feel, no one is better qualified than myself to speak with confidence for our future.
In this past hundred years great changes have been made, and in the coming century no doubt still greater will occur, but of one thing I am sure, whatever the flux of future development may bring, there is within this organisation a proud spirit that will forever remain unaltered and undimmed.
That spirit of loyalty, which has welded the individual efforts of our community into a strong and powerful team, that loyalty which has enabled its to meet and master every crisis, that loyalty which today shines out a brave and bold beacon light the path forward.
In this light, I know we shall press resolutely on, advancing with confidence to a future brim full and flowing over with new achievements and great prosperity."
And that is really the end of this centenary booklet, but we feel that, humbly as this story began, so surely it should end ; and who more fitting to have the last word than timekeeper Charlie Orme who sums it all up with these words -
"They're champion — I like working at Fisher — I do really".
Just as the year 1950 sees the hundredth year of Fisher & Ludlow's existence as a trading company, so also does it mark the twenty-fifth year of the Mechanical Handling Division of the company's organisation.