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British Industrial History

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James Halley and Sons

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of Farm Street, West Bromwich, Staffs (now West Midlands). Telephone: West Bromwich 0426. Cables: "Rotary, West Bromwich"

[1] James Halley, a Glasgow engineer, settled in West Bromwich at the turn of the century, as a maintenance engineer to a local firm of printers.

He was a very competent craftsman, capable of making almost anything by hand. He was also an able inventor and a designer.

1910 Halley started his own small engineering business.

By 1912, he had designed and was building his first rotary press, a letterpress counter chequebook machine for another local firm.

By 1914 he had built three or four of these machines.

WWI Despite having doubts about the righteousness of waging war, Halley was pressed into Government service, making shell-fuses until the Armistice. This lucrative activity enabled him to buy a small plot of land and build a factory.

1919 Halley designed and built the first walk-in type of rotary web-fed printing press. This development has since been followed by all rotary press makers. The workshop plant at this time was second hand cast-offs collected from local scrapyards. The quality of work produced on this machinery was a testimony to his skill.

In the early 1920s, James Halley was joined by his two sons, Jack and Angus, together with Mr. Reg Charlton and Mr. Charles Baker.

By 1937, Angus Halley had taken over most of the design work from his father and the first roto-gravure aniline machine was designed and built. This machine was still running over 30 years later at Harrisons of High Wycombe.

1938 Halleys purchased some 26,000 square feet of land.

WWII. This extra land proved to be very useful when the firm had to turn over its production to war work. Many of Halley's skilled men had enlisted so women were brought in to help turn out component parts for Bofors and Sten guns, land and sea mines, tanks and torpedoes. A new building erected on the recently purchased land provided much needed manufacturing and office space as, before this extension, operations had been confined to the plot acquired twenty-five years before.

Post-WWII. After the war, it became obvious to Angus Halley that the wrapping and packaging of goods would increase dramatically in the post-war period and he began to concentrate on the production of presses for printing packaging materials.

1947 Listed Exhibitor - British Industries Fair. Manufacturers of Rotary Printing Press (Web-Fed)-Photogravure. Aniline, Letterpress, Sheet-Fed Rotary Numbering Machines, Book and Pad Chopping Machines, Sheet Jogging Machines, Multiple-Set Gumming Machines, Perforating Machines, Rotary Slot Type. (Olympia, Ground Floor, Stand No. B1480) [2]

1948 Such was Halley's success that they entered overseas markets. Expansion was now imperative and adjoining houses were bought as offices, with factory premises being erected in the gardens to the point that they were hemmed in on three sides, unable to expand further.

The output of the company was mainly web-fed rotary presses though ancillary equipment was produced frequently to satisfy customers and ensure repeat orders for further rotary presses. The business first produced rotary presses for letterpress printing, then for aniline (flexo) printing, from there on to rotogravure printing.

1950s Halleys were always in the forefront of the application of the latest technology to its products. A mutually advantage relationship was built from around 1955 with Crosfield Electronics, a world leader in the development of electronic controls for printing with Halley being among the first to recognise the importance of Crosfield's innovations.

The Crosfield synchroscope removed the speed limitation imposed by the fact that a press could run only as fast as the operator's eye could check the printed web as it moved through the machine - and that was not very fast. The synchroscope produced a stationary image of the moving web, allowing the printer to check every detail on a web moving far faster than the eye can follow. Other Crosfield products used regularly on Halley presses were automatic controls for colour register and for electronic ink viscosity. Not all innovations were connected with electronic controls, one limitation to making a press run faster being the need to dry the material being printed - another Halley research exercise resulted in the development of one of the world's finest drying systems.

In addition to exploit their connections with the printing of packaging materials - cardboard, aluminium foil, polyethylene and other very thin films, in the 1950s, Halleys went into the so-called 'Fashion' field of plastic floor coverings, flexible plastics used for curtains, table cloths clothing and wallpapers, 'Formica' and similar products. This venture followed from the successful adaptation of a Halley rotogravure press to print wallpaper for Sandersons. These new techniques in printing led to the development of wider and wider printing machines, with constantly improving performance

1961 Early in the year, the firm was taken over by the Baker Perkins Group.

1967 Halley announced in May, a plan to double the factory space at West Bromwich to meet the growth in demand for gravure printing presses. Land of 60,000 square feet and adjoining factory space was purchased for £70,000. It was expected that the Halley workforce would increase by some 150 people. Angus M. Halley, the last member of the Halley family still connected with James Halley and Sons, retired at the end of the year.

1968 The factory work was completed in early in the year, and included a demonstration and development bay in which work was progressing on a press for handling PVC and a gravure press capable of handling a variety of materials used in the flexible packaging field, at speeds up to 1,000 feet per minute.

1975 After two years of exhaustive investigations by Baker Perkins Holdings, it was decided that, with effect from 1st April, James Halley and Sons would become the responsibility of Baker Perkins Ltd. The marketing, sales and technical functions were rationalised and integrated with those of Baker Perkins' Printing Machinery Division, with some James Halley employees being offered jobs at Peterborough. Manufacture continued at West Bromwich until December 1975 when the factory was closed with the loss of about 100 jobs; the work was transferred to Peterborough.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. [1] Baker Perkins Historical Society
  2. 1947 British Industries Fair p127