My books on manufacturing

My books on manufacturing
My books on manufacturing history

Friday, June 14, 2024

Festival of Britain design review

There is, in the archive of the Festival, the hand written draft compilation products selected for the quality of design, alongside the companies which manufactured them, divided into the five categories: home, engineering, scientific, recreation and transport and within these categories into some fifty subdivisions. The list of names and products sing loudly of the vibrancy of manufacturing which had been given great prominence by government desperate for exports and a degree of self-sufficiency.



 The compilation was called the Design Review and was aimed at business visitors from the UK and overseas as a shop window on British manufacturing. Turning the draft pages it is possible to gain a good flavour of what British manufacturing was offering to the waiting world. [In the course of creating the festival the categories changed a little, splitting work into engineering and scientific, producing five categories for display.] The selected companies were included along with photographs and samples in five of seven arches under Waterloo bridge leading to the exhibition on London’s South Bank. The sixth arch was used as the entrance hall and the seventh to display British textiles. Around about half of the products listed were physically displayed in one or other of the exhibition spaces.

I visited the archive where it is kept and read through all the draft pages. In an appendix to Vehicles to Vaccines I have listed the more (to me) memorable products and manufacturers. What shines through is massive duplication; it isn’t really competition since it presents a geographical spread in many products. It is wonderful though, a little bit nostalgic.

Here are a few examples

Section 17, Toys (708), where Airfix offered model tractors, Britains: farm tractors and toy soldiers, Chad Valley: dolls, and Elswick cycles: a tricycle. Other names to jump out were Lines Bros with a Tri-ang lighthouse, a Watney lorry, a crane & grab, a pedal trotting machine, a toy washing machine and try-to-spell bricks. Kiddicraft had interlocking building bricks, Meccano included a train set and Raleigh exhibited bicycles. Mettoy of Northampton had an ‘ocean liner’. Interestingly plastics company British Xylonite exhibited sports balls, dolls and bath toys. Diecasting Machine Tools of London N13 exhibited a cooker set, road-up set and pistols. The Educational Supply Association had the most exhibits second only to Lines Bros. My favourite has to be Wilmot Mansour & Co with a jet propelled model car and a model hydroplane.

Section 39, Furniture (1,659) had Boulton & Paul with garden seats, Christie Tyler with an upholstered easy chair, Dartington Hall with a range of chairs, Dryad with cane furniture which they manufactured into the fifties, E Gomme Ltd with a gate legged table, famous later for G Plan. There is then Heal & Son and there is correspondence on file talking about the loan of a carpet and two stuffed toys. There is Hille & Co which manufactured chairs (at the time of writing on display in London’s Design Museum); there is Hygena, Ideal Upholstery with settee and easy chair and, interestingly, Mann Egerton, which I normally think of in relation to cars, with tables and an art desk. Meredew follows with Parker Knoll and then Roneo with steel office tables. Staples, which I remember for Ladderax, had a steel frame mattress support, Story & Cowith an easy chair (another manufacturer on display in the Design Museum) and Vickers Armstrong with an office table and desk.

Section 49, Powered Domestic Equipment (693): Aga Heat (invented by a Swede who set up in Britain) with a domestic iron, Ascot Gas Water Heaters, Belling & Co, E.K. Cole with an electric heater. EK Cole appears in a number of sections as well as radio which is where I would have expected them. I read it as diversification to use factory capacity. Duplex is there with an electric radiator, EMI is present with electric irons. English Electric had an electric cooker and refrigerator, Ever Ready a gas lighter, General Electric Company a portable Leitrim fire. Heatrae (part of Baxi) had an electric heater, Hotpoint a washing machine and electric boiling ring. Radiation Group had a Regulo controlled cooker, Tricity Cookers were there alongside Vactric with my childhood favourite a cylinder suction cleaner. Morphy-Richards with an electric floor scrubber, vacuum cleaner, iron and toaster.

You can read more in Vehicles to Vaccines

Friday, May 31, 2024

Manufacturing - the Second World War

For a chunk of British manufacturing, the Second World War began in about 1935 and lasted for ten years. The government’s decision to start to re-arm kicked into play an infrastructure aimed at armaments, initially with aircraft. The chapter begins by exploring census data to locate the places that were growing in population, it then matches these with the growing ‘new industries’ of radio, aircraft and motor vehicles. From the motor industry and armament companies came developments of the tank, and from radio and early television, radar. The shipyards began building again, and a network of Royal Ordnance Factories were set up to supply the forces. ICI produced tons of chemicals. As in the first world war, a huge range of companies turned their hand to war production. I wrote about the mechanisation of the army in WW2 in my book War on Wheels. 

This is a link to some extracts from my chapter on Manufacturing for the Second World War.



Manufacturing for the postwar export drive

 The Britain to emerge from the Second World War was broke, deeply in debt to the USA and desperately short of the foreign currency it needed to pay for the imports its citizens were demanding after six years of deprivation. 

The answer was an export drive, and the motor, radio and chemical industries led the way. The shipyards initially benefitted from post war demand, and the new Labour government embarked on a programme of nationalisation, but also of intervention in terms of directing new investment to areas of high unemployment. Former Royal Ordnance and shadow factories were put to peacetime uses. 

Once post war shortages started to become a thing of the past, British manufacturing set about meeting the wants of an increasingly prosperous nation. As well as the motor car, there was television, an ever increasing range of processed foods and affordable fashion wear from the growing number of High Street chain stores. Better off people could fly on holiday on a Vickers Viscount aircraft or sail on a P&O or Cunard Liner.

You can read more by following this link



Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Manufacturing the new industries interwar years

 The new country of the motor car, aeroplane and electricity enjoyed prosperity which, later on, impacted positively on that other old staple of steel as it found new uses. The country became more connected, with the National Grid and telephone, but suffered from a lack of coordination in railways and roads. The chemical industry began to show its paces. High Streets began to fill up with chain stores selling all manner of delight, matching those on view in American films at the growing number of cinemas. 

You can read extracts from my chapter in How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World by following this link



Manufacturing the old staples in the interwar years

Thousands of soldiers had come back from the horror of the trenches to a country fit for heroes. Hopes were high. Hopes too for those women who, for the first time, had discovered their own identity in the work place. They were both met by the Spanish flu which, worldwide, killed more than the trenches had managed. The country they returned to was much as before, or was it?

The old country of the staple industries of textiles and shipping suffered as the countries it used to supply now made their own.

I explore this in this chapter extracts of which can be found by following this link.






Sunday, May 26, 2024

Manufacturing for war - The First World War

Competition in manufacturing perhaps led to more marked and destructive competition in war. Whether we like it or not, war was a catalyst to accelerate manufacturing progress. The aeroplane offers the example of incremental progress during the first war to the great leap-frog to jet power in the second. All this carried with it development in electronics and in communication as telephone and telegraph made way for wireless and radar. Chemistry took a major boost from the exploitation of the by-product of oil refining as oil consumption grew exponentially. Between the wars in Britain the old industries struggled as other nations, which had come later into the field, took advantage of new ideas. In a sense, war left the victor weaker and the vanquished strong and this underlies the course of British manufacturing ever since. British manufacturing rose to the challenge of exporting to balance the nation’s books. In 1951, a brave nation put on a brave and confident face in presenting the Festival of Britain to a nation in need of cheer.

Looking first at WW1,

Essentially the whole country put its shoulder to the war effort. Women worked in factories which had been strictly male preserves. Shipbuilding was busy. The big armament companies Armstrong, Vickers, Cammell Laird and John Brown honed their skills at truly heavy engineering of guns. Smaller engineering companies made tanks. On the lighter side, aircraft manufacturers leapfrogged each other as one technical improvement succeeded another. Motor companies grew, as they manufactured military trucks and cars, indeed anything from metal. Pharmaceutical companies shook off the country’s dependence on German manufacturers. Electrical companies developed further telephone and wireless. The other side of the coin was that the country’s coffers emptied, as it paid for all it had been supplied by the USA. The USA took over as world manufacturing’s top dog. I wrote about army supply in WW1 in my book Ordnance.

You can read extracts from the chapter on WW1 from my book How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World but following this link.

The Chilwell shell filling factory after the disastrous explosion


Thursday, May 23, 2024

Manufacturing - Electricity

Telegraph expanded under the sea until the farther reaches of Empire were linked. Telephone followed a little later. The invention of the dynamo enabled far greater use of electricity. Cities began to be lit by electricity. Electric motors began to appear in factories and to power vehicles on and off rails. Telegraph needed wire; radio was wireless. The first steps of using wireless, particularly with ships, were taken before the first shots were fired from the trenches.

Follow this link to read more of what I have to say about the early days of the British electrical industry.



How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World is now available to pre-order

Phil Hamlyn Williams has completed his sixth book beginning an exploration of British manufacturing. His great-grandfather exhibited at the ...