The heat of technology


A furnace being boxed up for dispatch at Birlec, Aldridge by John Genders and Gordon Brewer. What do you recall of this local, large company? Picture generously supplied by John Genders.

One of the aspects of local history I really wish we had more material about is our local factories, workshops and workplaces since the Second World War – we know lots about mining history, but what really survives of local companies that employed many thousands?

The BRD, Crabtree, Carver & Co, Castings, Birlec, BIP, Geometry International, Bloxwich Engineering, Ryford, RMD, Aldridge Plastics, Lew Ways, GKN, Charles Richards  – so many names, so many local lives; yet scarcely little to mark their existence.

I’m very pleased, therefore, to receive the above picture from John Genders (who found the wonderful Boys Brigade pictures) via David Evans, of a furnace being crated up for dispatch from Birlec.

David wrote:

Hi Bob

This photo shows John Genders and Gordan Brewer busily crating up a furnace ready for export. Birlec was one of the major post-war industrial development companies in Aldridge.

I know very little of the company or of their products other than John’s comment that their furnaces were considered to be the very best quality.

I thank John for offering this image and a glimpse inside one of the large local factories…

kind regards

So, to kick off a new thread for a new year, what do you remember of these companies? Where did you or your parents work? What was the social life like in your workplace? Were you in sports teams, or perhaps remember works parties or day trips out?

Please do comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Gopoglemail dot com.

Thanks to John and David for a wonderful photo of an otherwise lost bit of local history and a great new conversation point. Cheers lads, and have a happy New Year!

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26 Responses to The heat of technology

  1. Mike Stackhouse says:

    Hi Bob, I don’t remember much about the companies from Aldridge, apart from the names. But I do remember from my time on Walsall Corporation Buses, when at end of the working day thousands leaving the factories and getting onto our buses, (all full to the brim)from Lloyds, Owens, and all those places where just the walls are left standing in Darlaston Green. Mornings were slightly different as the buses were arriving from different places at different times. Normally there were not as many there because of this. I remember the THUMP, THUMP, THUMP of what I believe were the Presses. This went on whatever time you passed by. The buses parked on the frontage of the public house, and all around the street. The workers always knew which was there bus no matter where we had parked.
    Aldridge was different as there were not as many buses outside the factories (in one place) as the factories were more apart, it being a more modern Estate.

  2. morturn says:

    Excellent stuff Bob, our industrial heritage is something we should be very proud of; workplaces gave us a sense of identity, and independence.

  3. My Mom worked at Birlec, twice. Once when she first moved to Aldridge in 1957 following her marriage to Dad until her pregnancy with me in 1962. She then worked for them again in the mid 70s -ish. She worked in the offices and I do remember that her boss in the 70s was a man called Brian Toy who lived in Rugeley.
    I don’t know much about the company at all but I do know they were considered a good employer in that they had a superannuation scheme (which still exists) an on site sports and social club, canteen and so on. I used to attend the Christmas parties for employees children every year along with my brother and sister and really enjoyed them. Santa would put in an appearance and give everyone a gift. The last one I remember getting was a voucher for five whole pounds (an absolute fortune!) for WH Smiths. Manna from heaven for me. We played various party games, there was entertainment in the form of a magician and the food was typical 70s stuff…crisps, sausage rolls, jelly, ice cream.
    Mom never had a bad word to say about them as a company and enjoyed working for them. I have a photograph of her sitting on the wall outside of Birlec but facing the factory and you can see as far as Brownhills across the fields. I’ll have to attempt to locate it.
    One of my abiding memories of the big three employers of Aldridge (Birlec, BRD and McKecknies in the late 70s was the constant stream of traffic along Dumblederry Lane and Paddock Lane towards the Walsall Road from all three factories between 4pm and 5pm as they left work to go home. It took a long time to get all the way along.
    I mentioned these factories in my own blog here:

  4. Should have mentioned that Mom’s name was Barbara Mason if anyone remembers her

  5. Ade Reid says:

    Ah the good old days of the1980s when people worked in factories( a dirty word today).When the men and women of this proud nation actually made products that were sold abroad and brought money back into this country.When the apprenticeship was seen as a way to learn a trade and have a job for life.The Foundrymen,Patternmakers,Toolmakers,Machinists,Machine builders.Draughtsmen,Mouldmakers.the list goes on and on..What a contrast to the world we live in today.No one wants to get their hands dirty anymore,they all want to work in IT, Finance,Banking.Thats fine if all your interested in is making money on a computer screen.Thats not real money although a lot of “city” people seem to do ok at it.You cant run a country on Service industries alone,you have to produce a product and sell it.But when successive Governments have neglected and purposely run the manufacturing base into the ground what can we do?They know best and tell us they know what they are doing??This once great nation of ours has been turned into a nation of minimum wage retail jobs.Macdonalds,Subway,Call centres and the rest of the non entity employment that people find themselves in.And if you think that this is me having a moan about how things were better back then,well that’s your choice,how many kids today can wire a 3 pin plug,plumb in a washing machine,build a brick wall,do any basic electrical work,etc etc etc..and they call it progress? progress my Arse…….

    • Peter says:

      Ade, I’m really struggling with your comments here because some I fully agree with and others I completely disagree with, I get the feeling you’re a casting man ???? Have a trip over to the Black Country there are still plenty of foundries “bashing metal” and forgers for that matter, times have certainly changed since the 70’s and 80’s though Ade. Not every youngster wants to work in IT, Finance and alike, that isn’t true by any stretch of the imagination, there are new Technical colleges being constructed specifically for Engineering Apprenticeships, the construction Industry is buoyant and taking people on.
      I think it is rather simplistic to blame successive governments for the decline in manufacturing, the 70’s and 80’s was littered with privately owned manufacturing companies not investing in the future but rather taking the money and running, why do you think Rover Cars closed? Apart from making rubbish cars, a legacy left over from British Leyland who had a reputation for making really good quality cars delivered on time…….. sorry I got them confused with the Japanese, BL made shit cars and delivered late all the time, thats if they were producing cars at all of course, Government owned and operated industries such as British Rail, British Steel, NCB, British Leyland all had reputations for good quality, competitive prices, and on-time deliveries……… sorry I’m getting confused again!
      I do agree with you on the 3 pin plug, plumb in a washing machine etc but I just think that the world has moved on, if the kids of today can’t use a keyboard, computer, touch screen interface then they won’t get any job, not even a poorly paid minimum wage job. Britain does still make things and export them and create real money, but next time you use your mobile phone, laptop, HD telly, stereo, or any Apple products ask yourself how do we compete with China and the legions of children paid tuppence ha’penny a week to manufacture them? We have to be niche and rely on our quality, think the Germans or have a look at Castings PLC, they have taken people on, built new sheds to house new machinery, it’s called thinking about tomorrow and not just today, or investment.
      All the best Ade.


  6. Ade Reid says:

    Good timing Bob,My point exactly,who wants to work in a dangerous,noisy,dirty,repetetive job for 39 hours a week including Saturdays and Sundays?? Can I have mayo on my 6″ chicken sub please,young man !!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Just pointing out that good manufacturing is still going on all around us, and that it’s not all doom and gloom. That factory is state of the art and right here in Brownhills.

    Plenty still work in factories and we still produce lots, so lets not be too glum about it.


  8. Ade Reid says:

    Good point Bob and I totally agree with that 100 point being is that if we cant attract the youngsters of today into that environment.then a multi million pound factory.(I do say hate that word today,it conjours up so much negativity in the 21st century).is dead and gone.Then where are we as a country??

  9. Pedro says:

    I suppose each generation has a tendency to feel that things were better “years ago”.

    It would be interesting to hear the thoughts of the grand elder statesman of the Blog, David Oakley, as to whether the 40s were better than the 80s. Were the 80s the pinnacle and we have just gone down hill since?

  10. Ade Reid says:

    Hi pedro,Im pretty sure that this isn’t a decade thing.dont forget that during the 40s that the country as a whole was turned over to manufacturing to help the war were working in munitions factories,aircraft building,etc and all the associated trades that went with that time.that was a time when Great Britain had a massive skill base to fall back on.So no its not a nostalgia thing,its appoint of fact that then Britain was a dominant sector in manufacturing.Ive worked in manufacturing since I was 17 and Im still in it now on a shop floor level at the age of 52.ive seen the good times and the bad times and I can tell you that as my era of engineers finish there aint nobody to take our place and that’s when the people of Great Britain will suddenly draw a breath and say “Oh **** “

  11. Pedro says:

    Hi Ade, I only mentioned the 40’s in connection with David.

    I can see where you are coming from, but perhaps it should be the good old 70s, before the great British people voted in Margaret Thatcher to sell off the family silver. Before the powers of the establishment were used to break the Miners and the Trade Unions, and the police would alter statements at Orgreave and Hillsborough and take no action against Jimmy Saville and many more who held powerful positions.

  12. sjc says:

    Did anyone else work at young&barber 1982 till it closed

  13. sjc says:

    Did anyone else work at young&barber sadler road brownhills1982 till it closed

  14. Ade Reid says:

    Oh Pedro,now were opening up a whole new can of dare to mention the dreaded “T” word.A word that struck terror into the hearts of every working class family in the land.This is another debate for another day,,

  15. Ade Reid says:

    I went to school with a lad called Antony Myring.I think he worked there as a Centre lathe turner or a capstan operator?Cant be sure which?

  16. Caz says:

    I worked at Geometry International, in Chase Road, Brownhills and next to that was Fescols ? and then the rear entrance to Crabtrees. I started in 1971, when it was known as W.J.Harris. It later changed name to Geometrix Ltd before becoming Geometry International. It was run by the Cook family, 2 brothers called Fred and Ken and their sons Micheal and Robert, but over the years other sons and grandchildren joined the management, and Fred and Ken retired.Mr Fred actually worked on the shop floor as a tool setter. My favourite boss was Mr Robert, [ it was too confusing to refer to them all by surname] it was a great friendly place to work and the family connections didn’t just apply to the bosses. My Mother,her 3 sisters,my sister and about 6 cousins worked there over the years and their were lots of other family groups too. I met my husband there and left in 1982 to have a baby but went back in 1992, when Mr Robert got in touch to ask if i could help out with a rush order. It was only meant to be for a few weeks but i ended up staying for about 3 years and there were loads of the old familiar faces still working fact i can think of a few who worked there for several decades. We made school instuments, both plastic and metal. There were hand, kicker and power presses, moulding and printing machines,and then warehouse work where the pencil cases/tins were assembled and boxed.It also provided outwork to lots of local families. i remember in extreme hot weather Robert would go out and buy bottles of squash or ice lollies, to keep us cool and i also remember him bringing cakes around. Factory work might not have been glamorous but it’s certainly not all doom and gloom, we had some great laughs and i enjoyed working there.I have fond memories of Gladys H and Floss P dancing and singing around the place.Or maybe it’s as Pedro said it’s a generation thing, you look back and think things seemed better back then.It was a busy place at one time, running a day shift and twilight shift, but I think the competition with Helix caused problems for them over the years.I heard they stopped making the instruments and were importing and just assembling the cases, before it shut down [ or moved to Lichfield, as there is a Geometry international ex Geometrix there now ???]
    Ade..there was a Sue Myring worked at Geometry..i don’t know if she was related to Anthony?

    • Ade Reid says:

      Hi Caz.cant remember wether Anthony had a sister or not.I suppose if it was in the 70s it could have been his mom?he would be my age now,51..

      • Caz says:

        Sue was a few years younger than me and I’m 58, so definitely not his mom, but perhaps related somehow x

    • I went to work at W.J.Harris in 1958 after I left school and worked there for 4 years in the office. I remember Mr Fred and Mr Ken with affection. They were lovely bosses. Ken in the office and Fred in the factory. I left after I got married and went to live in Norton Canes. I’m a long way away now, living in Brisbane, Australia. If anybody is still around from those days they might remember me by my maiden name – Jean Hodgkinson.
      (My younger brother is local historian David Hodgkinson)

      • gl says:

        As a kid I can remember helping assembly of those compass sets they made , My mates Mom worked there and brought out ‘homework ‘ to do at night . ( she got paid for it …I don’t think we did ) 🙂

  17. Ade Reid says:

    Hiya Caz.Perhaps it was his sister then? They lived on the Whitehorse Road.I lived in Chapel Avenue.x

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