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History of Bilston - Part 22

Joseph Sankey & Sons Ltd - A short company history Part 2.

In his 1893 book Lawley describes the company as follows:
Among the chief manufactories of the town should be mentioned the Albert Street Works of Messrs. Joseph Sankey & Sons, who are now large makers of wrought-iron stamped and pressed hollow-ware, comprising frying pans, basins, bowls, milk pans, baking tin s, tea kettles, shovels, etc., besides various special descriptions of iron stampings for the different Foreign and Colonial markets, such as rice bowls, dished sheets, etc., as well as paint kegs and oil drums, for which they have special machinery and plant adapted to the rapid turning out of large quantities. The oldest branch of their business is the manufacture of blank trays and waiters, which is peculiarly a Bilston trade, being closely allied to the japanning trade, for which the town has long been noted. ... There has always been a cordial relationship subsisting between the firm and its employees, of which a substantial proof is afforded by the erection and furnishing early this year of a large and comfortable room, which is given to the workmen for their own use as a Mess Room and Recreation Room, and in connection with this a Workmen's Library has been founded

The company history says: "Early in 1900 a large proportion of the Albert Street factory was engaged in the manufacture of brass and copper jugs, hot water cans, fern pots, trays, etc., decorated with embossed artistic designs. Later this department was turned over to the manufacture of oil cookers and heaters".

In 1902 the firm was turned into a limited company with J.W. Sankey as chairman.
In 1904 the Manor Iron works were purchased from Stephen Tompson & Co. Ltd. in order to acquire production facilities for the silicon steel sheets which were needed for the electrical laminations business. These works were two miles away from the Bankfield works but had a direct canal connection. Here the company later produced Sankey Silicon Steel Sheet, under the brand names Lohys, Stalloy and Crystalloy, which were sold throughout the world.

The company's later history seems to have been one of expansion and diversification. In 1909 they started stamping steel body panels for Arrol-Johnston cars. They produced the first pressed steel artillery wheel, which replaced the wooden wheels which vehicles had used up to that time. In 1910 they acquired the Castle Works, Hadley, Telford and switched all automotive related production to that site. It was there that the company also developed Sankey-Sheldon office furniture and produced agricultural implements.

By the 20th century they had two works in Bilston, one in Ettingshall, and one at Wellington. Note too that they were diversifying into such things as filing cabinets, and were keeping up with newer developments by producing goods for the electrical trades, as well as vehicle wheels and brake drums.
In 1929 the company was taken over by, and became a subsidiary of, John Lysaght Ltd., which was shortly afterwards acquired by G. K. N.. But Sankeys maintained its original name.

In 1929 the company acquired the Bath Street Works in Bilston. The company's history claims "much of the pioneer work in connection with the fabrication of jet engine combustion chambers was carried out at Albert Street many years before jet aircraft flew". But the components for jet engines were actually made at the Bath Street works.

The inter-wars years were kind to Sankeys. As the VCH says: "the development of the national electricity-grid scheme created a large demand for laminations for dynamos and transformers, whilst the advent of broadcasting and the subsequent demand for wireless receiving-sets called for large quantities of small electrical stampings".
The company also seems to have continued its attempt to have "a cordial relationship subsisting between the firm and its employees" for on 6th June 1936 a new sports ground was opened:

Mills and Lewis also record that "following the closure of the Bilston Steel works, was Bilston's largest employer. However, hundreds of workers at the Albert Street brewery products, engineering works, vending machines and electrical laminations plants at Bankfields were made redundant during the 1980s in an effort to survive huge financial losses".

Sankeys no longer exist in Bilston. Their local demise was a part of the collapse of manufacturing industry in the 1980s. The Morrisons superstore now stands on part of the old Sankey site.

More on Sankey's here

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