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History of Bilston - Part 26

The History of Beldray/Bradley & Co. Ltd - Mount Pleasant. The Interwar Years.

Mary Southall tells us that around 1920 - 1924 the working hours of the firm were from 8.00 am to 5.30 pm Monday to Friday and Saturday mornings. The firm was making its range of brass and copper wares and general hollowware; with toilet pans for export to South Africa and gas boilers as new products. "In the years between 1920 and 1932 the firm suffered a depression as all other firms did in this period. There was little unemployment at the firm as at many other places; but these were hard times and all suffered because of this. Between the period of 1932 - 1939 trade picked up a lot and, compared to the depression, the firm went through a boom time. The main products of the firm at this time were buckets, baths and bowls, as by this time the skilled work which had previously been carried out on the coppered ware was completely dying out".

That account, which Ms Southall almost certainly collected from the oral tradition of the firm, is probably broadly accurate but one suspects that the range of products was greater than she indicates and that the gradual demise of the brass and copper art metalwares was not caused by a lack of skill but by a change of fashion. In fact Bradley's trade in these items survived a good deal longer than that of their major competitors, including the local Joseph Sankey & Sons.

George Phillpott gives a more detailed account of the later part of this period, staring in 1932. When I left school in December 1932, jobs were hard to come by. I was lucky to be taken on by Bradley's and I started there in January 1933, aged 14. Conditions of employment were rather different then to those of today. This is not any criticism of Bradley's - it was common practice among employers. They would take on school leavers, such as myself, and when a few years later they had to start paying them adult wages, they would sack them and take on other juveniles. I had been at work there for several weeks before I found out that I had been given the job from which a very good friend had been dismissed (but there were no recriminations).

My first job was to help to make coal scuttles. They were called "Waterloos" because they were shaped like the hats which soldiers wore at the Battle of Waterloo. After about twelve months I went into the tool room as an apprentice tool maker. This meant a drop in wages but it ensured that I would still have a job after I reached the age of 18 and that I would have a trade to my name.

The tool room foreman was a man of most uncertain temperament and, apparently because he frequently referred to peoples as "proper Job's comforters", he was known as Joey. He called everyone "Chile", in much the same way that men today used the terms "mate" and "pal". I do remember, however, one pearl of wisdom that he imparted to me: "Remember this, Chile, the man who never made a mistake, never made anything".

The company had an excellent reputation as makers of high quality domestic wares, and the product range included dustbins, buckets, household shovels, kettles of all sizes, watering cans and a host of other items, including frying pans by the thousands. Most of the products were galvanised, though some were tinned and others, such as kettles and coalscuttles, were black enamelled.

Some of these items we made then have now passed into history such as the small hand bowl, with a wooden handle about 6" long, with which the housewife would ladle the water out of the washing tub when washing was done. Another was the mortar bowl, a large steel receptacle shaped like a pudding basin, which had been flattened somewhat, and about 24" in diameter. I never saw them in use but I always understood that ladies in Africa carried them around on their heads with goods and merchandise in them.

Thousands upon thousands of paint cans were made, some bearing proprietary names such as "Walpamur". One shop made oval tin baths and in the tool room was a machine which I believe was most unusual. It was a lathe made by Maud & Turner. It machined not circular but elliptical shapes on which tools were machined to produce the bottoms of the oval baths and oval frying pans. The rise and fall of the revolutions of the lathe head were achieved by a series of cams and slides. Needless to say it did not revolve very fast.

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