WW1 Great War Centenary - Manufacturing in Wolverhampton

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Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Text © Copyright May 2016, John M; licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence.


Introduction


At the outbreak of the Great War the town of Wolverhampton had a population of around 95000 which had doubled since 1851. Lying on the western edge of the Black Country and without the history of water power the industry tended towards the lighter end of 'metal bashing'. The town was known for enamelling and Japanning and gun lock manufacture. From the 1880s and 1890s this had been overtaken first by cycle manufacture and then by motorcycles, motor vehicles and aircraft engines. Three of the major motor manufacturers were Sunbeam, Star and A J Stevens. The businesses produced most of their own components and relied on smaller local suppliers such as Villiers Engineering for pedals and freewheels, H M Hobson for carburettors and A C Hayward for side-cars.

The process by which the firms became involved with production of military material seems to have been drawn out and most of the firms continued with their normal production with some tendering for munitions contracts. Hobsons laid off all of their staff at the Accuracy Works and re-employed once it became apparent that there was work and money to be made on war work. The motorcycle firms took on more war work when the manufacture of civilian motorbikes was banned in 1916. Standardisation of some designs such as bicycles took some time with modified civilian designs offered to the ministry and even sold to the French Government.

Some firms prospered through the war work and managed to extend their factories and carry on with research and planning for the post-war period. Others were hampered by surplus material being released onto the market.

There was a shortage of skilled workers to undertake the work as many men answered Kitchener's call to enlist or were later conscripted. The number of female workers employed in these companies varies significantly from 3% to 75% depending on the nature of the work with much higher numbers in the component firms.

The industrial nucleus of the town was around the town centre and to the south east in Blakenhall. A couple of the firms had recently started up in the Fallings Park area to the north west.

The following pages will look at some of the surviving buildings of the period. As the town suffered little from bombing in WW2 and industry moved onto more accessible sites at Pendeford and Fordhouses or in other towns many of the buildings survived and were retained for component manufacture.

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