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British Industrial History

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Joseph Sankey and Sons

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January 1902.
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Sankeys, of Albert Street Works, Bilston, Staffordshire and Wellington, Shropshire. London Office in Regent Street (1937).

"If it was made out of metal, they made it." Sankeys were popularly known for domestic holloware, for Sankey-Sheldon steel office furniture, and for Sankey vending machines but their range of products was much wider than that. Eventually the firm became part of the GKN Group.

Joseph Sankey was employed by the Birch brothers who made tinplate trays that were then japanned.

After the failure of this business, two of the senior workmen, Charles Harthill, and Samuel Jackson, set up their own firm in Middlefield Lane, and employed Joseph Sankey.

1854 Charles Harthill died, when the firm owed £800 to Jon Bates, a sheet iron merchant. Bates secured possession of the plant and tools of the firm as security for the debt. He recognised Sankey's skills and determination and persuaded Jackson to take him into partnership in 1854. This partnership concentrated on production of blank trays stamped from tinplate and then sold to japanners.

1861 The partnership was dissolved and Sankey took over sole control but Jackson continued to work for the firm as a foreman in the blank tray shop.

1862/3 Sankey went into partnership with Richard Chambers and John Page to buy a rolling mill and ironworks at Stonefield in order to gain closer control over supplies of tinplate and sheet iron - the Bilston Iron Co.

1867 Sankey acquired land in Albert Street, Bilston. Large workshops were built at the Albert Street Works and steam-powered drop stamps were installed, enabling the firm to produce heavier gauges of metal to make frying pans and kettles. Workers were recruited from Birmingham and Wolverhampton to manufacture these products.

1871 His eldest son, John William Sankey, started work for the firm

1874 Employing 65 persons

1878 Sankey took John William into partnership and he took on more active part in the management.

His son Frederick Ernest Sankey joined the firm

1884 Joseph's son, George Herbert Sankey joined the firm

1886 On the death of Joseph Sankey, his sons took over the control of the business. The old-established business of the late John Poulton Whitehead, blank tray manufacturer, of Bow Street, was bought by Messrs. Sankey, and ceased to exist as a separate concern.

The firm was contacted by a London iron merchant, Robert Jenkins, in December 1886, who had done some research into the possibility of making dynamo armatures from charcoal sheet iron instead of solid wound cores and consulted Siemens the electrical engineers. He thought the firm's existing machines could be adapted to manufacture electrical laminations.

1887 Jenkins persuaded Siemens to place an order for electrical stampings through the firm Harold and Jenkins. It is believed that their first stampings were made from the scrap centres of rims of the new bicycles which were coming into vogue at that time. That was the beginning of the Electrical Laminations business.

By 1890 contracts had been concluded with several others firms, through the agents Harold & Jenkins, who were appointed Sankeys selling agents on a commission basis.

1899 Sankey's bought this business outright from Harold and Jenkins, who subsequently acted as their agents.

1890 The firm patented a new process for the decoration of tin plates and an entirely new branch was added in the manufacture by this process of their patent "Neptune Art Ware," comprising trays, waiters, candlesticks, bread baskets, etc., in various shapes and of different designs.

1891 Frederick Ernest Sankey and George Herbert Sankey were admitted into partnership, sons of Joseph Sankey. The name of the firm was changed to Joseph Sankey and Sons.

1893 The capability to manufacture laminations led to expansion of the Albert Street works in 1893 and the purchase of the Bankfield works in 1900. All electrical stampings were moved there.

1890s Acquired Edward Morris and Sons which manufactured sugar-making utensils; Huttons which manufactured nickel plated trays; the Sanitary Bath Co, which made copper-clad steel.

1899 Acquired J. H. Hopkins and Sons of Granville Street, Birmingham, which was a hollow-ware and japanning company that had the 'Sphinx' trademark, subsequently adopted by Sankeys. The japanning side of this business was sold, and the stamping and pressing concentrated at the Albert Street Works in Bilston.

As one of the chief manufactories of the town they made wrought-iron stamped and pressed hollow-ware, comprising frying pans, basins, bowls, milk pans, baking tins, 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 had special machinery and plant adapted to the rapid turning out of large quantities. Later they made oil cookers and heaters.

1900 Acquired a derelict iron and tinplate works at Bradley, originally established by Thompson, Hatton and Co. Most of the existing buildings were demolished, and new shops were built for slotting machines and keyway cutters in order to manufacture electrial laminations; the works were renamed Bankfield Works.

1902 The firm was turned into a limited company with J. W. Sankey as chairman. The company was registered on 18 September, to acquire the business of a firm of the same name, manufacturers of stamped metal goods. [1]

1904 Continued to acquire companies which could supply the basic materials - in this case the business of Stephen Thompson and Co was purchased[2] based at the Manor Iron works 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.

1904 Began to supply pressed body panels for cars as well as wood and iron coachwork

1906 Arrangement with Hadfield Steel Foundry Co giving Sankeys an exclusive licence to manufacture special electrical steel Stalloy.

1908 Sankeys patented the first pressed and welded, detachable motor car wheel, the 'All Steel Wheel'. The firm also took orders for other automotive components, and demand increased rapidly, putting pressure on the Albert Street Works.

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.

1909 Sankeys sub-licensed John Lysaght to roll sheets under the Hadfield patents and the Brymbo Steel Co to make steel bars and blooms under the Hadfield patent to supply Lysaghts for rolling into sheet. This increased Sankey's control over its supplies.

1910 Sankeys purchased the former factory of the Castle Car Co at Hadley Castle, near Wellington, Shropshire, which had been idle for some years. This company had supplied tramcars, and some of the machinery was still intact, making it possible to manufacture body panels there as well as heavier products such as steel wheels for cars and light railways[3] 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. 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.

1911 the body shop was transferred from the Bankfield Works, and the wheel shop moved from the Albert Street Works.

1913 April. Builders of motor bodies. [4]

1914 Iron and steel manufacturers. Specialities: iron and steel sheets and stampings, hardware, metal work, motor car bodies, Sankey's patent steel wheels.[5]

WWI Produced field kitchens, mine hemispheres, aeroplane parts and bombs, rifle grenades, mortar bombs anti-submarine bodies and shell bodies, as well as steel helmets.

1919 John Lysaght acquired a controlling interest in Joseph Sankey and Sons of Manor Iron Works, Wolverhampton, Albert Street and Bankfield Works, Bilston, and the Hadley Castle Works, Wellington. Sankeys retained its own identity [6].

1920 Guest Keen Nettlefold acquired John Lysaght and so acquired the whole of the ordinary shares of Joseph Sankey [7]. Sankeys maintained its original name.

The company acquired the Bath Street Works in Bilston.

The inter-wars years were kind to Sankeys. 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".

1937 British Industries Fair Advert for Steel Pressings of every description; Hollow-Ware; Metal Trim; Steel Wheel Barrows; Vehicle Wheels, Frames and Axles; Bath Panels; Radiators; etc., etc. "Sphinx Brand" Hollowware of all metals and finishes. Stainless Steel Culinary Hotel and Hospital Utensils. Dairy Utensils, Embossed Metal Plates, Lifebuoys. Special Stampings for all trades. (Engineering/Metals/Quarry, Roads and Mining/Transport Section - Stand No. A.512)[8]

1937 Stampers and sheet metal workers. "Sankey" Pressed Steel Wheels, Brake Drums etc. [9]

WWII Manufactured parts for the De Havilland Mosquito and co-operated with de Havilland's in the development and production of jet engines.

1941 the company decided that agencies were inappropriate; a new company, Robert Jenkins & Sankey Ltd, was formed instead.

1943 They set up Sankey Electrical Stampings in Bombay (Mumbai) to produce electrical laminations.

1947 Private company.

1947 Listed Exhibitor - British Industries Fair. Manufacturers of Metal Office Furniture, Works Equipment, including Filing Cabinets, Desks, Tables, Lockers, Shelving, Planfiles, Metal Partitions for Office and Factory, Store Bins, Metal Kitchen and Domestic Cabinets. (Olympia, Ground Floor, Stand No. B.1459) [10]

1948 Name changed.

1949 Joseph Sankey and Sons acquired from H. and S. (Holdings) Ltd their interests in the joint venture Sankey-Sheldon, maker of metal furniture[11]

1950 Another factory for electrical laminations was set up in Calcutta (Kolkata). In the same year an electrical laminations factory was started in Newcastle, Australia, and steel furniture factory was opened in Johannesburg.

1952 A factory for both electrical laminations and steel furniture was opened in Canada.

By the 1950s Bankfield Works was described as the largest and best equipped in Europe for the production of laminations for the electrical and allied industries.

1954 Sankey's centenary was mentioned by the chairman of GKN in his address to the annual meeting[12]. Joseph Sankey and Sons Ltd's works at Albert Street, Manor and Bankfield, and at Hadley Castle had experienced differing levels of business; Sankey-Sheldon Ltd had a reasonable year; subsidiary operations in India, Australia, Canada and South Africa were also mentioned.

1961 Manufacturers of bumper bars, pressings, welding and assembly work, metal containers and paraffin oil heaters; electrical laminations; panels, wheels, chassis frames, vending machines, agricultural implements and trailers. [13]

1963 Motor Show exhibitor. Wheels and other pressings. Of Hadley Castle Works, Wellington, Shropshire. [14]

1965 Some Sankey companies had been rebadged GKN Sankey, an ongoing trend [15].

1968 Mentioned as producers of military tanks, Part of GKN. [16]

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.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  2. The Times, 2 October 1912
  3. The Times, 30 November 1910
  4. The Autocar of 5th April 1913 p
  5. 1914 Whitakers Red Book
  6. The Times, 14 November 1919
  7. The Times, 27 August 1920
  8. 1937 British Industries Fair Advert p653; and p410
  9. 1937 The Aeroplane Directory of the Aviation and Allied Industries
  10. 1947 British Industries Fair p241
  11. The Times, Sep 08, 1948
  12. The Times, 25 June 1954
  13. 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
  14. 1963 Motor Show
  15. The Times, 5 May 1965
  16. The Engineer of 5th January 1968 p4
  • Mosquito by C. Martin Sharp and Michael J. F. Bowyer. Published by Crecy Books in 1995. ISBN 0-947554-41-6
  • AA. [1] Image courtesy of Aviation Ancestry
  • Joseph Sankey and Son - Wolverhampton Archives [2]