Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,160 pages of information and 245,627 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.


From Graces Guide


Dec 1921.
Dec 1921.
February 1929.

February 1943.
June 1944.
November 1944.
Jan 1945.
June 1945.
October 1945.
January 1946.
19th October 1946.
January 1947.
May 1947.
November 1947.
December 1947.
January 1948.
February 1948.
April 1948.
August 1948.
November 1950.
1951. Hexagon socket cap and set screws. Self-tapping screws. (of Heath Street, Birmingham).


January 1952.
February 1952.
March 1952.
May 1952.
July 1952.
October 1952.
June 1953.
1960. Wedglok.
May 1961.
July 1962.
October 1962.

GKN plc of Birmingham, a British engineering company formerly known as Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds which can trace its origins back to 1759 and the birth of the industrial revolution.

1902 Nettlefolds was combined with Guest, Keen and Co to create Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds[1].

1902 Purchased Crawshay Brothers, the company formed to continue steel production at the Cyfarthfa Ironworks.

These mergers heralded half a century in which the name Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds became synonymous with the manufacture of screws, nuts, bolts and other fasteners. The company reflected the vertical integration fashionable at the time embracing activities from coal and ore extraction, and iron and steel-making to manufacturing finished goods.

1911 Listed as manufacturer of Bolts and Nuts for the Railways[2]

1914 Listed as ironmasters, steel manufacturers. [3]

1919 Absorbed the extensive nut and bolt and other interests of F. W. Cotterill, of Darlaston, this firm having previously absorbed John Garrington and Sons, forming the largest nut and bolt company in the country.

1920 Acquired John Lysaght which brought in works at Newport which were the "largest and best equipped in the UK for manufacture of black and galvanised sheet", large constructional iron and steel works at Bristol, and five blast furnaces and an up-to-date steel works and adjoining ironstone reserves at Scunthorpe. This purchase also included the whole of the ordinary shares of Joseph Sankey and Sons [4].

1920 Acquired Bayliss, Jones and Bayliss

1921 The chairman, Edward Steer, mentioned to the annual meeting that he had started work with Nettlefold and Chamberlain 52 years ago. Most of the preference shares in John Lysaght had now been acquired as well as 99% of the Ordinary shares[5].

Acquired the Vulcan Works, Darlaston, Horton and Son, Enoch Wilks and Co, James Simpson and Sons, Tolley Sons and Bostock, and the Staffordshire Bolt and Nut Co.

Acquisition of a controlling interest in Bayliss, Jones and Bayliss, of Wolverhampton, makers of wrought iron, gate and fencing products.

1925 Joint company, Guest, Keen and Piggotts Ltd, formed with Thomas Piggott and Co making and selling steel water pipe at GKN's Cardiff plant[6]

1926 February: Reported to have secured a contract for the supply to the Egyptian State Railways for 100,000 steel sleepers.[7]

1926 December: Work was resumed in the rolling department of the company's iron and steel works at Dowlais, after a stoppage of about eight months, while the same company's Dowlais Works at Cardiff re-started the day after. About 800 men commenced work immediately, while the remainder of the workmen were taken on as soon as coke was available to relight the blast furnaces.[8]

1929 July: Acquired the Cambrian, Glamorgan Colliery, Naval and Britannic Merthyr collieries from the liquidator[9]

1929 July: Acquired Nixon's Collieries from the liquidator as a going concern in association with Mr W. M Llewellyn[10]

1930 Contributed its Welsh collieries to the formation of Welsh Associated Collieries

1930 The steel side of the works in Cardiff was closed and the South Wales Steel works of GKN were amalgamated with those of Baldwins to form British Iron and Steel Co

1930 Contributed its collieries to the new Welsh Associated Collieries Ltd

1930 Acquired an interest in Stenman of Sweden, maker of screws, and Exors of James Mills, maker of bright drawn steel products, a similar field to that of the company[11]

1934 New works constructed at Dowlais.

1934 See GKN: 1934 Review. Also see GKN Works for pictures of various works.

1935 Guest, Keen and Piggotts closed

1937 British Industries Fair Advert for Nettlefolds Screws. Screws, Bolts and Nuts, Rivets, Cotter Pins, Set Screws, Screw Hooks, Screw Eyes, Gate Hooks and Eyes, Porcelain Enamelled Screw Hooks, Nails, Wire, Clout, Pipe Brads, Panel Pins, Wire Netting Fasteners, Plyers, Patent "Hank" Rivets, Brushes, Nettlefolds' Parker-Kalon Hardened Self Tapering Screws, Drive Screws, Screw Nails, Masonry Nails, Thumb Screws, Wing Nuts. (Engineering/Metals/Quarry, Roads and Mining/Transport Section - Stand No. B.606 ) [12] Manufacturers of screws, bolts and nuts. [13]

1940 Advert. Nuts, screws and other fixings. [14]

1941 AA image on this page. [15]

1945 Advert. Hardened self-tapping screws under the name of Nettlefords-Parker-Kalon (N. P. K.). From Birmingham. [16]

1945 Advert. Foundation bolts and locknuts from the Nut and Bolt section of Atlas Works, Darlaston.

1948 The works and property of Brymbo Steel Co were transferred to GKN, which used the steel "sheet" bars produced by the works.[17]

1949 Six subsidiaries were identified for nationalisation - the holding company, 39 domestic subsidiaries and 19 foriegn subsidiaries were to be excluded from nationalisation[18]. After further negotiation, only 4 subsidiary companies were to be nationalised[19]

1951 A new subsidiary, Blade Research and Development (BRD) was formed at Aldridge, Staffordshire, to produce aero-engine turbine and compressor blades. For a detailed account of the business, see here[20]

1951 Four subsidiaries of the company were nationalised, and were vested in the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain[21]:

By 1952 was offering the N. P. K. screw with Phillips recessed head[22]

1954 In order to achieve control of the whole production chain, GKN reacquired from the Holding and Realisation Agency[23]:

1955 GKN reacquired from the Holding and Realisation Agency[24]:

1957 Acquired L. H. Newton including its subsidiary Birwelco and its associated company Brown Fintube (Great Britain)[25]

1961 Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds Ltd are a holding company for 83 subsidiaries with 75,000 employees. [26]

1961 GKN Steel Company was formed to incorporate all of the steel companies in the group[27]

1961 Manufacturers of grey iron castings for the Automobile Industry, British Railways, and miscellaneous castings, including cable brackets for the underground railways. 1,219 employees (not sure which part this refers to). [28]

1962 Acquired Acton Bolt Ltd

1963 Motor Show exhibitor. Fastenings made by the Heath Street Division. [29]

1964 The company had a dominant position in fasteners but was otherwise just a medium-sized engineering group with steel interests[30]

1965 With increasing demand for steel reinforcements for buildings, the group had acquired in 1964 a Scottish piling and foundations contractor, Caledonian Foundations; this was combined with a complementary pile-driving company, Holmpress Piles, to form GKN Foundations[31]

1965 Acquired Projectile and Engineering Co (Peco), maker of plastics moulding equipment[32]

1966 Business re-organised, with the UK business arranged into 8 sub-groups[33]:

1967 Acquired Birfield Industries including its subsidiary Hardy Spicer and Co of Birmingham becoming part of GKN Transmissions[34]. Hardy Spicer made constant-velocity joints which, historically, had few applications, even following the improved design proposed by Alfred H. Rzeppa in 1936. In 1959, Alec Issigonis had developed the revolutionary Mini motor car which relied on such joints for its novel front wheel drive technology. The massive expansion in the exploitation of front wheel drive in the 1970s and 1980s led to the acquisition of other similar businesses, such as Vandervell Products, leading to a 43% share of the world market by 2002.

1967 GKN South Wales was one of the larger steel re-rollers not subject to nationalisation[35]

1968 Start of move to build a large position in steel stockholding.

1969 Acquired R. H. Windsor, makers of plastics machinery

1970 Formation of plastics machinery subsidiary GKN Windsor, which would include the machinery interests of R. H. Windsor and the Peco division of GKN Machinery [36]

1972 GKN acquired Firth Cleveland for its complementary interests in hot and cold rolled strip, sintered products, reinforcements, wire fasteners and garage equipment; GKN had not decided what to do with the retail side of the business[37]

1974 GKN acquired Kirkstall Forge Engineering, the country's largest manufacturer of axles for heavy vehicles, which would become part of GKN Transmissions[38].

1974 GKN acquired a major competitor in steel stockholding, Miles Druce and Co, after delays due to need for approval from European Commission and uncertainty about the rules[39].

By 1974 the company had re-created itself as an integrated steel company, producing it, converting it and either selling it or using it to manufacture its own automotive products, fasteners and engineering and building products[40][41]

1974 GKN reorganised its engineering sub-group into 3 parts[42]:

1974 Mr. I. F. Donald was appointed Chairman of GKN Powder Metallurgy and Mr. M. O. Bumfrey continued as managing director. Mr. P. B. Hamilton was appointed a non-executive director. Mr. C. J. Williams and Mr. C. T. Taylor resigned their appointments on the board of the company. Mr. Williams and Mr. H. D. Browne remained a non-executive director.[43]

1974 GKN Foundations acquired Johann Keller GmbH of West Germany[44]

1975 GKN formed a new sub-group called GKN Fasteners. This brought together GKN's European manufacturing units involved in fasteners, builders hardware and allied products[45]

1976 Formation of GKN Keller, bringing together GKN Foundations with its subsidiary Johann Keller[46]

1979 GKN purchased Sheepbridge Group, makers of automotive components and distributor[47], including Advance Motor Supplies

1970s The UK businesses struggled, the group making its first loss in 1980; Uni-Cardan kept the company afloat.[48]

1980 GKN decided to focus on motor components, the defence industry and industrial services. As a result some of GKN's foundation businesses, such as screws and fasteners, were to be divested.

During the 1980s, GKN sought to invest its earnings from constant-velocity joints in developing other nascent technologies.

1981 British Steel forged a new £130 million joint company with GKN and bought out the steelmaking businesses of the ailing private sector group Duport. The interests acquired comprised of London Works, Flather Bright Steels and Nationwide Steel Stock. The Corporation followed this with the formation of a new steel company Allied Steel and Wire. This joint venture company of British Steel and GKN merged their interests in rod and bar production.[49]

1983 Sold Floform to Grosvenor Group [50]

1983 GKN and Costain Group put their scaffolding sale and hire subsidiaries into a joint business GKN Kwikform; GKN contributed Mills Building Services[51]

1984 Acquired Godfrey Holmes and Affiliated Factors motor factors

1985 F. H. Tomkins purchased 6 companies from GKN[52][53]:

1986 Management buyout of the Screws and Fasteners business as European Industrial Services (Fasteners) Ltd, including the European operations.[54]

1988 GKN acquired a stake in Westland plc, the British helicopter and aerospace manufacturer (including Saunders Roe, which was at the leading edge in aerostructures and composite materials).

1990 The foundations division was sold to its management, becoming Keller[55]

1991 the company abandoned further research in novel technologies and diverted its development efforts towards its constant-velocity joint business in which it was facing increasing competition from Japan. During the same period, the company finally withdrew from steel production. Changing its name to GKN plc, it diversified into military vehicles, aerospace and industrial services.

1994 GKN acquired the helicopter manufacturing business of Westland Aircraft.

1998 the armoured vehicle business was sold to Alvis plc, and subsequently incorporated into Alvis Vickers Ltd.

From the late 1990s, the company built a major global business in powder metallurgy, which operates as the GKN Sinter Metals group.

July 2000, Finmeccanica and GKN agreed to merge their respective helicopter subsidiaries to form AgustaWestland.

2001 A major re-shaping took place of the business - GKN Chep and Cleanaway were to be de-merged; Westland’s helicopter business was merged into a joint venture with Agusta. GKN acquired Boeing’s military aircraft structures plant in St Louis, a groundbreaking outsourcing deal.

2001 Brambles Industries acquired GKN's share of Cleanaway [56] and GKN Chep

2004 GKN completed the sale of its 50% shareholding in AgustaWestland to Finmeccanica. GKN's turnover for the year ended 31 December 2004 was just under £3.5 billion.

2008 Agreed to buy Airbus’s aircraft wing factory at Filton, near Bristol, for £136m. The deal includes contracts for Airbus programmes already being supplied by the plant, and GKN has also signed up to design and produce wings for the new A350 extra wide body airliner, more than doubling its civil aircraft order book to £5.6bn. GKN plans to invest £125m over the next five years to establish Filton as a specialist in next-generation composite wings, using the Airbus A350 as a showcase. The facility employs 1,500 staff and is expected to make revenues of £375m in the first full year under its new owners.[57]

2012 GKN put its wheels business, which services heavy plant and construction vehicles, up for sale at £130m. [58]. GKN agreed to buy the aero-engine arm of Volvo for £633m; this was Sweden’s largest aerospace company.[59]

2015 Acquired the aerospace group Fokker Technologies of the Netherlands for £503m from Arle Capital. [60]

2015 GKN Plc. Revenue £7.7bn. 56,100 employees worldwide with 6,000 in UK. Divisions are[61]:

2018 Agreed to merge its Driveline automotive business with American car parts maker Dana[62] but the deal collapsed when GKN was acquired by Melrose

Steam Locomotives

Manufactured a number of steam locomotives for their own use:-

  • 1906 Locomotive built at Ifor
  • 1908 Locomotive built at Ifor
  • 1911 Locomotive built at Cwmbran
  • 1912 Locomotive built at Ifor
  • 1914 Locomotive built at Cwmbran
  • 1915 Locomotive built at Ifor
  • 1916 Locomotive built at Dowlais
  • 1917 Locomotive built at Ifor
  • 1919 Locomotive built at Dowlais
  • 1920 Locomotive built at Ifor. The last at these works and a total of nine engines.
  • 1928 Locomotive built at Cwmbran

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Times, Tuesday, Feb 04, 1902
  2. Bradshaw’s Railway Manual 1911
  3. 1914 Whitakers Red Book
  4. The Times, 27 August 1920
  5. The Times, 16 September 1021
  6. The Times, Jun 27, 1925
  7. The Engineer 1926/02/19
  8. The Engineer 1926/12/17
  9. The Times Nov. 11, 1929
  10. The Times Nov. 11, 1929
  11. The Times, Jun 26, 1930
  12. 1937 British Industries Fair Advert p627; and p371
  13. 1937 The Aeroplane Directory of the Aviation and Allied Industries
  14. Mechanical World Year Book 1940. Published by Emmott and Co of Manchester. Advert p143-5
  15. [1] Image courtesy of Aviation Ancestry
  16. Mechanical World Year Book 1945. Published by Emmott and Co of Manchester. Advert p177-9
  17. The Times, Feb 06, 1948
  18. The Times, Feb 07, 1949
  19. The Times, Jun 25, 1949
  20. [2] Early Days at BRD by John L. Edwards, 1995
  21. The Times, 13 October 1953
  22. The Times July 3, 1952
  23. The Times, 29 June 1956
  24. The Times, 29 June 1956
  25. The Times, Oct 19, 1957
  26. 1961 Guide to Key British Enterprises
  27. The Times, Aug 19, 1960
  28. 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
  29. 1963 Motor Show
  30. The Times, Feb 23, 1978
  31. The Times May 05, 1965
  32. The Times (London, England), Wednesday, Aug 14, 1985
  33. The Times, Apr 06, 1966
  34. The Times, 26 January 1968
  35. The Times, Apr 26, 1967
  36. The Times, Jan 14, 1970
  37. The Times, Jun 21, 1972
  38. The Times, 21 March 1974
  39. The Times, Apr 13, 1974
  40. The Times, Feb 23, 1978
  41. The Engineer 1974/02/28
  42. The Times, May 16, 1974
  43. The Engineer 1974/05/30
  44. The Times May 03, 1990
  45. The Times February 19, 1975
  46. The Times, Dec 31, 1975
  47. The Times, Apr 30, 1980
  48. [3]
  49. The Engineer 1981/02/26
  50. The Times, Jan 15, 1983
  51. The Times June 23, 1983
  52. The Times, 30 July 1985
  53. The Times, 14 August 1985
  54. The Times Jan. 4, 1986
  55. The Times May 03, 1990
  56. The Times May 15, 2002
  57. The Independent 16 Sept 2008
  58. The Independent 12 Mar 2012
  59. The Independent 6 Jul 2012
  60. 29 Jul 2015
  61. 2015 Annual Report
  62. Daily Express 10 Mar 2018