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British Industrial History

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Vickers

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1897. 100-ton Goliath Crane at Vickers Works, Sheffield.
1897. Apparatus for Putting Tension on Wire when Winding it on the Gun Tube, Sheffield.
1897. Interior of Gun and Crank Finishing Shop, showing Machines Boring, Turning, and Rifling Guns.
1897. 60Inch-Lathe, Turning Exterior of Gun.
1897. Interior of forge showing 2500-Ton hydraulic press forging a gun jacket.
1897. 24-In Hydraulic Press for Cogging Tyres.
1897. The Tyre Mills.
1897. Lathe with 46. ft 6. in shaft of P. and O. Liner Weighing 66 3/4 tons.
1897. 69-In Lathe with bed 66 ft long.
1897. Cutting-Off Runners from 55-Ton Ingot.
1897. Two of the Electric Generators at the Power Station.
1897. Crank Finishing Shop, 560ft Long.
1897. Plant for sprinkling plates in the hardening process.
1897. Breast-Slide Planing Machine.
1897. Electrically-Driven grinder for Finishing Armour-Plates after Hardening.
1897. View of Planing Shop for Armour-Plate Work.
1897. Armour-Plate Planing Shop.
1897. Armour-Plate Rolling Mill at Vickers' Works, Sheffield.
1897. 8000-ton Hydraulic Forging Press.
1897. Armour Hoods.
1897. Fore Barbette of HMS Prince George.
1897. Hydraulic Pumps for 8000-Ton Press.
1897. Wrought-Iron Chimney at Sheffield.
1897. Steel Smelting House.
1897. 10-Ton Locomotive Crane.
1897. Vickers' Works, Sheffield.
July 1910.
July 1910.
January 1912.
October 1912. Drop Forgings.
November 1912.
November 1912.
1912. Japanese Battle Cruiser Kongo.
1912.
1913.
1913.
1913. HM Submarine E4.
1914.
1915.
1917.
1917.
August 1918.
1919.
January 1920.
1920. Vickers Aircraft Works, Weybridge.
1920.
Vickers .303 Machine Gun.
1920. Solid injection oil engines of The Narragansett.
1920.
1921.
1921.
1921.
1921.
1921.
1921.
1921.
1921. 1250 hp engines.
1921. Diesel marine oil engines.
1921. Diesel marine oil engines.
1922.
1922.
November 1923.
1923. Ref AA below
October 1923.
1924. Research laboratory at Wembley.
1924. Research laboratory at Wembley.
1924. Ref AA below
1924. Ref AA below
1924. Ref AA below
1924. Ref AA below
1924. Ref AA below
1924. Ref AA below
1924. Ref AA below
1924. Ref AA below
1924. Ref AA below
1924. Ref AA below
1924. 600 bhp marine oil engine.
November 1927.
1927.
1930. Ref AA below
Vickers Vimy.
1937.
1937.
August 1943.
November 1947.
1955. Battery of large presses for producing metal motor-car bodies.[1]
1955. Forging a large hollow shaft.[2]
January 1957.
January 1957.
1973.

of Vickers House, Broadway, Westminster, London SW

Vickers was a famous British engineering conglomerate that merged many of its engineering and armaments assets with those of Armstrong Whitworth as Vickers-Armstrongs in 1927.

General

1829 George Portus Naylor started a new firm with Edward Vickers and John Hutchinson, which was called Naylor, Hutchinson, Vickers and Co; this later began making steel castings and quickly became famous for casting church bells.

Edward Vickers was a miller; his wife was the daughter of a local steel maker George Naylor. His brother, William, owned a steel rolling operation at Millsands.

Edward's investments in the railway industry allowed him to gain control of the company, based at Millsands.

1854 Edward Vickers' sons Thomas and Albert joined the Naylor, Vickers and Co business.

1863 The company moved to a new site in Sheffield on the River Don in Brightside.

1867 The company went public with a capital of £155,000 as Vickers, Sons and Co and gradually acquired more businesses, branching out into various other sectors.

1868 Vickers began to manufacture marine shafts.

1872 Began casting marine propellers.

1882 Set up a forging press.

1888 Vickers produced their first armour plate.

1890 Produced their first artillery piece.

1896 Vickers, Sons and Co bought out the Maxim Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Co gaining access to Maxim's machine guns amongst other weapons.

1897 Company name changed to Vickers, Sons and Maxim.

1901 Listed as railway point and crossing manufacturers of Don Works, Sheffield.

c.1900s Purchased the North Kent Ironworks

1901 Further diversification occurred with the purchase by Vickers, Sons and Maxim of the car building activities of the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Co, which was set up as the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Co.

1902 Acquired 60% of William Beardmore and Co in exchange for an equivalent amount of Vickers' own capital.

1905 Engine from Davey, Paxman and Co installed for the 48in plate mill at the River Don Works

1909 Tom Vickers resigned as chairman, handing over to his brother Albert Vickers

1911 Electrical Exhibition. Six-phase rotary converter. (Vickers of River Don Works, Sheffield).

1911 Name changed from Vickers, Sons and Maxim to Vickers[3]. Operations expanded into aircraft manufacture by the formation of Vickers Ltd (Aviation Department).

1912 Showed the new metal Duralumin at the Non-Ferrous Metals Exhibition at the Royal Agricultural Halls[4].

1914 Specialities; Armour Plates, Guns, Marine Shafting, Railway Material, Electrical Machinery, Ships of War and Commerce, Motor Cars.

1915 Vickers Ltd acquired control of T. Cooke and Sons, a scientific instrument manufacturing business.

1915 Purchased the Consolidated Diesel Engine Manufacturers' factory at Ipswich to build engines for submarines [5]. Manufactured oil engines up to 500h.p.

1917 Purchased a share in the British Westinghouse electrical company when the company's American shareholders were bought out by Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co.

1918 Employed 16,000 persons at the River Don works

1918 Albert Vickers retired from the post of chairman

Post WWI. Built the Aussi tractor in small numbers

1919 Took over the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co to become the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company, Metrovick.

1919 Entered into a partnership with Petters under which the Vickers factory at Ipswich built diesel engines under the name of the joint company Vickers-Petters. This arrangement lasted until 1926. [6]

1921 Acquired control of Troughton and Simms

1921 The Vickers hardness test was developed by Robert L. Smith and George E. Sandland at Vickers[7]

1923 Vickers and the International Combustion Engineering Corporation established a new joint company Vickers and International Combustion Engineering Co to manufacture power plant equipment. Part of Vickers factory at Barrow in Furness, which had been used to make shells, would be transferred to the new company to manufacture boilers for pulverised fuel and related equipment[8]

1923 Formed British Separators Ltd, to make the Vickcen separator and oil purifier; became a subsidiary of Cooke, Troughton and Simms.

1924 The work of Vickers in aircraft development was largely of the commerical and service machines produced in 1923. This development work was particularly related to the Valparaiso two-seater fighting reconnaissance machine. On the commercial side, the Vulture amphibian was produced, in which Squadron-Leader MacLaren made his courageous but unfortunate attempt to fly around the world.[9]

1924 Advert as engineers and shipbuilders with works at River Don Works at Sheffield; Dartford, Erith, Crayford and Weybridge and the Naval Construction Works at Barrow.

1925 July - Mr G. W. Jackson, Mr W. E. Pritchard and Mr J. Callender were appointed special directors of Vickers.[10]

1925 July - Vickers acquired the whole interest in the Vickers-Spearing Boiler Co. This change also gave Vickers control of Tinkers Ltd,.[11]

1925 Dec - William Clark managing director of Vickers announced his intention of resigning at the end of the year.[12]

1926 Vickers sold its shareholding in William Beardmore and Co to William Beardmore.

1926 Major J. L. Benthall, one of the Sheffield directors of Vickers, Ltd., retired[13]

1927 February. Vickers sold Wolseley to William Morris for £730,000. Other bidders included General Motors and the Austin Motor Company. Morris renamed the company Wolseley Motors (1927) Ltd and consolidated its production at the sprawling Ward End Works in Birmingham.

1927 Having made considerable losses since the end of the war, Vickers merged many of its assets with those of the Tyneside-based engineering company Armstrong Whitworth, a company that had developed along similar lines by producing a suite of military products. The new company Vickers-Armstrongs would own assets from Vickers including those at Sheffield, Barrow, Eskmeals, Erith, Dartford, Swanley and Eynsford. Armstrong's contribution was to be the assets at Elswick, Openshaw and the Naval and Walker shipyards[14]. Some subsidiaries would be retained by the parent companies and operated independently, such as Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co which would be retained by Vickers. Vickers was the major partner in the new company with two thirds of the shares; Armstrong Whitworth would receive one third of the shares.

1927 See Aberconway for information on the company and its history.

1927 Also see Aberconway for information on the company and its history.

1928 Due to downturn in the demand for railway wagons, the rolling stock interests of the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co Ltd were merged with those of Cammell, Laird and Co[15] under the name Metropolitan Cammell Carriage, Wagon and Finance Co Ltd[16]. The amalgamated entity was owned by Vickers and Cammell, Laird and Co and became known as Metro Cammell.

1928 Merger of companies in the steel industry announced, involving parts of Vickers, Vickers-Armstrongs and Cammell, Laird and Co[17]. This would involve all of the steel interests of the 3 contributing groups, except for interests in guns, ammunition and tanks. A new company would be created to take over these interests: the English Steel Corporation Ltd. The contribution from Vickers was Taylor Brothers and Co.

1928 Acquired Supermarine to extend the aircraft made by Vickers Aviation to include flying boats[18]

1930 The company was essentially a holding company; was the largest shareholder by far in Vickers-Armstrongs; also holding in Metro Cammell; continued to be the sole proprietor of Vickers Aviation and the Supermarine Co and various smaller companies: Ioco Rubber and Waterproofing Co, Cooke, Troughton and Simms, Boby's[19]

1935 Vickers acquired the remainder of the share capital of Vickers-Armstrongs that it did not already own from Armstrong Whitworth Securities Company and other investment companies[20].

1939 All aircraft construction activities transferred to Vickers-Armstrongs at government request[21].

WWII At the outbreak of war, Vickers employed 95,000 people[22].

1943 At its peak the company employed 170,000 people.

1944 At the end of the year the company employed 145,500.

By the end of 1944 the company had built 188 warships, including battleships and aircraft carriers, as well as 28,000 aircraft and repaired a further 9,000. The company also manufactured 6,200 tanks as well as many other vehicles. The company also produced major weapons, including massive bombs as well as 14,000 guns for the Navy and 150,000 guns for the other Services, and a huge amount of ammunition. It also expanded its programme for providing technical information to other companies and expanded this service to include Dominion countries. Was in the process of establishing a centralized research department for the aviation side of the business under Mr Barnes Wallis as well as equipping a centralized research department for the engineering side of the business.[23].

1945 Vickers took an interest in Powers-Samas Accounting Machines Ltd[24].

1947 Making the transition to peacetime work had proved more difficult than expected, due to shortages of certain types of labour and of parts and rising costs[25]

1947 Acquired George Mann and Co of Leeds; used help from Elswick and Scotswood works to increase production of printing machinery[26]

1948 Vickers increased its interest in Powers-Samas Accounting Machines to 59% and treated the company as a subsidiary[27].

1949 Started making bottling machinery at Crayford.

1950 The transport activities included: shipping , aviation, railway rolling stock, and road passenger transport.

1951 It was felt that fair compensation had been achieved in return for nationalization of English Steel Corporation[28]

1961 Vickers Ltd was the holding company for over 50 subsidiaries including Vickers-Armstrongs (Engineers), Vickers-Armstrongs, Vickers-Armstrongs (Shipbuilders), Vickers-Armstrongs (South Marston) and Vickers-Armstrongs (Tractors) with 60,000 employees in the group.

1965 Vickers acquired R. W. Crabtree and Sons.[29]

1966 Vickers acquired Waite and Saville; Crabtree-Vickers was established as Britain's leading printing machinery manufacturer.[30]

1968 Received £16.25 million from the nationalization of the English Steel Corporation[31]

Acquired Michell Bearings of Newcastle and Kirby's (Engineers) of Walsall which became part of the Engineering Division[32]

1973 Vickers acquired Dawson and Barfos Manufacturing, of Gomersal and Thetford, making Vickers the largest manufacturer of bottling equipment in the UK[33]

1977 After the shipbuilding and aircraft interests were nationalised, the profit potential of the remainder of the business was seen to be substantially reduced[34]. The remainder of the business consisted of: heavy engineering (at Scotswood); printing machinery; bearings; bottling machinery; shipbuilding, Roneo Vickers office equipment. The company acquired other interests using borrowed money in anticipation of the compensation for the nationalised assets[35]

1979 Closure of Vickers Scotswood heavy engineering plant began and 230 of 750 workers were paid off.[36]

1980 Vickers bought Rolls-Royce Motors to form one of the largest engineering companies in the country[37].

1990 Acquired Cosworth, which would complement the existing engine activities[38].

1998 Sold Rolls-Royce Motor Cars to Volkswagen. The Leeds tank factory was closed and Challenger tank production concentrated at Newcastle-upon-Tyne[39]. Acquired Ulstein, a Norwegian marine engineer[40]

1999 Rolls-Royce plc acquired Vickers plc[41]; Vickers Ulstein and Kamewa products were added to Rolls-Royce's gas turbine activities, making Rolls-Royce a global leader in marine power systems.

2002 Alvis group purchased Vickers Defence Systems and Vickers Bridging, making Alvis the dominant UK maker of armoured vehicles[42]

By 2004 The Vickers company name was extinct

Shipbuilding

1897 Vickers, Sons and Co entered naval shipbuilding with the purchase of the Naval Construction and Armaments Co of Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria.

1897 Having bought the Maxim Gun Co, the name of the company was changed to Vickers, Sons and Maxim. With these acquisitions, Vickers could now produce a complete selection of products, from ships and marine fittings to armour plate and a whole suite of ordnance.

1899 See 1899 Shipbuilding Statistics for detail of the tonnage produced.

1901 The Royal Navy's first submarine, Holland 1, was launched at the Naval Construction Yard.

Negotiated a 10-year monopoly on submarines with the Crown

1902 Vickers took a half share in the famous Clyde shipyard John Brown and Co.

1911 A controlling interest was acquired in Whitehead and Co, the torpedo manufacturers.

1914 The company employed 22,000 people.

1920 Solid injection oil engines for the Narragansett. Details in The Engineer.

1920 May. Quick return broaching machine. Details and illustrations in The Engineer.

1926 July. 'The first of two large submarine boats being built by Vickers for the Australian Government has been successfully launched at Barrow. No details of the vessel have been given out, but she embodies all the latest improvements in submersible craft.'[43]

1963 Appointed lead contractor to build the new Polaris submarines, Vickers would build two and Cammell Laird the other two[44]

1977 The Barrow yard later passed into the hands of the nationalised British Shipbuilders in 1977, was privatised as Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd (VSEL) in 1986 and remains in operation to this day as BAE Systems Submarines.

Weapons

Vickers manufactured and sold the Maxim machine gun, in partnership with its inventor.

1897 Vickers bought the Maxim Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Co for £1.3 million, and in the same year acquired the Naval Construction and Armaments Co for the bargain price of £425,000. The company became Vickers, Sons and Maxim. They adapted the design of the Maxim gun as the Vickers machine gun, which was the last major design Hiram Maxim himself worked on. It became the standard machine gun of the British Empire and Commonwealth, serving for some 50 years in the British Army. It was also re-worked in literally dozens of different cartridge sizes and sold all over the world, and was scaled up to larger calibres, particularly for the Royal Navy as a 0.5 inch model).

Vickers was involved in the production of numerous firearms. John Pedersen's design for a semi-automatic rifle was trialled by the British between WW1 and WW2. The British version of the rifle was made by Vickers, and as result this version of the Pedersen rifle is usually called the Vickers Rifle.

1924 Captain V.V. Dibovsky was awarded £5000 by the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors for the synchronising gears for Vickers Maxim guns[45]

Post-WWI: Vickers Ltd was awarded £61,000 by the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors for improvements in breech mechanisms for guns[46]

In the interwar period Vickers also worked on several tanks designs. Medium Mark I and Mark II were adopted by the British Army. The Vickers 6-Ton tank was the most successful; being exported or built by other nations under licence. The Vickers A1E1 Independent tank design was never put into production but credited with influencing other nations.

During the Second World War Vickers built large guns and tanks; the Valentine tank was a design that they had developed privately that was taken up.

Also see Vickers Defence Systems

Flight

1909 Vickers began work on a rigid airship, Mayfly, for the Admiralty in mid-1909 in Cavendish Dock, Cumbria. They tried to negotiate a 10-year monopoly on airship construction (as they had done with submarines) but this was not accepted. The contract price for the airship was £28,000 (without goldbeater's skin gas-bags and varnished skin outer cover for which the Admiralty would be required to provide contractors).

Sadly the airship disintegrated upon its second trip out of the floating hangar on the evening of 23 September 1911. Further designs and difficulties followed although non-rigid machines including "Sea Scouts" (popularly called blimps) proved generally less troublesome than the larger rigid examples. Some models featured floating cars slung beneath them. Much experience in mooring techniques and swivelling motors was gathered despite the pressures of wartime.

1911 Vickers formed Vickers Ltd (Aviation Department) in 1911 and produced one of the first aircraft designed to carry a machine gun, the FB5 (fighting biplane) Gun Bus.

1912. The company entered the Vickers No. 6 monoplane in the Larkhill Trials.

During World War I Vickers produced the Valentia and Viking flying boats and the Vimy heavy bomber.

1919 A converted Vimy later became the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean non-stop (See 1919 in aviation). The Vimy was later developed into the Virginia, a mainstay in the RAF during the interwar years. Vickers was a pioneer in producing airliners, early examples being converted from Vimy bombers.

1920 See article of the Aircraft works at Weybridge in 'The Engineer'.

The last airship built at the Walney Island hangar was a small non-rigid reconnaissance machine for the Japanese government that first flew on 27 April 1921.

1923 A subsidiary called the Airship Guarantee Company Limited was formed under Sir Dennis Burney from 29 November 1923 (lasting until 30 November 1935) specifically to participate in the building of a massive six-engined commercial airship, the R100 in competition with the ill-fated R101. Their buildings were at Howden in Yorkshire. The R100 flew initially on 16 December 1929 and achieved some trans-Atlantic flights before scrapping in November 1931 by Elton, Levy and Company.

1927 The Vickers aircraft building activity was retained by Vickers when the other armaments activities were merged into Vickers-Armstrongs.

1928 The Aviation Department of Vickers became Vickers (Aviation) Ltd and soon after acquired Supermarine Aviation Works, which became the Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers) Ltd.[47] in order to extend Vickers Aviation activities to include flying boats.

Rex Pierson was chief designer and Barnes Wallis was chief structures designer.

1937 Aircraft constructors. "Vernon" Aircraft. "Wellesley" and "Wellington" Aircraft.

1939 All aircraft constuction activities transferred to Vickers-Armstrongs at government request[48].

November 1968 The Vickers Group acquired Slingsby Aircraft Ltd.

1979 Vickers acquired Bristol Aerojet.

Scientific Instruments

1915 Vickers Ltd acquired control of T. Cooke and Sons, a scientific instrument manufacturing business. They had long had an interest in the military side of Cooke products such as rangefinders, gunsights and surveying equipment, adapted to military needs.

1922 Cooke’s continued to expand in York and amalgamated with the long established instrument-making firm of Troughton and Simms of London (1824-1922).

1924 The new firm became Cooke, Troughton and Simms and became a wholly owned subsidiary of Vickers.

1939 Another factory was built on a larger site in Haxby Road and during the Second World War, of the 3,300 people employed by the firm, 1,400 were women.

Post-WWII. After the war, microscopes, survey equipment and engineers' measuring instruments became the main products.

1963 Following the acquisition of the C. Baker Ltd microscope factory, the new company of Vickers Instruments was formed. This continued as a profitable business for many years, mainly selling microscopes, surveying instruments and micro measurement apparatus.

1980s The firm’s traditional skills in optics and mechanics were enhanced by electronic and software expertise and Quaestor, a new instrument for handling microchips, was produced as well as other high precision measuring apparatus and on the defence side, laser range finders for Vickers’ tanks.

Vickers (Crayford)

See Vickers (Crayford)

Vickers Pressings

At Elswick, see Vickers Pressings

Vickers Printing Machinery

See Vickers Printing Machinery

Vickers Design and Project Division

See Vickers Design and Project Division

Archive Photographs

  • Barrow - The Dock Museum has a superb archive collection of old photographs from Vickers’ Barrow-in-Furness shipyards and engineering works, and small versions can be viewed online. [49]

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Oxford Junior Encyclopaedia. Volume VIII. Engineering. Oxford University Press, 1955.
  2. Oxford Junior Encyclopaedia. Volume VIII. Engineering. Oxford University Press, 1955.
  3. The Times, 29 March 1911
  4. The Times, 19 June 1912
  5. A-Z of British Stationary Engines by Patrick Knight. Published 1999. ISBN 1 873098 50 2
  6. A-Z of British Stationary Engines by Patrick Knight. Published 1999. ISBN 1 873098 50 2
  7. Wikipedia
  8. The Times, Dec 31, 1923
  9. The Engineer 1925/01/02
  10. The Engineer 1925/07/03
  11. The Engineer 1925/07/31
  12. The Engineer 1925/12/04
  13. The Engineer 1926/11/05
  14. The Times, 19 November 1927
  15. The Times, 26 October 1928
  16. The Times, 18 December 1928
  17. The Times, 18 December 1928
  18. The Times, Mar 27, 1934
  19. The Times, Apr 01, 1930
  20. The Times, Wednesday, Jul 17, 1935
  21. The Times, 4 April 1939
  22. The Times, Apr 05, 1945
  23. The Times, Apr 05, 1945
  24. The Times, 25 May 1949
  25. The Times, Jun 04, 1947
  26. The Times May 24, 1948
  27. The Times, 25 May 1949
  28. The Times Jun 06, 1951
  29. http://crabtreevickers.co.uk/history.php
  30. http://crabtreevickers.co.uk/history.php
  31. The Times, Jan 30, 1968
  32. The Times, May 13, 1970
  33. The Times, Nov 29, 1973
  34. The Times, 29 April 1977
  35. The Times, Jun 26, 1980
  36. The Engineer 1979/04/05
  37. The Times, Jun 26, 1980
  38. The Times, March 28, 1990
  39. The Times, September 18, 1998
  40. The Times, December 01, 1998
  41. The Times, September 23, 1999
  42. The Times, August 03, 2002
  43. The Engineer 1926/07/09
  44. The Times, May 09, 1963
  45. The Times, Jan 13, 1925
  46. The Times, Jan 13, 1925
  47. Wikipedia
  48. The Times, 4 April 1939
  49. [1] Vickers (Barrow) archive website