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Whiteley, Lang and Neill

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of Liverpool

Precision engineers

By 1969 was part of James Neill Group[1]

Badly affected by the crash of Rolls-Royce

1973 Expected to be closed by mid-year[2]. In the event was sold to Lindustries[3].

Working with the Whiteley Family – by Don Robinson[4]

On leaving the merchant navy where I had spent five years In place of National Service I had to find a place to work. I saw a job advertised in the Liverpool Echo and decided to give it a try, the firm was Whiteley Lang a firm of toolmakers and where based In Prince Alfred Road, Wavertree which was not far from where I lived. Jack Whiteley was the Managing Director and had taken over running of the firm when his father died, Jack served In the war and was a captain. The Lang side of the company came about, after making fountain pens and went under the name of the Lang Pen Company, they hit trading difficulties and to save the company Whiteley’s decided to amalgamate, their Managing Director was a man named Sidney Mitchell who was a man of small stature and of Jewish religion, he was very strict on punctuality, if you turned up late more than once In a week he would give a balling out do it regular and he would give you the sack,

Jack decided to give me a start although my tool-making was a little rusty he believed my marine experience may come in handy. Jack was a brilliant boss to work for, whenever he made a decision he always considered the work force. Jacks family consisted of his mother who everyone called Ma and a brother Ralph who liked the easy life, he liked womanising, golf and alcohol. Harold Wilson who was a Member of Parliament for Huyton heard that the Ford Motor Company wanted to open another car plant to compliment the Dagenham plant, so he lobbied the government of the day to consider Merseyside who had high unemployment and was also his constituency. They laid down certain conditions it had to be built by a British company using British labour and ail equipment must be purchased within a certain catchment area from the site.

Fords chose a site at Halewood on the outskirts of Liverpool, James Neill of Sheffield wanted to supply steel plate, measuring equipment and hand tools such as Hammers, chisels files, magnets and hacksaws, but their Base was Sheffield and out of the designated area so Hugh Neill the Managing Director approached Jack Whiteley with a proposition to amalgamate and form a new company to be called Whiteley, Lang and Niell, both Ma Whiteley and Ralph did not want to get involved so they spilt up the company three ways. Ma retired and Ralph bought a chrome plating business in Henry Street off Edge Lane, Jack had to find £300,000 as his share of the business, most of the equipment was already In use at Prince Alfred Road, so a site at the corner of Speke Hall Avenue was chosen and work was started to build a new factory. When the plant was finished we had the task of moving all the plant from Prince Alfred Road to Speke Hall Road Jack asked me to help move the large machinery as I had experience moving heavy equipment at sea, we had plenty of overtime and Jack was always generous with lots of freebies. When the Speke plant opened Jack had a chance to bling ail his aspirations to life, he had a philosophy the same as Lord Leverhume Jack Insisted we needed a hairdresser, a doctor, a dentist who all visited the factory to tend to the needs of the work force, on the day they visited a list of names was given to each of the visitors and they called each one In turn the only person we had to pay was the hairdresser.

The company had many profitable years and Jack made sure the workforce shared in the proceeds, by giving bonuses and arranging evenings out. Jack had a works committee and although all the work force belonged to a trade union Jack still considered them as a works committee, although we considered ourselves as shop stewards. After one successful year Jack decided he wanted to throw a hotpot supper and have Ken Dodd as his surprise comedy act, as I was chairman of the committee he gave me the Job of arranging It. I did not have a clue as to how I could pull it off, my only hope was I knew a neighbour who had a brother who was a comic on the Liverpool variety circuit, so I asked her to speak to Lenny and find out what the procedure was, she arranged a meeting for me and Lenny Annette on approaching Lenny he told me his son was 21 on Saturday and Ken Dodd was invited to the party and If I wanted to come along in the evening he would Introduce me to Ken and I could see what arrangements we could come to. On reporting back to Jack, he was very pleased and arranged the evening to Include other acts with Ken Dodd as a surprise to the workers Jack paid for the meal and ail the drinks for the whole evening.

Business was very good and Jack became involved with the medical staff at Sefton General Hospital developing a kidney Dialysis machine and although when they eventually solved the problems and got them working successfully Jack never made enough money on the manufacture as he kept the cost as low as possible.

The company were one of the first to get involved with computer systems the Atomic Energy had a system called the Wasp system which could be used to computerise production development and update, the progress on a weekly basis. Every Saturday two employees would go to Manchester University and feed in job numbers and which operations had developed the system would transfer all the Information to a computer in Cambridge which would digest it and then about two hours later send it all back to Manchester to update ail the plant systems on the Monday morning.

In the meantime, Ralph had sold his chrome plating company to a firm in Birmingham and retired to the Isle of Man, bought himself a house and boat and planned to play golf, sail and generally enjoy his retirement. Ralph came to a tragic end he was found one morning floating in the harbour, the presumption was that he had an accident either boarding or leaving his boat. He hadn’t spent all his money as in his will he left Jack nearly £100,000 we know that as fact, as it was printed in the News of the World who had a column called wills of the week.

Meanwhile Whiteley Lang and Neill were looking toward a very prosperous future until the collapse of Rolls Royce, Jack had a spent a lot of time and money developing systems and programmes used in the manufacture of Rolls Royce components and although we still managed to trade we were being propped up by James Neill Ltd, Hugh Neill decided it was time to disband the company and for Neills to concentrate on their core business which was manufacturing of hand tools. Jack was given license to go anywhere in the world to sell the share of the company owned by Hugh Neill and to maintain the company as a going concern. As chairman of the works committee Jack kept me Informed of any developments, I got In touch with Tim Fortesque who was Conservative MP for Garston and he visited the plant and agreed that the plant was too good to let go without a fight, Tim got Chris Chataway who was the Minister for Trade and Industry, Tim got him to come to the plant and meet the shop stewards committee, Tim Fortesque even intimated that he would see if he could get a group of people to form a limited company to take over the firm if all else failed.

After extensive advertising five engineering firms showed they were interested, Jack invited the works committee to nominate two representatives to join the selection process and have an input as to who they would consider as employers, we realised that three of the companies would just be content to take over the firm to pick the lucrative work and asset strip the rest. We eventually decided the most interested was a firm called Lindustries who were based in London with Factories around the country. The Managing Director of the engineering division was a man called Denis Harwood-Jones, he was small in stature from Birmingham and of Jewish extract, he was a very good business man but a very abrupt nature and a take it or leave It attitude, he addressed the work force setting out the conditions he would offer with no deviation, the meeting went down like a lead balloon. After the meeting a further meeting was arranged by Jack with Hugh Neill, Chris Chataways department, Tim Fortesque and the serious consequences of the situation was outlined, if we did not come to some conclusion then closure was the only option. After a long discussion we asked if we could approach Lindustries again and see if we could rescue the deal.

Jack got in touch with Lindustries and a meeting was arranged between the shop stewards committee and the engineering board of Lindustries, we met at the Holiday Inn on Lime Street on Saturday evening at 8.00pm. From Whiteleys we had Jack, myself and Gerry Smith and from Lindustries Denis Harwood-Jones, Arthur Nicholls, David Day who was the accountant for the engineering division, after a lot of discussion Denis said he would be willing to address the work force again, I asked if I could address them first to which he agreed. The following Monday I addressed the work force explaining that the only chance we had to stave off closure was to accept the deal offered by Lindustries. Denis then addressed the work force only this time using a more subtle approach explaining they didn’t want any redundancies and the company would be run by David Day, who then outlined his vision for the future, the workforce voted to give it a try and so the deal was struck.

After the meeting the boards of both companies met to work out the take over details and although we were not party to the discussions Jack kept us informed, Hugh Neill agreed the purchase price of the company would be distributed among the workforce as a bonus which amounted to £200 each. The council agreed to three years rate and rent free, so David Day was installed as Managing Director of the Speke Plant. Which was great as far as the committee where concerned as we had someone we could trust.

The plant was to operate as before with more work from Lindustries, David Day was given the brief to break even in the second year of operation with a small profit In the third year.

In the second year of operation we lost Denis Harwood-Jones, Denis was a senior member of the main board of Directors and was in line to become the next Company Chairman of the retirement of Lord Luke, but when the time come for Lord Luke to retire a carve up took place and Denis not only was not elected Chairman the Vice Chairman’s position was given to the son of Lord Luke who was only 21 and had graduated from Cambridge with a degree, so Denis Immediately resigned, as he considered it was a personal snub, he left the company and joined Plessey in Southampton as a director. I wrote to Denis with my good wishes for the future and commiserations for the terrible treatment he had received, Denis sent me a lovely letter in reply.

David Day kept the plant running for three years when he also ran into trouble with the board as being an allay of Denis Harwood-Jones his face didn’t fit. David asked for an Investment of a million pounds as he had secured a contract worth millions providing gear boxes for high speed trains and needed new machinery to fulfil the contract, the board refused him and sacked him on the spot, he phoned me from London the same day and explained what had happened and said the writing was on the wall for the Liverpool plant, we had no allies on the board and twelve months later the news arrived we were to close.

During my time at Whiteleys I had the unfortunate situation of being black listed by the Engineering Employers Federation. This was due to Raymond Lucock who was works superintendent, the committee had an agreement that if anyone was asked to change sections, they could not be moved to a different section within that week this was because of the nature of the work it needed time to hone skills of a different trade, one of the workforce was asked to help out on a different section and two days later they asked him to move again, to which he refused so Ray Lucock sacked him on the spot, this was against agreed practises, when I heard I insisted he be re-instated immediately or I would call everyone out on strike, he refused so a strike was called.

On finding out Jack Whiteley blew his top he had never had a strike in his life and was so annoyed that it had not been settled by negotiation Jack set the wheels in motion to re-instate the worker. When Whiteleys was closing down the company tried to find work for everyone, they got me an interview at Bryant and May, but after an interview I was given the job to be notified later that as I was on the black list of the Employers Federation they could not give me the position. Jack Whiteley who was well thought of in engineering circles applied to have my name removed as it was a breach of rules the way the deal was carried out.

Luckily I had many friends and Gerry Smith found a vacancy for me in A. C. Delco in the toolroom on centre lathe servicing press tools and moulds. While there I met one of my old work managers a man called John Higham. John and I crossed swords at Whiteley, Lang and Neill where he came on a twelve month contract while waiting for the position of Production Manager at Vauxhall Luton and the promise of plant manager in Liverpool. John and I became friends as we both followed football me Liverpool and he followed Aston Villa being from Birmingham.

John Higham was a high flyer served his time at the British Leyland Car Company Birmingham, John won a Nuffield Scholarship to study at any university in the world this was supplied from a bursary left by Lord Nuffield who was the original owner of the car factory. John decided to go to Harvard University in Cambridge Massachusetts America. After graduating with a business degree John came home and was given a position as Production Manager in the new Fischer Bendix factory in Kirkby Liverpool. John had made many friends in America and when the American Can Corporation bought out Reids Drums from the Reid family a new manager was needed to take over the business and John Highams name came to the fore. John was promised that if he made the firm profitable he would be made a Director of the company. The business was run by Major Reid who had no business sense and treated it as a play thing, all the management staff had cars and lunch accounts with the local public houses, some of them spent more time in the pub than in work. John was not very popular when he cancelled the cars and luncheon schemes and started a shift scheme to Include 24 hour working, this was the start of many leaving or had their employment terminated. After turning the business round John asked about the Directorship the company had promised, they told John he would have to wait, so John took up a twelve month appointment in Whiteley Lang and Neill while sounding out something more substantial. After a short delay he was approached by General Motors as to a position in Luton.

Some of the stories I am able to relate are because I have always been a good Listener and above all once I give my word I would never go back on It and People I came into contact with appreciated that. Mack father started in the , engineering In a small lock up in Fairfield close to the Tavener Rutledge Factory now stands before moving to the Rocket area, Phil Wrench who was Jacks right hand man told me Jacks father met Lord Mills who was attached to the Lang Pen Company and later they combined to become the Whiteley Lang business and when the fountain pen business was coming to an end they amalgamated to form Whiteley Lang Precision Company then in the early sixties James Neill came on the scene.

Some of the people who worked for the company had spent forty years as an employee of Lang Pen or Whiteleys and many related of times gone by, Reg Moore was one long serving employee who related that he used to take the finished pens in boxes to the Liverpool docks by a handcart, and delivered locally on foot. One of the machines we manufactured was called a Doboy heat sealing machine which was for plastic coating small parts, this was developed by the company.

Jack was a keen sailor and Commodore of the West Lancashire Yacht Club based in West Kirby, one of his friends had an idea of doing away with the propeller shaft in boats and use Hydraulic piping to drive the propeller so freeing up a lot more space, Jack took up the idea and had Gerry Smith weld a huge tank about 60 feet by 20 feet and 4 feet deep Gerry called it the Golden Hind as every weekend he was given overtime to weld this tank together, when it was finished Jack acquired a large boat which was rigged up with the system while they Ironed out the many flaws. Jack later patented the idea and later sold it to a firm in Scotland. Jack was full of genuine kindness, on one occasion a friend of mine George Harrison was on holiday in Scotland when the gearbox in his car packed in . George was In a quandary, he phoned me from Scotland telling me of his plight | and asking for advice, I didn't have the money to help so ail I could think of was i to ask Jack, to him it was no problem he said tell George to get the garage to go , ahead with repairs and send him the bill, when George returned to work he asked how do I pay Jack back, so once again I approached Jack who told me to get George to work out suitable payment plan with Tom Robson the accounts clerk.

Another occasion I can relate is of my friend John State, John was a brilliant musician, John studied the guitar and started a group called the Western Union they played country music and like many country groups their ambition was to record a disc in Nashville, Tennessee so after saving their money they eventually departed for a session in Nashville. While in Nashville they met George Hamilton the fourth who enjoyed their music and promised John when he next visited England he wanted the group to back him on tour. John thought it was just small talk as George Hamilton was well established on the country scene, still it came to pass a little later John got word George Hamilton was to tour and had asked for Johns group to accompany him, John knew if he gave up his job at Whiteleys he would not get back as Jack believed once you left he didn’t want to know anymore. John asked me my opinion and I said to him if he didn’t give it a try he would regret it the rest of his life. John left and spent the next few months living the high life on tour, when the tour was over he came back to Liverpool and came to the factory to tell us all about his adventure. He asked if there was any work available I told him he had no chance at Whiteleys but he asked if I would see Jack for him, I said I would but not to hold out any hope. When I approached Jack and told him the story he said, tell him to start on Monday this was the only time anyone could recall anyone getting two starts with the firm.

Another lad had a brother who was a professional footballer with Sunderland, Robin was a red hot Liverpool supporter and a bit mad one derby day he climbed into Goodison Park and painted the goal posts red. Jack later retired to Spain so I was told I do know we could not have had a better employer.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Times, Jan 17, 1969
  2. The Times, Jan 03, 1973
  3. The Times, May 29, 1973
  4. Extracted from a privately produced booklet by Don Robinson on his memories of the business (20200608)