Between wars and World War Two
1919 to 1922
Naturally it took quite a long time to wind up the various wartime contracts which the Company had on its books when hostilities ceased. However, no time was lost in reverting to the normal peacetime business of manufacturing bicycle and motor cycle tubes, which, during the latter part of the war, had been carried on to a more limited extent. The production of the very important aircraft material was also continued, and in addition work was commenced on developing a market for tubing for motor car and motor car engines, an industry whose progress was shortly to outstrip anything achieved prior to 1914.
The demand for aircraft tubing had fallen off considerably following the cessation of hostilities, but the Directors foresaw a great future ahead for air transport. Already the exploits of the great pioneers of aircraft and the air routes had begun to arouse public interest. By such achievements as those of Captain Alcock and Lieutenant Brown who flew the Atlantic in June 1919, the crossing of the Atlantic by the British Naval Airship R.34 in July, and the successful flight from England to Australia in December, of Captain Ross Smith, the Civil Aviation industry was born.
Whilst the demand for aircraft tubing was to be small during the next few years the Company nevertheless continued to improve upon its technique in the manufacture and finish of the special high grade steels required for this type of work.
The two years following the end of hostilities had indeed been boom years everywhere, but, as was soon to be proved, the boom was very artificial and short lived. Those concerned with the management of our Company were not slow to see the gathering storm of depression ahead, and so, during 1920, great efforts were made to carry through extensions at Tyseley, which were to double the size of the factory, and into which the plant and machinery at Newtown Row and Grove Street Works could be transferred, so bringing the whole of the Company’s productive resources under one roof. This was accomplished by the summer of 1920 when Tyseley became the Tube Company’s headquarters and only place of business.
The extension became known as No. 2 Mill, and it accommodated fourteen chains and other equipment, and the number of employees at Tyseley in 1920, which now represented the total personnel of the Company, was one hundred and thirty. In carrying through these extensions one important addition had been included, and that was the shop for bending and manipulating tubes. This work had previously been placed out with specialist firms, but the provision of facilities to carry out bending, which was primarily at that time for cycle forks, handlebars and other such fittings, was in later years to develop into a department capable of manipulating tubes for all purposes and become a most important side of the business. But some time was to elapse before Tyseley could work to its full capacity, for a serious trade depression burst upon the world early in 1921, which proved to be a black year in the history of many business undertakings. There were also added difficulties caused by a wave of industrial unrest which swept the country, mainly centred in the transport and coal industries. Although these troubles were of no direct concern, they had their inevitable effect on industry in general, and some idea of the dislocation of trade can be judged from a Government statement, made on September 17th 1921, which said that eighty-four million working days had been lost so far by strikes in that particular year.
Another serious obstacle which was to become even more apparent in 1922 also confronted the Company. This was the shortage of high grade Swedish steel.
The year 1923 opened on a much brighter note - trade was improving, the war and immediate post-war years had passed. Nobody was particularly interested in the current activities of a young ex-German Army Corporal who was strutting about in Bavaria, and whose name was as yet known only to very few. Again it seemed a peaceful, optimistic Britain with a desire to get back to more normal times. Whilst general conditions such as these were prevailing the Directors took what was one of the most important decisions in the Company’s history.
To change the name, or trading style, of a well established business is a step only to be taken after the most careful and serious consideration of all the implications. Undoubtedly the most important consideration is the goodwill which is bound up in the name of any successful business. In the case of Reynolds, however, this factor did not weigh so heavily - not because there was anything lacking in the way of that valuable asset “goodwill” - but because it had always sold the products under the mark “REYNOLDS” right from the beginning, even though the Company had traded under the style of “The Patent Butted Tube Company Limited”. So closely associated had precision steel tubes and the name “REYNOLDS” become that people did not always readily connect “REYNOLDS” with The Patent Butted Tube Company Limited. Consequently, after weighing carefully all factors, the Directors decided to associate more closely the name of the Company with the name which had been in continual use in connection with its products, and so, on the 24th May 1923 the name was changed to the style of “REYNOLDS TUBE COMPANY LIMITED”.
The general improvement in trade as the year progressed was not without at least one aggravating problem. It was the continual shortage of the high quality Swedish steel. Stocks of this material were becoming dangerously low and consequently alternative arrangements for supplies had to be made. In spite of this the Company managed, towards the end of 1923, to introduce a higher quality cycle tube, made from .55% carbon steel, which became known as “A.A.” Quality.
1924 to 1925
Hardly had the year 1924 begun when Reynolds introduced to cyclists yet another high quality material. The experience gained in the aircraft field, with its multiplicity of specifications, had brought to notice a High Manganese steel which was found to be eminently suitable for lightweight and racing cycle construction. It was an instant success with the cycling public, to whom it became known as “REYNOLDS H.M.” Quality, and its introduction marked a big step forward in the eternal quest for lighter cycle construction, combined with greater strength. The demand for “H.M.” was considerable, and it was soon recognised as the finest quality cycle tubing on the market, a reputation which it was to enjoy until superseded some twelve years later by the well-known “REYNOLDS 531”.
It was during 1924 that the Company added another type of steel tubing to the range by the introduction of a special quality tube suitable for case-hardening. Tubing had been used previously for this purpose but due to drawing difficulties it had never been developed to any great extent, and hollow case-hardened articles were generally made from the solid steel bar - a very expensive method. By using material of a special analysis and employing a different technique for drawing, Reynolds placed itself in the position of being able to offer case-hardening quality tubing to manufacturers of Chain Rollers and Bushes, Ball Bearing Races, Gudgeon Pins, etc., at a price which permitted a considerable saving on the manufacturing cost of such articles produced from solid.
Before leaving 1924 one other point should be mentioned - it was the first year after the Great War during which there was a return of excessive foreign competition in the tube trade. In spite of the competition the Company was kept fairly busy through both the years 1924 and 1925.
It was during the year 1925 that Mr. E. Austyn Reynolds, eldest son of Alfred Milward, joined the Board as Technical and Works Director, and who was later to become Joint Managing Director. Mr. Austyn Reynolds served on the Board for over twenty-two years, before resigning to concentrate on the Aluminium Division, where he held important appointments on the Boards of all the Companies of which it is comprised, as well as being a Director of Tube Investments Limited.
Austyn was educated at Eton and then went on to Cambridge. He tended to rebel at times from the strict protocol of the family and when he left University he was a pretty spirited character. In fact stories have it that when he arrived at Tyseley he had to work for a considerable period of time for nothing to repay his father the expenses incurred whilst at University. He was elected to the Board as Technical and Works Director on 15th September, 1925 and he soon made his presence felt in the field of process and product development. Austyn was known as an extremely kind person, with a smile or a quip for everyone, he always liked to work in a pleasant environment and did not relish confrontations, always believing that a happy ship can also be an efficient one. His kind and friendly attitude towards people doubtless contributed to the Reynolds team spirit which flourished over so many years. He was indeed an entrepreneur in many ways; he was clever with his hands and did the most beautiful sketches of engineering gadgetry and machinery and also made architectural drawings of housings and buildings, all of which contributed to Reynolds development. One of his hobbies was a scale model railway system, which he constructed in the garden of his home. The locomotives and rolling stock were to his own design and they would do credit to any professional model maker. Some of the parts though, rumour had it, were constructed at Tyseley by some of the fitting shop staff. His father made his presence felt at times on these matters and if he thought that the engineering effort was being diverted too much from tube making to model making, he would submit invoices to Austyn for payment, just to keep matters in order. In 1926 Austyn married Joan Sidley, who was the younger daughter of Sir John Sidley who ultimately became Lord Kenilworth. There is little doubt that his father in law, who was in those days in the top flight of leaders of the aircraft industry, in distinguished company of names like Sopworth, D’Haviland, Brabazon, Handley Page and so on, influenced the company, through his son in law Austyn, to get in to aviation. Initially this was in the installation of furnaces and testing equipment that led to Reynolds having its own AID (Aircraft Inspection Department) and later the development of aluminium alloys and welded tubular aircraft components, as is later recorded.
1926 to 1927
As the story enters the year 1926 we find yet another wave of industrial unrest swept through the country, which eventually culminated in the great general strike. This, of course, had its repercussions in all industries, and Reynolds was to be no exception, and in consequence restricted hours had to be worked during part of the year.
On the whole the year was a good one from the Company’s point of view, because there had been a steady increase in the demand for aircraft tubing. Towards the end of the year Reynolds was engaged in the development of aircraft testing on a considerable scale. The old Air Board of the war and early post-war years had been superseded by the Air Ministry, who had laid down certain standards of inspection to which it was necessary for manufacturers to conform. In the year 1926 the Company obtained its Air Ministry approval for inspection and testing. It was soon apparent that the facilities at Tyseley for the production of aircraft material on a large scale were inadequate, so plans were prepared for some extensions and improvement to existing plant which would enable the Company to deal adequately with the growing demand for this new requirement.
By the middle of 1927 the extensions had been completed and the new equipment installed. These additions consisted of a large warehouse complete with heat treatment, inspection, packing and despatch facilities, used exclusively for the handling of aircraft material.
Included in the orders for aircraft tubing was an increasing amount of manipulated work, and by the end of 1928 it was necessary to add further equipment to the Manipulation Department which, up to then, had been chiefly concerned with the bending of cycle and motor cycle components. The carrying out of this type of work was a part of the business which was continued to develop, reaching extensive proportions in later years.
1928 to 1932
The story now brings Reynolds to a year which proved to be another landmark in its history. It was in 1928 that Reynolds was acquired by TUBE INVESTMENTS LIMITED. Among newly found Associates Reynolds must have seemed quite a small unit in the T.I. family, but not many years were to elapse before Reynolds had grown from one of the smallest to one of the largest and most important companies in the Group.
This event tends to overshadow all else which occurred at Reynolds during 1928, but two items of interest are worth mentioning. One was some further additions to the Mill enabling the Company to cater for larger and heavier gauge tubes, and the other was the decision which was taken in December to employ female labour on work such as cutting-off and packing.
Whilst the aircraft business was constantly increasing it should be remembered that there was no “let-up” in the demand for tubing for cycles, motor cycles, and other commercial purposes. The demand of the aircraft industry for steel tubes covered a wide and varied field, and included a wide range of section tubing. By 1929 there had been such an increase in the demand for this, especially in such shapes as squares, ovals and streamline, that certain additions and alterations to the draw bench capacity were necessary to facilitate the production of a greater range.
One other item of interest should be mentioned before we leave this period. Mr. A.J.S. Aston joined the Board of the Company as Managing Director.
What was life like working at Tyseley in those far off inter war years of the 1920s and 30s? Until the introduction of aluminium in the latter half of the 30s, Reynolds sole area of business was the manufacture of cold drawn steel tube, and from it, using the butting and manipulation processes, the production of cycle frame components. Of the near 12 acre site which had been purchased in 1917, only the area near the main gate was built. This consisted of half the front office block, the brick built tube mills, and opposite them on the other side of the drive, the electricity sub-station and garage. Behind these, further down the drive, was the fitting shop, where the main job was to make tooling and keep the antiquated machinery going. Hay Hall was virtually derelict and whilst some use was made of the rooms, eventually becoming offices, the cellars were used for storage of surplus equipment.
To the right of the Hall was the duck pond, fed by underground springs. These became evident when the pond was eventually filled and built over, and why years later, when deep pits were dug for the hollow extrusion presses, people couldn’t understand why they quickly filled with water. A small portion of the land adjacent to the railway had been sold by Alfred Reynolds to the Railway Company in exchange for which he acquired certain privileges. These included, when he was living at Stratford, stopping the train at Tyseley to take him home. Any time he was not travelling, a call was made to Snow Hill and the train didn’t stop.
Machinery was mostly the original brought from Newtown Row, any additions being bought second hand. One improvement was that draw benches and butting machines were now driven by individual electric motors, though other equipment, including the whole of the fitting shop, was driven by shafting, belts and pulleys, the flapping of the belts causing noise levels far in excess of modern legislation. Not only noise levels but working conditions in general would hardly meet today's requirements. Working hours were 7.30 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. with 1 hour for dinner, (“lunch” was only for the upper class) and a 5 ½ day working week. Tube drawing involved first, de-rusting and de-scaling of the hollows (rough tubes, made by a hot process at other factories) in long tanks of diluted sulphuric acid. When the tubes were immersed in these they had to be agitated. This usually involved a man standing over the immersed bundle moving the tubes about with a long bar. Around the works you could always pick this man out as his clothes were peppered with holes, his shirt being the original string vest. After pickling and washing the tubes were then immersed in tanks of lubricant, a concoction of soap and lanolin, in a hot solution. This of course got everywhere. Floors were scraped every year, the dried up lubricant having built up by several inches by the year’s end. To work in this environment the tube drawers wore clogs. Protective clothing was minimal, consisting of a sack bag made into an apron and tied with string. “Gloves” consisted of more squares of sacking with a hole in one corner for the thumb. The original draw benches had two men, a drawer and a “dogger”. The dogger’s job was to return the dog trolley from the end of the bench after being released from the chain. This situation was gradually improved, first the dogger being replaced by a rope and pulley arrangement, before being fully mechanised. It is interesting to note that one of the original benches employing a dogger was still in use at the time that the tube mills were closed in the 1980s. To grip the tube for drawing one end had to be closed up, or “tagged”, to enable the dog bits to get a firm hold. In the early days this was done by hand, blacksmith fashion, men hammering hot tube ends on an anvil. This operation was later replaced by the introduction of mechanical tagging hammers. The noise of these hammers was such that it was impossible to hear anyone talking, a problem solved years later by two operators who happened to be deaf and dumb. They could lip-read! Heat treatment, another basic factor of tube drawing, was originally carried out in coal fired furnaces situated at the far side of the tube mills. These were stoked from an outside lower level adjacent to the canal. The chimneys for these can be seen on the early pictures of the works and there is still some evidence of the two levels that provided the stoke holes.
Although the work force worked hard, they also played hard. During the summer months a group could often be seen in their dinner hour, swimming in the canal. Originally Redfern Road went right through and across the canal over a bridge, from which the more adventurous used to dive, until one day the canal was drained for maintenance, revealing an assortment of scrap tube ends sticking up in the mud. What the repercussions from the management were is not known, but it certainly dampened the ardour of the swimmers, especially the divers.
Tales of the workers’ loyalties were numerous, one in particular being quoted. It was during one of the periods of recession that marked the end of the 1920s that Alfred gathered the workers together in the tube mill. Telling them how bad trade had become, he asked that they all accept a 10% cut in wages to keep the Company going. Of course for the good of the firm everyone agreed!! In reality there was no choice, for these were times of high unemployment and jobs were hard to get. It was either lower wages or none at all. The sequel to this tale was the arrival shortly afterwards of a new delivery vehicle, obviously ordered some time earlier. However coincidental, this was always referred to as “the 10% lorry” for everyone was sure that it had been paid for by their 10% cut. This then was the lot of the employees of that era. To quote Charles Dickens “They were the best of times. They were the worst of times”.
1933 - 1934
The close association enjoyed for so many years with the aircraft industry had made the Company aware of the fact that there was already a big demand for tubes, not only in steel, but also in light alloys. The development of the use of this material in aircraft construction had been rapid, and already there were many instances where it had superseded steel.
Sir John Sidley introduced Austyn to a Mr. Devereux of High Duty Alloys who was an early pioneer in aluminium materials and forgings and this liaison triggered off the commencement of Reynolds aluminium activities. The aluminium division was but one of the developments that Austyn Reynolds personally fostered. Under the technical directorship of Austyn Reynolds the 1930s saw the greatest extension of plant and diversity of products in the Company’s. Diversity that would have profound effects on Reynolds’ future.
With an eye to the future requirements of the industry for light alloys, and to keep abreast of its development, the Directors reached the decision that the Company should embark upon the manufacture of aluminium, and so, during 1933, experimental tube drawing was carried out in the Steel Mills. So successful were these experiments that by the end of 1933 small quantities of aluminium alloy tubes were being manufactured and supplied to aircraft constructors.
In addition to this the Directors realised that it was also desirable to extrude the Company’s own requirements of hollows from which the tubes could be drawn, and that the installation of extrusion presses for this purpose would also open up the vast field of manufacturing extruded sections. Consequently during 1933 plans were prepared and work commenced upon the erection of new buildings to house a complete extrusion plant and tube mill, together with all the necessary furnace and other ancillary equipment.
By May 1934 the extension for the Aluminium Alloy Department had been completed, fully equipped, and production commenced, and very soon the Company obtained a good volume of orders from aircraft manufacturers for tubes and extruded sections in light alloys.
The Reynolds story so far has traced the growth of business from the day the firm was founded, and looking back its growth and development up to 1934 would have been considered impressive, but the expansion of the Plant and trade over the ten years beginning in 1935 was so rapid, it might be said, so vast, that it eclipsed anything that had taken place in that direction since the beginning of the Company’s history. It is true to say that over this period of ten years scarcely a month went by without some work in progress, large or small, which would increase capacity. To a large extent this can be traced to the vast amount of work which followed the Government’s decision to expand and re-equip the Royal Air Force, a decision which was taken just at the time when the Light Alloy Department was entering production. This programme of expansion was continued and developed right up to the outbreak of war, and there followed enormous demands for light alloys for war purposes.
The growth of the Light Alloy venture was so great that perhaps it tended to overshadow the long established steel tube business, and before continuing the story in relation to efforts with light alloys it is worth putting on record a great stride which was made in the development of lightweight cycle tubing. Ever since the introduction in 1924 of “H.M.” Quality Reynolds had never ceased in its endeavours to find something even better, a difficult task indeed. But again through its intimate knowledge of aircraft steel Reynolds was ultimately able to develop a super-light, high strength steel tube for cycle construction, which still holds its place amongst all the material available for this purpose. The tubing was “REYNOLDS 531”, which became world famous.
In 1935 an inspired move by Austyn came up with the Reynolds 531 nomenclature for the manganese molybdenum bicycle tubing which he was developing at that time from Swedish raw material. It will never be known how he alighted on the magic numbers, but being the man that he was the final inspiration probably occurred after a good meal and over the liqueurs. The figures were of course the ratio of the three main elements in the steel’s chemical composition. The development of this trade-mark has of course had momentous effect on the Company’s prosperity in the cycle field. Full credit for the development in the early days must go to Austyn Reynolds, both for the metallurgical and the practical aspects of manufacturing butted tubes, super resilient forks, pencil seat stays and the multiplicity of shapes and sizes called for by the enthusiastic racing cyclists of the day. He was also responsible for establishing contact with Monsieur Dupieux whose son Roger became Reynolds’ Paris concessionaire and with whose help Reynolds 531 became a household name on the continent. Austyn’s flair for the artistic side of life found an outlet in the Company’s promotional literature, some of which is generally considered to have never been bettered. Also the early Reynolds exhibition stands were virtually all designed by him. It must not be forgotten that after the introduction of aluminium into the Company’s activities, that along with steel components he also introduced aluminium using an RR56 alloy to make handlebar stems, lamp brackets, handlebars, wing nuts and seat pillars, all in the quest for saving weight. Reynolds 531 cycle tubing revolutionised cycle building almost to the same extent as the introduction of the patent butted tube had done some thirty-seven years previously. So great a stride forward was it considered to be that the Cyclists’ Touring Club awarded to the Company their plaque for the most meritorious contribution to the benefit of cycling during the year 1935.
The year 1935 was indeed a vintage year for Reynolds Tube Company for it was at that time the last of the Reynolds family to be associated with the firm joined the Company. This was Anthony Reynolds, the son of a younger brother of John Henry and Alfred and cousin to Austyn. Anthony Arthur Reynolds was educated at Oundle School Northamptonshire and had served an apprenticeship with the Austin Motor Company, in those days one of the leading organisations to offer engineering apprenticeships. At the age of 22, after finishing his engineering apprenticeship with qualifications in mechanical engineering, he approached his Uncle for a position in the family business, to be taken on at the princely sum of £3 10s 0d per week as the assistant to his cousin Austyn. In those days of social politeness, amongst the workers the Directors were always known by their titles of Mr. Alfred and Mr. Austyn, consequently when Anthony joined the Company he was Mr. Anthony, though with the familiarity of the post war era he was always known throughout the works as Tony.
Tony had all the engineering attributes of his family predecessors and in due course took over his cousin’s position as Technical Director. The product divisions of the 1970s that ultimately became separate companies all began at the instigation of Tony Reynolds with post war development.
From his father in law, Sir John Sidley, Austyn had acquired drawings for welded tubular aircraft engine mountings. Rumour had it that Austyn had intercepted these drawings when Sir John was on his way to Accles and Pollock, however, Tony, having had experience of welding during his apprenticeship days, was given the task of developing a department to manufacture these units. Being a completely new activity a lot of expertise had to be learned and Reynolds, in conjunction with the Air Ministry, played a big part in writing the rule book for welded tubular assemblies.
The story now takes us back to light alloys, for so great was the volume of work in hand that already it was quite apparent that the plant for the production of this material was totally inadequate, and immediate decisions were taken, as a result of which equipment and floor area would be more than doubled.
1936 to 1938
Work on a major extension was begun in 1936. The existing floor space for light alloy production was to be devoted entirely to the expansion of extrusion and heat treatment plant, and a number of new small and medium sized presses were ordered. The extension, which consisted of a shop 600 ft. by 120 ft. was therefore equipped as a mill solely for the production of light alloy tubes.
All this proved to be a well timed move for in March 1936 the Government’s Air estimates provided for a further increase in the strength of the Royal Air Force which would treble the number of Home Squadrons by 1938. This meant, of course, that firms manufacturing material or equipment for aircraft construction could soon expect to receive an even greater volume of work than they were already handling.
There was also another question which had been under consideration for some time and that was the need to be in a position to supply sheet and strip manufactured from similar alloys to those from which tubes and extrusions were made, and to be complementary to our tube and extrusion production. So the year 1936 saw an entirely new project embarked upon, and in factory space which Tube Investments Limited had available at Oldbury, the laying down of a complete sheet and strip rolling mill was begun. This, however, was to be a separate enterprise, and a Company known as Reynolds Rolling Mills Limited was registered in May 1936 to undertake the work. Naturally it was destined to have close associations with Reynolds Tube Company Limited.
Early in 1937 the new tube mill at Tyseley had been completed and brought into operation, and during the same year the additional extrusion presses were also installed and put to work, and yet by the end of the year with all capacity working night and day at full pressure the Company could still not keep abreast of the ever-mounting volume of orders. By that time sufficient orders were on the books for extrusions alone to keep the plant working continuously for over twelve months ahead. It was also during 1937 that a shop was especially laid out for the production of Spar Booms for the famous Spitfire aircraft, work the Company was to be engaged upon for several years, and during which time many thousands of sets were manufactured.
Not many months of the year 1938 had elapsed before another decision had to be taken to find a means of dealing with the extrusion position, and in consequence during this year work was commenced on yet another major extension which would house some more and larger extrusion plant, included in which was a press of 5,000 tons pressure, which at that time was one of the largest in the country.
Whilst at the time the “spotlight” was focused largely on light alloys, the Steel Mill was also exerting itself to capacity, and early in 1938 had added an entirely new product to its range. This was Barronia Tubing - a copper, tin, iron, brass based alloy, eminently suitable for plane condenser, oil and water coolers, aircraft pipes and pipe lines on hydraulically actuated apparatus.
But whilst Reynolds, like many others, were busily engaged at home, disturbing and sinister events were taking place on the Continent - events which were to lead up to the Munich crisis of September 1938, and it was soon obvious that the country had reached the prelude to the inferno of war, soon to burst upon the world.
WORLD WAR II
When the idea of writing the story of Reynolds from its foundation to its Golden Jubilee was first considered, there were doubts as to whether sufficient reliable material was available around which the story could be written. There was, however, consolation in the fact that if it were only possible to give a bare outline of what had happened in earlier days, then our activities between 1939 and 1945 could be relied on to provide a big chapter which would give the work plenty of substance. After beginning the task of of collecting all the necessary data together, it was soon realised that there was a wealth of information available for the story, and the need for “padding” anywhere would never arise. Indeed, when it came to dealing with the period of World War II the achievements and experiences at Tyseley provided sufficient material, not only for “a nice big chapter”, but for a separate and independent story, which perhaps may one day be written. Because the original doubts proved to be unfounded it is therefore the story during the last World War which must suffer somewhat in detail, allowing this chapter to deal only with the more important and interesting events during those years.
WORLD WAR II
The early months of 1939 were very different from those of 1914. In spite of the fervent hopes of everybody that war would be averted, it could not be said that its outbreak in September 1939 came as a surprise to anyone. Ever since “Munich” Reynolds, in common with many other firms, had been “taking precautions”. The Company was tackling the black-out problems, whilst sandbags were piled up at strategic points, and camouflage paint appeared on roofs and walls. Air raid shelters were constructed and volunteer Fire Service and ambulance squads were being trained.
During May 1939 the new 5,000 ton extrusion press came into production, which, together with existing presses, put the Company in the position of being able to handle orders for extrusions of any size. But still the work poured in and with all these additional resources capacity was still insufficient, so after consultation with the Air Ministry, it was decided that a shadow factory at Redditch should be erected and equipped to supplement production at Tyseley.
The Steel Tube Division was also getting “keyed up” to war production, and by Christmas 1939 cycle tube and cycle component production, which had continued without interruption since 1898, was completely suspended. The space and labour thus made available was immediately switched to the manipulation and fabrication of aircraft engine mountings and similar work.
And so, when war was declared on September 3rd 1939, come what may, no Company could have claimed to have been more prepared for the event than Reynolds Tube.
The events of May and June 1940, which brought to an end the so-called period of “phoney” war, and culminated in the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, had a salutary effect everywhere. The enemy was now within striking distance, across the channel, and the country was on the defensive. The immediate demand from the newly organised Ministry of Aircraft Production, who had a few months previously taken over production affairs from the Air Ministry, was for Fighter aircraft, and the materials from which to make them.
For years Reynolds had been working both day and night shifts but now something extra was required. The response was to institute longer hours by working night and day on a full six-day week basis, leaving only one day for carrying out running repairs and maintenance of plant and machinery, which is particularly heavy in business of this type.
At the same time there was a ready response for volunteers to join the newly formed L.D.V. - later to become the Home Guard, a full company of which, comprised entirely of Reynolds’ own employees, was attached to the Works for the remainder of the war. Many of those who volunteered for the L.D.V. or “Parashots” as some people called them, forgot, in their eagerness, their loyalties to Fire or other A.R.P. services which they had previously joined, and this took a little bit of sorting out. There is no doubt that, during the first few weeks, quite a few who found themselves late at night patrolling waste ground in the precincts of the factory, were more afraid of the rifle they carried than of anything which might have dropped from the skies. Sadly, patrolling the factory resulted in one fatality when two members of the patrol, in the darkness, fell from the roof of the sub-station in Hay Hall Road.
By the summer of 1940 the new factory at Redditch was well advanced, whilst, at the same time, an additional extrusion press of 2,500 tons’ pressure was being installed at Tyseley. On the Steel side work on a wide variety of aircraft structures were then being undertaken and it had become necessary to acquire more space and equipment for this type of work. Having no more space available at Hay Hall we were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity of acquiring, for the duration of the war, large areas of floor space in neighbouring factories, where Reynolds was able to considerably develop and extend the assembly of aircraft structures.
The beginning of August brought our first taste of bombs - of the incendiary variety. A shower fell across the Works late one night, but all were effectively dealt with and no damage was done. But on the night of Tuesday, November 19th 1940 disaster very nearly overtook Reynolds. A parachute mine exploded over the roof of one of the extrusion shops, causing extensive damage to this and all other buildings. Providentially there were no casualties due to the fact that only a few minutes earlier, as things were getting “too hot”, the work people had been sent to the shelters. It was also fortunate that very little damage was done to plant or equipment.
A quick survey of the situation the next morning made it apparent that some work was possible in the Steel Tube Mill, but it looked as though it would be months before any work would begin again in those buildings devoted to light alloy production. In the main buildings alone over 11,000 square yards of sheeting and glazing had been lost. All available labour was assigned to the task of clearing up the debris, and the newly formed reconstruction Panel rendered invaluable assistance in getting the building repaired. Due to their untiring efforts and the spirit of co-operation that existed between employees, contractors and the Reconstruction Panel, the Company was able to recommence work, complete with a full night shift, within four weeks of the incident. It was perhaps fortunate that just at this time a small part of the new factory at Redditch was in production.
The Tyseley plant was fortunate to have survived so lightly, for among captured Luftwaffe intelligence files were maps of Hay Hall works, giving Reynolds target number GB732. These maps were part of a photo reconnaissance undertaken by the Luftwaffe in the summer of 1939 of all of Britain’s industrial areas.
1941 to 1942
With the excitement and experiences of the previous year behind, Reynolds found itself settled into what was to be a more normal wartime routine. The factory at Redditch was devoted extensively to light alloy tube production, and was complete with extrusion presses upon which the necessary hollows for the tube mill were produced.
Towards the end of 1941 the Ministry of Aircraft Production indicated that there was still not enough capacity in the country for manufacturing sufficient extrusions, and the Company was asked to erect another shop alongside the tube mill at Redditch and installed some more presses. The work was put in hand, and the area of this new shop had the effect of doubling the size of the Works, and by December 1942 this extension was also brought into operation.
At Tyseley, in the Steel Tube Division another new and interesting contract had arrived, which was for the manufacture of parts of a bomb barrel assembly. This was a weapon soon to become universally known as the P.I.A.T. Bomb. Space had to be found for this as it was work of a special nature which could not be run in with any other that was in hand, and again Reynolds were fortunate in acquiring some more space in a neighbour’s factory, in addition to that which was already being occupied for the production of aircraft structures. This was another contract which was to remain until the end of the war.
By 1943 the rapid crescendo of production from the 1939 level had undoubtedly reached its peak, and the turn of events in the Middle East had considerably brightened the outlook, which gave added zest to everyone’s effort.
For the Company, however, the year was accompanied by a note of sadness, brought about by the death of the Chairman, Mr. Alfred Milward Reynolds, on the 28th July 1943. He had made innumerable friends in both the business and private life of the City of Birmingham, where he was for many years a Member of the Council of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, and a Guardian of the Assay Office. He also left many friends in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he had made his home, and took great interest in local affairs. He was a Town Councillor from 1935 up till the time of his death, and served on several local Committees. Among his other interests he was Vice President of the Warwickshire Agricultural Society, President of the Alveston & District Horticultural Society, and a Founder Member of the Warwickshire Orchestral Society.
Mr. Reynolds was succeeded as chairman by Mr. I.A.R. Stedeford, who was also Chairman of the Company’s Parent Organisation, Tube Investments Limited.
With the death of Alfred, Austyn took on the roll of Managing Director jointly with John Aston. Arthur John Street Aston was the son of Herbert Aston, one of the founders of Tube Investments. He joined Reynolds in 1931 and it was said at the time that he was put in to the Company to safeguard the money that TI had injected into the business. Whether or not this was true, John Aston was certainly a financial man and guided the Company through a very profitable future. Unlike his fellow directors, John was a very quiet man, rarely seen outside his office in Hay Hall. On occasions he would walk alone around the works, quietly acknowledging the polite “good mornings” of those he came into contact with. He would make no comment on what he saw, but there is no doubt that the repercussions of his tour would be the subject of discussion with his fellow Directors, for his eagle eye rarely missed anything untoward. Although noted for his managerial and financial acumen, John Aston was not unknowledgeable in engineering, as those privileged to visit his office noted from the full set of aeronautical engineering encyclopedias in his bookcase. This was also demonstrated on one occasion, when, after working late his car would not start, it was reported to the garage manager next day, that with the works policeman holding a torch, John tinkered with the carburettor until he had rectified the problem. Needless to say the garage was required to give a full explanation of the fault the following day.
1944 to 1945
During the early months of 1944, accompanied as they were by a feeling of eager anticipation, culminating in the heroic deeds of June 6th on the Normandy Beaches, everything continued at the same tempo. After the landings in France had become firmly established, however, there was a notable decline in the demand for light alloys for aircraft construction. But at the same time, in addition to normal war production, Reynolds acquired during 1944 two new and important contracts. These, like the P.I.A.T. were for army requirements. The one was for extrusions to be used for the decking of pontoons for Bailey bridges, and the other was the fabrication of frames, called “carriers”, for wireless receiving and transmitting sets, chiefly for use in the Far East. The latter contract involved a large amount of sheet and strip, and was later transferred to the Company’s Associates, Reynolds Rolling Mills Limited.
The end of the war was undoubtedly in sight and thoughts began to turn to making post-war plans, for although there would have to be the transitional period between war and peacetime production, the need for being “quick off the mark” in the post-war trade with the minimum of delay was already apparent. But whilst all this planning was in progress there was no “let-up” in the production of material against the numerous war contracts still on hand.
Although the end of the war in Europe might have come at any time there was no reason to assume, early in 1945, that the war in the Far East was likely to terminate in the near future. It is therefore worth recording that as late as March 1945 Reynolds undertook yet another War Office contract, primarily for the Far East. The article called for was a light alloy hollow sphere which was part of the equipment for a portable flame thrower. This contract made use of a new manufacturing technique which had been developed during the war, known as the “hot-die-cold-metal process”, and many thousands of these Spheres were produced. This process was to develop ultimately into Hollow Extrusions, as part of post war diversity by Tony Reynolds.
There can be no better account of Reynolds wartime history than that given by Austyn Reynolds himself. In April 1945 at the request of a gentleman at Tube Investments, Austyn wrote the following resume of the war years at Reynolds. Mention has already been made to some of this, though if only for archival interest Austyn‟s letter is reproduced in full:-
TI Group Services 13th April, 1945
“The declaration of war found the Company already fully engaged in the production of materials urgently required, mainly for the expansion of the R.A.F, and in the process of planning a Shadow Plant for M.A.P near Redditch, for the additional production of light alloy tubing. Our labour force at the outbreak of war was 1113 which during peak production reached 2055.
In order to provide the maximum quantity of aircraft steel tubing, the production of our well known cycle tubes and specialities was suspended completely by Christmas 1939, and all the available space, plant and labour switched to the manipulation and fabrication of aircraft engine mountings, mainly for the Whitley Bomber, the largest bomber the Air Force then had at their disposal. Much of our general production at that time was for aircraft now long obsolete - Fairey Battle, Avro Manchester, and many others including the Spitfire, which with continual modifications, has remained in production to the present day. We had been entrusted with the manufacture of the prototype Spitfire light alloy tubular wing spars and 18,037 sets have been supplied to date, valued at over £2,000,000.
Lack of space for increased production of aircraft components demanded re-organisations. The manufacture of Spitfire spar booms was transferred to Broadwell Works in January 1939, followed by a Shadow Plant at M.A.P. Redditch works which came into production in November 1942. Part of the C.W.S. Cycle Factory was taken over in November 1940 for the production of welded steel engine mountings, and later part of Glazebrooks Paint Factory was taken over for the same purpose.
During the period we produced:
4,127 Whitley Engine Mountings
2,976 Beaufort Engine Rings
1,411 Beaufort Engine Mountings
2,130 Beaufighter Engine Mountings
4,138 Standard Merlin Engine Mountings
1,717 Lancaster sub-frames
2,189 Bristol Engine Rings
and production of the last three mentioned still continues. A further shop was taken over from the C.W.S. to produce the P.I.A.T. Bomb barrel assembly of which we supplied 3,614,544.
On 19th November 1940 considerable damage was sustained as a result of an enemy land mine. Over 11,000 sq. yds. of sheeting and glazing in the main shops was lost, besides considerable damage to other buildings, office windows and the like. This was the first major repair to be undertaken by the newly formed Reconstruction Panel who performed their task excellently. Approximately 4,000 roof and wall sheets, besides 3,000 flat sheets to replace glass, were fixed in less than 4 weeks by five contractors, the sheets being brought in from other areas including London and Manchester. Production was considerably curtailed but complete blackout conditions were re-established within 4 weeks when the night shift was able to resume. In the meantime all available labour was employed on clearing up the debris and salvaging stock, little of which came to any harm despite the fact that there was a heavy rainfall in the morning after the incident.
Practically no structural damage to buildings evidenced itself at the time, but in 1943 considerable distortion of one shop 600‟ x 120‟ was discovered and measures had to be taken to rectify it.
The Aluminium Control, later known as the Light Metals Control, was set up early after the outbreak of war to distribute the available raw material, ensure maximum utility of scrap, and to allocate orders for production amongst the several fabricators. Due, it must have been, to lack of foresight the Aircraft Industry was expanded at a greater rate than material production with the result that the Light Alloy Industry was continually harassed for greater output and blame often levelled unfairly.
Many Shadow Plants were put in hand to expand production. In 1940 we ourselves undertook the erection and equipment of an additional extrusion plant on the M.A.P. site at Redditch, which like many others undertaken by the Industry never attained anything near full production before the decrease in aircraft requirements arrived, besides which, production facilities, once far from adequate, were now overdone. Such situations no doubt, were common throughout the country in many directions due to the continual shifting requirements of the war.
Up to the end of 1944 we had delivered 72,500,679 feet (13,750 miles) of light alloy tubing and 32,533 tons of extrusions.
Our associated Company, Reynolds Rolling Mills Ltd. had a less eventful time and was mainly concerned in improving production. With little in the way of additional plant they increased their production of sheet and strip from 1,792 tons per annum in 1939 to 4,594 tons per annum in 1944.
By December 1943 peak requirements for M.A.P. had been reached. The war was entering a more favourable stage for the Allies - aircraft losses were comparatively light although our bombing had been intensified and fighter opposition over enemy held territory was diminishing.
Conditions changed rapidly and within a few months the output, not only of our light alloy products, but steel tubing also, dropped quickly so that by June 1944 our Redditch Shadow Plants were practically closed down and by the end of the year our Tyseley Works were only employed 75%.
But if the war in Europe made so little claim on our production the release of aluminium alloys for the other Fighting Services early in 1944 created intense interest in their use for all kinds of fighting equipment for the Far East. Naturally it was to be a slow change over - designers and draughtsmen had little knowledge of light alloys, but with interest once aroused it would now appear there is almost limitless scope and the near future will see much equipment for the Far East in light alloy, and considerable orders have come to us for materials and fabrication making use of new techniques such as the Hot-Die-Cold-Metal Process and our experience in built-up components.
Part of the M.A.P. Tube Plant at Redditch is being turned over to the production of an initial quantity of 100,000 spheres in light alloy for flame throwing equipment, and a bay at the Rolling Mill to the production of Wireless Carriers, utilising not less than 40 tons of sheet per month. Large quantities of extrusions have been supplied (400 tons in two months) for the decking of pontoons for Bailey Bridges and further development along these lines is expected almost immediately.
To stem the wholesale stoppage of Aircraft Shadow Plants, M.A.P. have sponsored the design and construction of a pre-fabricated Bungalow in aluminium alloy, and the tentative programme will make considerable calls on the Light Alloy Industry. In fact, peak production will be considerably greater than that of the war period.
That this and the Far East requirements are likely to clash can already be sensed. The result will be interesting. Meanwhile little real progress can be made in stimulating post-war uses of our products, but some steady progress is being made and will be intensified as the other urgent demands of the Services contract.”
Before leaving the story of Reynolds’ war effort a few facts and figures may be of interest to readers. During the war period the Company produced:-
77,000,000 feet (or 14,602 miles) of Light Alloy Tubing
53,000,000 feet (or 10,038 miles) of Steel Tubing
The above figures indicate that in total almost enough tubing to encircle the world was produced.
Also manufactured were:
35,000 tons of Light Alloy Extrusions
4,000,000 P.I.A.T. Bomb Barrel Assemblies
Over 20,000 sets of Spitfire Wing Spars
Many thousands of aero engine mountings, engine rings and sub-frames for a large number of types of bomber and fighter aircraft.
At various stages in this history growth of the labour force has been referred to – starting with the twenty-five men in 1898. It is, therefore, perhaps worthy of mention that at the peak of production, during the War, Reynolds were employing two thousand one hundred persons, though this was a wartime exception. By 1948, with the hiving off of aluminium production into a separate enterprise, the number of employees was down to about 800.