Today, tomorrow and the next day; Epilogue
Today, tomorrow and the next day
With the war behind - the rejoicings and cheering having died away, another era had ended. For years the whole of Reynolds’ activities had been concentrated on the single vital purpose of winning the war, and now once again the arts of peace had to be cultivated.
In spite of deep laid plans for a changeover from wartime to peacetime production, a certain minimum period of time was necessary in which the transition could take place. Yet, hardly had the cease fire sounded than orders for post-war requirements cascaded in. Most heartening of all was the large volume of orders which came in from all over the world - vital export business, which, from then onwards, was to gather impetus to reach the huge proportions of the coming years.
With the concentration at Redditch Works of the bulk of light alloy production, plans were made to increase the capacity for Steel Tube production, and the new Mill for this purpose was then complete and in operation.
The Light Alloy Division was perhaps not so troubled by the changeover from wartime to peacetime production as was the Steel Tube Division, and the Assembly and Manipulation Departments. The first important post-war contract that was obtained for light alloys was for the supply, in vast quantities, of extrusions for the manufacture of prefabricated aluminium houses - work upon which was still ongoing. There were numerous other applications for which the Company supplied light alloys after the war, and amongst them were tubes for scaffolding and electric conduit.
It is at this stage that the story of Reynolds’ activities in light alloys must be left. The growth and development of this side of the business had been so rapid that by the end of the war the time had arrived when it should assume its own individual identity. Whilst, of course, remaining within the family of Tube Investments, the Light Alloy Division was formed into a separate Company, which was registered in August 1947 under the title of Reynolds Light Alloys Limited, and subsequently became part of T.I. Aluminium Limited.
This history must therefore continue with post-war activities in Steel Tubes, assemblies and manipulations, all of which then comprised the entire business of Reynolds Tube Company Limited. The demand, both from home and overseas customers, for Steel Tubing in the random length had been phenomenal, and many millions of feet had already been supplied. Of manipulations and assemblies, these were both numerous and varied, and include a wide range of sports goods, such as tennis net posts, vaulting poles, tent poles, and sailing dinghy masts. In addition to these were tubular frames for the furniture and office equipment industries, and parts for textile machinery. The production of aero engine mountings and tubular rings continued without interruption, whilst the manufacture of cycle tubing and tubular parts was at a greater level than at any time in the Company’s history to that date, all of which will be recalled later.
The story of Reynolds from the day of its birth has been told. Its growth has been traced through good times and bad, up to its present unassailable position in the industrial world of today. The Company recently introduced new methods of scientific management to establish and maintain efficiency at the highest level, to keep abreast of modern industrial practice. What of the future? No man would ever attempt to prophecy what may happen in the years to come, but, built on such solid foundations, Reynolds must surely grow from strength to strength.
1948 saw the Company celebrating 50 years of tube production. A highlight in the celebrations was a dinner for a large number of the employees at Birmingham’s Grand Hotel. Also, to mark the occasion, Eric Tyler, the then Company Secretary, produced “Reynolds in Retrospect”, a history of Reynolds from 1898, and which is reproduced as the early part of this current narrative with only minor modifications of tense to place it in the context of the following chapters.
With the forming of TI Aluminium, Austyn Reynolds gradually opted out of the products of the Tube Company to concentrate on the expansion plans for the aluminium activity. These not only covered the extrusion and tube plant at Redditch, but rolling mills in South Wales and ultimately the purchase of British Aluminium. With the departure of Austyn from Tyseley, as has already been told, his position as Technical Director was ably taken by his cousin Anthony, on whose shoulders fell the post-war development of Reynolds Tube Company’s activities. His enthusiasm for the job was such that whatever project was embarked upon, Tony entered it wholeheartedly. To promote Reynolds' boating products he attended Cowes Week and joined the Royal Yachting Association. When the Company was fully immersed in the motorcycle industry, together with the Sales Director Eric Tyler, he was a regular attendee at the Isle of Man TT, then the mecca of motorcycle sport. The development of a Reynolds moped then saw Tony leaving his Jaguar in the garage and arriving to work each day on a sample of the Company’s product. The Company owed a lot to his enthusiasm, ingenuity and hard work, which was to ensure Reynolds maintained a leading role in its areas of business for many future years.
Another innovation that started in the immediate post-war period was the introduction of a Reynolds Apprenticeship Scheme. This was probably again at the instigation of Anthony Reynolds, remembering his own years as an apprentice at the Austin Motor Company. Boys, on leaving school (15 year olds at that time) were contracted to the Company for a 5 year period of training, either engineering or commercial. This was a three-way contract between the Company, the boy and his parent(s), each expected to play their part in the training. The apprentice was seconded to the various departments around the works for periods of 3 to 6 months. This included production, engineering, maintenance and drawing office, to give an overall grounding in engineering practices. In addition to this they were also enrolled at the local technical college for one full day per week, where they studied for academic qualifications such as Higher National Certificate and City & Guilds in Engineering & Commerce.
At the end of each year apprenticeship tests were held to assess progress, a prize being awarded to the “Apprentice of the Year”. These tests, as well as school and general progress, used to include the practical making of small engineering items such as set squares and scribing blocks. This practice lost some of its value when it was discovered that the more wily boys were persuading the tool room or fitting shop machinists to do a lot of the work for them. At least it showed initiative!!
The Company accepted about 10 young people per year into the scheme, resulting in perhaps as many as 50 apprentices undergoing various stages of their training at any one time. It was made very clear by Anthony Reynolds, that at the end of their 5 years apprenticeship their term of employment at Reynolds ceased, and if they wished to stay on they first had to ask him if there was a vacancy. Although a fact, this of course was one of Anthony’s ploys to keep them on their toes, as inevitably the majority stayed on, eventually aspiring to management positions, or in the case of a few becoming Directors of the later diversified Companies.
Over the years some hundreds of boys benefited from a Reynolds Apprenticeship, those that left for other Companies taking with them a high degree of basic engineering training.
By the end of 1948 the aircraft assembly department had been relocated in an area in No. 2 Extrusion, which had been vacated by the aluminium division. Although Reynolds light alloys was now based at Redditch, the shop containing the 5,000 ton extrusion press had been retained at Tyseley, as this equipment was considered too costly and too large to move. It was alongside this press that work continued on the production of engine mountings for Rolls Royce Merlins and DC4s. The workforce on these assemblies had of course been much reduced, to coincide with the tapering off of government orders, though it was to continue for at least another two years. During this time there was a slight upturn in aircraft work when Reynolds received orders for circular engine mountings for the Bristol Hercules and the larger dynophocal ring for the Rolls Royce Ambassador engine. These differed from the long established light gauge tubular structures in that they were basically a rectangular section of heavy gauge formed into semi-circles in the tube manipulation department. In the aircraft assembly department they were then welded into a circular form and numerous brackets and attachments welded on. Also in the aircraft department these components were fully machined to very close tolerances. To accommodate this work more space was needed and a move was made into the large area that had previously housed the aluminium warehouse.
To maintain the expertise that had been developed from tubular welded assemblies, concerted efforts were being made to find commercial work to replace the aircraft work on which this experience had been built. To this end orders were obtained for tubular welded stands for cash registers and adding machines. This was of course before the days of computers, and calculators and the machines in question were relatively large and expensive items, consequently a high degree of quality and finish was demanded in the stands to accommodate them. Many thousands of these stands were made, the contract requiring them to be finished, painted and packed into cartons for delivery as far afield as Dundee. This necessitated an expansion of Reynolds’ transport department, where their modern Leyland lorries were fitted with large trailers to ship these relatively light, but bulky products.
A problem that arose with the transfer to commercial work was in the question of workers’ remuneration. The department had always been run on a “piece-work” system, each operation being timed and a price given. On the assumption that the commercial world would not pay such a high price as government contracts, the management decided that piece-work rates would be lower. A ceiling of 36/- per day (£1.80) had been put on aircraft work, but this was reduced to 28/- (£1.40) for commercial work. Although the workforce were obviously not happy with this situation, it was accepted as the price one had to pay for the country being at peace. How they were convinced of this is a mystery, but the management must have been very persuasive.
The opening years of the 1950s a new enterprise was embarked upon, with the formation of a marine department. With the peacetime resumption of leisure activities there was a large increase in boating and yachting and with its knowledge of working with aluminium Reynolds entered into the business of supplying masts, booms, deck stanchions, pulpits and other marine items for a variety of private yachts. Apart from individual designs the Company also received a large order from Fairey Marine for its dinghy masts for their Firefly range. These were actually made by Reynolds Light Alloys but sent to Reynolds for reforming of the sail track to accept the fittings.
Some notable orders for masts for the larger boats came from such notables as Crown Prince Harold of Norway and the Marquis of Milford Haven. These were sixty foot masts in aluminium, of which quite a number were made. They were basically a 5” diameter x 10 gauge tube, ovalled and tapered over the top twenty feet. Tapering was achieved by cutting out a long “V” section, closing the gap and welding. After straightening the weld was then covered by a riveted sail track. A problem that Reynolds had with this post-war development was that its sales department was never geared up to dealing with orders from individual members of the public and consequently much of this work was done on a nominal “charge for development” basis. What may have been lost in profit though, was more than compensated by world wide publicity. The final outcome of this was that at least one of Reynolds’ original customers, namely Ian Proctor, went into the business of mast manufacture on his own account, cashing in on experience learned from Reynolds and eventually becoming one of the largest suppliers of masts to the boating fraternity.
From sixty foot aluminium masts to flag poles was but a small step and in this field the Company were able to market their products through Piggot Brothers of London, suppliers of flagpoles as sub-contractors. Take a walk around many of the country’s big cities, particularly London, and one could see Reynolds flag poles prominently displayed on or in front of numerous buildings. Notable amongst these was the Shell Centre on London’s South Bank, where forty-five poles were supplied and erected including two of seventy-five feet on the tower roof. These latter were made in four sections of ten inch diameter 8 gauge aluminium, joined together by expanding liners of Reynolds’ unique design. Other flagpoles of note were the sixty foot poles for the Co-op Insurance building in Manchester and the five seventy-five foot poles outside Glasgow Airport (3 still remained in the year 2000).
Production of flag poles involved much more than the shop floor manufacture, for each pole had to be designed with consideration for flag size, wind speed and location, all of which were calculated by Reynolds’ drawing office. This was not always so, for in the early days at least one disaster occurred, when, supplying the demand for the Coronation celebrations of 1953, a number of poles were made for the Dundee Corporation. Unfortunately these were not only adorned with flags, but also strung between with bunting, and as a result of a very heavy thunderstorm, the weight of all the wringing wet material was too much, causing some of the poles to collapse. What compensation was arrived at is not now known. Reynolds’ representative certainly had to grovel before the town’s Mayor and Corporation, but from situations such as this experience was gained.
The versatility of Reynolds Tube Company was never greater than in the immediate post-war years. In the quest for new outlets that would make use of the acquired skills of the manipulation and welded assembly departments, the Company took on many and varied projects. Most were “one offs” that were taken on out of enthusiasm and in the hope that they would open up new areas of business. These ranged from special equipment for the aircraft industry, such as a servicing stand for Trans Canada Airways (an early sophisticated version of the now common scaffolding tower), to equipment for circus artists. Included in the latter was a complicated structure for an aerial trapeze act, the “Anjolis”, which on completion was demonstrated in the roof girders of the former No. 1 extrusion. Also demonstrated, at Reynolds’ sports day, (another innovation of Tony Reynolds held at the Company’s sports ground in Olton), was a hundred and twenty foot swaying pole made in sections, on top of which a circus artist called “Reno” performed a series of acrobatic feats, not least of which was the way in which he assembled the equipment by climbing up the pole, feeding on each section until he attained the optimum height. From the sublime to the ridiculous the Company also made a giant safety pin for Coco the Clown.
Notwithstanding all these diversions, the tube mills were still producing vast quantities of steel tube in a variety of specifications and sizes and with full order books. Sections, such as square, hexagon, oval and streamline etc., were a speciality and again, at the instigation of Tony Reynolds, some development work was done on producing a dinghy mast, such as the Fire Fly yacht, in Reynolds 531. Dies were made to produce the mast section complete with sail track, and a number of these were produced on an experimental basis and offered to sailing enthusiasts for trial at boating centres such as Kingston upon Thames. Although technically successful, probably due to costs, inroads could not be made into the rapidly growing markets supplied by the existing suppliers.
With all this interesting work, apart from the cash and adding machine stands, nothing had yet come along that would give long-term orders and also utilise the skill and experience of manufacturing close tolerance tubular welded assemblies.
In the late 1940s, over in Northern Ireland, a motorcycle enthusiast named Rex McCandless was developing a motorcycle frame using an all welded type of construction. The traditional methods of hearth brazing tubes into cast or forged lugs was still being used by the motorcycle manufacturers of the day. Taking his ideas to Norton Motors, McCandless produced a number of frames for the works team in the 1949 TT Races. These were so successful that Norton decided that their future racing machines would all have the revolutionary “feather-bed” frames. (A Norton works rider of the day, Harold Daniel, after a lap of the TT course described the bike as "like riding a feather-bed"). Having no experience in this type of construction, Norton, who had been tube customers of Reynolds since the early days of the century, approached the Company for production quantities of the new frame. This, at last, was a process at which Reynolds excelled and the first Norton "feather-bed" frame was produced by Reynolds in January 1951. Made from 1 ¼ dia. x 16 gauge 531 tube, bent by the manipulation department to shape, this saw the birth of a whole new area of business. Absorbing all the skills of its aircraft welded structures experience, Reynolds were to pioneer and provide a service for what, in subsequent years, would become the accepted method of motorcycle frame construction. With the production of Norton frames, a road version had been introduced by 1953, Reynolds reputation in the motorcycle industry grew, helped by the boom in motorcycling of the late 1950s. At the height of its production, Reynolds were producing over 450 motor cycle frames per week. The popularity of the motorcycle also saw the introduction into Britain, from the continent, of the scooter and the moped. This resulted in companies other than the traditional motorcycle manufacturers entering the market. To meet this demand at Reynolds, a design facility was offered along with frame production. Cycle firms such as Dayton and Hercules, vehicle builders such as Willenhall Motor Radiator Company and even organisations better known for football pools, like Vernons, brought along the ideas for scooters and mopeds, which Reynolds usually completely redesigned. For contracts such as these Reynolds were able to offer a complete package, including the ultimate testing for road worthiness and fatigue life, by making good use of the Motor Industries Research Association’s resources at Nuneaton, where TI were members. With the knowledge gained, Reynolds Tube Company became a noted authority on design and construction of commercial light gauge tubular welded structures.
From the contacts the Company had with Norton Motors and the Isle of Man TT Races, it was not long before Reynolds' motorcycle department was asked to design and manufacture special lightweight frames for the top exponents in motorcycle racing. Stars of the 1950s and 1960s, world champions like Geoff Duke and John Surtees, all came to Reynolds to improve their chances of success. It was press reports of these visits, coupled with the already well known name of Reynolds 531, that built the worldwide reputation as experts in frame construction. The Company visitors’ book read like a "Who’s Who" of motorcycling.
An early motorcycle development started at the Company was steering and front suspension. A close acquaintance of Tony Reynolds was the patentee of front suspension known as the Earles Fork. A licence for the production of these forks was assigned to Reynolds, and many were made, mainly for lightweight motorcycles and scooters. In due course, especially for the racing specials, the Earles Fork was developed but ultimately superseded by a Reynolds fork, featuring short leading links pivoted within the wheel diameter, instead of outside as in the Earles Long Link design. These were highly successful in the hands of top grade riders like Geoff Duke. In spite of their technical superiority inroads could not be made into the products of the established motorcycle manufacturer, where the more simply mass-produced telescopic fork reigned supreme.
With the emerging popularity of the moped, basically a pedal cycle with a 50 cc engine attached, Anthony Reynolds saw a potential for Reynolds. At Tony’s instigation, Reynolds’ design team produced tubular welded frame sets which would accept a variety of proprietary engines. These frames incorporated front and rear suspension, that, although universally accepted for the motorcycle, was an innovation on mopeds. Although the Company made a number of fully road going prototypes, all taxed for the road, the ultimate idea was to produce a frame set that could be purchased by any prospective manufacturer and fitted with an engine of his choice. Despite the Company’s efforts exhibiting at cycle and motorcycle shows at home and abroad, this was not to be. The final outcome was a review of the Reynolds product by a committee representative of Tube Investments Cycle Division, that would, after a successful demonstration, fund all design tooling and development for its companies. At the 1956 Earls Court Cycle and Motorcycle Show, a Reynolds inspired machine was exhibited under the Dunelt name (Dunelt was a pre-war motorcycle manufacturer acquired by TI). This was the only one produced, rumour being that its technical superiority would have an adverse effect upon the then current mopeds being marketed by Raleigh and Phillips, both TI companies.
Before leaving the story of Reynolds' motorcycle activities, mention must be made of the welding service that the Company provided at the annual Isle of Man TT races. Begun in 1954 at the instigation of Norton Motors to service their welded frames made by Reynolds, the facility soon became available to all competitors. Damaged frames were a regular occurrence in race practice sessions. The Company’s presence and free service, together with 531 and the Tour de France, did more to promote the Reynolds name throughout the world than any other form of advertising.
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s “wind of change”, blowing through Africa in 1960, had already been stirring in the corridors of power at Tube Investments. In 1952 there was a trend in British industry to take in University graduates as trainees for future management, a trend to which TI subscribed. These young men were installed in numerous TI companies, like Reynolds, to gain experience for their future careers. In 1953 five of these graduate trainees arrived at Tyseley to spend the next six months seconded to various departments.
The Tube Company still retained an atmosphere of a family business, where supervision and management were all long serving employees who had started at grass roots. The foreman, aided by a charge-hand, ran a department and was responsible to the Works Manager who in turn answered to the Directors. It was into this structure that TI’s graduates had to be integrated and so the position of Departmental Manager was created. Although at first a position of convenience, the department still being run by the foreman, as these older hands retired, the departmental manager became more significant. Whilst some of TI’s initial graduates moved to higher positions in other companies, the Reynolds intake, presumably influenced by the "family atmosphere", mostly stayed with the company, eventually becoming Directors. Up to this time Reynolds, with its home grown management, had shown little outward sign of being part of the TI Group, which in turn were content to exert minimal influence with their more profitable companies, but with the influx of TI personnel and the introduction of Group Services, the winds of change were indeed blowing throughout the organisation.
Development of war time experience was not only confined to welded assemblies, for the "hot press" process, originally installed for the production of aluminium alloy spheres for military flame throwers, was now producing components for artificial limbs. A large order was also procured for aluminum bobbins for the textile industry to replace the traditional wooden bobbins used for cotton spinning, of which some 20,000 per week were made. Although these were very welcome orders, in this transitional period in the Company’s history, the future of this department lay in aluminium cylinders for both commercial and military usage.
An early achievement in the process was the production of oxygen cylinders for John Hunt’s 1953 British Everest expedition, which saw Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing successfully conquering the world’s highest mountain for the first time. Although this saw Reynolds on "top of the world", it was but a start in aluminum cylinder development and the supply of oxygen cylinders for an Everest expedition was undertaken again in 1975 for the British South West Face expedition led by Chris Bonnington. These 1975 cylinders bore little resemblance to those of 1953, in that the early cylinders were made from a dural type extruded aluminum tube, necked at both ends by the hot press process, one end was then plugged whilst the other end took the on/off valve. Short and stubby and relatively heavy, these were carried in a pack of three on the climber’s back. By 1975 Reynolds’ hollow extrusion (HE) process was well established and was used in the manufacture of these later climbing cylinders. Designed by Reynolds to achieve maximum performance at high altitudes, they weighed only 7½ lb. with a capacity of 800 litres, pressurised to 3300 lb. per square inch. Two feet in length and four inches in diameter, they were carried snugly in pairs within the mountaineer’s back pack. It is interesting to note that this later expedition recorded that one of the 1953 cylinders was now being used as a gong, calling the Lamas to prayer at the monastery of Thyangvoche at Khumvu, one of the more unusual uses of a Reynolds product.
The Reynolds HE process mentioned in the production of the 1975 Everest cylinder, was instigated by a chance visit by Anthony Reynolds to Clermont Ferrand during June 1953. Talks with the Biginelli brothers resulted in Reynolds purchasing the manufacturing rights to the process. Initially two presses were bought at a cost of some £30,000 for the process which embodied techniques that were then unique to the UK. Described as backward extrusion, the process had the ability to produce thick end, thin walled cylinders from hot billets. Originally it was developed to manufacture munitions for NATO in the form of steel cartridge cases, but with the decline in armaments the techniques were developed for commercial use in the form of hydraulic cylinders, as well as aluminum gas cylinders, which all supplemented the already established hot press department.
This post-war period of development and expansion saw the emergence of yet another process that was to become a major part of Reynolds’ business in the years to come. This was the manufacture of flash butt welded rings. By the end of the war piston engined aircraft were being superseded by jets, a situation which, apart from random tube supplies, appeared to see the end of Reynolds involvement in the aircraft industry through the piston engine mounting rings. However, in March 1952, Anthony Reynolds was visited by two Rolls Royce, Derby technicians. On a visit to the USA to investigate the American methods of jet engine ring production, Rolls Royce had found that the US engine makers were employing extruded sections which had small machining allowances, whereas Rolls Royce machined their rings from heavy uneconomical castings. Principally in stainless steel alloys, some 95% of this expensive material was being machined away to make the finished product, which apart from material waste also involved costly machining hours. From its reputation for piston engine mountings, Anthony was asked if Reynolds could produce rings from extruded sections, rolled and flash butt welded in the manner of the Americans. Although having no experience in working with and welding these types of stainless steel, Anthony agreed to look into the possibilities. With the co-operation of Chesterfield Tube Company, a TI associate company who were already experienced in extruding stainless steel for tube hollows, raw material was obtained and a start made. Bending was by an existing three roll bender in the manipulation department and for welding a flash butt welding machine was purchased with a 6 ton upset capacity which could flash butt weld stainless steel up to ¾ sq. inch cross sectional area. From this small beginning flash welded rings became a major product of Reynolds Tube Company.
Whilst these activities opened up new areas of business for Reynolds, the manufacture of tube and the promotion of Reynolds 531 was also enjoying a post-war boom. In the cycle industry 531 was more popular than ever and by the 1970s Reynolds could claim that their 531 tubing had been specified for frames and forks by 24 out of 25 successive winners of the Tour de France, as well as the majority of place men. Such was the success of Reynolds 531 butted tubes, that during this period the company was supplying over 20 countries worldwide, including the Soviet Union.
In July 1962 Reynolds Tube Company were granted Home Office approval for the commercial manufacture of aluminum alloy gas cylinders and were the first to be approved to the new regulations governing storage and transportation of compressed gases in these containers. In February 1963 the Royal Navy, to whom Reynolds were sole suppliers of diving cylinders, carried out deep diving tests off the Canary Islands. In these tests, carried out from HMS Reclaim, Reynolds cylinders, ranging from 150 cu.ft. storage cylinders with a working pressure of 3000 lb. per sq. inch, to the diver’s emergency cylinder of 14 cu. ft. were employed. The result of this exercise was a record dive to 450 ft. Reynolds could now claim to have reached both the heights and the depths of man’s achievements.
Another development in alloy cylinder design was the buried valve, in which the neck of the cylinder was extended to protect the valve which could now be covered by a simple plastic cap. This feature, patented by the Company, won a Council of Industrial Design Award in 1967. A presentation was made at the Council to Anthony Reynolds by the Duke of Edinburgh. In addition to supplying aluminum cylinders for the Navy and for civil and military aircraft systems, Reynolds' products now ranged from commercial cylinders for beer dispensing to equipment for gas analysis and fire extinguishers.
In 1965 Peter Bardsley, the first of TI’s graduates to be employed by Reynolds, was appointed to the Board as Production Director. The other members of the board still comprised the long serving John Aston, Anthony Reynolds, Eric Tyler and Matt Wier, respectively Managing, Technical, Sales and Financial.
The next ten years saw Reynolds Tube Company exploiting the fruits of their post-war developments. The tube departments were now supplying Reynolds 531 tubing for such diverse products as wheelchairs for the Ministry of Health and the front sub-frame of the E type Jaguar, the latter employing some 40 ft. of 531 steel tubing, most of which was 20 gauge rectangular section, all of this in addition to the demand for the Company’s cycle orders. In the welded assembly departments healthy orders from Norton Motors called for 450 frames and rear swinging arms per week for their Commando model, to a design initially modified in the light of Reynolds' experience. The HE department, in addition to aluminum alloy gas cylinders, were producing cylindrical extrusions in carbon and alloy steels with integral ends in a variety of forms made to very close tolerances. These were used as components of pit props, railway buffers, earth moving equipment and numerous hydraulic applications. One of the smallest of these precision extruded cylinders was for the bodies of the rocket pack in the Martin Baker Aircraft Ejection Seat, extrusions which Reynolds developed in conjunction with Sir James Martin. A significant development in the HE department came in 1973 with the death in France of Piertro Biginneli, resulting in the closing down of his small factory at Clermont Ferrand. Reynolds purchased most of the plant, which was shipped across the channel in 13 lorry loads. This equipment, including a 2000 ton press, was to be installed to form the third HE department in the old roadway shop.
The ring department was also expanding, with orders from European aircraft manufacturers, such as Alfa Romeo of Italy and MTU Germany. Exhibiting at air shows at Farnborough, Paris and Tokyo brought further orders from companies like Fiat and Volvo Flygmotor, both producers of aircraft engines. On the home market, in 1970, Rolls Royce placed orders with Reynolds for over 1 million pounds worth of rings for the RB211 engine, these ranged in diameter from 2 ft. to 7 ft. in titanium, nickel based alloys and stainless steel. This period saw Reynolds Tube Company at its highest and most profitable level, although as an integral "family" business it was soon to fall victim to its own success.
It was in 1969 that the training department, when unloading the vehicle after an apprentices’ weekend in Wales, was asked by Tony Reynolds "What’s all this business of taking these lads out for the weekend all about?" It was thought that the best answer to this question was to run a similar event for Senior Management. To this end, in early March 1970, a group of brave "volunteers" ventured forth into the wilds of North Wales to pioneer what was to become an annual event. The group, over the years, was to include Production and Sales Managers, Company Secretary, Chief Inspector, Chief Accountant, Development Managers and other members of Senior Staff. Although the Directors were invited they always seemed to have other engagements on the dates in question. Although never attending they always gave their blessing and full support in the early years.
As with the apprentices the formula for these weekends was first a venue with the bare necessities of a roof over one’s head, something to sleep on, and some cooking facilities, all on a strictly "do it yourself" basis. More often than not the early venues were remote and primitive, YHA hostels that were officially closed for the winter. The programme, organised by the Personnel Manager and one of the senior staff was for the party to leave Tyseley on Friday evening in the Works Minibus, (Garage Manager driver) stopping off en-route for dinner at a wayside hotel, (a last taste of civilisation), arriving at base in the late hours. On arrival one’s first essential was to find a suitable bunk to lay out sleeping bags etc., often in pitch dark as venues with electricity were an added luxury. Next morning, after breakfast, (Chief Inspector appointed Chef), the group set off for a 12 - 15 miles walk, taking in mountains, valleys, and other aspects of the particular countryside area, arriving back at base in the late afternoon, physically tired but mentally rejuvenated. While some were prone to sleep, the Chief Cook and his helpers prepared the evening "banquet". The high standard of living and the degree of comfort that could be achieved in what were primitive conditions, had to be seen to be believed, notwithstanding having raided the Senior Staff Canteen before departure. Crisp white tablecloths laid out in correct etiquette with the canteen silverware were only surpassed by the excellence of the 4-course meal.
For these occasions, still being in the grip of winter, huge log fires were the norm. It was around these that the subtle benefits to the Company of such get togethers of senior staff were acquired. For managers who can see each other every day of the week, though rarely to converse with each other than on aspects of their work, to go away for a semi-strenuous weekend in some remote and inhospitable corner of the country may seem incongruous, but it has been proved that these events enable them to see a different side of each other’s natures, to sort out differences, and to instill a team spirit, all of which was conducive to a more efficient working week.
Although to the participants, the organisation of these weekends seemed casual, this was far from the case. Apart for arranging a venue, the two organisers reconnoitered the area the week before, including all of the walks, which often necessitated taking compass bearings and noting landmarks. The wisdom of this was substantiated on more than one occasion when, on the day, heavy mist and deep snow were encountered in the Welsh Mountains. It was all part of the adventure to traverse seemingly impossible routes, only the leaders knowing where they led.
The weekends usually concluded on Sunday with a shorter walk or more often a visit to some tourist attraction on the return journey to Tyseley. Over the years these events have been located not only in Wales but in other areas such as the Peak District, the Lakes and Exmoor. By the year 2000, 30 weekends had been enjoyed. The format had changed, the accommodation was more appropriate to the time, the walks were a little shorter and the visits to the pub more frequent. Even now, 15 to 17 employees both past and present meet yearly to fulfill the ritual. Although now privately funded the values and standards of the early years remained the essential ingredient of the weekend.
In later years, Industry and Commercial Psychology experts came to recognise the advantages that these type of events could bring to Business Organisations, resulting in setting up professionally run courses for the purpose. Although unaware of it at the time and with different motives in mind, Reynolds were probably pioneers in such managerial training.
Continuing the history
In January 1972 John Aston relinquished the Managing Directorship of Reynolds Tube Company. John had controlled the fortunes of the company for over 32 years, although it had been initially rumoured that he had been put in to keep an eye on TI’s interests, he quickly became a Reynolds man, no doubt falling under the persuasive influence of Alfred himself. In keeping the Company profitable, he was able to retain Reynolds’ individuality whilst Associate companies were becoming more and more bought under Group control. As a financial man and a director of the parent group, in the late 1940s he was instrumental in setting up the TI Pension Scheme. Although appointed Company Chairman, his retirement as MD was to herald changes which would eventually see the division of the Company’s interests. On 1st February, 1972 Robert C. Stevenson was appointed MD. Bob Stevenson had been in TI since 1946 and had become director and general manager at various TI companies, and had been at Tubes Limited, prior to this latest appointment.
1973 saw the celebration of the Patent Butted Tube Company’s 75th anniversary, which under the orchestration of Anthony Reynolds was to be a grand affair. Never one to do things by half, Antony planned a series of events, beginning with 3 days of partying at the Company’s sports ground in Tanworth Lane, Shirley. The first 2 days’ dances were arranged for some 500 employees and guests, whilst on Saturday 12th May a dinner dance was held for 100 of the Company’s current and former employees who had served for 25 years or more. All of these events took place in a 5,000 sq. ft. marquee that had been erected alongside the club house. Also at the sports ground in the following month, the annual sports day was extended into a gala which included an evening dance and also a draw for the holder of a winning programme with a prize of a holiday for two in Ibiza. On the business side a 2,400 ft square marquee was erected on the car park in front of Hay Hall where the Company’s products both past and present were exhibited. These included a Rolls Royce Spey engine, a formula 2 racing car, Eddie Merckx Tour de France winning bicycle and a Martin Baker ejector seat. Also exhibited were Royal Naval and Everest Expedition oxygen cylinders and a Norton racing motorcycle, as well as other examples and photographs of the Company’s history: a display of more than 50 of the Company’s products. During an Open Week more than 200 guests from industry throughout the UK attended. The local community were also included, 14 local schools and technical colleagues being invited, and one day for the families of the 900 Reynolds employees was also included.
Although the Hollow Extrusion and Flash Welded Ring Departments were gradually overshadowing tube production, Reynolds tube mills were not to be left behind in technical advancement. One such development was the drawing of a round tube 3/4” diameter with a hexagon bore, a difficult section to produce. In cut lengths of 75 and 50mm these tubes were used to form the core of the flexible bushes which formed the links of tank tracks, with some 2,400 of these bushes being used in each tank. The rubber component of these had a limited life, so there was a continuous demand for this precision product. An offshoot of the development of these tubes was a brush defrazing machine for which Reynolds registered a patent. The Company also continued to promote 531 cycle tube and to meet the expanding American market demands, boxed sets of 531 cycle tubes were made available to the hundreds of small builders in the US. Previously frame and fork tubes had only been sold through quantity importers but with the introduction of these individually packaged sets a much wider market was catered for. Such was the reputation of Reynolds 531 cycle tube in the US, that one enterprising cycle builder used the famous green, black and gold decals to his own ends. This decal displayed on every genuine 531 framed bicycle stated “guaranteed and built, with Reynolds 531 butted tubes, forks and stays”. What this man did was to have printed an identical decal but with the tiny “not” inserted between guaranteed and made, which he then attached to his cheap inferior cycle frames. Reynolds’ answer to this was to take out a registered design for all of their 531 transfers, though it was felt in some quarters that an opportunity to proclaim the worldwide appeal of the Company’s product had been missed.
In April 1974 the Flash Welded Ring department of Reynolds Tube Company announced a contract to supply rings to Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries of Japan, resulting from the Company’s first exhibition at the International Aerospace Show in Tokyo. The press release at the time proclaimed that the Company were now producing flash welded rings for 18 different engines and were used in more than 70 different aircraft. Over 35% of Reynolds ring production was exported to markets in Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and now Japan.
Robert Stevenson’s time as MD ended with his early retirement in June 1974. In his place TI appointed Mr. R Peter Stedeford, a nephew of the former TI Chairman Sir Ivan Stedeford. Before holding senior posts within the TI Group, Peter Stedeford had been MD of Tubes Limited, having spent his working life there, apart from wartime service in the RAF. It seems ironic that Tubes Limited, the co-founder of the TI Group and apparently the training ground for many of the top people, should in a few years be one of the first companies to be closed down and its site sold under a new TI regime.
The mid-1970s saw Reynolds Tube Company continuing to flourish under Peter Stedeford’s direction, its 3 mains areas of business all being successful. Had this not been so the Company could well have gone the same way as its associate Tubes Limited, for although its tube production was still very viable, the end for Reynolds’ basic product was in sight. The first steps in changes to Company policy and organisation came in 1976 when first the HE department was made a separate division under the Directorship of Peter Bardsley, to be followed by the end of the year by the ring division, Director Mike Fox, another TI graduate, and finally the tube division under “Pres” Pressdee, the only one of the three to be promoted from Reynolds’ traditional background. These 3 divisions were to be autonomous in both production and sales, under the general managership of their directors, though at this stage, maintenance, tool room and technical services was still to be Company functions giving central support.
Anthony Reynolds had served Reynolds Tube Company for over 40 years, but having suffered a health problem the previous year and with the changes in Company structure he decided to opt for early retirement. So on 31st December 1976 the last of the Reynolds family left Tyseley. As has already been recalled the success and growth of the Tube Company in the years following the Second World War were due almost entirely to the inspiration and technical leadership of Anthony Reynolds. Like his family predecessors he had made an individual contribution to the Company’s progress, a contribution of which he was justly proud. But the day of the individual was now over, the Company would no longer be internally directed because the TI Group influences shaped the future strategies. To retire to the comfort of a fireside armchair and slippers was not in Anthony’s makeup, for work was his hobby. At his home in Lowsonford, surrounded by 50 acres of farm land, his innovative brain found outlets in devising better ways of erecting fences, making gates and even landscaping, but even with all of this he could not leave behind his engineering talents. In a small office in Henley in Arden he set himself up as a consultant. Even with all of this he still found time and took pleasure in designing, constructing and patenting a portable hydraulic log splitter, which he would hire out, complete with himself as operator, towing it to site behind his car. It was inevitable that his pace of life was to take its toll, for on November 24th 1979, whilst working in his fields, he succumbed to a fatal heart attack. His retirement had not been long but there was not doubt that he had enjoyed every minute of it and would not have wished it to end any other way.
The last of the directors who had served the Company for so long retired in August 1977. Eric Tyler had joined Reynolds in February 1934 as Assistant Secretary. With the Company’s diversification into the aluminium market, when the separate light alloy companies were set up, Eric was appointed secretary, eventually holding the secretarial office in no less than 4 of the Reynolds associate companies. In 1945, after an official visit to France, he directed his mind to sales interests and on the merging of the alloy interests into one company, TI Aluminium, he relinquished all other appointments to become Commercial Manager, as well as Secretary, of Reynolds Tube Company. In 1952 he was appointed to the Board as Sales and Commercial Director. Eric Tyler made many contributions to the growth and development of Reynolds, leading a sales force that created a worldwide market for the Company’s products. He took a special interest in the market for flash welded rings, where export selling became a large part of Eric’s life, clocking up over a million miles of air travel throughout the northern hemisphere. As a highly successful international salesman he excelled, always totally involved in his work and his dedication to the Company. Eric Tyler made a massive impact during his time at Reynolds and laid the foundations for its successful future.
Tube Investments, on 1st April, 1977, decided that all companies would include TI in their titles and so on that date Reynolds Tube Company ceased to exist, and became TI Reynolds Limited. TI wanted to promote a corporate image with a view to enhancing a worldwide reputation on the industrial scene, but for small companies like Reynolds there could be drawbacks. Reynolds 531's reputation in the cycle market remained supreme, cycle companies on the continent such as Peugeot, Gitane and Lejeune when told they would now buy their tube from TI Reynolds became dubious as their main competitor in the sporting field was TI Raleigh. The fact that Reynolds had been a TI member since 1928 had never been considered, even if it was known, so hard salesmanship had to be employed to convince Reynolds’ continental customers that Raleigh had no preferential treatment. In 1978 the ring division became the largest of the three operating activities.
The profitability of Reynolds was in no small measure due to the continued development of the Company’s products. Reynolds 531 cycle tube, for so long the predominant material for the frame builder, was now being challenged by the “new age” material, titanium, as well as advances in aluminium alloys and welding techniques. To meet this challenge, in 1975 Reynolds produced its 753 cycle tubing. To the market this was a new material, though in reality it was a further processing of the manganese molybdium 531. At 75 ton per square inch this could be used in gauges as thin as .3mm (hence 753), thus countering the weight advantages of the new materials. True this needed extra skill in joining techniques but Reynolds also provided technical back-up, its representatives travelling throughout Europe to assist customers with their difficulties.
Also in 1975 there began an increased popularity in Go-Kart racing, these tiny small wheeled vehicles being driven mostly by 50cc lawn mower engines. As competition got fiercer, better designed frameworks were needed, yet another market for Reynolds 531 tubing
Hollow Extrusions were also continuing to develop, especially in the field of diving cylinders. In conjunction with the manufacturers of Typhoon diving equipment new lightweight aluminium alloy cylinders were developed with capacities of 62.5 and 75 cubic feet, working at a pressure of 3000 lbs per square inch. By 1976 Reynolds were reported to have produced over 250,000 cylinders, including the specially designed oxygen cylinders for admiralty diving and the cylinders for the successful attempts on Mount Everest.
Reynolds involvement in yet another record attempt occurred in 1971, when a team of cave divers working deep in Wookey Hole cave in Somerset set out to break the British Cave Diving Record of 130 ft. In July 1976 2,600 diving feet in from the cave’s mouth the 25th air chamber was discovered and a further 100 feet in a well some 150 feet deep the record attempt would be made. Oxygen cyclinders, together with financial backing, were to be provided by Reynolds Tube Company.
The Company continued to grow throughout the 1970s and its future direction was gradually becoming evident. In 1977 out of total sales the Tube Division made 40%, but by 1980 this had dropped to 16% of the Company’s business. The reason was the steady growth of the flash welded ring division which made no less than 64.5% of the Company’s sales. HE though was subject to more commercial fluctuations, due to the nature of its product. Disarmament, closure of railways and mines all had an effect on potential HE customers, but with hard work being put in by both sales and technical staff, this unique Reynolds product was still a viable activity, production of aluminium alloy cylinders having reached some 300,000 by 1979.
Reference has already been made to the retirement of principal directors, there remained the position of financial director, a post held by Matthew Weir until his retirement in 1973. He was succeeded by Harold Tippets, who had been with Reynolds since 1939 when he joined the Company as Chief Accountant. Harold retired in 1978, the position being taken by Lesley Alyes who came to Reynolds from the board of TI Weldless. All these financial directors all contributed greatly to the Company’s success and played major roles in its profitability and financial control.
In spite of the tube division’s decline, its expertise in welded assemblies was still highly sought after. When Richard Noble, an aspirant to become the fastest man on earth, required a framework for his record attempt car, Thrust 2, he was directed to Reynolds. Early in 1978 a meeting was held with Reynolds personnel to ascertain the extent of the requirements and agree to the project. This involved the construction of a framework using some 750 feet of 2 inch square x 16 gauge 531 tubing, the finished structure would be some 30 feet long x 10 feet wide and weigh half a ton! An attempt on a world land speed record was bound to create publicity, especially with the promotional expertise of Richard Noble. In May 1978 Thames Television descended on the Tyseley works to record the progress on the project for their “Drive In” programme. Huge vans arrived at the works and cables started to snake down the drive and across the shop floors. Although construction was yet to be started cameras were set up in the drawing office and the steel mill and in front of Hay Hall. Presented by Shaw Taylor, Reynolds activities were recorded in full with emphasis on design and tube drawing in preparation for Project Thrust. Unfortunately the resulting programme, although shown in all other regions, was not transmitted on Midlands ITV. However the Company acquired a copy of the programme to show to its work force. Despite all the publicity (BBC, daily press and motoring magazines also visited Reynolds) construction was not able to start until much later in the year due to finalising the working drawings. This coincided with the divisionalisation of the Company and it was only with the doggedness of those involved in the fabrication that the project got under way. This was the largest welded assembly ever undertaken at Reynolds, and had to be constructed in a space less than its total length, with the front section being fitted at another site. Despite those difficulties the framework was successfully constructed, and the engine fitted at the TI Research Department at Walsall airport early in 1980. From Walsall the structure was delivered to the Thrust Workshops on the Isle of Wight where the car would be finally built. After many frustrations, mainly due to the weather, on 4th October 1983 at the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, Richard Noble achieved a speed of 633.468 mph to attain the world record. Reynolds could now claim to have been part of Man’s achievements in being the highest (Everest), the deepest (Royal Naval diving) and now the fastest on earth.
For a company to have one of its members appointed to be the City’s Lord Mayor is indeed an honour, to have two must at least be an exception. George Canning had been at Reynolds for six years working in the personnel office. He had been a Birmingham Councillor since 1963 and it was in recognition of his work on the City’s Housing Committee that he was elected to be the Lord Mayor. For his civic duties George was given a 12 months leave of absence from the Company, but during his year of office in 1979/80 he managed to keep in touch with his colleagues at work and some met him in the Lord Mayor’s Chambers at the Birmingham Council House.
A small group of Reynolds senior staff conceived the idea of a Company magazine and with the blessing of the directors the first issues appeared in the Spring of 1976. This was to be produced quarterly and was appropriately to be called “Hall Mark”. From the onset it was emphasised that this would not be a “management mouthpiece”, being BY, FOR AND ABOUT REYNOLDS. The “editors”, all being dedicated Reynolds men ensured that this initial policy was adhered to and quite a number of questionable anti-establishment articles appeared. Amongst the regular features on Company history and gardening were day to day happenings such as retirements and Company organisation. Articles by the directors gave a lasting record of the changes that were taking place in this time of transition in the Company’s history, from a family business to a high technological unit of TI Group plc. The magazine continued until issue 17 in the winter of 1981 by which time it had been gradually taken over by a TI appointed editor and its original employee involvement had been lost.
By the 1980s Tube Investments were no longer a group of small companies with the predominance in tube manufacture and its related consumer products. Since 1945 significant changes had taken place in world trade, Germany had become the foremost manufacturing force in Europe, whilst in the Far East Japan had become a major manufacturing and exporting nation, learning to exploit cheap labour costs to sell low added value products into the Western markets. In this new industrial environment TI began to withdraw from commodity products, such as bicycles and consumer goods, to become more involved in being an international group concentrating on specialist engineering. To this end by 1982 it would no longer be Tube Investments but became TI Group plc.
With this future policy in site the end of Reynolds’ basic product for over 80 years was inevitable. On 4th April 1980 a briefing document signed by Peter Stedeford stated that over the following 12 months the manufacture of cold drawn tube would be phased out at Reynolds. The Company would be concentrating all its efforts on its engineering skills in the ring and hollow extrusion departments. The cycle division would remain and 531 continue to be sold as a Reynolds product, though its manufacture would be transferred to Accles and Pollock. In the months following Reynolds tube orders were gradually transferred to A & P, although it would appear that account had not been taken of Reynolds superior credibility in this market. Many customers were unwilling to renew their orders with Accles and much of Reynolds' original business was lost. In the closing down of the steel mills redundancies were inevitable, though with the transfer of some employees to Rings and HE and the early retirement of many of the old hands, this was kept to a minimum. Reynolds employees had always been predominantly long serving, especially in the tube departments and for these good severance terms were offered.
It seemed that the ceasing of tube drawing at Tyseley gave added impetus to the development and promotion of Reynolds 531 cycle components, for the now 531 cycle division entered the market with renewed vigour. Harrison Cowley, the PR company used by Reynolds, as part of their contract compiled a complete folio of all Company mentions in the world press. These were very extensive and the file for 1981 shows that some 90% were concerned with Reynolds 531 cycle business. Development of 531 cycle components was an ongoing process and to this end Reynolds SL (Superior Lightweight) and Reynolds SMS had been launched, the latter a less expensive tubing for the sports and touring range of bicycles. At the other end of the scale, at the New York International Cycle Show in February 1981, the Company introduced its latest development, Reynolds Speed Stream. These were cycle tubes with a streamline or oval section in place of the conventional round to cater for the attempts then being made in competitive cycling to reduce wind resistance.
In 1935 Reynolds had been awarded by the Cyclists’ Touring Club a silver plaque for the greatest advance in cycling in that year for their 531 tubing. In December 1980 the Company was again honoured when the Guidon D’Or (Golden Handlebar), the leading French award for distinction in helping cycling, was presented to TI Reynolds for their contribution to cycle frame building. It was the first time the award had been made to a British company and only the fourth time presented outside France. The presentation was made at a reception at the Metropole Hotel in Birmingham where an impressive guest list included the French Minister of Sport, Monsieur Soissons, the then Chairman of TI, Sir Brian and Lady Kellett, the Director of the Tour de France, Jacques Goddet and the President of the Guidon D’Or Organisation Monsieur Jacques Lohmuller who made the presentation. It was rather ironic that his presentation speech concluded with the words “Long Live Reynolds Tube” “Long Live the Guidon D’Or”. A message of congratulation was also received from Hector Monroe, the then British Government Minister of Sport.
While the future looked rosy for the 531 cycle division, Reynolds welded assemblies were suffering badly. With the demise of the British motorcycle industry the last production motorcycle frame had been made at Reynolds in the mid-1970s, though a few specials continued to be made. However the Company’s reputation in this field was not so easily dispensed with and possibly with the publicity given to Project Thrust, Reynolds were once again approached to design and construct yet another record attempt project. This was for a high speed sand yacht chassis in 1” and 1 ¼” 18 gauge 531 tubing, some 80’ being used in its construction, speeds in excess of 100 mph were aimed for and although the project was completed the results were not followed up due to the Company’s reorganisation at the time, though success in the European Championships was recorded.
The final welded assembly that Reynolds embarked upon came again from the publicising of 531 tubing. A call from the Central Electricity Generating Board, Engineering Department enquiring about the use of 531 led to Reynolds designing a trolley for servicing overhead high tension wires. These trolleys were hoisted manually up the electricity pylons and slung on the overhead power cables for routine servicing of the line, running along on pulley-like wheels. The design was in the form of a basket, large enough to accommodate two men and suspended by pivoting arms which carried the wheels. To control the position of this device on the cables the wheels were braked in 'dead-man' fashion, one had to depress a pedal to release the brake. The CEGB’s original equipment had been a riveted construction made from angle section and weighing some 185lb. Redesigned by Reynolds as a lightweight tubular construction, weight was reduced to only 60lb giving a much more easily handled piece of equipment. Needless to say this delighted the CEGB engineers and after evaluating the prototype an immediate order was placed, a small batch were made but unfortunately agreement could not be reached. Also, in anticipation of a worldwide market, collaboration was entered into with a firm specialising in supplying such equipment to electrical generating and transmission industry throughout the world. With their available resources this Company was able to have the Reynolds design made at a more reasonable cost elsewhere.
With the loss of this order, Tubular Welded Assemblies at Tyseley finally came to an end, though the skills that had given Reynolds a worldwide reputation were not lost, but were diverted to an entirely new product. In May 1981 TI bought outright the American firm King Fifth Wheel, makers of components for the American aircraft industry, supplying flash-welded rings to the major US engine builders, complementing Reynolds’ European business. This company was to combine in close co-operation with TI Reynolds Ring Division to provide the largest part of the world’s market for engine rings. With the acquisition of King Fifth Wheel, TI also acquired their wholly owned subsidiary, the Abar Corporation. Abar were specialists in high vacuum furnaces and heat treatment technology. To expand the business into Europe, TI bought Abar to Reynolds and what was left of the welded assembly department was given a new lease of life, eventually becoming TI Abar. With this new opportunity the skills that had been employed in tubular structures were quickly adapted to the building of high vacuum furnaces, so much so that some of the Company personnel made numerous trips to the US to inform and instruct their American counterparts on the latest manufacturing techniques developed at Reynolds.
By the end of 1980 and into 1981, the relevant issues of Hallmark were continually reporting changes in Reynolds organisation. With the cessation of basic tube making it was also announced that the Company would revert to a functional company structure, with directors responsible for all company sales and production. To what extent the autocratic divisionalisation had not come up to expectation was not stated, other than they had served their purpose and it was time for a change. To this end, by the turn of the year, Reynolds listed no fewer than 8 directors, each assigned to facets of the Company’s business, that of sales, production, technical engineering and finance all had their own directors, most being brought into the Company from elsewhere.
By the spring of 1981 Peter Stedeford had moved on and Tony Roger was appointed to the Managing Directorship. Such was the atmosphere at that time that in his introductory article in the pages of Hallmark he openly admitted that he was “looked upon as liquidator” though he flatly denied this.
Sports & Social Club
The fraternity of Reynolds employees was not confined only to working hours, as for many years the Company supported a very active Sports and Social Club. It was in 1926 that workers who played football, in forming a works team, established the first Sports Section. The team competed in the Birmingham Works Amateur Football Association, and their handbook for that year listed Reynolds’ home ground as Hay Hall Road Tyseley, the pitch being where later the AID Warehouse was to be built. Other grounds were to follow, including Birmingham park pitches, before the Company had its own Sports ground. Early sections were self-supporting to the extent that the footballers had to go to the Works Manager to ask if the Company would buy them a football, which was probably the Company’s first official recognition of the club’s existence, apart from providing the use of the pitch. For over 50 years football was a major element of Reynolds Sports & Social Club, as late as 1981 still running three teams in Business Works Leagues. Reynolds footballers won many honours, hardly a year going by without a cup or shield being won or being played for in a final.
Following closely on the Football Section, the fishing enthusiasts within the Company, proposed in 1930 to hold a fishing contest at Upton-on-Severn, an event which some 30 employees entered. It was not known what the entry fee was, but the first prize of a dinner service was well worth competing for. Like football the Fishing Section of the Club was to enjoy many, many years of friendly competition.
A cricket section soon followed, again acquitting themselves well in local works competition, adding further to the Clubs growing collection of “silverware”.
Such sporting activities were of course grossly curtailed during the war years, but after 1945 Reynolds Sports & Social Club rapidly expanded under the influence of Anthony Reynolds, as the Club’s Chairman. Sections for indoor activities such as darts, table tennis, snooker and bridge were established, these being held mostly in the Works Canteen. An early postwar section was a .22 rifle club, which consisted mainly of ex-members of the Works Home Guard Unit. A range was set up in the basement at the bottom of the main drive, beneath the Alloy Warehouse. Yet another section was formed by the works golfing enthusiasts, playing matches and tournaments on courses as far afield as Hawkstone Park in Shropshire as well as at local venues. Table Tennis was another Works League in which Reynolds entered a team, with yet again top class performances.
A major advancement in the Sports and Social Club story was the leasing of a Company Sports Ground at Olton, Solihull, in the 1950s. It was here that the first annual Sports Days were held, with all the usual sports day activities such as races for all ages from employees’ children to “Geriatrics”. There were also side shows and demonstrations from local and national organisations.
By this time the Club had become an official part of the Company structure, all employees over 18 years of age being required to pay a contribution of 2d (old pence) per week. For 16 to 18 year olds this was reduced to 1d whilst under-16s were free. Although these figures were increased in the 1970s, they never amounted to a great deal, but it entitled all employees to partake in any of the Club’s activities, including the use of the bar in the works canteen, outside working hours.
By 1974 Solihull Council had requisitioned the ground at Olton for a housing development, but had offered the Company an alternative site at Tanworth Lane, Shirley. This six acre site included farm buildings which, after renovation, enabled the Club to considerably extend its social activities, a far cry from Olton which boasted no more than dilapidated changing rooms cum “pavilion”.
Within the next two or three years planning permission was obtained for alteration and extension of the existing buildings to provide a bar, television lounge, committee rooms as well as a large area for functions with a dance floor to accommodate 120 people. The grounds had facilities for football, cricket, putting and golf practice as well as being a pleasant countrified environment.
The Club was open every evening after working hours and from 4 p.m. Saturdays and lunch time on Sundays, a truly social facility enjoyed by all employees.
Unfortunately, due to the policy changes taking place at Tyseley, in the 1980s Sports & Social activities began to diminish and with such things as the closing of the tube mills, there was a considerable increase in retiring personnel. To cater for these, in 1983 Reynolds Retired Employees Club was formed for ex-employees and their spouses. This new club continued to meet at Tanworth Lane until 1989 when the lease on the ground was terminated and the facilities sold off by Tube Investments. The R.R.E.C. continued to function, independent of the Company, and found a new venue at the premises of the Acocks Green Conservative Club, where it still meets.
Reynolds not only provided facilities for their employees’ leisure hours, in the three decades or so following World War II the Company catered for the workers’ almost every need in the way of welfare. A surgery was established in the area of Hay Hall, where a resident nurse administered first aid and treatment for minor ailments. More serious complaints could be dealt with by the “Works” Doctor, who was in attendance on 2 days per week. Dental treatment was also available, Mr. Crossley the dentist, held surgeries on Tuesdays and Fridays, all of which saved an employee having more time away from work than was necessary. Also on the medical side were regular 6-monthly visits by the chest X-ray unit and for the public-spirited opportunities to donate blood when the blood transfusion service called, despite some wags claiming that the Company had already drained them dry. Apart from physical well-being an employee’s spiritual needs were also provided for with occasional visits from the Area Industrial Chaplain.
For daily amenities the Company provided an excellent canteen facility, this catered for all levels of eating, from the worker’s quick snack to the Director’s 4 course lunch. Directors had always dined in the old house which had its own kitchen, but within the canteen building, situated at the end of the works and adjacent to the canal bank, there were no fewer than 4 dining rooms, according to one’s status. Such class segregation would today be frowned upon, but at that time it was not only felt to be justified but also expedient. First there was space, any one room not being large enough to accommodate all those wishing to eat, also, by the same token, the canteen staff would have been unable to cope had all arrived at the same time, so works and staff lunch break were staggered. Again visitors were catered for and could be entertained at a level becoming their importance and the need to create a good Company impression. Whilst there was no difference in the quality of food that was served it was in the levels of service and decor that the segregation lay. Self-service in the works canteen gave time for a pint at the bar or a game of snooker before resuming work, whereas in the staff rooms, with waitress service, the whole lunch hour was taken up with eating. Although it was generally accepted that one should “hang up one’s keys” whilst dining, it was inevitable that subjects appertaining to the daily tasks would be discussed, giving another excuse for separate dining areas. Although all of this would hardly fit in with current policies of a classless society, at the time it worked well at Reynolds, being accepted as part of the system. Up until the end of 1978, canteen staff, including a manageress, were all Reynolds employees, but after that date the Company decided to bring in an outside catering organisation, a start of the devolution of Reynolds’ internal services.
Over the years the factory services had been built up to a self-sufficiency that was almost independent of outside contractors. Apart from the normal fitting shop personnel that maintained the machinery, the tool room made all the production tooling, this included, apart from plugs and dies for tube drawing, jigs and fixtures for assembly work, mechanical handling devices for Hollow Extrusions and the tooling required for ring production, all of which was designed in the Company Drawing Office. In addition to this, the Company also employed its own plumbers, carpenters, bricklayers, painters and of course electricians.
There was a tool stores where special or little-used tools could be taken out on loan for a specific job and a general stores where an employee could, on production of a requisition signed by a foreman, withdraw anything from a nut and bolt to a toilet roll. The transport department ran a fleet of lorries, from standard Bedfords to Leylands and Albions, vehicles with special extended bodies to cater for 20’ random tube lengths. To keep the fleet running, the garage was equipped to carry out all aspects of repair and maintenance.
In keeping with Reynolds’ flair for innovation and future thinking, as far back as 1939, in conjunction with Jensen Motors Limited, the Company had built a vehicle with a chassis and body constructed entirely from Reynolds Light Alloy Sections, Sheet and Strip, with a payload of 4 ½ tons the vehicle weighed less than 50cwt. This was no showpiece but carried the Company’s products for many years, covering many hundreds of thousands of miles.
With the segregation of Reynolds products all of this was gradually dispersed and more and more outside contractors were bought in, further diminishing the Company’s community atmosphere.
In this, the story of Reynolds, the only individuals that have been written about by name have been the Directors. This was inevitable as it was they, from John Reynolds in the 1840s to the succession of Directors of the 1980s & 1990s, who were the ones that set the Company’s policies and guided its fortunes over nearly 160 years, even though the latter ones may well have been mainly servants of a higher authority. But Directors alone could not have brought the reputation for excellence and quality of product that Reynolds enjoyed worldwide. It was the dedication and pride in the job of the work force that made Reynolds a leading name in its various areas of business. From the Senior Staff to the humblest of shop floor workers, all made a contribution and were part of this Reynolds story. Over the years, through its gates came families, father and sons were numerous, brothers, cousins and uncles, daughters and wives were common, families that made Reynolds a truly “Family Business”. Third generations in Reynolds employ were no exception, and on more than one occasion Grandfather, Son and Grandson all worked for the Company at the same time. Long service with the Company was usual, many employees having worked for Reynolds over 25 years, a number even reaching the magic 50. For these the Company instituted an annual 25 year Fellowship Dinner, to which all employees, past and present, having reached that goal were invited. Although stories of this vast work force would probably fill another volume, it was felt that to name individuals would not do justice to those omitted, therefore let their stories be left to the memories of those with whom they worked, stories that will be told wherever employees of Reynolds gather.
Finally to epitomise the Reynolds Spirit is the story of a shop floor labourer:- Walking through a workshop one day, a manager passed a man leaning on a broom contemplating the area he had just swept. Turning, the man called to the manager, and in all sincerity said “Hey Gaffer, don’t you think I’ve made a good job of that?”
TI sold the Hollow Extrusions division and other companies including TI Helliwell to an institutional buyout led by Tony Rodger, former Managing Director at Reynolds. His Hay Hall Group dates from 1995/6. In October 1998 the Hay Hall Group sold the land, including Hay Hall, to Easter Capital Investments, in order to reduce their debt level. They leased the site back from them. In December 2000 Easter Capital Investment Holdings sold this and other sites to the Gertner family, with Fordgate taking on the management of the site. Hollow extrusion manufacture stayed on the site. One company with that name was liquidated in 2008. Hay Hall Tyseley Limited, which had Hollow Extrusions Limited as a name from 1990-2000, and earlier TI Helliwells Limited and TI Hollow Extrusions Limited, was finally dissolved in 2011.
TI Reynolds 531 Limited, the cycle tubing division, was acquired by Coyote Sports Inc. in 1996, but in 2000, when that company had got into trouble, the Reynolds part underwent a management buyout. In 2007 they moved from Hay Hall to Shaftmoor Lane. They are now known as Reynolds Technology Ltd. Their website contains historic promotional material and information, including a timeline. It can easily be found via search engines.
The Rings division, as part of the TI Group, had gone into a merger with Smiths
Industries in 2000. It was renamed Reynolds Rings Ltd. in 2001, then Smiths Aerospace Components Tyseley Ltd. in 2004. In January 2007 Smiths Aerospace was sold to GE, and the Reynolds part became a subsidiary of GE Aviation as part of Unison Industries, namely Unison Engine Components. In 2011 GE sold them to the Precision Castparts Corporation. Within PCC Forged Products the Tyseley operation, still at 150 Redfern Road, trades as Wyman-Gordon Tyseley. In September 2013 the BBC reported that the factory was under threat of closure, with production possibly moving to the U.S. and the Czech Republic.
The links below put Reynolds in its later TI context, provide timelines, draw attention to current companies and show some of its advertising.