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British Industrial History

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Nettlefold and Chamberlain

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April 1870.
February 1872.

Nettlefold and Chamberlain of Heath Street, Birmingham

The company was based on a small iron and screw business in London that had been purchased by John Sutton Nettlefold which he rapidly developed [1].

1849 Frederick Nettlefold (1833-1913), son of John Sutton Nettlefold, joined the business [2]. The business was converted into a limited company Nettlefold and Son.

1851 At the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace, John Sutton Nettlefold saw a machine for the automated manufacture of wood screws which had been invented by an American [3]. He negotiated to buy the British rights to the patent, giving him the opportunity to dominate the domestic market. His brother-in-law, Joseph Chamberlain (1796-1874), invested £10,000 (and more later) in the business to help with the cost of the patent, the machinery and a factory at Smethwick. However, the 1851 story is discounted in the official GKN history. This says that the US stands at the Great Exhibition did not contain any machinery for making screws, but speculates that Nettlefold may have met Thomas J. Sloane there, or at least someone who knew of him or of his invention. Nettlefold and Chamberlain bought the British rights to Sloane's patent for the manufacture by machinery of woodscrews with gimlet points in 1854.[4]

1854 Chamberlain sent his eldest son Joseph Chamberlain to join the business in Birmingham to look after his investment. A partnership was established Nettlefold and Chamberlain with the two Nettlefolds and the two Chamberlains sharing responsibilities in the business [5]. The younger Joseph Chamberlain took on the accounting, in which area he introduced many innovations, and later the marketing of the products; his cousin Joseph Henry Nettlefold [6] took care of production. The business expanded overseas, forming agreements with other manufacturers about division of the markets. From about 1869 Chamberlain took more interest in politics.

1866 John Sutton Nettlefold died [7].

1868 Edward Steer, nephew of John Sutton Nettlefold the founder of the firm, joined the business [8].

1871 The Castle Iron Works was opened in Hadley, Shropshire, soon manufacturing wire and 400-500 tons of bar iron each week, an early example of Nettlefolds' vertical integration of the business which was to continue for a long time.

1873 Joseph Chamberlain became Mayor of Birmingham

1874 In June, Joseph Chamberlain left the business to concentrate on politics.

1874 After the Chamberlains left the firm, the partnership Nettlefold and Chamberlain was dissolved and the business continued as a limited company.

1876 Machine for producing screws. The works had 2,000 machines producing half a million screws per week. (Exhibit at Birmingham Thinktank museum).

1876 Description of a visit to their works in 'The Engineer'. 12,000 machines packed under one roof. Some of the machines are for making the screw blanks from cold wire headed by a punch. The next operation is the turning down of the head; then the nicking of the head by a circular saw. The screwing was next done, and the screws were pointed on the new plan of the self-entering point. The machines are all devised by Mr. Nettlefold, are covered by his patent, and are made and repaired upon the premises. The wire mill, the bolt and nut mill, and the nail mill were then gone through. [9]

1876 At this time the company also traded under the names of Imperial Wire Co and the Castle Iron Co.

1878 Edward died leaving effective control of Birmingham manufacturing and engineering to Joseph, and his younger brother Frederick Nettlefold in London.

1879 Birmingham Screw and Manchester Screw Co were amalgamated into Nettlefolds

1880 Nettlefolds was launched as a limited company. The Nettlefold brothers went on to reinforce their dominant position in the British wood-screw market through many mergers and acquisitions, eventually becoming part of Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds.

1881 Joseph Henry Nettlefold died. Frederick Nettlefold remained as chairman.

1893 Frederick Nettlefold retired from the chairmanship of the company [10].

1905 The partnership between F. Nettlefold, A. Steer and O. Nettlefold "under the style of Nettlefold and Sons, High Holborn, W.C.", was dissolved [11]. This presumably means that the shop in London was kept out of the Limited company when it was formed.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • Biography of Joseph Nettlefold, by Barbara M. D. Smith, ODNB
  1. The Times, 6 March 1913
  2. The Times, 6 March 1913
  3. Joseph Chamberlain, by Peter T. Marsh, ODNB
  4. 'A History of GKN', Vol 1, by Edgar Jones, MacMillan Press, 1987
  5. The Times, 6 March 1913
  6. Joseph Chamberlain, by Peter T. Marsh, ODNB
  7. Joseph Henry Nettlefold, biography by Barbara M. D. Smoth, ODNB
  8. The Times 31 October 1927
  9. The Engineer 1876/07/28 p60
  10. The Times, 6 March 1913
  11. The Times, 19 July 1905