Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Watkins and Keen

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of Smethwick

The firm of Watkins and Keen was established with capital from a wealthy ironfounder called Thomas Astbury who was the father-in-law of Arthur Keen. Watkins had rights to an American patent for making nuts and bolts. They formed a business together to exploit Watkins' patent rights

c. 1856 Partnership formed between Francis Watkins and Arthur Keen

1859 Messrs Watkins and Keen's Patent Nut and Bolt Co, Smethwick, experienced a fire at the Victoria Works[1].

c.1860 Company moved to London Works, which had been vacated by Fox, Henderson and Co in 1856 and partially occupied by Thomas Astbury and Sons in 1858[2].

1861 Watkins and Keen, London Works, near Birmingam, advertised for a portable engine and boiler, 4 to 6 h.p.[3].

1862 All fastenings for the "immense structure" of the International Exhibition were supplied by the Patent Nut and Bolt Co, the premises of the late firm Fox, Henderson and Co, London Works, now in the possession of Messrs Watkins and Keen; Watkins had arrived in England about 1856 from America; the works had become one of the largest of its kind in the world, covering more than 4 acres and employing 500 people. The contract for the Exhibition had been granted largely on the basis of the uniformity of the product arising from machine production[4].

1862 Acquired the European rights to the American "cow-milker" displayed at the International Exhibition[5]

1862 Messrs Watkins and Keen both attended the outing to Kenilworth for their employees at London Works [6].

1863 At the 1862 London Exhibition Weston and Grice showed the manufacture of bolts using ingenious machinery and also nuts made "at 2 operations" whilst those of Watkins and Keen were made "at once". " A fine series of nuts and bolts on the American plan" was exhibited by Watkins and Keen[7].

1863 A workpeople's hall was opened at the London Works by Mr Watkins (senior partner) with Mr Thomas Keen and others also present. It would be used for working men to breakfast and dine during the day; also provision for musical entertainment or lectures in the evening; also a library[8].

1864 The Patent Nut and Bolt Co was launched as joint-stock company[9]

1864 Took-over Weston and Grice of Stour Valley Works, West Bromwich, and Cwmbran near Newport[10].

1865 Partnership dissolved. '...the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned, Francis Watkins and Arthur Keen, carrying on business under the style or firm of The Patent Nut and Bolt Company, and also as Engineers, under the style or firm of Watkins and Keen, at the London Works, at Smethwick, was this day dissolved...[11]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Birmingham Daily Post 16 May 1859
  2. Biography of Arthur Keen, by Barbara M. D. Smith, ODNB
  3. Birmingham Daily Post 14 August 1861
  4. Birmingham Daily Post 28 February 1862, repeating an article from the London American
  5. The Standard 21 August 1862
  6. Birmingham Daily Post 10 September 1862
  7. Birmingham Daily Post 8 January 1863
  8. Birmingham Daily Post 7 December 1863
  9. The Times, 26 April 1864
  10. Birmingham Daily Post 30 December 1864
  11. The London Gazette Publication date:27 June 1865 Issue:22984 Page:3218