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Crowning glory of British Railways made here in the Black Country

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: May 31, 2014

  • 1960s advert for William Mills Limited aluminium foundry, Wednesbury

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ONE of the great names in Black Country engineering is William Mills Limited of Wednesbury. This 1960s advert for the firm will be of interest to railway enthusiast as it highlights the link between the company and British Railways.

The advert is taken from the 1967 West Bromwich Schools' Sports Association Handbook, a copy of which has been loaned to us by Peter Hill of West Bromwich.

As you can see, the company were very proud that they cast the British Railways badges for the latest electric locomotives.

This BR badge, a lion rampant, holding a wheel and rising from a crown made up of national symbols, the leek, rose, shamrock and thistle, was affectionately known by railway workers as the "ferret and dartboard". It was the third corporate logo employed by company.

Britain's four railway operators, the London and North Eastern Railway, London, Midland and Scottish Railway, Great Western Railway and Southern Railway, were nationalised in 1948, adopting the name British Railways.

The earliest attempt at branding saw its locomotives simply have the name written on their sides. Then in 1950 a new badge was adopted, the "cycling lion", which featured a lion astride a wheel. This was replaced in 1956 with the "ferret and dartboard", which remained in use until 1965 when the famous "double arrow" (or "arrows of indecision" to those less favourable) was adopted, along with the new name of British Rail.

The locomotive in the picture is E3037, a Class 84 engine built in 1960. Designed by GEC, it was built by the Northern British Locomotive Company at its works in Glasgow. 10 were built in all but they were plagued with technical problems in their early operational lives on the West Coast Main Line. They were withdrawn from service at the end of the 1970s and this particular locomotive was scrapped in 1980.

Sir William Mills was born in Sunderland in 1856. In his early life he spent many years at sea and qualified as a marine engineer in 1884. The following year he set up Britain's first aluminium foundry at Monkwearmouth, Sunderland. Later Mills established a foundry in Birmingham.

In the First World War he developed his Mills bomb hand grenade and in 1915 opened the Mills Munition Factory in Birmingham, where they are estimated to have made over 70 million hand grenades in the course of the war. Variations of the Mills bomb remained in production in the UK until 1972.

In the Second World a shadow factory was opened at Friar Park, Wednesbury, and after the war the Birmingham works were closed and all production moved to Wednesbury. There the firm made precision aluminium castings for the likes of Harland and Wolff, Short, Jaguar, Lotus, Coventry Climax, Perkins, and Ford. You can see some decorative items cast in aluminium by the William Mills forge on our website, www.blackcountry bugle.co.uk.

Mills was knighted in 1922 and he died at Weston-super-Mare in 1932.

Did you work at William Mills Limited and do you have any pictures or memories to share? Contact dshaw@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or write in to us at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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