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Postwar exhibition of the best of one town's industry

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: January 26, 2014

By John Workman

  • A dramatic study of a furnace being tapped at Shotton Bros. Ltd

  • One of the bays at Brookes (Oldbury) Ltd

  • Made in Oldbury, the souvenir handbook from 1949

  • A range of the sweets made at Parkes Classic Confectionery, Ltd., sent from Langley for export

  • "Creda" Cookers come off the production line at Simplex Electric Co., Ltd., at the factory in Rood End Road

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THE Black Country as we know it today was created by the discovery of vast quantities of natural minerals, the successful exploitation of those resources, the entrepreneurial skills of the iron masters, and the blood, sweat and tears shown by our humble ancestors in their daily toil.

Therefore, it is no surprise that many articles appearing in the Bugle concentrate on the industries of the past and we are delighted to be able step back 65 years to an exhibition of local industrial effort that was held at Langley Baths in the spring of 1949, courtesy of a souvenir handbook, simply called Made in Oldbury that has been kindly supplied by Charles Selby from the Vale of Glamorgan.

Alderman K.H. Wilson, JP, chairman of the Local Employment Committee, explained why the exhibition was being held:

"Much has been written and more said in public during recent months about production and the need for more and more of it if our country is to succeed in its fight for economic stability. [This statement has a familiar ring to it!] It is true to say that a very large number of the main products of Oldbury works are not 'finished articles' but largely raw materials for the fabrication or production of many goods seen in the shops or used by all of us every day. Our LEC has sponsored this demonstration to show everybody what Oldbury makes, why Oldbury makes it, and where Oldbury products go."

The Mayor of Oldbury, Councillor B.T. Robbins, added, "This industrial exhibition at the Civic Baths is unique in the history of the Borough. Never before has such an exhibition been staged. The Borough of Oldbury is essentially industrial, and due to the variety of production in the local works, and the consequent call for labour, the population has risen from 35,000 at the 1931 census to an estimated figure of 53,000 in 1948. The continued prosperity of Oldbury has brought workers here from all parts of England, Scotland and Wales, and it is that demand, created by local industry, that has pushed the population up by more than a thousand a year over the past two decades."

And the Minister of Labour at the time, George Isaacs, gave the exhibition his whole-hearted support:

"It is well that a community such as the people of Oldbury should have an opportunity of seeing and being proud of what the industries of the town are doing to help the nation out of economic difficulties into better and happier conditions."

The book includes 24 of Oldbury's top industries that were operating in 1949, many of which will probably be recognised by Bugle readers, and we have used a selection of photographs from the book to focus on some of the companies that took part in the exhibition.

The full list of 24 is: Accles & Pollock, Ltd., Albion Bottle Co., Ltd., Shotton Brothers Ltd., London Works (Barlows), Ltd., William Hunt & Sons (The Brades), Ltd., Reynolds Rolling Mills, Ltd., Brookes (Oldbury), Ltd., Cuxson, Gerrard & Co., Ltd., W.H. James, Ltd., T. & J. Foundry, Ltd., The Pazo Co., Parkes Classic Confectionery, Ltd., Hughes Johnson, Ltd., Elvicta Handtools, Ltd., Imperial Chemical Industries, Ltd., M.C.L. & Repetition, Ltd., Midland Tar Distillers, Ltd., British Industrial Plastics, Ltd., Albright & Wilson, Ltd., Thomas Howse, Ltd., Edwin Danks & Co., Ltd., Tube Products, Ltd., Stelwin Construction Co., Ltd., and Simplex Electric Co., Ltd.

The industrial history of Oldbury reaches back to before the middle of the 18th century when a group of forges operated at what later became known as the Brades. In 1769 the first canal was cut through the town, and with a new and cheap method of transporting heavy goods, Oldbury's chances of becoming a hub of industry rapidly increased.

The book relates an unexplained story: "Just before the war, an expedition exploring New Guinea crossed a mountain range never before climbed. On the other side they found a great valley where lived a tribe of people who had never had any contact with the outside world, a tribe who believed the earth only extended to the mountain ridge they had never seen beyond, and who thought they were the only people who existed.

"Yet that tribe had one very proud possession, a hunting knife made in Oldbury. How it got there has never been explained, but it underlines the fact that you cannot go anywhere in the world without finding products made in Oldbury."

And despite the grime Oldbury was a proud town in the Black Country: "It has no imposing civic buildings, no big shopping centre, and much of it, to be honest, is rather dirty. But it's honest dirt, the dirt that comes from hard work, not from slovenliness. For when it comes to industry, this small town of Oldbury can hold its own with any other town or city in the world."

If you have any memories of working at any of the above named industries, or perhaps your family came to the area for the first time during the expansion of Oldbury just before the war, please let us know here at the Bugle. Contact jworkman@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or write to our editorial address on page 2.

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