THE world of work has changed beyond all recognition in the last 30 years or so. Today it’s rare for someone to spend their entire working life with just one employer, with the average job tenure being five to six years.
It was very different in the traditional industries of the old Black Country, when it was commonplace to leave school, take a job at the local factory or foundry and remain there until you retired. From time to time we receive stories from readers of their parents or grandparents clocking up 40, 50 and even 60 years with one employer.
Typical of this was the Stourbridge Rolling Mills some 60 years ago. Nona Bloomer, of Far Forest, near Bewdley, has loaned to the Bugle a copy of Steel News from August 1949, the trade paper for the British steel industry. In it is a story about Stourbridge Rolling Mills, where a quarter of the workforce had been with the company for 21 years or more. Nona’s father Eric Parry worked there and by 1949 had clocked up 26 years’ service.
The story was headlined A Typical Steel “Family” and was as follows: “While the British iron and steel industry has many great works with thousands of employees and names that are famous for quality throughout the world, there are also scores of smaller enterprises, specialising in certain jobs, proud of their craftsmanship and family spirit. One of the happiest factory families in the Midlands is to be found on the outskirts of that area in the busy town of Stourbridge at the Stourbridge Rolling Mills Ltd.
“Here there are 198 employees, ranging in age from 15 to 68 years, of whom 50 have been with the firm for 21 years or more.
“This has cost the firm 50 silver watches, for every employee with 21 years’ service is presented with a watch with inscription.
“The Stourbridge Rolling Mills were founded in 1906. They specialise in what is known as the cold rolling of steel strip — cold steel is passed between heavy rolls, being pressed into thin strips, an operation requiring great skill and experience.
“Mr J.M. Standish, Managing Director, is the son of one of the founder directors of the firm, while his son in turn has – since coming out of the army – been working his way through the mill.
“Of the 198 employees, over 60 started with the firm as boys.
“It is a family affair in another sense, for 78 of the workers are related (parents, children, brothers or sisters). These include Boswells (4), Corfields (4), Baylisses (3), Wilsons (3), Drums (3).
“Though only a small firm it has a social and sports room. The firm provided the materials and the men built this for themselves in 1930. This also serves as a canteen, the directors eating with the men and taking their place in the queue.
“One afternoon each week the works has a visitor in a dog collar – the Rev W.I. Cox. There has been a works chaplain for the last eight years, an innovation in which the Bishop of Worcester has taken a great interest, having himself paid a visit to the works to see how it operates.
“Mr Cox finds this activity of mutual benefit. As he stops and talks with the men all kinds of questions arise and friendships are made with people he would not normally contact.
“Mr Standish, Managing Director, says – ‘We have only had two small difficulties with our workers since the firm was founded. Both these were settled in a few days. While we are proud of our record I do not believe it is so very unusual in the steel industry.’”
Stourbridge Rolling Mills was established by seven Edwardian businessmen – Edward Williams, Henry Crudgington, John G. Standish, Edgar V. Mitchell, Walter Crudgington, John T. Green and A.G. Johnson – and operated from Canal Street, producing steel strip. In both world wars the works were given over to munitions, making steel strip for aircraft and guns links during the Second World War.
After the war there was a boom in demand for steel strip and the rolling mills supplied manufacturers of cars, bicycles, refrigerators, washing machines, radio and television sets, among many other things.
A new state-of-the-art rolling mill was installed in 1963 and three years later the premises were extended into Bradley Road and a new administrative block was added. In 1977 Stourbridge Rolling Mills became part of Glynwed Steels Division.
The mills closed in the mid 1980s and today the site has been largely cleared and is awaiting redevelopment into a housing estate.