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A mighty small feat of Oldbury engineering skill

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: July 27, 2014

By Dan Shaw

  • 1959 promotional card from Accles & Pollock containing two very fine steel tubes

  • The card told the story of the fine tubes made by the Oldbury firm

  • The two tubes, one inside the other, with a fine wire through the smaller

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IN RECENT weeks the "smallest tube in the world" as made by the famous Oldbury firm of Accles and Pollock has featured several times on our letters pages as readers reminisce about the men who made it.

Now, thanks to Dennis Carpenter of Langley, we can show you some of the very fine tubes made by the company in the late 1950s.

Dennis writes, "I was a lorry driver and I worked at Accleses when Ted Heath was Prime Minister. Everyone, I think, was on a three day week but me, being a lorry driver, I had to do the full week at work, taking tubes from the Paddock at the top of town to the Broadwell works at the bottom of Oldbury.

"I was given this by a man called George Barnett. I belive he has passed away now. I've had a it a few years."

The promotional card dates from 1959 and it features not one, but two very fine steel tubes, one inside the other, with a piece of fine wire through the smaller tube, and not a human hair as is widely believed.

The card would have been given away at trade fairs and by salesmen and it explains the story of the world's smallest tube, when Accles and Pollock embarrassed one of their American competitors, and details some of the very fine tubes the company made in the '50s.

It reads, "Many years ago, a visitor to our works presented us with a piece of steel tubing and claimed that it was 'the smallest tube in the world'. When, a week or so later, we restored his property to him, there was nothing in his claim but something in his tube – another tube, made by Accles & Pollock, threaded easily into the bore.

"Since those days, the 'smallest tube in the world' has gone on getting smaller, and it is still Accles & Pollock who make it.

"In 1939, we exhibited, at the New York World's Fair, one with an outside diameter of .0039" – about the same as that of a human hair. Just lately, we made a cold drawn stainless seamless steel tube of about half that diameter and with a bore of less than one thousandth of an inch. The fact that we make such tubes to precise dimensions and that they are constant in accuracy of bore, wall thickness and diameter gives some indication that we do not use lightly such terms as 'extreme skill'.

"The two stainless steel tubes attached to this card are among the giants of our range of small tubes, the larger one being .028" and the one inside it .012" in outside diameter. The fine wire running through the smaller one is there to dispel doubts.

"Between our smallest tube and our largest, which measures about 8½" in diameter, we produce over 2,000 variations of size and cross-sectional shape, in addition to a large number of conventionally cylindrical tubes. Accles & Pollock certainly put something into their tubes and there is much to be got out of them."

The company was founded as Accles Ltd at Perry Barr, Birmingham, in 1896 by engineer James George Accles. He made tubes for the bicycle industry but got into difficulties and the company was liquidated in 1898. The company secretary, Charles Barlow, took over, and set up Accles Tube Syndicate, with J.G. Accles having no further involvement. In 1901 Tom Pollock came aboard with financial backing and the company name was changed to Accles and Pollock.

In 1902 the company relocated to the Broadwell works in Oldbury and in 1909 they built their Paddock Works at Rounds Green. In 1910 they merged with the Merriman and Oldbury Steel Conduit Company to form Accles and Pollock Ltd., with Tom Pollock, Charles Barlow, Walter Hackett and J. Baker as directors.

There were further changes after the First World War when Accles and Pollock combined with Tubes Ltd., Simplex Conduits Co. Ltd. and Credenda Ltd. to form Tube Investments Ltd.

The company made a wide range of products, with tubular furniture , golf clubs, bows and other sports equipment to highly specialised precision tubing used in all fields of engineering.

There were many changes in the 1980s and '90s and what was left of Accles and Pollock changed hands a number of times. In 2001 the company stopped making tubes to concentrate on manipulation projects for the aerospace and nuclear industries.

Have you any stories and pictures of working for Accles and Pollock? Please contact dshaw@blackcountry bugle.co.uk or write to 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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