The Industry & Railways of the South West Black Country




The Coombs Wood Tube Works.

Where the huge works of Messrs. Stewarts and Lloyds, Limited, at Coombs Wood, now occupy an area of forty acres, and were some two thousand of their eight thousand employees are engaged, rural quietude once obtained. The very name of Coombs Wood tells its own tale, and is one of the many instances in the Black Country and its borderland where hives of industry have become established, and vast numbers of work people find employment, though once woods and glades only were in evidence, and no sign was visible of what these later days were to bring forth. It was in the year 1860 that land at Coombs Wood was bought from the late Lord Lyttelton, and a tube works built. Gorse still covered the hill above the works, and wood still partly clothed the hill. In 1868 the works were purchased from Messrs. Noah Hingley & Sons by Mr. Henry Howard, who subsequently amalgamated the business with that of Messrs. Lloyd and Lloyd, of Nile Street, Birmingham.

The demand for tubes year by year was increasing, and the resources of the works grew with a growing demand. The business and works steadily increased in size, and Messrs. Lloyd and Lloyd obtained a reputation the world over for the quality of the tubes they produce, and their brand "L & L" became every where known. On January the first of the present year (1903) Messrs. Lloyd and Lloyd, Limited, amalgamated with Messrs. A. and J. Stewarts and Menzies, Limited, of Glasgow, the combined firms being known as Stewarts and Lloyds, Limited. The Glasgow works of the firm are of a similar description of those of Coombs Woods, of which we have particularly to speak, and which form one of the different works.

The output, in total, of Stewarts and Lloyds, Limited, is about one-half of the total output of iron and steel tubes in Great Britain, and the company is the largest producing company of tubes in the world, with the exception of the United States Steel Corporation. The number of employees is about 8,000, and a staff of about 450 clerks is employed at the different offices and warehouse at home and abroad.

Mr. Samson S. Lloyd was the first chairman of Lloyd and Lloyd, Limited, when this firm became a Limited Company in 1898. Upon Mr. Samson Lloyds death, Mr. John henry Lloyd became chairman, being followed in that position by Mr. Henry Howard. Mr. J. G. Stewart is now chairman of the amalgamated companies of Stewarts and Lloyds, Limited, and Mr. Henry Howard is deputy chairman.

The users of welded tubes and fittings of wrought iron and steel find their wants fully met at the works of Messrs. Stewarts and Lloyds, and the uniform excellence of the work produced is the result of constant and minute personal supervision. Tubes and fittings in every individual case are inspected and tested with the utmost vigilance and the result is that the trade mark of "L & L" is recognised as a guarantee of standard quality, by merchants and customers, in all parts of the globe. The welded tubes and fittings, it should be said, should not be confused with the weldless tubes used for some classes of work.

The productions include wrought iron tubes and fittings for gas, steam, air and water; black and galvanised high-pressure hot-water tubes and fittings, lap-welded iron, steel, and homogeneous tubes for locomotives, marine and stationary boilers; loose flange tubes, "Albion" joint tubes for use in mines, etc., well tubes, with flush of swelled joints, round sockets, or internal nipples, steeled driving shoes, caps, etc.; all kind of boring rods and fittings; electrically-welded fittings and flanges for high pressure steam tubes; cylinders, with concave, convex or flush ends welded in; coils of all descriptions for tuyeres, hot water, steam, refrigeration; hydraulic rams, mains, tubes and fittings; large tubes, lap-welded, up to four feet diameter, supplied with electrically-welded flanges, angle iron flanges riveted on, loose sockets for yarn and lead packing, or any other specified joint.

The tubes that are made range from one-eigth of an inch to several feet in size. Machinery of the highest efficiency is used throughout the works, and an important addition has been made in the last few years at Coombs Wood in the installation of electric plant for the production and distribution of power. It has been supplied by the Westinghouse Electric Company, and includes a central generating station in the centre of the works, which furnishes the current to a series of motors. Each of these is in the centre of a section which it drives, and an over-head single track crane is also worked by electric power. The crane runs on the web of a flanged wrought iron beam, and goods can be easily carried to different parts of the works by the aids of points and switches.

The works is on the canal, from which easy access is obtained to the North-Western, Great Western, and Midland Railways. We would mention that there are some scores of cottages provided by the firm of which the workpeople can avail themselves, and there is an excellent provision in the works in the shape of a workmans club and a reading room, in which the daily papers are provided. A sick club is another institution connected with the works that deserves attention. The workmans club is affiliated with the Worcestershire Union of Workmans Clubs and the members have all the advantages and aids which this valuable association provides. A gardening competition encourages the cottages to friendly emulation in the culture of their gardens, and prizes are distributed annually for the best-kept one; the adjudication is entrusted to the expert of the Worcestershire County Council, Mr. Updale. There is a fire brigade in connection with the works, and competitions are organised from time to time so as to keep up the efficiency of the brigade in case their services are called on, and prizes are given to the men for smartness in drill. A manual fire engine is kept at the works. Some small fires have been extinguished with promptness, showing the efficiency of the brigade.

The firm have recently set on foot a suggestion scheme of some interest among the workpeople, by which they invite any suggestion from any member of the employees which may save time and expense in the manufacture of their products. Suggestions are placed in the books and are adjudicated upon periodically. It is interesting to learn that this scheme has some very gratifying results; it encourages the workmen to use all their wits, and often brings to the front ability which otherwise might remain dormant.

The Benardos electric welding process has been in constant use at the Coombs Wood works for the last ten years, and has proved to be most valuable. The attention of the firm was directed in the year 1890 to the use of this welding process in Russia. Plant was obtained, and Messrs. Lloyd and Lloyd, as the firm was at that time name, secured the sole right to use this process in Great Britain. Russians were at first employed to carry on the work, but ordinary labour was soon trained to work the plant. It is the process of welding by the electric arc, the object to be welded is connected to one pole and the carbon to the other, the latter being held in the workmans hand.

The works are divided into many departments according to the classes of tubes and fittings manufactured. The galvanising works constitutes a separate department were tubes, when this is required, are galvanised. another is the coil department. Here lengths of tubes are welded end to end, and in some cases when so welded form single tube of as much as half a mile in length. These are are afterwards coiled into various shapes - circular - quadrangular, and otherwise, according to their after use. A good many of them find their way to ships, were they are used in refrigerating chambers. We have just mentioned that the welded tubes sometimes reach a length of half a mile, but with regard to the quantity kept in stock at the works, this reaches very often four hundred miles of so in linear length.

Messrs. Stewarts and Lloyds have various warehouses in England and abroad where they keep supplies of their tubes. The markets for them are in fact found in all the chief ports of the world. The works are kept thoroughly up-to-date in their appliances and improvements. Where there is an opening for improvements, they are carried out. For example, a mill for the manufacture of lap-welded tubes, with gas furnaces was laid down some years ago upon the newest lines. This mill has proved thoroughly successful, and shows the firm are always on the qui vive for securing the best methods of production to be found in the old world or the new.

Sufficient has been said without going minutely into the industrial process at the works to give some idea, however bare of what is being accomplished at the Coombs Wood Works of Messrs. and Lloyds, and, irrespective of their other large establishments, these works of themselves entitle them to be ranked among the largest manufacturers in Europe of the tubes and fittings which form the staple of their trade. We may add that there is a complete system of telephonic communication between the offices and the different departments of the works, and there is a private telephone wire connecting the Birmingham offices with those at Coombs Wood.

The works, it may be said in conclusion, are typical of modern British enterprise, in which nothing is left undone that will help to hold the highest place among the great manufacturing undertakings of the world.

© Tom Cockeram 2000