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The Reyrolle Story: Four - A Large And Airy Machine Shop

Alphonse Reyrolle moved his London-based business north to Tyneside in the same year that Queen Victgoria died.

Robert Owen continues his history of one of England's major manufacturing concerns.

Alphonse Reyrolle pondered long and hard over the Merz Brothers' recommendation to move to the unknown north-east. It was further away from France and his profits in London for the year 1900 were good: 1,800 or over 20% of sales turnover. Could he do better on Tyneside? He eventually did accept their advice, but only with a degree of caution, ensuring that his London factory was kept going until the new manufacturing facility at Hebburn was 'up and running'.

As a result and in the same year as the death of Queen Victoria, A Reyrolle & Company Ltd., was incorporated on 16th May 1901, when it took over the redundant alkali factory near Hebburn railway station. Of the 20,000 shares, Alphonse understandably was the single largest shareholder with 3,200, while his sister Eleanor had 500. Although Charles Merz was not a shareholder probably because of the need to remain independent, his father John and brother Norbert took 500 shares each. Other blocks of shares were taken by friends of the Merz family, who were mostly prominent local industrialists. A small number of employees who purchased shares included George Pawsey and Alfred Nicod.

The new firm was specifically concerned with the manufacture of equipment for the electricity supply industry. The emphasis on innovation was evidenced by the laboratory set-up at the start, and Reyrolle's seven patents, taken out between 1902 and 1908, which related to electrical switches, resistances and motors.
The First Board of Directors' Meeting was held on 23rd May, 1901 with John Armstrong as Chairman, Alphonse Reyrolle as Managing Director and Norbert Merz as Secretary. The Company initially employed about fifty workers, several of whom had moved north with Reyrolle. Commenting years later, Norbert Merz said, "The first few years on Tyneside were a great struggle. We starved our investors as they had to wait some time for any return."

Shortly after starting up on Tyneside, the local press was invited to view the new works of A Reyrolle & Co Ltd. The Newcastle Evening Chronicle described the main building as 'a large and airy machine shop'. This was not a view shared by George Pawsey who, after arriving from London, described Hebburn as 'a mucky place'. He must have quickly adjusted to his new environment because the following year, he married Miss Pennock, the first female to work in the new factory.

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