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The Reyrolle Story: Ten - The Growth Years

Reyrolles. the giant engineering concern, grew so rapidly during the first two decades of the Twentieth Century that by 1920 it was employing 1,1000 people.

Robert Owen continues his history of the firm which gave him his start as an engineer.

After the end of World War One, the British economy boomed for a short while but the economic bubble soon burst. By December 1920, one million workers were unemployed, with strikes in all the main industries.

At Reyrolle, the death of its Managing Director, although a great personal loss to family and friends, did not have a measurable effect on the Company. No new Managing Director was appointed and Frank Coates took over as Co-ordinating Manager.

Reyrolle's death also left the Board of Directors without an engineer. It had two Chartered Accountants, John Armstrong and Norbert Merz; a Colliery Owner, Sir Lindsey Wood; a Ship Owner, Arthur Schofield; and a Solicitor, William Negas, but no Engineer. This situation continued until Henry Clothier was appointed as Technical Director in 1921.

In 1920, the sales and profits of the Company rose by nearly 100%. From fifty workers in 1901, Reyrolle now employed about 1,100. It soon became obvious that the demand for the firm's products far exceeded the current production capacity, and that the urgent expansion of the manufacturing function was required. This necessitated a further investment of capital and at the Annual General Meeting in 1920, it was resolved to increase the capital of the Company from 160,000 to 400,000. It was also realised that the Board could no longer rely on local investors to supply the finance and a major decision was made to seek a Stock Market quotation for the Company's shares.

The prospectus went out on 7th June 1920 and within twelve days, the offer was over-subscribed. Charles Parsons, the Tyneside industrialist, applied for 2,000 shares, but the largest request for 8,000 shares came from, Robert Anthony Eden - a Conservative Politician and future Prime Minister. The shares were listed on the Newcastle Stock Exchange in June 1921, and an examination of the share owners showed that many major industrialists and investors had great faith in A. Reyrolle and Co. Ltd. It was another decade before Directors voted for a listing on the London Stock Exchange.

The new capital was mainly used to provide extra manufacturing facilities. Additional land was purchased across the busy Newcastle to South Shields railway line and the New Town Works was born. Much of this land was allotments except for some old houses known as Longley Villas. John Diamond (2006) recalls his great grandparents, William and Annie Lee, used to live there, right next to where the Gate Office of New Town Works was constructed in later years.

When building work commenced, Tommy Blanch a foreman joiner at Hebburn Works was moved to the new site to co-ordinate the construction activities as Clerk of Works. The new buildings, when complete, were to house a new fabrication department, the copper benches and an expanded machine shop.

On the Hebburn site, assembly areas were increased and, in later years, a new four storey office block was built. Those lucky enough to work on the upper floors of this new building had first class views of traffic on the River Tyne and launchings at Swan-Hunter naval yard.

Sport also had its share of this new capital. As part of the New Town facilities, a new sports ground was constructed - large enough for two football fields, with changing accommodation, tennis courts and bowling green. Cricket and football teams were soon operating in the local leagues, and the ever-popular annual mter-departmental competitions were born. The first Sports Day was held in 1922 with the gate receipts of 43 going to the Ellison Hall Infirmary During the next few years, most recreational and out of work interest groups prospered as the Company grew.


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