Thursday, 28 May 2009

Alfred Herbert Ltd

Alfred Herbert Head Works at Edgewick in 1957, one of four in Coventry. The small picture at the top shows the original works in 1889. Click to enlarge.

Alfred Herbert Ltd of Coventry, Warwickshire.
Telephone: 8781. Telegraphic Address: "Lathe, Coventry". (1937)

The firm which became Alfred Herbert Limited was originally founded in 1887 as a machine tool makers in Coventry.

Alfred Herbert was educated at Stoneygate, a private school in Leicester, and was afterwards apprenticed to Joseph Jessop's Engineering Co in Leicester.

At the conclusion of Alfred's apprenticeship in 1887, he secured the job of works manager at Coles and Mathews in The Butts, Coventry and began producing machinery for the cycle trade, with guaranteed orders from his older brother* William's Premier Cycle Co.

In 1888 Herbert, in partnership with William Hubbard, bought out Matthews for £4000, a sum that was loaned to them by their respective parents. With the help of Hubbard's considerable inventive capacity, they began making drilling machines and hand lathes, which sold very quickly at about £28 each.

The letterhead of Herbert & Hubbard's firm. Note the logo - the 'Great Paul' - the bell which Alfred had seen being transported to London when he was at school at Stoneygate.

By 1889 Alfred Herbert and William Hubbard's business was being carried on in Upper York Street, Coventry, under the name of Herbert and Hubbard and pill picking and sorting machines were made, in addition to machines for the bicycle trade. After a time the partnership ended and Hubbard was bought out. Later the firm became known as Herbert Machine Tools and then in 1894, Alfred Herbert Ltd.

Catalogue of Horizontal and Vertical Milling Machines, Universal Cutter Grinder, Sensitive Drills, Capstan Lathes for general and repetition work, Universal Grinding Machine, Special Machinery for Cycle manufacturers. Labour saving machine tools.

In 1894 Alfred Herbert firm became a limited company.

In 1897 Oscar Harmer, later Herbert's Technical Director, joined the company
In 1905 Harold (AH) Lloyd, MBE, joined Alfred Herbert as an apprentice with a B.Sc fom London University.

By 1914 Alfred Herbert Ltd had 2000 employees and specialised in making hexagon turret lathes, capstan lathes, automatic turning machines, automatic screw machines, milling machines, ball bearing drilling machines etc.

In 1915, Alfred Herbert was called to serve the country as Deputy and later Controller of Machine Tools at the Ministry of Munitions, for which service he was knighted in 1918.

In 1918 David Gimson joined the firm as Financial Director, a position he held until his retirement in 1953.

In September 1920 the company exhibited ten stands of machinery, tools and other equipment at the Machine Tool and Engineering Exhibition at Olympia. Sir Alfred attended the Exhibition for many years.

1928 The opening of a new extension of the works at Edgewick. In the photo with Sir Alfred is Lady Florence Herbert (who died in 1930) and who switched in the power. Other notable Herbert directors include PV Vernon (1), Joe Pickin (2), AH Lloyd (3), David Gimson (4), Mr Kelway (5), Mr Perkins (6), and Oscar Harmer (7). Click to enlarge

In August 1940, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Coventry and Alfred Herbert Ltd.

1944 Alfred Herbert Ltd became a public company. Then and subsequently, the firm had a large number of overseas subsidiaries and agencies. The subsidiaries included:-

Alfred Herbert (India) Ltd
Alfred Herbert (Australasia) Proprietary Ltd
Societa Anonima Italiana Alfred Herbert
Societa Anonyme Belge Alfred Herbert
Societe Anonyme Alfred Herbert, Paris

The firm had always supported sports and other societies organised and run by the staff. There were many such societies, some of which still exist in Coventry today such as the Coventry Amateur Dramatic Society founded by AH Lloyd, though their association with the firm has long passed.

The firm also maintained its own fire-fighting capability through the Alfred Herbert Fire Brigade, which had some of the finest equipment in the city. There is a superb example of an Alfred Herbert fire engine in the Coventry Transport Museum.

On Sir Alfred herbert's 90th birthday in 1956, the Machine Tool Trades Association set up a Trust Fund to provide for a travelling scholarship in his name.

1956 Tea with twenty-three of Sir Alfred's 5,700 employees on the occasion of his 90th birthday. Each person in the photo (except of course his wife Nina), had over 50 years service with the company. David Gimson, then chairman, is on the extreme left of the photo. Click to enlarge.

Sir Alfred died on 5th June 1957 and a memorial service was held for him in Coventry in September.

In 1961 the firm had 4,700 employees and Col Clark was the chairman.

In 1963 March David Gimson, Alfred Herbert's Financial Director since 1918, died.

By 1968 Alfred Herbert Ltd also owned Holbrook and Sons and Churchill Machine Tool Co.

By the early 1970s the workforce had grown to around 12,000 nationally, but redundancies had begun.

In 1980 Tooling Investments took over the firm, but three years later debts of some £17m led to the firm's collapse.

* Alfred’s older brother William Henry Herbert joined forces with William Hillman in 1875 as Hillman and Herbert and formed the Premier Cycle Company to make bicycles. Later they formed the Automachinery Company which included Alfred on the Board of Directors.

Graces' Guide - the Best of British Engineering 1750-1960s

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