«A SHORT HISTORY OF NEWMAN HENDER & C0 Roy K. Close 1 Beginnings Samuel John Newman, the founder of Newman Hender, was born in ﬁhe Crimea in 1845 during ...»
Although the range of products was now very large indeed, the company's long held family tradition of small or one off specialised valve orders was never forgotten and these were still regarded just as important for the firm's image. In the mid 1960s the Trowbridge production plant and facilities were re-housed in the former premises of Vickers Aircraft. (The growth of their products had outgrown the space available.) Government and company money was well spent on putting the new site into good order. An area of 95,000 square feet was created, just double that of the old site. The new site housed a new company, Ben Nevis, which had been formed to deal with the increased demand, particularly from the Egg Marketing Board, for the egg production machinery and packing equipment.
The group had also obtained a controlling interest in Inchbrook Printers of Wotton under Edge, giving them their own printing facilities. In the export market further developments included the ‘purchase of McEvoy (Canada) with licence to sell and manufacture their products outside the USA. Nearer home a new French Company, Newman and McEvoy S.A. was set up in Paris to control the manufacture and sale of N.H. specialities in France and French possessions.
This period also saw the advance of exploration for oil and gas in the North Sea which immediately led to rapid growth of wellhead and Christmas tree production at Woodchester. This resulted in the building of a new production centre known as the South Machine shop which also included a new training centre as well as assembly and test facilities. It added a further 28000 square feet of production space. At the same time the pond in the foundry yard which had provided the water for power in the firm's early days, was filled in to provide space for a extension to the foundry. It was to house a new mechanised moulding plant and provide a storage area for castings and material now being transported by road. Access was through a newly created entrance at the bottom of St Mary's Hill on the A46, instead of by the Nailsworth-Stonehouse Railway at the rear of the foundry.
All these various developments had created an apparently healthy future for the group which had now welcomed a new generation of the Newman family in the shape of Anthony, son of Noel Newman, and Ray Newman's son John. The former had completed a long period of accountancy training and the latter had spent two years in the Navy, having previously been with Dewrance, the London valve makers.
Their arrival maintained the family name and tradition in the group. No-one knew that this generation hand-on would not continue in the future as the group had experienced a long and consistent period of success. It had risen from a small family concern into a large group consisting of ten UK production plants employing 2,500 employees, including 900 at 'Woodchester. There: were also four overseas subsidiaries in Canada, South Africa, France and Switzerland as well as several other outlets in various other parts of the world. All this had been achieved in less than a century and everything pointed to the continuation of this apparently healthy future for many more years.
Completely without warning 'however in. early 1969 came the announcement that a takeover bid had been made by the Serck Group. The news came as a bombshell to the whole of the workforce throughout all the sites, all of whom appeared completely bemused by the suddenness of it all, certainly at Woodchester we were all greatly shocked by the announcement.
It was extremely difficult for any of us to understand how the situation had come about, although there was some speculation as to whether the. Woodchester based group 'had 'become too financially committed and therefore was considered as easy picking.
One never knows, but I remember someone quoting Percy Newman's alleged comments that if the old pond was ever filled in he would bring down his wrath on those responsible! Whatever the facts were the bubble had well and truly burst, leaving a great deal of confusion and concern for what the future would hold.
5 Merger and Rationalisation After long and protracted negotiations during the first part of 1969 the Board announced they had agreed a merger with another competitor, Pegler Hattesley based on Doncaster. This was stated to be to the apparent satisfaction of both Directors and shareholders, perhaps a case of better the devil you know than the one you don't. Almost immediately afterwards came the news that anew company was to be formed within the Pegler Group which would be known as Hattersley Newman Hender. It had its headquarters at Ormskirk and manufacturing sites there, and at Woodchester, Trowbridge, Nottingham and Hull. Noel Newman was appointed to the Pegler Board and Ray Newman became chairman of a co-ordinating committee to decide future policies.
Very few of the Woodchester workforce had any real knowledge of the wheeling and dealing going on and there followed a period of considerable anxiety and uncertainty during which rumours and vague statements did nothing to ease their concern.
Eventually in March 1970 came the announcement that all bronze valve production at Woodchester would be transferred to other sites in the group. The bronze foundry at Woodchester was to be closed and other sections concerned would be reduced in personnel accordingly' with some 110 "redundancies resulting.
Some personnel were transferred to other parts of the site to deal with new product ranges which were introduced from other parts of the group.
This was followed by the transfer of all Milliken and otherH
products sales and relevant administration to Ormskirk.
Although Woodchester staff involved were given the chance to transfer few did. As a result these products became just another part of the Ormskirk scene and sales soon suffered.
This was because the specialist knowledge previously available to customers had disappeared with the staff who were now either redundant or occupied with new products.
In the midst of all these changes and re-organisation came news of the sudden death of N.P. Newman in August 1970 at the age of
60. He had been involved with the company for 40 years.
Although he had resigned his new position on the Pegler board a month earlier, because of ill health, it was still a considerable shock. Many who knew him well felt that the loss of his family firm had a traumatic effort and indeed may have been the cause of his death.
Sir John Langman took over the reins at Woodchester.
Obviously, he was never fully at ease with the new company structure. In effect it made him another Ormskirk employee and it was no real surprise when he announced his resignation after a relatively uneasy period of a year or so. He was replaced by Anthony Newman (NP's son) who had hardly warmed his seat before the long rumoured separation of the McEvoy valve production became a fact.
The new H.N.H. Company and McEvoy Houston reached agreement on a joint venture which led to the formation of a new company in
1974. It was called McEvoy Oilfield Equipment. This was quickly followed. by a transfer of personnel and equipment involved. in. manufacturing Mcevoy products. As many of the former had considerable job knowledge of other Newman Hender products it was inevitable that the old firm was left very thin on the ground in product experience.
Products were transferred from other group sites in an attempt to replace the loss of McEvoy production. However, the lack of product knowledge among Woodchester employees plus a lack of readily available information made it extremely difficult to surmount the teething troubles which inevitably occurred. In addition Group's insistence on making Ormskirk casting production top priority in the Woodchester foundry made it almost impossible. to maintain the requirements of the Out casting customers production schedules. It was not long before major customers, such as Vauxhall, took their work to other firms.
Attempts to replace this with limited other work were partially successful. Plans to enlarge the Ormskirk foundry in the late 1970s meant that almost all the non N.H. casting work was transferred there. In 1982 the Woodchester foundry closed completely with the loss of over 150 jobs including that of the writer. This left a small production unit based on the Stroud side of the Giddyknap Lane struggling to cope with the demands of the new products and feeling very isolated. However, the belated return of the administrative side of the N.H. products such as the Milliken improved the situation considerably. Led by a new management structure, the site began to revive its fortunes. In a couple of years it gradually became a reasonably viable unit, once again under its revived name of N.H Engineering.
However once again a twist of fortune occurred just as everyone was beginning to feel there was real hope for the future. It had been rumoured for sometime that the Ormskirk site workload had been falling gradually. They were the headquarters site, so it was decided that all the Woodchester work would be transferred to them during late 1984 and 1985. Thus the remaining workforce were informed that the site would close in the summer of 1985 and that they would become redundant, except for a few who were be transferred to Ormskirk.
It was a sad end for them and also to the company's long history of valve production under the Newman family name and finally a great blow to the Stroud District employment situation. Ironically, castings for the old family firms more successful products, Millikens are still made locally at Lewis and Hole at Dudbridge. They are sent to Ormskirk for machining and assembly.
The site was purchased by a development company and converted into industrial units. The exterior of the buildings were largely undisturbed and remain today as a reminder of the Newman family, its company and its many employees. Perhaps it was fitting that one of the last acts of some of them was the raising of a black flag made from a dustbin liner on the flag pole which had so proudly borne symbols of the firms achievements as well as the national flag.
6 McEvoy, Cameron, Cooper
The separation of McEvoy production in 1974 obviously came at the ideal time for the newly formed company. A year earlier a further 10,000 square feet had been added to the southern end of the 1966 machine shop building. In 1975 this was followed by the further addition of 18 bays to provide much needed production space and. capacity" to cope "with. the increasing demand for its products.
For sometime the subsea market had expanded to become a business of its own. So, in 1977 a marine assembly building was created on the old sports field to support this expansion.
There also developed an increasing market for large compact blocks as an addition to the single valve market. Certainly the 1974 decision to channel all the hard earned oilfield business equipment production into one unit had begun to pay off. The new company became a leading supplier to the oil companies throughout the world. Obviously the development of the North Sea Oil had been a significant factor as the quality of the McEvoy equipment became apparent to the Oil producing world. Companies such as B.P. and Shell in the former, plus such as Texaco, Conaco world wide, as well as the OPEC producers in the Middle East were now almost queuing to become customers as the Company embarked on what was to be its boom years of the 1970s and 1980s.
The lcompany 'had. purchased the former' N.H. Foundry and its canteen and pattern shop together with the buildings of the 19th century five storey mill. The foundry site was demolished and cleared and a new office complex was built on it in 1984/5 to replace the temporary buildings on the old sports field, while the latter buildings were converted into a Laboratory and other office space. Among market expansion at this time was a large order for the 'Russian. Oilfields "which "required considerable addition to the site's workforce. In addition McEvoy helped to create a plant in Egypt to assist its middle East market. It also increased its interests in Australasia as well as widening its role in North Sea Oil through its Aberdeen and Great Yarmouth plants.
In 1986 however the site heard the sad news of the sudden death of F.R. (Ray) Newman at the age of 75. Still actively engaged in promoting the company's interests after over 40 years service his death did however, finally end the involvement of the Newman family with valve production at Woodchester.
It was not long after that the first signs of recession in the oil industry began to affect the company. After various attempts to reduce costs, a large scale redundancy programme was announced. It involved the closure of the night shift and a considerable reduction in its workforce.
It also now began to change hands after being merged with America's Smiths Industries several years previously. In 1987 Smiths were forced to sell the site because of a costly patents court case and the Company became part of the large American company Cameron Ironworks. After the redundancies and the name change, things settled and generally continued in the same way as the earlier 1980s. Suddenly there came another change in ownership when the whole of Cameron Ironworks were purchased by the giant Cooper Industries, a large American Conglomerate.
There was some disquiet at the move. There were the usual rumours, denials and activity behind the scenes, but in a short while, life settled back into the old routine, although the fall in oil consumption world wide was causing problems to all the oilfield equipment manufacturers as the fmarket became restricted. However it was still a considerable shock to the 350 employees when in the autumn of 1993 Coopers announced that because of over capacity in its Oil division the plant would be closed during the next 12 months or so.
This period saw the gradual run down of the site as production was transferred to the Cooper Oil Tools headquarters at Leeds.
Some of the workforce did accept transfer there but the great majority had to accept redundancy. At the end of October 1994, the remaining plant was sold and the site closed and now awaits the arrival of its new owner Critchleys, formerly of Brimscombe.
Thus saw a sad and inglorious end to 115 years of valve manufacture at Woodchester. During that time it had employed large numbers of local people not only from the immediate locality, but also Gloucester, Cirencester, Sherston and the Severn Vale. Very few families in the Stroud District did not have at least one member, several in fact having two or three generations involved.
As well as providing so much employment the companies also provided many social activities for its employees in sport and leisure both for them and many others who provided opposition on the first class sports field from the 1930s. The company also provided the Sports and Social Club building which was opened in the former Munition factory and woollen mill in 1947.
Both were certainly the envy of many who passed by them on their way to employment in other parts of the county.
This then is the sad end to a story of ups and downs in the life of Newman Hender and McEvoy who both eventually fell foul of today's industrial disease better known as business politics which eventually achieved something that two world wars could not, the end of an era.
Editor's Note: The Newman Hender Records are now in the Gloucestershire Record Office.