a research resource from Stroud Local History Society
THE BIRTH, LIFE AND DEATH OF A RENOWNED STROUD
ENGINEERING COMPANY KNOWN AS “DANIELS”
BORN 1840 – DIED 1986
Research note by Jim Fern Copyright
First published in ‘A Millennium Miscellany’ in 2000 by Stroud Local History Society
The Second World War had come to an end in 1945 after six horrendous years of fighting and destruction, and for many years thereafter strenuous efforts were being made to return to a normal peaceful way of life. For the second time in this century war had completely changed the way of life and it was obviously never going to be the same again. Companies of all types which had been involved in the production of wartime equipment had to rethink their strategy and decide how they could revert to manufacture and meet peacetime requirements. The “Daniels” family was already progressing in this field when I was privileged to join their staff.
After spending more than six years in the Royal Air Force I had been released in February 1946 and returned to my pre-war employers, Gloster Aircraft Co., but I soon realized that there was no future for me there. I must state immediately that my experience there and in the RAF was administrative and not technical and this I was able to offer when undergoing an in-depth interview. This was necessary as my sister Christina had already been with the company for a number of years, having risen from a young typist to become Personnel Assistant to Mr. Lionel Daniels who was then Managing Director.
For this reason I already knew much about this family firm held in great esteem locally and indeed worldwide. Being the largest of heavy engineering companies in the area and one of the biggest employers, they achieved a reputation that “Daniels meant Stroud” and “Stroud meant Daniels” and the family was properly recognised as a caring family in every facet of local life, be it social welfare, religious activities, scouting, council work and education, etc.
My reason for this preamble is to enable the reader to appreciate the value of this sound family business through six generations with the additional knowledge, which I acquired during my thirty-five years in their employ.
Reverting now to the origins of the company, in 1840 the great-grandfather Thomas Daniels, alive at that time, had two sons namely Thomas Henry Daniels and Joseph Daniels. It is a little uncertain whether the business was already in being but it was said that one day Thomas and Joseph were walking up the rough stony road from Lightpill when Joseph threw a horseshoe over the hedge just where the present entrance is situated. They decided that that was the site where they would build their blacksmiths shop and forge. A good story and I liken it to an oak tree growing from a small acorn to become a strong and vigorous tree over the following 100 years until fatefully it went into decline leading to its demise in 1986.
At that time there were apparently other engineering works in the Lightpill area and also a foundry but the “Daniels” early business consisted mainly of smithing, forging and general ironwork. Through the latter half of the nineteenth century however the engineering side of the business continued to expand as millwrights and the manufacturer of beam engines and steam engines for the many cloth mills and other industries locally. A wide variety of products followed and in 1904 a private limited company was formed. Shortly afterwards the development of gas plants and high-speed pumps began and these were supplied to local industries and also to mines. In 1870 an iron and brass foundry had also been set up which was thriving by the turn of the century as a supplier of castings used in the manufacture of Daniels products.
In 1914 the first war broke out and like many companies “Daniels” were diverted completely to war production, making such items as shell-cases and other types of ironwork required by the armed forces. Many women of course were directed into employment there as indeed they were in the last war, taking the place of some male employees who were conscripted into the forces.
On cessation of hostilities, production reverted to peacetime needs and during the ensuing years the variety of products increased dramatically. Experimental engines were made and early work was done on superchargers for Captain Eyston. Work also began on the manufacture of water softening plant and centrifugal separators for well-known national companies. The most significant developments however were in the design and manufacture of presses for the growing plastics moulding industry and also for the rubber moulding industry. This side of the business grew enormously and the company became renowned in this field.
From the mid-thirties the design and manufacture of presses and other moulding machinery became a major part of this essentially family business and although Mr. Frederick Daniels and his brother Mr. John Daniels were still the senior directors, the two sons of Mr. Fred were already playing very important parts in the further development and prosperity of the company. All of these gentlemen had been trained in every aspect of engineering and the two sons had in their time been students at Wycliffe College before undergoing apprenticeships with local firms, Mr. Lionel Daniels gained a degree as a Bachelor of Science at Birmingham University.
The elder of these two sons, Mr. “Eric” Daniels was the first into the business working on the great variety of products as a draughts man and is said to have designed one of the first hydraulic presses. After some years spent in this field he transferred to Daniels (Cam) Ltd., to take over as engineer in charge after a disastrous fire and he ran this company for many years thereafter as Managing Director. This company had been set up in 1887 as a factory for the manufacture of Leatherboard and had been very successful both before and after the fire. As with his predecessors and later his brother Lionel he took a great interest in local societies and civic activities and in due course was appointed as president of the Gloucestershire Engineering Society.
Mr. Lionel Daniels having completed his academic studies by the early thirties, continued to gain experience and even greater knowledge of engineering and business working in other companies and travelling worldwide in the firm’s interests. However, on hearing that his father Mr. Fred Daniels’ had been taken ill, he returned to Lightpill to take over the running of the company at a time when the engineering industry was facing a very difficult period generally, caused by countrywide slump conditions.
His enthusiasm and determination soon began to take effect -and from that point on, things changed for the better and expansion and general improvements were soon to follow. He shortly became a member of the board and was made joint managing director with his father. ,On the death of his father in 1950 he became sole managing director and later chairman of the board, when his uncle Mr. John Daniels died. Other qualified directors were appointed to the board as was deemed necessary from within the company and from without, having specialist knowledge in their particular fields.
The company continued to prosper and the two brothers were determined that it should remain a private company whilst they were in charge. Sadly by a cruel twist of fate later, this was not to be.
From earliest times the family were caring about the workforce and although perhaps not the biggest payers they did much good behind the scenes and most importantly of all they treated employees as people and not just as numbers. Many had worked for the company for most of their lives and in consequence the workforce was highly skilled and with good supervision, Daniels were capable of making almost anything within the capacity available. Many times during my early days I heard it said that whilst the machinery could be the best available the most important factor was a happy, dedicated workforce and the family did their utmost to create this and maintain it Apprenticeships were available to students from local schools and much sought after. Every aspect of the engineering business was included in their training and it became well known that a Daniels apprentice could go anywhere in the world and get a job instantly. Most of these were given a chance to stay with the company either as draughts men and technicians or on the workshop floor where some of them were destined to become supervisors in due time.
Digressing for a moment, many of the apprentices in later life have become Works Managers, Directors of other businesses, Chief draughtsman and some setting up and running their own companies. Such was the fame of Daniels in earlier days.
From information given to me by earlier employees the company was always a very well equipped unit and it was obvious that it played a very important role during the 1939-1945 war as it did in the first world war and probably even more so. The number of employees was already increasing and apparently special provisions were made for the women including the building of a canteen and suchlike. A “Tannoy” system was also put in, as elsewhere, so that the workers could enjoy “Music while you work”, etc., and this was still in operation when I started in 1946 being used thereafter for interdepartmental calls as well.
Daniels products were set aside during this war in favour of making tank parts, parts for Bailey bridges, shell casings, tripods for gun emplacements as well as aircraft components for which a special section was set up. They also manufactured the first chainsaws for the MOD based upon a German design and no doubt other requirements as well.
In 1946 a lot of the machinery was pretty ancient and much of it was belt driven from overhead shafting powered by an on-site engine house but the forward looking board soon began to make changes in this field. New machines were purchased and there was no doubt that it became one of the most well equipped companies around. Whilst there was still a forge, there was a pattern shop, a foundry, a plating shop both large and small, with all the essential facilities for welding, fettling, shot blasting, etc., for dealing with basic products. There were also two large machine shops housing planers, boring mills, a variety of grinding machines and many drilling machines of different sizes. There were also central lathes, capstans and the appropriate tool stores nearby for easy access. Large component stores were also on site as was an electrical department, a maintenance department, and also a spares, service and repairs section, all staffed by qualified employees. In other words, every aspect of the engineering side of the business was catered for.
There was already a tool room and heat treatment section but the fitting shops soon became a problem, as space was too small for the growing number of large presses and injection moulding machines to be built and tested. Extensions were soon made to the factory and further plans were made for the provision of extra space in many directions including the building of a new office block upon the large area belonging to the company. This office block soon became a reality and the growing requirements of the post war expanding business could be catered for more easily, as well as vacating some space that could be used for other activities. At that time the dynamic driving force was undoubtedly Mr. Lionel who was esteemed in every field of activity in which he was involved, be it industry, civic matters, education, Rotary or church matters. He always gave of his best. It must also be mentioned that he held high office in Scouting and in the Congregational Church Union, amongst all the many professional organizations such as the Plastics Institute in which he was esteemed.
These things are mentioned, as they were beneficial to the business and to the employees, who numbered more than 600 by the early sixties. Joint consultation in industry was something that was encouraged and training was provided and arranged for staff and works at every level and nothing pleased the company more than being told of employees’ achievements in any field. Work-study and methods were constantly under review in pursuit of perfection and ultimate modernization, which proved very successful.
One facet of the business was still somewhat archaic however when I joined the firm in 1946 and that was the documentary side controlling manufacture. A punched card system was in operation but all documents had to be typed on manual machines and much had been handwritten. Copies were still made by using carbon paper and for larger papers the old type Gestetner roller machines were used. Typists took details in shorthand and sometimes an old Dictaphone could be used for letters. A lengthy process but of course much longer hours were worked in those days.
A major problem existed in accessing the workload on the factory and with a rapidly growing order book for more and more equipment, something had to be done. Much thought was given to this matter and I became deeply involved in helping to create a loading system based on the operation times set by the planning/work study departments plotted against a series of week numbers given to every order received, whether large or small. This enabled us to build up charts and manufacturing schedules showing where overloading would occur and to layoff work to subcontractors or increase overtime working as necessary, sometimes indicating that more operatives should be sought.
During the ensuing post war years the product mix became quite enormous, for as well as making plastic moulding machinery of many kinds, which was marketed by Alfred Herbert Ltd. of Coventry, and Daniels direct through sales staff and appointed agents around the world, general engineering was still continued. Associated companies of long-standing and growing order books continued to place orders for their specialized equipment. Industrial and domestic water treatment plant was built for Permutit and boiler control gear from small regulators to huge control panels for James Gordon of Stanmore to be used ultimately for the many coal-fired power stations then being built. High-speed centrifugal separators and other products for Sharples, whose parent company was in America, were made in large numbers and most of the castings were made in the foundry. A range of small pumps was also manufactured for another company called Rotoplunge. The list is endless. With the addition of dust collecting plant and industrial fan installations, etc., the business was booming.
The writer craves the forgiveness of the reader for his verbosity, but to portray a truthful picture of a company such as this over its first 120 years does require much detail. So many unforeseen changes were to take place through the last 20 years that it is essential to know what preceded them. Being immersed in Production Control for most of my working life, it was my business to know of every order on the books. Of questionable benefit to myself it did enable me to grow a thicker skin to withstand the buffetings of weekly production meetings and to retain my job until I sought redundancy at 64.
Tragically in January 1958 Mr. Lionel Daniels was killed in a car accident in Derbyshire and from this point on the company was never to be the same. Under the chairmanship of Mr. Eric, the remaining members of the board appointed a new Managing Director and with the assistance of Dr. Helen Daniels, the widow of Mr. Lionel, the fine traditions of the family business continued. As earlier planned, a very large assembly shop was erected in the early sixties opposite the main office block to enable the huge erection programme of machines to continue, some even bigger than before.
Sadly, although three of the sons of the six children of the family were “engineering minded”, they were too young and inexperienced to take over the firm. They were well educated and competent but fate had dealt them a cruel blow, which meant that later they were forced to develop their careers in other directions.
Still very prosperous, it was decided after much consideration that the erstwhile private company should be launched on the stock market and become a public company from the late sixties. Great interest was shown nationally and following a number of bids it was bought by a group called Unichrome International and naturally changes were to follow. Some parts of the company were restructured and the name T.H. & J. Daniels was dropped.
Continuing to trade successfully a number of mergers were in the offing and in due course other products were introduced, whilst some of the old products and the associated companies were also changed. Many consultants were brought in over the next few years and usually this resulted in changes to the company with redundancies to follow. A succession of new managing directors to carry out revised policies were also appointed, although some of them did not stay long but that was the way of things during that era. Other firms were experiencing the same changes for good or bad.
With the introduction of new policies “standardization” became the word, as well as major equipment installations on a one-off basis, whereas the strength of Daniels had been in the great variety of products.
By specializing more and more in the manufacture of moulding machinery of many types, both old and new, and always being in the forefront at exhibitions amongst other major suppliers, the company soon attracted the interest of the John Brown conglomerate. In the seventies the company was acquired by this group and further changes were in the offing as well as leading to further redundancies, frequently including many of the very skilled employees of long standing. Some of the products were also being transferred to other factories within the extended group and sadly the company was soon to be put under the control and direction of an American business owned by John Brown and located in Rhode Island.
Within a short space of time an American was appointed as M.D. and took up residence locally but by now the last vestiges of the “Daniels” family were gone forever. Another British M.D. followed for a while but progressively work was transferred elsewhere and a diminution of manufacture continued at Liglitpill. l decided to leave in 1982 but on the same day, two of my contemporaries, both departmental heads, were called up and given one hour’s notice of their redundancy, such was the way of things by this time. One of them had worked devotedly for the company for 49 years!!
The company went on trading in the reconstructed way until John Brown decided to sell out to Trafalgar House group. The final demise came shortly after a further change of ownership when it was sold again to a Norwegian conglomerate named Kvaerner, but I know little of the last days, my information being given to me by colleagues who were still there when the final bell was tolled.
It was a sad day for Stroud but the days of true family businesses appear to be gone forever. My sympathies are with those whose forbears toiled ceaselessly to create them and it is probably just as well that they cannot see what has happened, but maybe they can?
A research note from the SLHS digital archive added Nov 2014. Copyright