News from the Archives: An Archive of Treasures

Winterbourne was built in 1904 for John and Margaret Nettlefold and bequeathed to the University of Birmingham 40 years later by John Macdonald Nicolson. Follow our dedicated team of archivists as they explore Winterbourne’s past and share with you the special objects, photographs and documents contained within the Winterbourne Archives.

Guest Keen and Company Seal, News from the Archives, Digging for Dirt, Winterbourne House and Garden

Guest Keen and Company Seal

In April 2019, Winterbourne House and Gardens acquired a large collection of archival material from Guest Keen and Nettlefolds (GKN). Winterbourne has a direct historical link to the company through the Nettlefold family.  John Sutton Nettlefold Jr commissioned and lived in Winterbourne House and it was his grandfather, John Sutton Nettlefold Sr. who had founded the original Nettlefolds Screw Company.

GKN was formed out of three giants of West Midlands manufacturing in 1901 – The Dowlais Iron Company (Guest), The Patent Nut & Bolt Company (Keen) and Nettlefolds Ltd. (formerly Nettlefolds and Chamberlain). The company has been described as being central to the industrial revolution of Britain and the wider world. It came to dominate the iron-making, coal mining, steel, railways, aero-engineering and automotive engineering industries to name just a few. However, despite its significance, unless you worked at GKN or one of its subsidiaries, you are unlikely to have much awareness of the company. The archive, which has never been open to the public or researchers before, represents a new opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of the company to the history of the West Midlands and to tell the stories of the people who were its employees.

I have spent the last three months sifting through the archive as Archive Assistant at Winterbourne. The Archive contains everything from company minutes, passports, price lists, photographs, screws, flags, textiles and even reels of film. I am still unable to enter the room where it is stored without stumbling across another treasure, a few of which I thought I would share with you here.

Nettlefold Seal, News from the Archives, Digging for Dirt, Winterbourne House and Garden

Nettlefold Seal

GKN Seal, News from the Archives, Digging for Dirt, Winterbourne House and Garden

GKN Seal

The Common Seals of Guest, Keen and Company, Nettlefolds Limited and Guest Keen and Nettlefolds

These seals are found on the amalgamation agreement between Guest, Keen and Company and Nettlefolds, which resulted in the formation of GKN.

The Pocketbook of John Sutton Nettlefold Sr.

When John Sutton Nettlefold founded his wood-screw making business, J.S. Nettlefolds and Sons, he kept a meticulous record of his staff, their salaries and their performance in his pocketbook dating between 1875 and 1887. One record of a particularly unpopular staff-member reads “Employed 1/11/1885, given 1 week’s notice 12/3/1886. Stayed away twice without apparent reason. Disposed to be lazy and slovenly and altogether not a satisfactory man”.

John Sutton Nettlefold Sr. Pocketbook, News from the Archives, Digging for Dirt, Winterbourne House and Garden

John Sutton Nettlefold Sr. Pocketbook

John Sutton Nettlefold Sr. Pocketbook, News from the Archives, Digging for Dirt, Winterbourne House and Garden

John Sutton Nettlefold Sr. Pocketbook

Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds – Royal Visitors

The Archive is littered with the records of royal visits past and present. Some highlights include a programme of the music to be performed at the Dowlais Ironworks on the occasion of the royal visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1912; a guest book including the signatures of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) when they visited the GKN Atlas works in Darlaston on 26/2/1942; and photographs of George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the then Princess Elizabeth on a tour on which they “presented” the Princess to South Wales and visited a GKN plant.

Dowlais royal programme of music, News from the Archives, Digging for Dirt, Winterbourne House and Garden

Dowlais royal programme of music

Royal visitor book, News from the Archives, Digging for Dirt, Winterbourne House and Garden

Royal visitor book

Royal visit photograph, News from the Archives, Digging for Dirt, Winterbourne House and Garden

Photograph of the Royal visit

Trademarks

Nettlefold Trade Mark Poster Negative, News from the Archives, Digging for Dirt, Winterbourne House and Garden

Nettlefold Trade Mark Poster Negative

The archive contains examples of some of the wonderful trademarks utilised by GKN and their subsidiary companies.  The Nettlefold Castle Trademark can be seen in the middle of this poster. The trademark pays tribute to the company’s 19th-century origins as a wood-screw manufacturer. Over the years Nettlefolds had difficulties registering their trademark. They were in fierce competition with German screw manufacturers and one company minute suggests that two of their trademarks were unable to be registered due to opposition from the German Government.

The next example shows some of the trademarks which were used in Australia by a subsidiary company of GKN, John Lysaght. The company was a second-generation manufacturer of corrugated and galvanised sheet iron. By 1890, John Lysaght became the dominant supplier of corrugated and galvanised sheet iron to Australian markets, although none of its manufacturing processes occurred in the country. This reliance on a high level of exports to Australia became a weakness for the company, with increasing pressure falling on the company to open a manufacturing plant in Australia – a demand which had the potential to negatively impact British manufacturing such as the galvanising works in Bristol and rolling mills in Newport.

J. Lysaght Australia Trademark, News from the Archives, Digging for Dirt, Winterbourne House and Garden

J. Lysaght Australia Trademark

This article was written by Erin Holder. Erin is studying History at the University of Birmingham, and undertook a 3-month placement as Archive Assistant at Winterbourne as part of the College of Arts and Law Professional Skills Module.  She has been working on material from GKN.

3 Thoughts on News from the Archives: An Archive of Treasures

  1. Ann Parton

    Reply

    What a brilliant job Daniel, so much interesting and exciting information..
    If you ever need a volunteer! 😊

  2. Keith Bracey

    Reply

    My grandfather Arthur Lewis Joseph Augustus Merriman worked as a metallurgist at GKN from the early 1930’s until the late sixties living initially in the back to backs of Dugdale Street off Dudley Road Winson Green and then in Poplar Road in Bearwood when they bought their first house just before the second world war when my grandad joined the Auxiliary Fire Service at Cape Hill Brewery and was regularly on firewatch at GKN, a vital manufacturer of war material……Keith Bracey

  3. Mike |Gee

    Reply

    The GKN Archive is a valuable and germane addition to the collection at Winterbourne.
    Congratulations on acquiring this and saving it for posterity. Good work everyone !

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