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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.