Edwin Richards & Sons
Edwin Richards & Sons became one of Wednesbury’s longest surviving manufacturers, producing forgings for over 150 years at Portway Works in New Street, at the junction with Potter’s Lane. The firm is listed in Pigot & Company’s Staffordshire Directory of 1842 as Henry Richards & Sons, Potter’s Lane, patent axle, and coach spring makers. It was founded in 1810.
Edwin Richards was born in Wednesbury in 1820. He married a Wednesbury girl, Mary Anne, and lived at The Limes, 75 Wood Green Road. They had at least one child, a son called Henry, after Edwin’s father.
The firm produced coach axles, coach springs, and all kinds of ironwork for coaches, including coach bolts.
Edwin Richards died in 1880, and within a few years his widow Mary sold the business to William Thomas from Wolverhampton.
In 1861 William moved from his native Wales to Wolverhampton, where he set up several malting businesses, supplying malt to the brewing trade. In 1885 he decided to change direction, sold his malting businesses and purchased Edwin Richards & Sons.
Everything carried-on much as before. The firm retained its old name, and production concentrated on parts for carriages.
By the 1890s the product range included patented iron carriage wheels with pneumatic tyres, called ‘The Portway’, wheel rubbering machines, sliding seats, and carriage step treads.
The firm was also quick to realise the importance of the motor car. In 1899 Richards were manufacturing parts for motor cars, including axles, ironwork, and springs, and all kinds of drop forgings. Other products included axles for ox-carts, which were exported to South Africa.
After William Thomas’s death in 1905, his two sons Hugh and Hubert ran the business. During the First World War the company produced axles for gun carriages.
Hugh Thomas died in 1939, by which time his brother Hubert had left the business. Hugh was replaced by his two sons, Edward and Philip. The Second World War quickly intervened, and the firm produced a range of products as part of the war effort, including shell cases and gun carriage axles.
After the war the government began its nationalisation programme, nationalising the coal industry in 1947, the railways in 1948, and iron and steel in 1949. As a result the Thomas brothers could not continue running the business, but continued there as works managers until their deaths.
The business was eventually taken over by Norton Industries, and began trading as Portway Forgings (Wednesbury) Limited. By the late 1950s the directors were J. Norton (Chairman), M. Norton, J. D. Norton, and M. I. Page.
The firm now produced all kinds of upset forgings and stampings, and was a contractor to the Air Ministry, the Admiralty, and the War Office. Other products included handrail stanchions, handrailing, and tie rods.
Edward Thomas’s daughter Lynn remembers visiting the works on Saturday mornings where she saw the massive drop-hammers, and the furnaces belching out flames and heat. There were steel rods and rails all over the place.