The history behind the Midland Met site
The Industrial Revolution transformed the once rural Grove Lane area into a landscape of heaving manufacturing factories.
Use the tabs to discover how the area rose and fell.
In 1841 London Works (nuts and bolts) was opened on Cranford Street under Fox, Henderson and Co, followed by a tube-making factory in 1846 under the name of George Selby’s Birmingham Patent Tube Works.
The London Works public house was established in the mid-1800s creating a place for the Grove Lane area workers to drink after their shifts. It wasn’t until 1854 when the renowned ‘Nettlefolds’ moved to the Smethwick area, four years after John Nettlefold was joined by Joseph Chamberfield (his nephew) to create ‘Chamberlain and Nettlefold’, manufacturing fasteners.
In this same year, the St. George’s Works were built opposite the Imperial Mills as the Birmingham Screw Co. The works comprised of single-storey sheds, similar to the Imperial Mills and became a rival to Chamberlain and Nettlefold.
In the 1860s London Works (nuts and bolts) closed due to financial failure leaving the factory vacant. The empty space was bought in 1866 by Arthur Keen becoming the Patent Nut and Bolt Co.
In 1869 the Imperial Mills was acquired by Chamberlain and Nettlefold to be used as a woodscrew mill. In 1870 Chamberlain and Nettlefold purchased the site of Patent Screw Works.
In 1874 Chamberlain left the company to pursue a career in politics and in 1880 Nettlefolds Ltd was launched. The newly launched Nettlefolds ltd continued to expand and purchased the Birmingham Screw Company and St. George’s Works in 1880. The factories were merged into the rest of Nettlefold’s plants.
Despite Nettlefolds Ltd continuous growth not all businesses in the area thrived in this way, in 1880 George Selby’s Birmingham Patent Tube Works site was left vacant following the collapse of the company.
The Grove Lane area however continued to develop and by 1890 was fully occupied. Although primarily a site for large manufacturers, smaller iron and steel works were also located in the area.
In 1902 Guest, Keen and Co ltd acquired Nettlefolds ltd, becoming ‘GKN’. The Grove Lane site became a complex specialising in the manufacture of screws, nuts, bolts and fasteners. Once established GKN continued to expand and soon dominated Grove Lane. By 1903 the former Birmingham Patent Tube Works had become part of the St. George’s Works of GKN and by 1905 GKN was the fifteenth largest company in Britain with assets worth £4.5 million.
In 1913 GKN built a bridge, joining the former sites of St. George’s Works and Imperial Mills. In 1924 the London Works moved to Darlaston where its operations were combined with another GKN factory from Stour Valley. All machinery was removed from the London Works leaving the building redundant. At this same time the factories left in Grove Lane were modernised and for the first time had the benefit of electricity.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s GKN did not escape the economic struggle and begun competing with global markets. As Britain’s economy recovered, fastener sales increased and full operation of the factories resumed by 1937. However the company did not recover fully and by 1938 was only operational four days a week.
At the start of World War 2 in 1939 metal products were once again in demand and full operation at GKN resumed. Following the end of World War 2, GKN concentrated on expansion into global markets, showing less reliance on traditional industries located at Grove Lane that proved fragile during the Great Depression.
In the 1960s and 1970s factories left at Grove Lane progressed into the automotive industry. GKN begun to service and repair cars at their Heath Street site. This move meant that by the 1980s the Grove Lane site was no longer required and slowly began to close.
With these closures began the demise of the once thriving industrial area. Grove Lane’s original factories still dominate the landscape today, although most are now vacant. Small businesses still line Grove Street however and the initials GKN can still be found engraved by the gates of the derelict London Works.