Crabtree - Serving Electrical Products Since 1919
June 7th 2017
IN THE BEGINNING 1886
John Ashworth Crabtree was born in Broughton; Lancashire on 24th October 1886, John served an engineering apprenticeship with an electrical switchgear manufacturer Verity’s Ltd; once his training ended in 1906 with John J.H. Tucker & Co. Ltd, another switchgear manufacturer. He progressed from draughtsman to works manager. John remained with Tuckers until the decision to set up his own manufacturing business in 1918. John created a 32 page catalogue of products that he was going to manufacture.
CRABTREE SINCE 1919
John searched for suitable premises in the West Midlands, he found a disused leatherworks in Rushall Street Walsall. Once the premises were secured, he registered his business J.A. Crabtree & Company Limited on 17th April 1919.
Manufacturing started in August and the workforce increased to include a team of production and assembly workers, 10 ladies in all. There were a few teething problems but the company grew rapidly and within 12 months Crabtree employed 100 staff to produce the original Crabtree ‘Quick Make and Break’ tumbler switch.
By 1923 the premises was so full of orders and workers, that it was necessary to rent extra space. Initially a derelict music hall and disused church in the town, John Crabtree also rented an office in Lower Bridge Street to allow him the solitude to plan for the future.
BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE 1923 – 1926
With the company well established within the electrical industry as a successful and innovative electrical manufacturer, John Crabtree was able to fulfill his ambitions and build his own premises. Crabtree’s new production site and registered office was completed in 1926 and named “Lincolns Works”, after American president Abraham Lincoln. By this time the company employed 600 staff and was a great asset to the people of Walsall, with Walsall Borough Council recognising the importance of the company.
TIME FOR GROWTH 1926 – 1935
With the new site that included electrical laboratory, drawing office, tool room, press shop, machine shop, cabinet shop, assembly shops and offices, new developments came very quickly, for example a plastics moulding plant. Plastic was the “new age “material of the time. The invention of ‘Bakelite’ was a significant event in the industry and Crabtree was quick to adopt the new technology to revolutionise the way the company manufactured its products in the future.
This was followed by the building of a fully automated foundry, to assist in the creation of the Crabtree fuse gear range with cast iron enclosures. By the turn of the decade the company was employing over 1000 staff, which is incredible growth.
A SAD LOSS 1926 – 1935
On return from a business trip to the USA, John had attended work as usual on Wednesday 27th November. On Thursday he was taken ill with pneumonia, he died at noon on Tuesday 3rd December 1935.
On hearing the news the company ordered all works to stop and a two minutes silence was observed. This was the first working day that all machines had stood silent at Lincoln Works.
Friday 6th December, a family funeral service was held at St Peter’s Church, Little Aston, as respect for John and recognition of his contribution to the industry. The town and numerous organisations were confirmed that same afternoon at a memorial service in St Pauls Church in Walsall town centre, where 1,300 attended and the service was replayed by loudspeaker to the many standing outside.
A NEW ERA 1936 – 1938
The Crabtree business was expanding rapidly and retained a strong management team. Following the economic depression of the early 1930’s, demand for electrical product was growing rapidly and the company had strong market presence both at home and overseas. Expansion was continuing on the Lincoln Works site and major new product ranges were to be launched.
Shares in the company were offered on the open market with the Crabtree family maintaining a controlling interest. A new managing director was appointed and the company looked forward to continuing on the path which John Ashworth Crabtree had set.
THE WAR YEARS 1939 – 1945
Jack Crabtree, John’s son joined the company in 1939. The years of the Second World War were the most difficult, with the rationing of food and other goods, bombings and extra long hours in support of the war effort.
Industry and transport in particular were targeted by bombing raids, but fortunately Crabtree was located away from main industrial areas and managed to escape unscathed. Although not immune from challenges, the company made a significant contribution to the war effort with the production of gas masks for the civilian population. In 1942 the company was honoured by the Duke of Kent and also awarded the British Empire Medal for their contribution.
A ROYAL OCCASION 1946 – 1962:
The most memorable occasion in the history of J.A. Crabtree & Co. Ltd, was the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 24th May 1962. It was a lovely warm afternoon; the streets were crowed full of people of Walsall very excited to see the Queen, with a very proud Jack Crabtree meeting the Queen on the steps of Lincoln Works. She was introduced to the board of directors then escorted around the company.
THE ROCKER AGE 1962 – 1972
The swinging 60’s brought changes in music, fashion and the design in everyday items. In the demand for new designs including electrical accessories, Crabtree were quick to identify an opportunity to update its range fit for the 60’s. The result was the introduction of the modern square plate, which was the first product to be launched in the UK with a rocker switch. It was so successful the company needed to expand production, with an extension at Brownhills and a new factory in Malvern, Worcestershire.
The final development in the 60’s was the adoption of the new company logo with a sine wave in the C of the logo; this new logo conveyed the company’s philosophy and its association with the electrical industry.
A GROUP COMPANY 1972 – 1982
The company was acquired by Ever Ready GB Ltd the battery manufacturer with Jack Crabtree remaining as chairman and joint managing director.
With the backing of Ever Ready, a major expansion took place, in the moulding shop at Lincoln Works and the Brownhills factory effectively doubling in size, a new metal finishing factory was built, and new warehouse & distribution centre was also opened alongside the M6 motorway. Meanwhile offshore, a factory was opened in Malaysia.
1974 saw the introduction of the Starbreaker range of Miniature Circuit Breakers and Consumer Units. The company also celebrated its Diamond Jubilee and the name of the company changed to Crabtree Electrical Industries Limited.
THE HANSON YEARS 1982 – 1997
In 1982 Crabtree became part of the industrial division of a major conglomerate, Hanson Trust.
Major new products were launched in the 1980’s. These included the Capital range of wiring accessories, the Polestar range of circuit breakers and the Ceicon range of motor starters. The Crabtree business was even more successful than before. Hanson Electrical continued to grow through acquisitions of similar companies including Volex accessories, Wylex, Appleby, Britmac and Dorman Smith.
THE APPRENTICE RETURNS MANAGEMENT BUY OUT 1997 – 2006:
Hanson Electrical was bought in 1997 by a management team led by Chris Thomas (ex-Crabtree apprentice) and the newly created business was named Electrium.
Crabtree continued to flourish under the Electrium management team, with new consumer unit products that provided off the shelf solutions for 17th edition wiring regulations applications that were adopted as standard by many local authorities and housing associations throughout the UK. New products for the commercial circuit protection markets also grew with Loadstar & Powerstar power distribution systems becoming widely popular with electrical contractors.
2006: A SIEMENS GROUP COMPANY
Unsurprisingly this long history of innovations & success continued to attract the interest of larger companies. In 2006 Siemens, the world’s largest electrical engineering company acquired the Electrium Group. Crabtree products are still manufactured in the Electrium factory in Wythenshawe, Manchester and at the assembly & distribution centre in Wigan. Siemens technologies are fully utilised within the Crabtree market leading circuit protection products including miniature & moulded case circuit breakers and residual current circuit breakers.