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Sunday 28th July 2019

History of Reynolds Technology revealed in greater detail

More fascinating details about the history of Reynolds Technology have been uncovered, after a descendant of the Reynolds family came to visit. When Jon Reynolds stopped by the factory for a cuppa, he revealed more fascinating details about the family who founded the company 120 years ago in Birmingham – particularly around Alfred John Reynolds and his three sons, one of whom would file the patent for butted tubing which Reynolds uses to this present day.

Jon Reynolds visits the factory and reveals more of the history of Reynolds Technology
Jon Reynolds (second from left) with the Reynolds team

Alfred John Reynolds, nail manufacturer and Lord Mayor of Birmingham

The Reynolds family business wasn’t originally focused on manufacturing high performance tubing. In fact, records show that the family initially set up and ran a nail manufacturing company in 1841. This business was based in Morville Street, Ladywood, Birmingham. It was set up by John Reynolds, whose son Alfred John Reynolds would first go on to work in the family business, but then made his way into the Birmingham history books as Lord Mayor.

A 1861 census shows that Alfred John Reynolds started out as a warehouse assistant, presumably in his father’s factory, at the age of nineteen. By the 1881 census he had been promoted to the position of ‘cut nail manufacturer’. In 1892, at the age of 50, he was elected as a Birmingham City Councillor for St Stephen’s Ward, and then, fourteen years later, he was elected Lord Mayor of Birmingham, holding the post from 9 November 1905 to 9 November 1906. In a report on the Mayor’s election from the Birmingham Daily Post, it was stated by the deputy town clerk that Alfred John was “…one of those men who loved work, and he laboured successfully in the interests of the firm”. He was appointed Alderman in 1907, but passed away the following year, aged 67.

Of course, we know that the Patent Butted Tubing Co. was set up on December 20, 1898, during Alfred John’s lifetime. While he was involved in the company alongside his other duties, it was his son, Alfred Milward Reynolds, who, along with J T Hewitt, filed a patent for the ground-breaking tube butting process which is still used by Reynolds in the present day.

From nail manufacturing to high performance tubing – Alfred Milward, the innovator

Alfred Milward Reynolds joined the family business in 1884 at the tender age of sixteen, which was, by then, based at Newtown Row. His brother, John Henry, followed suit in 1890.

It seems that Alfred Milward, at some stage, began to consider a problem facing bicycle manufacturers at the time – how to overcome any weaknesses caused by joining relatively thin-walled metallic tubes together to create a bicycle frame. It’s not entirely clear what inspired Alfred to consider the problem and attempt to find a solution. But we do know that by 1897, he had come up with a solution, the innovative tube butting process, and promptly filed a patent for it.

The Patent Butted Tubing Company was set up in 1898, with 25 members of staff at the outset. Alfred Milward became Managing Director in 1901, with his father Alfred John as Chairman. Six years later, the company bought the machinery and building of Champion Weldless Tubes Ltd, on Grove Street, Smethwick. There were 40 members of staff working at Grove Street and 40 at Newtown Row, suggesting the company had more than doubled its staff in just a decade or so of existence. Upon Alfred John’s death in 1908, Alfred Milward succeeded him as Chairman and remained so until his death in 1943.

John Henry Reynolds, the astronomer

Remember John Henry Reynolds, Alfred Milward’s younger brother? While he also joined the family business as a young man and, indeed, later went on to make it to the position of Managing Director, John Henry had another passion – astronomy. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1899, and took part in a British expedition to Algiers the following year to observe the eclipse. Using his practical skills, he designed and built a number of telescopes, one of which he presented for use to the Egyptian observatory at Helwan. This led to him being awarded the Order of Osmanieh, an award given in recognition of outstanding service, as a result of his contribution to Egyptian astronomy.  

At his Harbourne home, John Henry had a private observatory, and he contributed a number of research papers to the Royal Astronomical Society based on his observations. He was appointed treasurer of the Society in 1929, and held the position for six years before becoming President of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1935.

John Henry appeared to have been in close and frequent contact with Edwin Hubble, the namesake of the Hubble Telescope. The Hubble–Reynolds law, a formula for measuring the surface brightness of elliptical galaxies, is named after the pair.

Edwin Francis Reynolds, the architect

Edwin Francis Reynolds, the younger brother of Alfred Milward and John Henry, was an architect of note in his own right. He studied at the Birmingham School of Art, was articled to Cossins and Peacock and later assisted Bidlake in his early career. He was awarded the Soane Medallion of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) for one of his designs in 1903 and went on to become a Fellow of RIBA in 1921.

While he designed a number of notable buildings and building alterations, including the Great Hall at Packworth House, it seems he was also responsible for a number of building designs for both family firms as well, being the architect behind a canteen at the Newtown Row premises of John Reynolds & Sons, the nail manufacturing business in 1916, and also new works and offices at Redfern Road, Tyseley, for the Patent Butted Tube Co Ltd in 1917.

Edwin was also the man behind the design of a number of pubs throughout Birmingham, including the Fox Hollies Inn in Acocks Green, the Three Magpies on Shirley Road, and The Shaftmoor on Shaftmoor Lane – the same road, ironically, that Reynolds Technology is based on in the present day!

With thanks to Jon Reynolds and family for the historical information

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