Does anyone remember The Metal Box Company works near Heaton Junction?
A Bit of History
Nationally the company dates back to at least 1810, although some of its constituent companies predate that, including Hudson Scott and Sons of Carlisle and Newcastle, acquired by Metal Box in 1921 and which is said to have been founded in 1799.
However it was a Heaton firm, I A Hodgson, that led to the company’s presence on Chillingham Road. I A Hodgson, owned by Irvine Anthony Hodgson, was originally a manufacturer of cork products but by 1922 described itself as a ‘decorated tin manufacturer’.
Metal Box seems to have acquired the company in 1924, although it continued to trade under its original name until WW2. Irvine, the son of a butcher from County Durham, had died in 1931, leaving over £24,000 in his will.
Nationally, in 1932, Metal Box described itself as a ‘maker of plain and decorated tins and tins for fruit and vegetables’ At this point, fruit and vegetable canning represented only 20% of its business, although that was expected to grow. In the mid 1930s it made the first British beer cans.
But it wasn’t all about tin cans. During WW2, its products included:
‘140 million metal parts for respirators, 200 million items for precautions against gas attacks, 410 million machine gun belt clips, 1.5 million assembled units for anti-aircraft defence, mines, grenades, bomb tail fins, jerrican closures and water sterilisation kits, many different types of food packing including 5000 million cans, as well as operating agency factories for the government making gliders, production of fuses and repair of aero engines‘
However, it described its Heaton Junction enterprise as a ‘tin box manufacturer’ into the 1950s. Hopefully someone who worked there will remember its range of products and let us know.
By 1961,Metal Box boasted more than 25,000 employees in total in ten subsidiary and 13 associated companies and it soon became the largest user of tinplate in Britain, producing 77% of the metal cans in the UK.
But by 1970, the Metal Box name had disappeared from local trade directories and telephone books. There is a photo in Tyne and Wear Archives (not yet seen by us) of the premises in 1976 before work began on the Metro .
Globally, Metal Box is now part of the giant American multinational conglomerate, Honeywell.
But what of Metal Box in Heaton?
Mrs Anne Fletcher remembers:
‘It was situated at Heaton Junction at the top of Chillingham Road. The premises are long gone now and the site appears to be part of the environs of the Metro.
My first job after leaving Heaton High school in 1956 was in the offices. I’d been looking for a job when I received a telegram from the firm asking me to contact them. Not many people had ‘phones then!
I duly began my working life as a junior telephonist/receptionist at the weekly wage of £3-12-6d. This enabled me to pay my mam for my keep, go dancing at the Oxfordballroom in Newcastle and buy a few treats.
I walked there and back, lunchtimes included. My route went over the skew bridge, passing the stone wall which bordered the railway shunting yard. I remember there were huge advertising hoardings behind the wall. I passed my old school, then on reaching the corner of Rothbury Terrace, passed the dark blue Police box (like “Dr Who”) and so home to Warton Terrace.
My new duties included greeting visitors and learning to operate the switchboard with its plugs and extensions connecting callers to the various departments. I was shown how to correctly wrap sample tins for posting and I would take the franking machine up to the post office at the top of Heaton Road. I had to practise typing as I had to attend weekly classes in Newcastle.
In Reception it was fascinating to watch the large Telex machine spring to life, chattering, with typed pages magically appearing. I learned how the typists’ Dictaphone wax cylinders were cleaned on a special machine, after which they were redistributed.
Having to walk through the factory one day was a bit daunting as it was of course a very busy and noisy place. It was all new and interesting though.
I moved on to the accounts department and used a large calculator. Others worked as comptometer operators. I eventually decided to go to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, as it then was, at Longbenton. I enjoyed my time at Metal Box though. It had given me a good introduction to working life.’
If you have memories, information or photographs of Metal Box, which you’d like to share, please either upload them to this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or email them to email@example.com We’d love to hear your recollections of other notable Heaton workplaces too.
Many thanks to Mrs Fletcher for her memories and to Ian Clough, who found the advert for I A Hodgson & Co Ltd.
The photo is taken from ‘Heaton: from farms to foundries’ by Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2012. Thank you to Newcastle Libraries in whose collection the original can be found.
Details of Metal Box’s history are from ‘Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History’ http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Metal_Box_Co
I never really grasped the concept of a ‘metal box’ company. I was permanently aware of its presence, of course, but the idea that a company could exist that simply made metal boxes was a leap too far for my comprehension. I suppose, if I’d asked for an explanation, and been told they made cake-tins and biscuit-tins and tin cans, et al, I would have understood; but I insisted upon enduring this mysterious concept. The problem, of course, was in calling it metal – instead of tin; metal to me meant iron or steel (aluminium didn’t exist back then, as far as I knew) and who wanted an iron box? ‘The Tin Box Company’… now that would have made perfect sense: everyone needed tin boxes.
It did what it said on the tin!
Until it diversified anyway. They’d have needed a big tin to get that lot on!
Had this company any connection with the Smith family from Ringtons and northern coachbuilders?
Not as far as we know, Florence. Do you think it might be?
While being an avid British comic collector from Byker originally, I do know that the Metal Box Co. of Carlisle did diversify, at least in the late 40’s early 50’s into making lightweight tinplate signs for newsagents walls advertising comics of the day. I do have a photo of a couple I could post which might bring back memories but doesn’t look like I can attach one to this post?
Interesting. If you’d like to email one or two to firstname.lastname@example.org, I can add them to the article.