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Birmingham‘s brass industry had its origins in the 1740’s. A century later one of the city’s best-known manufacturers of brass parts was founded, S. Lilley & Son Limited.
The business was started around 1840 by Simeon Lilley, a master metal stamper and piercer. Simeon was one of ten children born to William and Harriet Lilley; he himself would have four sons, two of whom, Walter and Alfred, would eventually work in the business.
Some of the firm’s earliest products were detonator explosives for the railways and cylinder fog signals. Door and cupboard furniture including drop handles, studs and latch locks followed. Other memorable products included ‘The Imperial’ crystal wireless set first produced in 1918, and the ‘Golden’ series of terminals and plugs for the radio trade as well as electrical lamp holders.
A seemingly endless stream of products has flowed from the factory: shutter knobs, kettle knobs, can knobs, cupboard turns, sash fasteners, cups and screws, cycle accessories, pedal caps, adjustment tips, tape buckles, clips, ferrules and washers; small stampings for the electrical trade; from brass lamp holders to conduit bushes. Today the range is focused more to the lighting industry, and whilst the vast range of items are available from stock the company also offers a bespoke service producing custom made pressed and turned parts.
For generations the business has remained a family firm, and today the staff still includes members of the Lilley family.
The founder originally occupied premises at the Star Works in Bordesley Street then moved to 8 Birchall Street before ending up at the company’s present location at 75 – 80 Alcester Street.
Alfred Ernest Lilley became an equal partner with his father in 1893. The business was then valued at £100 - £150, a valuation that included plant and tools but no stock. Alfred injected another £50 – £60 of his own capital into the business. It was agreed that Simeon’s shares would be willed to Alfred on his death. As a consequence Alfred became sole owner of the business on 26th October 1902.
The Great War of 1914-18 saw the company employing 100 workers to produce ‘friction tube strikers’ along with lamp holders and various components for the Army and Admiralty.
Apparent long-term success in any business however usually masks a series of difficulties that have to be overcome. S Lilley & Son is no exception. In 1981 for example a fire destroyed the company’s warehouse. But that disaster pales to insignificance with the catastrophies that struck in the 1940s.
During the Second World War S Lilley & Son’s workers contributed to the war effort producing parts for ammunition, respirators, sockets, ferrules and lamp holders for the armed forces.
The factory was bombed in November 1940, and most of the old building destroyed. The only part, which still survives is the ‘capstan shop’. But that calamity was only a foretaste of the disaster still yet to come.
In April 1941 a German plane dropped its bomb load as it was being chased from the skies above the city centre. The siren had given the all clear and at that moment the Lilley family were moving back into their house from their shelter. The bombs destroyed both homes of Alfred and Phillip Lilley, which were situated in Robin Hood Lane. Alfred and Ellen Lilley were killed along with their oldest son Joseph. Phillip was fire watching with his son Lesley at the factory in Birmingham, however the bomb also claimed the lives of Phillip’s wife Ellen and their daughter Phyllis.
Remarkably the surviving members of the family were able to salvage what was left of their lives and the business, laying the foundations of today’s S Lilley & Son.
Often referred to as the 'Rolls Royce' end of the lighting sector today Lilley’s products are now sold across the world.
Customers include lamp manufacturers, electrical wholesalers, water fittings manufacturers and national DIY stores.
Although the exceptional quality has remained unaltered there have been changes: today there are just 28 staff. Over the years there has been a steady reduction in labour as more modern machinery has been installed. Jobs that once took nine machines can now be produced by one machine in a fraction of the time.
In 2001 Colmore Pressings Ltd merged with S Lilley & Son vastly increasing the range of pressed products this remarkable company is now able to offer.
Above copy taken from, 'More Birmingham Memories'