Telford
Hadley Castle Works

With its history in manufacturing stretching back over 200 years,
Hadley Castle Works still boasts engineering excellence today. 

BAE Systems joint venture with Rheinmetall, known as Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL), is headquartered at Hadley Castle Works, Telford, England where there has been an industrial presence since the late 19th century. 

 

Although the site is now heavily developed and supports a range of business premises and interests, the history of the area deserves full recognition as a centre of engineering excellence. 

 

Whilst many of the traditions and skills have been replaced by advanced technology and techniques, a spirit of innovation still exists in the business concerns that call Hadley Castle Works their home.

 

Tank RBSL

 

Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL) at Castle Works, produces UK based combat vehicles, playing a major role in the delivery of the British Army’s new Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) and other strategic combat vehicles programmes.

 

Castle Works

 
Established on ground said to have been the site of the original Hadley Castle (hence the name Hadley Castle Works), the site was recorded in 1804 as being the location of The Castle Iron Works, established due to its rich geology and an abundant source of coal.
 
Throughout the 19th century, Castle Iron Works produced 100's of tons of bar iron under various company identities such as Thomas Jukes Collier & Company and Nettlefold & Chamberlain. The Iron Works sadly closed in 1888 when the current owner Benjamin Talbot was declared bankrupt.
 
The site laid dormant and its building unused until G F Milnes & Co Ltd revived activity in 1900, reopening as The Castle Car Works and beginning production of early tramcars, bringing much needed employment to hundreds of people. Within their first year of operation they built in excess of 700 vehicles as they benefited from the rush of orders as horse and steam tramway systems were converted to electric traction.  Sadly however, and after such a huge success, the order book began to thin by the start of 1903.
 
Eventually and almost as fast as it started, Castle Car Works went bankrupt in September 1903, eventually becoming part of the United Electric Car Company in June 1905.
 
United Electric Car Company sub-leased the works to the Metropolitan Amalgamated Railway Carriage & Wagon Company although by 1908 falling orders once again forced yet another closure.
 
It was a desperate time for the local area although most of the Castle Works employees found uses for their skills in the fledgling car industry based in and around the Birmingham and Coventry area. 
 
After a short period of disuse, local company Joseph Sankey & Sons acquired the Castle Work in 1910 and opened it as the renamed Hadley Castle Car Works.
 
Truck wheel manufacturing
The company initially manufactured pressed steel panels for car and charabanc bodies, along with steel wheels for cars and trucks. It was hard work but they found a strong and capable local workforce. 
 
Within a few years, Sankey's transferred their main automotive bodywork manufacturing activities to the Castle Car Works as well as their production of the laminations used in dynamos, electric motors and transformers.
 
During the First World War and in addition to their automotive products, numerous and varied components were also manufactured including aeroplane parts, bombs and military field kitchens. All manner of fabrications and castings were undertaken for mine hemispheres, mortar bombs, rifle grenades, anti-submarine bodies and shell bodies. They even made a large quantity of air raid wardens helmets.
 
Sankey & Sons Ltd Castle Engineering Work 1936 Sankey & Sons Ltd Castle Works 1936
 
Post war, the company chairman George Sankey lost interest business matter and eventually sold the business to John Lysaght & Company on 3rd December 1919. The two companies had forged close links during the construction of an extension to the Steel Wheel facility and Sankey had become close friends with Lysaght's Chairman Henry Seymour-Berry.
 
GKN logo
Seymour-Berry in turn wanted to seek close ties with another local firm, Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds and in January 1920, John Lysaght & Company, along with the Sankey Division, became subsidiaries of Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds – now better known as GKN. In addition to its range of automotive components and steel furniture, the Hadley Castle Works (as it was now known) developed numerous subsidiary product lines during the 1930s. 
 
These included steel barrels for the palm oil trade in Africa, steel roofing sheets which it supplied to the Rubberoid Company for decking and various metal trim pieces and steel pulleys for industrial machinery.  GKN Sankey became one of the iconic names within the British engineering industry.
 
Despite being a subsidiary of John Lysaght, itself now a subsidiary of GKN, Joseph Sankey & Sons retained not only their individual trading identity but also a high degree of autonomy in the practical running of the business.
 
Whilst Directors of the overall GKN holding company sat on the board of GKN Sankey, it was very apparent that the Sankey family still developed most of the strategic plans regarding the Hadley Castle Works.
 
Hadley Castle Works Footprint 1930s. Hadley Castle Works Footprint 1930s.
 
Before the outbreak of World War II, some 1,500 people were earning their living at Telford. 
 
During the conflict, the Hadley Castle Works contributed greatly to the war effort with the production of Spitfire fuselages ready for final assembly at Castle Bromwich, some 40 miles away on the outskirts of Birmingham.
 
At the end of the war a new Wheel Shop was built at the Hadley Castle Works during 1946 which made GKN Sankey the largest producer of steel wheels in Europe.
 
By 1947, a full range of agricultural implements were being manufactured at the works including farming ploughs, seed drills, tractor bodies and trailers. With the upturn in business, expansion at the site continued and it was extended further between 1955 and 1959.
 
By that time production of armoured military vehicles had begun under the banner of GKN Armoured Vehicle Division. 
 
GKN Sankey FV432 Image courtesy of Tim Neale
The vehicle range included the FV432 Armoured Personnel Carrier and latterly, the MCV 80 armoured car which formed the basis for the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle, both widely used by the British Army. 
 
Incidentally, alongside the production of armoured fighting vehicles sat a small production line for the works manufacture and assembly of specialist mobility vehicles for people with disabilities. More vehicle design work had been promised but the venture with Jaguar failed when the car company were taken over as part of British Leyland.
 
Alvis Vickers Unipower Tank Bridge Transporter Alvis Vickers Unipower Tank Bridge Transporter - Image courtesy of Tim Neale
 
During the late 1960s, the works diversified into many product lines in order to survive as the level of orders fell away and the work force was drastically reduced from a high of 6,250 in 1978 (the largest employer in the area) to just 2,550 by 1982.
 
The Hadley Castle Works was reorganised yet again into four main operating units comprising;
  • Light Fabrications, supplying telephone kiosks
  • Agricultural Products, supplying tractor cabs for Ford and Massey Ferguson 
  • Engineering Products, producing car components
  • Wheel Division concentrating on tractor and off Highway wheels. 
 
Alvis Logo
However, the decline in business continued and in 1988 GKN’s Armoured Vehicles Division was sold to Alvis PLC, who had recently acquired  the Swedish concern Hägglunds Vehicles AB a year earlier.
 
Although the name of the business was retained as GKN Engineering Products, this too was eventually changed to GKN Auto Structures in 2001. 
 
After expanding further with the acquisition of Vickers Defence in 2002, a new identity was launched as Alvis-Vickers although this period of the history of the Hadley Castle Works was short-lived.
 
The newly formed BAE Systems had acquired a 29.9% stake in Alvis-Vickers in 2003, a stake previously owned by GKN and the following year, General Dynamics made a bid to take-over Alvis in September of that year.
BAE Systems logo
 
In June 2005, BAE Systems acquired United Defense and reorganised its land systems businesses into BAE Systems Land and Armaments, with Land Systems and Land Systems Hägglunds as subsidiaries of this U.S. based operating group.
 
RBSL Logo
Hadley Castle Works remained part of the BAE Systems group until 2019 when it became headquarters for a new joint venture between BAE Systems and Rheinmetall – RBSL Ltd.
 

Site Timeline

 

1804  Thomas Jukes Collier& Company and Nettlefold & Chamberlain etc
1900 G F Milnes & Co Ltd
1910 Joseph Sankey & Sons acquire factory at Hadley Castle Works
1919 John Lysaght & Company
1920      John Lysaght & Company merged with Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds (GKN)
1958 GKN Armoured Vehicle Division
1988 GKN Engineering Products
2002 Alvis Vickers Defence
2004 BAE Systems Land UK
2009 Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL)