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History

Company History:

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The Manganese Bronze & Brass Company was inaugurated in the late 1800s in Deptford in the East-end of London. It initially manufactured Parsons Alloy, an alloy of copper with manganese. When the First World War broke out in 1914 the company was well established. The then Ministry of Munitions told the company to focus its manufacturing resource onto the production of artillery shells for the war effort.

Residents living nearby to the Deptford facility raised their concerns that should the German Zeppelins decide to bomb this strategically important munitions factory then there could, as a consequence, be a massive loss of local life. To this end, a search was then initiated to find a much more suitable rural location to site the company.

Handford Hall Farm, Hadleigh Road, Ipswich was selected and agreed as being an ideal location. At this time the area was not connected to the nearby railway main line. The government then rapidly financed a spur to be laid down to rectify the situation.

Unfortunately, when the Zeppelins attempted to attack the fleet at Harwich, they overshot the target and dropped their bombs on the factory instead.

After the war had finished the company constructed a new foundry and extrusion mill. This new plant helped to enable the company to output 200 tonnes of non ferrous product, per week, during the Second World War years of 1939 to 1945. This output in tonnage was not achieved again until 1965 and for that one year only.

Pre- 1939 the Handford works site manufactured products which were mostly of a specialist nature. A small amount of commercial brasses were produced but it was more commonly recognised for its manufacture of aluminium bronzes, high tensile bronzes, architectural bronzes, decorative silver bronzes, chill cast phosphor bronzes and white metal for bearings. During these years one of the most notable products made by the company was the immadium bronze bearing plates for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Throughout the Second World War large quantities of brass were used in munitions whilst the more complex alloys were manufactured for the aircraft and shipbuilding industries.

The use of coke for melting and heating purposes was rapidly replaced with new oil and electric powered units. Tooling manufacture, necessary for use in the extrusion process, was carried out using spark erosion techniques. Newer more modern cold drawing and finishing machines replaced older equipment which had been used effectively during the war years.
In the early 1960’s a brand new and much larger extrusion press of 2,000 tonnes capacity was installed by the side of the 1,500 tonne machine which had been used constantly from the early war years. The new press increased capacity and enabled production of a wider range of tubes, sections, coils and rods. In the marine and ship building industry, the use of outboard motors on small vessels saw a large increase in demand for high tensile brass and bronze shafts and tubes for stern gear assemblies, after the surge in orders following the second world war.

The cold war maintained the requirement for large defence budgets. The company regularly tendered for Admiralty contracts which on most occasions it won. This involved producing large quantities of naval brass, high tensile bronze and aluminium bronze rod to be used in the construction of a large number of non-magnetic mine sweepers.

A very large and prestigious project, in which the company was involved in from its original inception, was the huge programme of coastal and estuarial sea defences and tidal control in Holland. The Dutch Rijkwaterstaat planned a progressive construction scheme which would be spread over many years involving the installation of gigantic sluices and other control systems which would require large amounts of special aluminium/ nickel / iron bronze sections. This is a very difficult metal to produce in simple bar form. The heavy and complex shapes required in the project posed many problems. A result of this work was the use of one of the first extrusion dies to produce a very long length of one of the sections in the same alloy which was incorporated in an important church repair project in the city of Norwich.

1969 The wrought metals division of Manganese Bronze was sold to Delta. The Delta Metal Company decided early on after the acquisition, that the path to follow for this company was in special alloys. This was a return back to early philosophy of the business. The company could not viably compete for high volume large orders in copper zinc brasses. More demanding defence and aerospace standards along with the advent of nuclear power meant that material specifications were becoming more onerous.

The company is now certified by the world’s aircraft manufacturers for the supply of copper based alloys. Quality assurance and excellent customer service are paramount for this application. In the 1960’s ten per cent of customers demanded certification, now well over ninety per cent of all products have material samples tested to destruction in order to produce a certificate of conformity to comply with the most demanding material standards. To help meet some of these physical properties, the company installed heat treatment furnaces which were specially designed and built to produce the controlled conditions required. The 1980’s and 90’s saw the business specialise even further into exotic based alloys.

At the end of 1998 the Delta Group sold the company to Cerro Metal Products part of The Marmon Group of companies based in Chicago. In 2007 the company was purchased by the Bolton Metals Group and re-named Bolton Manganese Bronze Ltd.

Written: July 2012

Perceval Moses Parsons. (Born 1819 – died 1873)

Was a well known and very successful Victorian engineer. He possessed high levels of mechanical skill, inventive ability and accrued vast amounts of engineering experience during his working life. These qualities lead him to registering some 52 separate patents of which 18 were to do with artillery and warlike applications, 11 were for railway apparatus, 1 with metallurgy and the remainder with miscellaneous subjects.

In the late 1800’s, when rifled cannon were fast superseding the old smooth bores, it occurred to him that he might save the country a great loss of money if he could find a means of changing the old form into the new. In 1855 he took out a patent for converting the old cast-iron artillery into rifled guns, by boring them out and inserting a steel tube. The cannon patent appears to have turned Mr. Parsons’ attention to the study of the use of metals generally, and his experience with machinery had shown him the importance of the arrangements for shaft-bearings and other rubbing-surfaces, for which ordinarily “gun-metal” (an alloy of copper and tin) had been used. He thought he could improve on this and, having established a private mechanical laboratory at his house at Blackheath, he tried a great number of experiments with different metals, and ultimately produced a better compound of copper, tin, zinc and lead called ‘‘ white brass,” which was widely used, especially in marine engines. His success led him to search for another metallurgical desideratum, namely, a material which while it approached steel in strength, should be free from the liability to corrosion. After some years of experimentation, he produced what was called “Manganese Bronze,” prepared by combining ferro-manganese with bronze and brass alloys in different ways according to the purposes required. There was, at first, some difficulty in getting it known and introduced, but it was at length taken up by a company called The Manganese Bronze and Brass Company. The commercial result of which testified sufficiently to the usefulness of the invention. It was put into large use in the manufacture of propellers for steamers and in other cases where strength and durability were required in combination. Mr. Parsons was also registered as one of the company’s directors.

The original patent document of 1876, for Manganese Bronze, now proudly resides in the offices of Bolton Aerospace, in Ipswich, as part documentary evidence as to the early origins of the company.