The town of Redditch in Worcestershire grew up around Bordesley Abbey, a Cistercian order and soon built up a steady industry making sewing needles. Around 1770 some firms switched to making fishing hooks which involves a fairly similar process. Two firms stand out, that of Henry Milward and S. Allcocks, but there were many, many more smaller firms and gradually they started to make other items of fishing tackle until there wasn’t an item that they didn’t all each make. The huge Allcock factory, an artist’s impression. In 1926 they were recorded as employing over 1000 staff. Starting like most from humble needle-making and then fish hook making, the firm of Allcocks really prospered under the ownership of Samuel who followed his father around the country selling tackle and took over this chore at just fifteen years old earning himself the nickname ‘The Boy Salesman’. He even expanded the company into North America.
. This situation later of everybody making everything, rather than specialising in a particular item of fishing tackle may have proved the downfall of all with so many companies duplicating each others products. Because by the time other firms based elsewhere started importing cheap foreign-made fishing tackle in the 1960’s the market virtually collapsed.
Notable amongst all these companies in Redditch was that which was founded by a supremely gifted ex-Allcocks employee, James William Young. His firm, JW Young ended up making fishing reels for his old employer Allcocks and most other British companies too, but the collapsing home market saw them re-join with Allcocks in 1963 as Allcock-Young and later another firm, Lee Products, to form Top Tackle, only for the controlling company , Cope Allman International, to sell the lot off a few years later to the American company Shakespeare. More of these shenanigans soon…….
The new American owners soon closed the joint venture down and shifted manufacture to the Far East where it remains to this day ….with one exception which I’ll come to shortly.
The genius reel engineer James William Young, incidentally, had died whilst on holiday on The Isle of Man in strange circumstances which were barely investigated back in 1921. He was just 51 years old and still developing further modifications to his masterpiece the Allcocks Aerial reel. When he followed his father into the workshops at Allcocks he was just a boy. Within three months he was in charge of the department and also working into the late evening soldering together tin boxes in the box workshop. He was reputed as a child to have once made a miniature bicycle with 400 hand-made moving parts….
After a mix-up with hotel reservations when on holiday on the Isle of Man, he had nowhere to stay but was placed in the drawing room on the second floor of Carlton House and given a temporary bed. The next morning he could not be found, but was later discovered dead in a pool of blood in the buildings basement. How he got there was never discovered………
The Coroner’s Jury in Douglas later recorded a verdict of Accidental Death.
That merger with Allcocks story is more complicated though; as Cope Allman International was created by re-naming Midland and Northern Counties Investments who themselves had only been given that name in 1963,….. previously they were the Leeds Consumer Ice and Cold Storage Company of whom Leonard Matchan was chairman from 1960.
Matchan owned all the other companies mentioned too and had already bought heavily into JW Youngs in 1961.
So, Allcocks ‘merging’ with JW Young was not quite what it seemed…it was more like opening the door to the wolf than closing the door to competition……. Lee Products probably had no idea what they were getting themselves into
. A couple of years later Milwards too stopped making fishing tackle all together, though they still to this day make sewing needles.
The one exception I mentioned is JW Youngs. Although Shakespeare recently launched a range of fishing rods under the JW Young name ( though that firm had never made fishing rods before ) they did allow an ex-employee, Jim Young, to start making reels again using his forebears name. I have read that he worked for Swift Engineering of Redditch after the original JW Youngs was closed by Shakespeare and that he ended up taking that firm over when the earlier owners retired.
This second JW Youngs company was later acquired by tackle makers Masterline, themselves part of Normark, a company set up in America by Laurie Rapala the famous fishing lure manufacturer.
Shakespeare later sold off the Allcocks name to a fishing tackle and outdoors shop in Ireland, Dennett Outdoor Ltd, who still make a few lures under that name and also use the name of the failed joint venture, Top Tackle.
Many members of the tackle making families broke away over the years to form their own little firms, some married the children of other firms and the whole town became involved in fishing tackle with relatives working in most other firms in the town too.
Indeed Samuel Allcock himself,…. under whom Allcocks had prospered so much, married a Miss Playfair, whose father was a famous rod maker in Edinburgh.
Here are the names of some of these firms….. all gone now.
Edgar Sealey ( There’s records of Sealeys as fishing float makers supplying Allcocks once)
Bernard Sealey ( also trading as Precision )
Aspindale. Only formed much later in the 1940s the two founding brothers soon parted company and each ran firms of the same name, but both soon closed. Later the name was taken up by a former employee, Anthony Croft and he was later joined by Peter Aspindale the son of one of the founders, James. The other brother, William only produced rods for a very short while.
Martinez and Bird
Allcocks also expanded into North America under Samuel Allcock, where they formed Allcock and Laight. Charles Laight was a Redditch manufacturer too and the new venture was based in Toronto in Canada. Some tackle was imported from the UK but the fishing rods were made in Canada. The first manager sent out from Redditch to run the new business was a Mr.Milward! He was replaced by Mr.Westwood who later bought Mr. Laight’s share of the business. The company was re-named Allcock,Laight and Westwood and it was in this guise it built its first rod made from ‘split cane in 1879’.
This momentous rod was made by Mr. Alfred Willmore who had joined the rod making department in 1863.
An American invention, split…and the somewhat similar ‘built’ …cane involved splitting long stalks, or culms, of bamboo into six long, thin, tapering triangular strips that could be glued together to make a light, strong and flexible, hexagonal fishing rod. Sometimes the cane was planed on the ‘inside’ edge too to create a hollow section of built cane thus:
Looks like a pencil, doesn’t it?
More of split cane, built cane and hollow-built cane later………….much, much more.
Allcock,Laight and Westwood also imported un-finished American lures from the famous Creek Chub Bait Company into Canada. It wasn’t certain if they made them or finished them, but I recently found some notes online where an ex-employee at Creek Cub speaks of the white ( undercoat paint only ) lures being boxed up and sent to Toronto.
Here is the American product…this is a ‘Pikie’
And here is an Allcocks, Laight and Westwood lure in its later box
I have one such lure…a Pikie like the first image….(which holds the world record of taking the biggest pike ever incidentally),… in an Allcock, Laight and Westwood box, but I obtained it from Sweden of all places. So it has travelled from Garrett, Indiana to Toronto, Canada then on to Sweden before coming to me here in the U.K. It is a most treasured possession.
As my research continues I have come across some more information about Allcock,Laight and Westwood;
Sadly it appears that Frank Westwood, the son of the firm’s co-owner Benjamin Westwood was murdered when he was just 18 years old at the door of the family residence.
This from a record of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto:
I can’t help but think that if young Frank were shot by a woman dressed as a man, whom he knew he’d have said so before he died……………………