Historic firm proving there is plenty of life in Black Country manufacturing

Its famous tiles adorn the roofs of Government House in New Zealand's capital Wellington, and St George's Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street chatting with Alex Patrick-Smith, MD of Hinton Perry & Davenhill Ltd
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street chatting with Alex Patrick-Smith, MD of Hinton Perry & Davenhill Ltd

But while historic Black Country firm Hinton Perry & Davenhill Ltd clearly has an eye for tradition, it is also looking to the future with an emphasis on embracing new technologies to help spur growth.

Despite the challenges of the Covid pandemic, bosses have invested £2.5 million in a factory extension and new plant at its site in Dreadnought Road, Brierley Hill, where the 215-year-old firm makes specialist bricks and quarry tiles.

Tiles made in the Black Country adorn the roof of St George's Cathedral in Cape Town

It has led to the business receiving plaudits from West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, who says it is a shining example of how the region's manufacturing industry can thrive in the years to come.

The plan, according to Managing Director Alex Patrick-Smith, centres around a philosophy of "constant evolution", with the family business refusing to rely solely on its hard earned reputation for high quality products.

"We have been around for a long time but we are always looking to the future," the 53-year-old said.

Andy Street and MD Alex Patrick-Smith check out the raw materials at Hinton Perry & Davenhill Ltd

"For us that means supplying a growing construction industry, either on the infrastructure side which is where the majority of our brick and clay paving products go, but also to the housing market, which is predominantly where we sell our roof tiles and quarry tile range."

The firm – which runs Dreadnought Tiles and Ketley Brick – is best known for 'Staffordshire Blue' tiles and bricks, which have a heritage going back to Victorian times.

Trade clicked up another notch around a decade ago after it started developing quarry tiles, which had been de rigueur in the 1950s before going out of fashion.

Andy Street examines tiles at Hinton Perry & Davenhill Ltd, Dreadnought Rd, Brierley Hill

Most UK manufacturers had stopped making them but there was a growing market – chiefly in replacement roof tiles for colonial buildings, which is where Hinton Perry & Davenhill stepped in.

"For a relatively new line it has really taken off, and we are now quoting projects in places like New York," Mr Patrick-Smith said.

"We have supplied products to Australia and various parts of Europe and around the UK, to Government House in Wellington and St George's Cathedral in South Africa.

The new extension at Hinton Perry & Davenhill Ltd, Dreadnought Rd, Brierley Hill

"A lot of the old colonial buildings are looking for matches that are as close to the original as possible, and we fit the bill for that."

The business launched its latest investment programme after acquiring a new quarry, which will provide clay reserves for the next 50 years.

The new plant coming in features robotic handling, allowing the firm to develop its manufacturing process and vastly increase efficiency.

While many firms were forced to lay off staff due to the national lockdown, Hinton Perry & Davenhill has taken on three new employees, bolstering the workforce to 66.

Mr Patrick-Smith said it has been a major challenge to maintain production during the pandemic, with some staff having to isolate and get tested after developing symptoms.

"A lot of our processes require a full complement of labour," he added.

"Taking on additional people allows us to run all our processes should not everyone turn up."

'Outstanding'

The firm was given an extra pair of hands for a day last week when Mr Street turned up to cast his eyes over the operation.

He said: "This is an outstanding business which, while full of history, is really thriving at the moment.

"They have invested in new plant and have extended the factory – and they have said that their order book is pretty strong.

"Against the difficult backdrop at the moment, it is great to see a business that through their own efforts, is continuing to flourish.

"It shows that our traditional businesses here in the West Midlands can be successful going forward."

Mr Patrick-Smith added: "There is a future for UK manufacturing, and in this area in particular, manufacturing has a key role to play in the economy.

"The Government has a slogan – build back better – which is something that we are always looking to do.

"We are seeing through this Covid crisis to what will hopefully be a buoyant future."

The business might just be proof that even in these desperate times of coronavirus, the region's proud manufacturing industry ain't dead yet.

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