The Delta Story


Mr. Purnell, a Director and, by his own description “an old Delta Metal man,” has written a short history of Delta. Many historic company names are now encompassed within the Group, and without overrating the poet’s line that “all our past acclaims our future,”

Mr. Purnell believes that analysis of past decisions and their effects provides some lessons for the future.

NEARLY a century ago – in 1883 – our founder, George Alexander Dick, started to market Delta products, and five years later the Delta Metal Company was incorporated as a limited company. Dick was a remarkable man. His mother was English and his father, of Scottish descent, a prominent citizen of Offenbach am Main, where George Alexander was born in 1837. After studying chemistry at Heidelberg University and going to Bilbao as blast furnace and laboratory manager at the Altos Hornos Ironworks, he and his brother set up a general engineering business in Paris. All went well until the Franco-German war in 1870 brought him to England where, with others, he established the Phosphor Bronze Company Limited in 1874. He managed it until 1882.

His background made him a great European, speaking English, German, French and Spanish fluently. He was also an inventive metallurgist and clever engineer, and he formed companies in Germany and Belgium in 1884, Spain 1887 and France and Italy 1888. Of those remaining the Deutsche Delta is now part of Wieland of Ulm and the Italian company part of SMI.

From 1882 he worked to improve brass and other alloys and found that mixing a small proportion of iron to brass produced alloys of unusual strength and resistance. This iron-zinc copper alloy became Delta Metal after the initial letter of Dick’s name, and is still so described in the Shorter Oxford Dictionary and Everyman’s Encyclopedia, though the latter gives the date of the alloy invention incorrectly as 1833. Later Delta became a registered trade mark for a wide variety of alloys, and the original Delta Metal lingered on with a limited market as Delta Bronze No. IV. Dick was interested in production methods as well as in perfecting alloys, and he sought to produce copper alloy rods by a cheaper method than rolling and drawing. Eventually he adapted the extrusion process which had already been used for lead to the production of brass rod.


SOME years passed after the company’s incorporation before commercial extrusion started. Development work “went on at Pomeroy Street, New Cross, South-East London, and at Lionel Street, Birmingham, and extrusion production commenced in 1894. The earliest presses involved rotating the container to a vertical position, then pouring about 1 V cwts of molten metal from a crucible. After cooling to a plastic condition, the container returned to the horizontal, the appropriate die was placed in position and the ram pressurised. The use of pre- cast billets, greatly increasing the production rate, soon replaced this earlier method.

The scene for Delta for the next 50 years was set by opening Dartmouth Street in 1900 and the Greenwich works in 1905. The Extruded Metals Company Limited was incorporated in 1907 largely to market extruded products in countries where others enjoyed the rights to Delta trade marks, as in addition to the Italian and German companies mentioned earlier, Dick had in 1900 sold manufacturing rights to the American Brass Company which was subsequently taken over by Anaconda. The Phosphor Bronze Corporation, a subsidiary of Seymour Manufacturing Corporation of Connecticut, acquired the Delta trade mark in the USA in 1905.

Solid progress was made until 1914 and the war created an enormous demand for extruded products for munitions. It also brought government intervention and other companies were encouraged to develop extrusion – by that time the early patents had expired. Competition intensified in the interwar years and the depression was a testing time, but technical advance continued. The early Dick presses were modified by Ruchholz and then by Mangan, and advantage was taken of German designs by using Loewy presses and Schumag drawing and straightening machines. Indeed, Delta continued to be the foremost rod producer and little was done to expand in other directions.

There were two small acquisitions – Heaton & Dugard (wire and special alloys) in 1923, and Moore Brothers (Birmingham) Limited in 1924, which became a specialist section mill. Demand increased again in the 1939- 45 war, principally in straightforward lines, and after the war the company was left with the major problem of readapting to a mixed output and a greater call for sections. Throughout much of the period just covered and well into the next chapter the affairs of Delta were presided over by the founder’s son, A. F. H. Dick, who became a director in 1909, Managing Director in 1920, and Chairman from 1937-56.

DURING the immediate post-war years there were at least 15 companies involved in brass rod extrusion, some of which were quite small and not very efficient. The development of larger presses together with competitive forces led Delta to acquire six of these companies and others closed their extrusion activities. After much rationalisation the brass rod trade is today more efficient with three major competitors. Delta, McKechnie and IMI, with Vickers, Evereds, Birmingham Battery and Pegler also in the field, though the latter only extrude for their own internal consumption.

The late 1940s also saw the purchase of the Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum works, which provided offices for the London works and a bombed site for further development. Subsequent policy determined that manufacturing development should be in the Midlands, so Delta Storage was formed in 1956 to use this site, consisting of the land, buildings, and riverside facilities. The Earl of Verulam was chairman of Enfield Rolling Mills at the time of the merger in 1963, and chairman of Delta from December 1967 until 1972. Finally in 1972 the site was sold at a reasonable profit and Delta Storage closed down.

Concern in the early 1950s that such major competitors as IMI and the large European groups were multi-product .” based in semi-manufactures turned Delta’s thoughts towards buying its way into rolled metals and tubes, and to the idea that it ought to be fabricating aluminium. Though our brass rod consolidating exercise was successful, our efforts to integrate horizontally into rolled metals and tubes were less so. The acquisition of Earle Bourne in 1953 and Alfred Case in 1959 did not achieve much in that direction, and nor did Delta Enfield Rolled Metals, a joint company which was the forerunner of a larger merger. On the tube side the acquisition of James Booth in 1957 took us into brass tubes as well as aluminium, but we sold the tube interests, closed the brass rod side, transferred the best plant to West Bromwich, and went into a 50/50 partnership with Kaiser Aluminium on aluminium fabrication.

The West Bromwich works, now our major rod producer, was acquired with Copper & Alloys in 1954, and a copper refinery belonging to that company was subsequently hived off to Elkington Copper Refiners, in which Delta has a 25 investment. So far this article has been concerned with Delta’s horizontal moves to widen its base in semis and consolidate its position in brass rods.

There was, however, a growing interest among major brass rod users in installing then- own extrusion presses. This would have left the jobbing extruders with a much smaller base load and the whole economics of rod production would have been unbalanced. Accordingly plans were made to enter the three major sectors of (i) hot brass stampings, (ii) brass foundry and water fittings, and, (iii) turned parts, as follows:- (i) 1956 acquisition of Mansill, Booth, J. W. Singer and Elkington – hot brass stampers. Together with the subsequent purchase of George Mansill Limited, this made us so strong in the stamping trade that little business was lost and a very large tonnage of rod was assured. At the same time the Greenwich works stamping department was closed down – a reminder that in addition to pioneering extrusion we were the first hot brass stampers but had allowed the trade to expand elsewhere. (ii) 1957 acquisition of Sanbra brassfoundry, stampings, compression fittings and gravity diecastings. 1958 F. H. Bourner “supataps”. 1959 E. P. Jenks extrusion and water fittings. 1960 C. H. Edwards ball valves. Sperryn and Co. Ltd. water and gas fittings. 1962 John Webb and Co. water fittings. Manley and Regulus water fittings.

These companies formed the basis of the present Building Products Division and tap production underwent a major rationalisation, using the old Manley and Regulus works at Showell Road, Wolverhampton, and pulling together the water fittings activities of E. P. Jenks, John Webb, Sperryn and Manley and Regulus under the name of Delta Water fittings. Bourner remained an independent producer in the south and Conex-Sanbra continued as a separate entity leading the field in compression joints. The acquisition of Sanbra in 1957 brought with it a South African company and the purchase the following year of the Non-Ferrous Tube (Pty) Company through the initiative of Mr. A. F. Thomas founded our present successful participation in Consolidated Brassfoundry and Macdem. Mr. Thomas is, of course. Chairman of our Overseas Division, though few may fully appreciate the great part he played in building up Delta’s position in South Africa – one of our most remunerative sectors.

The turned part trade, the third major rod-using sector Delta planned to enter, was a much more difficult problem. It was so splintered that a minor incursion would have offended other turned part customers without achieving much, so for a time small companies were absorbed without disclosure. N.Moore Limited, Instrument Screw Company and Collinsons Precision Screw were thus acquired with several other allied companies. Then with the acquisition of Davis and Timmins Limited in 1961 Delta declared its hand in turned parts and the Astonia Division emerged.

To complete the picture Delta subsequently disposed of the distribution side of Davis and Timmins to GKN and acquired at the same time control of United Non-Ferrous Metals, which now trades as Delta Wire.

Thus in the space of ten years Delta made its first faltering steps into widening the base horizontally in semis, and some firm and successful strides into vertical integration downwards into stamping, brassfoundry and turned parts – the latter being achieved between 1956 and 1962.

THE acquisition of Enfield Rolling Mills in 1963 was a very large step in horizontal integration based on the view that we should have a wider interest to face European competition in the future, though some misgivings were expressed that vertical integration had in fact proved the more profitable expansion up to that time. Enfield Rolling Mills The advent of ERM into the Group brought Delta into the cable trade and it was not long before we increased our stake in this side by the acquisition in 1964 of Johnson and Phillips and the remaining equity in Enfield Standard Power Cables.

There followed a difficult period when all national forecasts of growth rates in the electrical industry were proved wrong and over-capacity was considerable, but a rationalisation exercise was undertaken which greatly reduced the size of J & P and involved the disposal of the heavy switchgear interest and the hiving off of the super tension activities to a joint company with Pirelli. At the end of the rationalisation our Cables Division emerged as a strong and profitable operation and has since been further strengthened in 1971 by the acquisition of Saxonia and Wandleside, makers of specialised cables, and in 1973 by Aerialite.

The promised advantages of the extruded metal interests of ERM with the rod interests of Delta were not immediately apparent and for some years the division of the Group into brass and copper wings tended to perpetuate separatism, but the restructuring of the Group in 1967 into six autonomous divisions set us on the path to further growth. In fact growth indicated in the last chapter was only interrupted by a levelling off of profits in 1962 and a drop in 1966 and 1967 due to the troubles referred to, coupled with a period of slackness in non-ferrous semi-manufacture. This period was also one of considerable capital investment by Rod and Rolled Metal Divisions.

Divestment. It is always necessary to consider selling out of fringe activities which are not in the main stream of Delta’s interests, or occasionally to correct a mistake in a previous investment. I referred earlier to our 50 per cent aluminium interest in James Booth and in 1968 we decided that this was liable to be a capital-hungry investment, where the profit return could be more accurately assessed by a producer who could look on an integrated operation rather than just from a semis fabrication viewpoint. The disposal of our interest in James Booth Aluminium to Alcan left Delta with only a very small interest in light metals through ERMAL and one half interest in Alcan Enfield Alloys, but we look back to some happy years of partnership with Kaiser in this field. A less happy divestment in 1968 occurred through a venture into the builders’ merchant trade as an outlet for our Winsford Copper Tube factory.

Some embarrassment was caused by normalizing of R C T Cariel and we also closed down British Silverware in 1971 and Delta Storage in 1972 (to which I referred in Part I of this story), both of which were outside our main stream of activity, but had historically been quite properly operated as part of the Group. We have also found that it is not really helpful to own companies making plant or machine tools, for the extent that they make for other industries it is outside our field of interest and to the extent that they make for us inhibits our production engineers from choice in the market place. Under this heading we divested our interest in Stein Atkinson Stordy in 1967/8 and Ackworthie in 1972. The years 1967 and 1968 were mainly years of divestment, although a 50 per cent share in NIBCO was acquired, and this subsequently became Delta Capillary Products with 100 per cent ownership.

Following these years, 1969 saw the acquisition of the non-ferrous interests of Manganese Bronze Holdings at Ipswich and the valuable asset of the laboratories, which have now become a materials research organisation, serving the whole Group. In 1970 R & G Simpson (Coppersmiths) were acquired to strengthen Gledhill’s position in hot water cylinders, and Bolivar Stampings of Keighley were acquired.

Planning. During this period of slower expansion Delta was giving increased thought t(» planning methods and the collection of information on which to base decisions. Although the past ad hoc approach had worked when the company was much smaller it was apparent that a more organised method was required. There had, since 1968, been in existence a development committee whose job was to study and determine the best product and market development opportunities for Delta and this became a market development committee. A small group planning team, headed by the Group Chairman, was also formed. In 1970 the present group planning committee came into being and since then the interface between group and divisional planning has been continually improved. In 1974 we took on a full time executive secretary for the group planning committee, but the team is still a small one and the direction comes from the Group Chairman.

Some modest success has been achieved in the two major objectives we set in 1970:— (i) to increase the proportion of our effort in finished products, as opposed to semi-manufactured, without in any way restricting the latter but merely noting that the growth rates forecast are low. (ii) to increase the proportion of our sales and profits derived from overseas. Progress. We did in fact between 1969 and 1973 reverse the ratio of semis to finished products from 60:40 to 40:60 and in the same period our proportion of profits from overseas rose by 14 per cent. How these results were achieved can be seen by a list of acquisitions for the three years 1971 to 1973 which number about 25.

The highlight was the formation of our Electrical Division in 1971 to which initially Delta Metal Electronics, J & P (Capacitors), Watliff and D H Bonnella were transferred, and for administrative convenience the two stockists J Smith of Clerkenwell and Formetals, which were both acquired in 1971, also came into the new division. But later in the same year the takeover (not uncontested) of Midland Electric Manufacturing, market leaders in low voltage switchgear, gave immediate strength and purpose to the division. Further acquisitions of BERL and Niphan in 1972 and Bill Switchgear in 1973 have made the division the largest UK division in terms of capital and numbers employed. Overseas Our Overseas Division, which had been formed in 1968, was strengthened by the purchase in 1971 of D M Hull and Galvanising Industries in Australia and in 1972 by the purchase of the balance of the share capital of Extruded Metals Pty of Australia, Machine & Ewen, F J Sweetman (Australia), and Bonnycan Electric, Chicks Metals Pty (South Africa), Iran Valve (35 per cent) and Fabrimar of Brazil (25 per cent) — this latter being subsequently divested. In the meanwhile our joint interests with McKechnie Brothers in Macdem (semis) and with Stewarts & Lloyds in Maksal (tubes) were increasing in strength.

In 1974 there was further advance in Brazil with the acquisition of Dreco, a turned parts manufacturer, and in 1975 we have taken an interest in Marvin, where we are partners with Anaconda in a non- ferrous semi-manufacturing company. Lord Caldecote became chairman of the Delta Europe In Europe, where development is linked to the UK divisions, there was a small purchase by Building Products in 1971 of Jorgensen and somewhat larger acquisitions by Components of Sourdillon in France in 1973 and of Zulauf by Astonia/^n the same year. Jorgensen make hand wheels for gate and control valves, Sourdillon stampings and gas fittings and Zaiauf Ball- valves and fire fighting equipment. In 1974 Delta acquired a majority holding in SIFED, which is a French company manufacturing commutators and slip rings for the electric motor and automobile industries.

As a guide to the relative numbers involved in the history just related, the authorised capital of Delta has risen as follows:—

1888 150,000
1918 500,000
1952 2,000,000
1957 4,000,000
1959 9,000,000
1961 13,000,000
1963 19,000,000
1964 28,000,000
1971 33,000.000
1973 43,000,000

Increased resources to be devoted to the development of new products in our UK Divisions, especially those which will be saleable in world wide markets. to increase profits from overseas activities and broaden this base by investment in new areas, so as to be less dependent on the prosperity of one or two countries. The achievement of these objectives will involve the employment of human, technical and financial resources to the maximum advantage. This will mean wisdom in assessing priorities, skill and determination in divestment where this is an agreed priority, and the right balance between complete divisional autonomy and the discipline of accepting on occasions an overall Group benefit — where a local disadvantage is apparent. I see no reason why Delta in the future should not rise to greater heights than in the past — the new corporate identity should help to this end — but more important we have men, machines and leadership in all the fields we are in to make this come true. — increased resources to be devoted to the development of new products in our UK Divisions, especially those which will be saleable in world wide markets. — To increase profits from overseas activities and broaden this base by investment in new areas, so as to be less dependent on the prosperity of one or two countries. The achievement of these objectives will involve the employment of human, technical and financial resources to the maximum advantage. This will mean wisdom in assessing priorities, skill and determination in divestment where this is an agreed priority, and the right balance between complete divisional autonomy and the discipline of accepting on occasions an overall Group benefit — where a local disadvantage is apparent.

I see no reason why Delta in the future should not rise to greater heights than in the past — the new corporate identity should help to this end — but more important we have men, machines and leadership in all the fields we are in to make this come true.

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One thought on “The Delta Story”

  1. I lived in Charlton s.e. London and have very fond memories of MR Dick and His son, as children we all attended our local Sunday School after which on summer afternoons we were all invited to MR Dicks house we were all offered orange or lemon squash and to play in the gardens for a while. Life was very tough after the war and to be given these treats was much appreciated. I believe MR Dick also did help the local Sunday School. MR Dicks house and garden seemed very big to us all and I well remember his vegetable garden.
    When looking back at our childhood, my brothers, sisters and I all remember MR Dick as a very kind, friendly gentleman.
    I have always carried his kindness with me, he did set everyone a very good example. We all knew he owned Delta and I think he fully deserved his and the companies success. R.I.P. both MR Dicks.
    Thank you Joe langham

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