In the year I879, two brothers, William and Charles Smith – migrated from Dudley to Birmingham because of the more attractive economic conditions in the expanding city. Seven years later they joined partnership as Building Contractors. Specialist Joinery and Fittings for the Metropolitan Banking Company and School College Laboratories soon formed an important element of their business. They also secured several valuable contracts at the turn of the century for the Great Western Railway Company who were then extending their services in the Industrial West Midlands. As General Contractors, W. & C. Smith undertook the erection of numerous industrial and public buildings and established a reputation for reliable work. With the retirement in 1904 of William Smith from the business, the specialist joinery and furnishing activities were gradually phased out, until by 1919 it was but a small part of the business
After the 1914-18 War, Howard Smith, the eldest of Charles Smith’s three sons, returned for a short time to assist in the management of the business. His activities terminated in 1922 when with his father’s partnership, he launched a Builders’ Merchants business. This venture prospered rapidly. It is today one of the best known Merchants in the Midlands. (E.H. Smith & Co Ltd).
In addition to its general commercial buildings the Company’s activities in Civil and Mechanical Engineering expanded and numerous contracts were undertaken for the Railway and Canal Companies of the Midlands, involving what today would be regarded as “Package Deals”.
During the period of trade depression (1929-33) numerous such package deals were entered into with the former Grand Union Canal Company involving construction of Birmingham Docks, including not only new locks and basins, warehouses and offices, etc., but also lifting facilities, mechanical handling equipment, overhead cranes and gantries. To supervise some of those operations Mr. 0. D. Smith, who after some years of experience in various Construction fields had purchased the business from his father’s executors, engaged the services of Mr. Christopher Webb to function as Manager of the Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Services Department.
During the 1939-45 World War these services were in considerable demand for industrial installations engaged in providing essential services and production of various commodities. This grew to such an extent that it was decided to take Mr. Webb into partnership and form a subsidiary company.
As a consequence of which, Smith Bros. & Webb Limited was registered as a separate company to take over these activities, with Mr. Webb as Director and General Manager.
Mr. O. D. Smith, also having other interests in the field of mechanical engineering, introduced various products to Smith Bros & Webb Limited, who manufactured, amongst other things, large numbers of Abrasive Cutting Machines as well as driving units, which were exported all over the world for the individual motorization of Machine tools.
Back in 1920 Smith Bros. Construction Limited had constructed a ‘Britannia’ Carriage Washing Plant for the former London & North Western Railway at Wolverhampton. Consequently, it was decided to transfer activities of this kind to Smith Bros. & Webb Limited, as new contracts came to fruition. But in those days this type of business was slow in coming to maturity and the Railway Companies, with characteristic conservativeness, generally preferred to retain their own designs.
Christopher Webb soon resigned from the company which, in about 1950, commenced contract manufacture of machines for cleaning of Public Service and Load Carrying Vehicles. Machines of this type used by London Transport Executive have given more than twenty-five years continuous service.
Export has been an important feature of the Company’s expansion programme. Both in the specialised field of ‘Railway Rolling Stock Washing Machines’ and ‘Bus and Commercial Vehicle Washing Machines’, many have been exported to overseas customers in all five continents.
The company is acknowledged as one of the leaders in the field, and having moved its activities to the Arden Forest Industrial Estate at Alcester, owned by one of its associated companies – Alcester Estates Limited – has ample facilities for expansion of output.
To-day, Smith Bros. & Webb Ltd. operate exclusively in the design, manufacture and installation of a comprehensive range of Britannia automated Train and commercial vehicle washing systems for customers world-wide, undertaking specialist design and project work to meet operators’ individual problems and requirements.
Britannia by Oliver Alexander