Sunday, 3 February 2013

Manganese Bronze: what would my father say?

News came on Friday that the Geely company of China has bought Manganese Bronze, the manufacturer of taxi cabs, out of administration. Geely had owned 20% of MB when it was a quoted company. It will be interesting to see whether Geely keep the name of their new acquisition. They have retained the "Volvo" brand after acquiring the Swedish car-maker, but there is less reason to keep "Manganese Bronze" which, after all, does not appear on the cabs. So it could be the end of a nearly one hundred year old trade name - see Wikipedia and Grace's Guide.

The latter entry explains the origin of the company name. Manganese Bronze was an alloy used for the manufacture of ships' propellers. I would query the date that Grace's gives for the move to Merseyside, though; I once had a photograph (before it was stolen among some other personal possessions) of my father and a fellow-apprentice standing under a massive propeller in the Birkenhead works. This must have been taken shortly before the outbreak of the second world war, when he joined up in the fight against Hitler's Germany.

One wonders why the established firm of Villiers decided to assume the Manganese Bronze name when it took over the company in the 1960s, rather than use its own well-known brand. Anyway, the metal-working basis of the business seems to have withered away during the early part of that decade.

Reading the Wikipedia entry threw up another personal connection I was unaware of. Villiers/Manganese Bronze also went on to buy Associated Motor Cycles, whose AJS and Matchless factory was next door to the junior school in Burrage Grove, London SE18 which I attended for a year or so. (Army families were even more mobile in those days than they are now!)

After the end of the war in Europe, my father's tour of duty took him to Hong Kong, whence he brought back such memorable goodies as candied peel. I have the impression that he formed some admiration for the Chinese he observed there. I imagine, though, that he would have been saddened by the loss of yet another British manufacturer to an Asian conglomerate.

No comments: