Records indicate that the company was established about 1870. There
are mentions in a Post office Trade Directory of 1872 of a James Ralph
& Company, frying pan maker of Earl Street, Bilston. In 1896
Kelly's Directory for Staffordshire lists both James A. Jordan,
holloware; and Ralph & Jordan, wrought iron, holloware manufacturer,
tinners, galvanisers and manufacturers of enamelled iron advertisement
plates, Beehive Works, Earl Street, Bilston.
In 1893, in his History of Bilston, Lawley has this to say about the
A position of the greatest importance in the industrial circles of
Bilston is held by the establishment of Messrs. Ralph & Jordan,
Beehive Works. They are manufacturers and patentees of Tinned and
Galvanized Wrought Iron Hollow-ware, and makers of "Alpine"high
class Cycles. Their works are advantageously situated and are of
modern and substantial construction. They cover altogether about an
acre and a half of ground, and are divided into different departments
suitable to the business, viz., large tin and galvanizing shops,
finishing shops, warehouses for show, stock, packing and sorting rooms
and offices, etc. The ranges of shopping are replete throughout with
every description of machinery of the best type and improved
appliances. Nearly two hundred hands are employed. Messrs. Ralph &
Jordan are also makers of The Universal Enamelled Iron Goods, a new
industry for Bilston, and the only one of its kind in the township.
Unfortunately nothing more is known of their bicycle making
activities. Although they may have continue for some years as makers of
holloware, vitreous enamelling became their main activity.
Sign by Jordans, photographed in situ
|The processes involved in enamelling were not without its dangers to
On 12th June 1893 Harriet Walters of Sedgley died
an agonising death. The Coroner returned a verdict of "Death
from chronic lead poisoning accidentally contracted through her
employment". Five months prior to her death she had been
earning her living as a "brusher" at Ralph & Jordan
The verdict was greeted with so much protest
that eventually questions were asked in Parliament which resulted in the
setting up of a special committee to investigate the enamelling industry
The company's main business was the production of enamelled
advertising signs. A full colour catalogue issued in 1918 proudly
displayed signs produced for some of the most well known national and
local companies, including Wearwell Cycles, complete with its winged
|Trade directories of 1924 indicate that by this time the company had
become known as J.A. Jordan & Sons Ltd. The following decades showed
expansion with the building of additional premises, with one side of
Earl Street dedicated to the enamelling of gas cookers, while the other
side looked after enamelled signs of all shapes and sizes, including bus
stop signs, road signs, signs for tea, chocolate and cigarettes. Almost
certainly the "Players" cigarettes advert was the most famous
with the "Sailor" design recognised everywhere.
an advert from a trade
directory of 1920
An advertisement, undated.
||Some designs were indeed a work of art and they employed artistic
designers to produce this type of sign.
A stencil was cut for each
colour which was applied and fired separately. The mixing of the correct
proportion of the various ingredients to produce each colour was
critical, as was the ability to withstand repeated firings.
It is said
some of the secrets of the trade were lost when key important employees
retired taking their "recipes" with them. This would, no
doubt, have added to the decline in the company's fortunes but the
firm's work with vitreous enamels was supported by chemists and
laboratories in Greencroft.
|During the 1950s and 1960s the firm diversified into the wind
rotating advertising signs that normally appeared on garage forecourts
and into station name plates for British Rail.
The brochure (of which the front cover and one inner page are
shown to the right), undated, probably from the late 1950s,
shows signs for British Rail, international companies such as
National Benzole, HMV and Coca Cola and a local company, Midland
Counties Ice Cream.
||Although Jordans continued to be most famous for
their advertising signs, they continued with other enamelling
work, which included the enamelling of the type of cast iron
fireside furniture best represented by the Bilston
in the 1974 Wolverhampton Official Handbook says: "Vitreous
enamelling of steel and cast iron. Manufacturers of architectural
panels. Press work capacity up to 350 tons, spot welding
undertaken". The "architectural panels" were fire
resistant panels used on the facades of large buildings.
On the following pages there are many examples of
Jordans work taken from a number of documents, particularly a surviving
catalogue. (Thanks to the Black Country Living Museum for
providing scans of most of the documents shown, from their archives).