Samuel Allcock & Co.
Unicorn Works, Redditch (1862)
Standard Works, Redditch (1888)
The following history of the venerable British firm of Samuel Allcock was published in the 1888 edition of Wyman’s commercial encyclopædia of leading manufacturers of Great Britain.
Allcock was one of the largest, if not the largest makers of fish hooks in the world and branched out to produce materials for all kinds of angling. Samuel Allcock was a bit of a crank, as well, as I illustrated in a chapter in my History of the Fish Hook in America, Vol. 1.
Fish-Hook and Fishing Tackle Manufacturers
No house in this trade has entered into it in such a comprehensive way as the above Firm or infused into it such a progressive spirit and invincible determination to succeed, with the gratifying result that they stand in the van of this industry. For more than thirty years Mr. Samuel Allcock, the son of the founder, has been at the head of it. Not only do the Firm possess extensive Works at Redditch, where hand labour of the most skilled kind, combined with long experience and great judgment is employed, but to ensure the very best material for the gut of the hooks they carry on a silkworm factory at Murcia in Spain. Probably no other industry requires such a multiplicity of minute details as fishing-tackle making; to turn out a first-class fishing-rod it has to pass through some dozen sets of skilled operatives and so with the baits and floats. Comparatively little machinery is used, but it is the deft fingers and fertile brains of the operatives that are in constant requisition and it is partly this fact that gives this special industry an impregnable position in this country; for, in spite of the most hostile tariffs the world over, Redditch sends its manufactures into every market and in yearly increasing quantities and to keep abreast of the times and still more firmly and wisely to maintain that enviable position, this Firm at once adopt all kinds of improvements and have a special staff of intelligent employees whose business it is to study not only the different requirements of the varied markets, but to humour the tastes and fancies of the various fishes in the dress-up and appearance of the flies. Salmon, above all fish, are the most wary and fastidious and require such a perfect presentment of nature, that the distant markets of Africa and the East Indies have to be searched to please him and fly-making to be elevated to a fine art.
The different parts of the fishing-rod are composed of ash, hickory, greenheart, washaba, bamboo and certain woods from China and the East Indies, but the best of all is the Dorset English ash and it is a singular fact that although these woods are grown extensively in the United States and the industry protected by a high tariff, they cannot rival in quality the best English goods, or keep them out of the market. The manufactures carried on at these Works consist of all kinds of floats, reels, swivels, landing-rings, gaff-hooks, gut-finishing, fly-dressing and baits, to which there is no limit in change and ideas, comprising a spoon bait, an odd epicurean fish fancy, flexible fish and the big “Paragon” baits for dolphins; flies, beetles and other insects and even lady-birds and frogs are utilised to tempt the appetites of the gourmands of the seas and rivers. The flies especially are of the most elaborate and enticing appearance and it is no wonder young and old fall victims to the lure. No less than 1.700 different kinds and sizes of hooks are made and are arranged in such order in the storerooms that at a minute’s notice any given size required can be produced. Owing to the numberless articles required the stocks kept are very great and are a picture of order, neatness and regularity. Messrs. S. Allcock & Co. are well-known and successful exhibitors and were among the first to send contributions to those fishery exhibitions which attracted so much attention and they carried off gold medals at Paris, Berlin, Wurzburg, Norwich, Toronto, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, South Adelaide, Calcutta and the highest awards at all the other exhibitions at which they were contributors and we had the pleasure to inspect a superb case of fishing tackle previously to its departure for the Exhibition at Melbourne in the present year, 1888 and which case will be placed in Group V., Class 38 and will be numbered 725 in the Catalogue and the contents of it will worthily maintain their present prestige and position in the trade.
1888 Wymans commercial encyclopædia
The early History of the Allcocks Company
Original article from www.antiquetackleobserver.com
One of the world’s largest tackle makers was the firm S. Allcock & Co. based in Redditch. The company was founded by Polycarp Allcock and was originally engaged in the business of hook making.
This industry started in the village of Sambourne by a Charles Tolly sometime in the late eighteenth century. Richard Hemming whose grandfather was one of Tolly’s apprentices moved to Redditch and taught others the art of hook making. One of the people who he taught was Polycarp Allcock who in turn set up his own business around 1800.
Polycarp Allcock had a complicated life and on September 19, 1829 a son Samuel was born, the youngest child from his third marriage. I do not know what the problems were; the only reference I have found was the fact that the family had to work in the business due to the “reckless lives of the second family!”
An early Picture of Samuel Allcock from a glass negative
At the age of ten Samuel had to work at home for half a day and attend school for the remainder of the day. At thirteen he was accompanying his father on his selling trips. Polycarp would, with a horse and gig, travel the country selling not only his hooks but other fishing tackle.
At the age of fifteen he was thought responsible enough to undertake the selling trips on his own. This industrious and thoughtful side of his character was attributed to the Wesleyan Methodist upbringing, having joined of his own choice.
At the age of nineteen his mother died and with his father aged seventy seven thoughts about the succession of the business were aired. Samuel took over the business with a stock valuation of £17.
On August 22 1848 Samuel married the daughter of James Baylis of Redditch, who also worked in the fishing tackle trade.
The trade that Samuel followed for his apprenticeship was that of a float maker and he eventually had an assistant Mr. E Perks who he had once taught.
In 1851 the company took a gamble when Samuel decided to take part in the Great Exhibition. Not having that much money, about £5 was spent on a small exhibition case of tackle. Although he did not win any prizes he did receive an honourable mention and consequently helped to spread the name of the company. The London press of the time described the exhibit as “Brummagem stuff”
In 1856 Allcock purchased a small hook making company from George Andrews near Unicorn Hill in Redditch. In the course of time many of the Andrews family came to join the company including George’s son William. One exhibition piece that George made consisted of 1.000 hooks all of which were placed on a shilling coin.
In 1860 rod making was introduced by Samuel with Mr. James Tansley and his son being employed as the first rod makers. Gradually more people were employed in rod making including Mr. Allcock’s assistants, Albert Stratton and E. Perks.
Following the success of the 1851 exhibition further shows took place in 1862 in Toronto and Bergen in 1865. This was a trend that would continue in the future with the emphasis on overseas exhibitions.
As far as I know Allcock’s have always been a tackle wholesaler, rather than a manufacturer with a retail outlet like Hardy Bros. With this policy it is no surprise that they were seldom seen exhibiting in this country.
The business was carried out on a site between Unicorn Hill and Bates Hill but the expansion of the company meant that space was getting tight. Some cottages and a shop were taken over and a treadle lathe installed. During this time the rods were made of ash, hickory and lancewood. The planks of wood were cut with a hand saw and later worked with a hand plane to a near enough shape before finishing.
In 1866 with a growing workforce, to meet the increase in sales, space was a problem, to overcome this a site was purchased in Clive Road and the company moved. The workforce numbered about thirty with the rod making department consisting of seven rod makers and four women rod finishers. At this time the company was split into three departments, rod, float and hook making.
New staff were employed and the work force quickly doubled to sixty with some out workers moving into the factory.
Mr. Sandilands was employed as the foreman of the rod making section and he introduced a heavy type of rod for Scottish fishing. There is no mention of anything else about this rod; I can only assume that it was a worming rod or spinning rod. There was another increase in employees as much unskilled work was required to do tasks like rounding up butts. Skilled labour was lacking to make rods and Samuel managed to recruit four rod makers from London. This was not a great success and soon three of them left, the one who remained was a split cane rod maker.
Further machinery was added including a butt turning and a hollow fitting lathe. A saw mill was built and noticing that one of the builders was adept at using the saws he was soon employed by Allcock’s as their first sawyer. Obviously the right formula had been struck as the company had trouble keeping up with the demand for rods, the rod makers were working until ten or eleven every night. Samuel lived close by in Clive House and was always on hand to make sure that they were well looked after.
George Andrews was in charge of the hook making department that was also responsible for baits. As we know many of Allcock’s baits were in fact made by Gregory, but some were made in-house. Four girls were employed in tying hooks to gut, flies were made by outworkers.
The float turning shop was run by Mr. Cox who departed and was for a short time replaced by Thomas Sealey, before handing it over to William Meyneord. Once the floats had been turned they went to a finishing shop located on the top floor of the building.
Float making was considered as a “season trade” with the slack time being from August to December. During this time the float makers were employed sorting and straightening porcupine quills ready for the next season.
In 1868 the company took part in the Turin Exhibition, Italy and followed this up with the 1870 Paris exhibition where it won a gold medal. This was a great success for the company as the Shah of Persia made a close inspection of their exhibit and purchased many items.
Samuel Allcock travelled extensively throughout Europe and on 3rd August 1871 he went further. He sailed from Liverpool on the White Star Liner Oceanic and arrived in New York ten days later. He had taken the decision to expand the company into North America.
Some people claim that Allcock produced brass reels that were offered in the 1871 catalogue. This is can not be true because it was not until 1873 that the company started to make their own reels when a Birmingham brass worker Mr. Hughes joined the firm along with two youths.
An early Allcock multiplying reel marked “S.Allcock”
Sold in the 1871 catalogue but not made by Allcock
In 1874 the company made great strides when James Young joined, within three months he was head of the reel making department. James Young was also employed as a tinsmith making tin boxes, cans and the lining for packing crates.
In 1876 an additional floor was added to the building and to celebrate Samuel Allcock held a dance in the building. Two people joined the company who were to eventually become directors, G. E. Leach in 1872 and Alfred Williams in 1874.
In 1878 Mr. Tay joined the firm and brought with him a complete float making department, including George Tay and Luke Sealey.
Mr. Tay had prior to this enjoyed much success in North America and this work was bought with him. This also had the effect of expanding the range of floats that the company offered and put an end to the “float season”.
An interesting employee at this time was Ernest Bartleet a member of another famous Redditch tackle family.
Samuel Allcock’s first wife died and in 1878 he remarried. Not surprisingly he chose someone from the tackle industry when he married the widow of Charles Playfair the Scottish rod maker. He had five daughters from his first marriage and one of them Elizabeth married G. E. Leach in 1879.
Samuel took his civic responsibilities seriously and was somewhat ahead of his time when it came to workers welfare. When family festivities took place the whole of the workforce was invited. Samuel was also from the age of twenty, superintendent of the Wesleyan Sunday School.
A review in the magazine Land & Water in August 1879 claimed that they were the largest manufacturer of tackle in the world with a work force that now numbered over 400. Land & Water recognised that there was a threat to the British tackle industry from the emerging American market. They commented on a case of tackle being prepared or the Australian Exhibition in Sydney and felt sure that they would beat off the competition.
1879 was a monumental year in the history of the company. Allcock Laight & Co. was established in Toronto Canada and the company made their first Split Cane rod. The rod was made by Mr. Alfred Willmore who had joined the rod making department in 1863. This caused a great deal of excitement not only within the company, but also within the British tackle trade.
At the same time Hardy’s were also investigating split cane rod building. It is interesting to note the tools used, a hand saw, tenon saw, jack plane, two smoothing planes, and treadle lathe to bore out the butts, chisel and a pocket knife.
In 1880 the company exhibited in Melbourne, Toronto, Wurtzburg and Berlin. Emperor William visited the stand in Berlin and Samuel explained about the tackle on display. The local press were full of praise for the company stating that they made all their own tackle, something that can not be said of the German tackle companies.
In 1881 more exhibitions took place with success in Norwich and Adelaide. Samuel attended all the shows putting forward the case for buying Allcock tackle.
In 1883 they even went to Calcutta to supply tackle to the jewel in the British Empire, India.
The company showcase at the Paris 1895 exhibition
In 1882 the Standard Work Sick and Dividend Society was formed to ensure that workers would benefit when ill. All excess funds were paid out to the workers as a Christmas bonus.
With the continual expansion in sales more space was required and in 1882 the Saw Pit was removed and a two story building erected in its place. This was occupied by William Meyneord and his float making department. An additional building was erected to house the Tin Shop and Forwarding Warehouses.
In July 1889 Redditch received a visit from the Shah of Persia. When he arrived at the Railway Station he was met by two members of the County Council, V. Milward and S. Allcock, both in the tackle trade and both serving the community. The tackle presented by Allcock consisted of a 10 foot split cane trout rod and a silver bound ebonite reel with two silk lines enclosed in a blue velvet lined mahogany case. There was also a Moroccon leather case containing artificial minnows in silk, rubber and nickel, spoon baits, grubs, insects, float, swivels and salmon flies. I wonder what happened to those gifts?
In May 1891 there occurred an event which was to feature regularly in the history of the company, a fire. It started in the line shed near to the railway line and was discovered by Samuel’s grandchildren who were living with him at the time. Mr. Leach raised the alarm but before anything could be done the timber shed was on fire. This contained all the wood for rod and reel production, some which had been seasoned for twelve years. In a very short time adjoining buildings were aflame and all the wood stacks outside the building. The sound of bamboo cracking as it caught fire was likened to rifle fire and could be heard for miles around.
Neighbouring fire brigades came to assist in trying to stop the fire spreading, especially to the hardening shop where large quantities of oil were kept. The heat was so intense that the telegraph poles on the opposite side of the railway caught fire along with some of the railway sleepers. It also caused the railway to be closed as the track distorted with the heat. Many people turned out to help, but many others turned out to watch and see Mr. Leach’s garden turned into a wilderness. The cost of the damage was put at £2000, but the biggest problem was the potential shortage of wood. Buyers went out the next day to acquire wood.
By 1883 the company had become so large that the annual Standard Works Dinner was now split into Departmental dinners. All of them were attended by Samuel Allcock. The rod department was suffering from decreased working hours for only the second time since the company started. The warehouse was full and Samuel continued in his endeavours to secure more business.
He went to America and travelled more than 14.000 miles followed by 4.000 in Canada. At this time most goods entering the U.S.A. were subject to import duty, consequently most British companies were not interested in exhibiting at the Chicago Fair.
In 1893 the Model Perfect hooks were introduced into the US market with great success. Samuel Allcock commented that the American anglers “want good tackle” and that they were prepared to pay for it. This was against the current trend which was for a reduction in price with a consequent reduction in quality. The Model Perfect Trout and Bass Hook was the best selling hook in America.
In this year the company issued a catalogue in three parts, in honour of the visit to the factory of the British Association. Part one was issue 16 of the price list, part two a fully illustrated catalogue with coloured pictures and the third contained photographs of the factory and a description of the gut making factory at Murcia, Spain.
The company always welcomed the sporting press and they came from all over the world to visit the factory. With good reports in the various newspapers and continual exposure through exhibitions the company continued to grow.
In 1896 the company went to Hesingfors and in 1897 to Brussels, by which time Samuel’s son in law Alfred Williams was in charge. Things did not always going to plan with the Brussels case arriving broken, replacement glass was sent from England. In these days of international travel it is hard to imagine that the case left Redditch on March 21st. and it was not until June 21st. that it was complete and ready to show. The effort was worth it because they were awarded the highest possible prize, the Grand Prix.
On September 17th. 1899 the seventieth birthday of Samuel Allcock was celebrated along with the sixtieth year in business. He put up two great marquees at his residence “The Cedars” and provided the Town Band to play music. There were refreshments, a concert, games and a dance with all the company’s employees welcomed. Mr. Stratton, still employed as Samuel’s assistant, made the presentation on behalf of the workers. He recalled that when the company started there were less than 500 people in the town with about 20 of them employed in the fishing tackle business and about 50 involved in hook making. W. Houghton made a short speech recalling the days when all the rods were bought in from London and other places. Now thanks to Mr. Allcock they were sending rods from Redditch all over the world!
A portrait of Samuel Allcock in the Needle Museum Redditch
Although fully fitted out to go fishing it is believed he never fished.
Samuel Allcock of Redditch, England (1829 - 1910)
By Edward Alcock June 17, 2003 at 07:53:40
I would like to make contact with anyone interested in this lineage.
Samuel was the proprietor of Samuel Allcock & Co, the world's largest fishing tackle manufacturer at the end of the nineteenth century. This business was established in 1803 by Polycarp (Samuel's father) who died at Redditch on 1/6/1871 aged 96 years. The line has been traced back another three generations but the information I have is vague. Polycarp's father was a needlemaker named Sylvestor who was apparently born "two years before the '45 rebellion."
Samuel was survived by three daughters who married A Williams, GE Leach and JW Shrimpton.