Henry Milward & Sons
Washford Mills, Redditch
Upwards of a century and a half ago, that is to say in the year 1730, was first established at Redditch the now celebrated Firm (Henry Milward & Sons) whose name appears above and it has remained in the same family ever since. Since Mr. John Frederick Milward and Mr. Victor Milward, the present partners, succeeded to the Firm some thirty years back, immense progress has been made by the business, until at the present day (1888) between seven and eight hundred hands are employed in the works and 8.000.000 needles are finished every week. Until shortly before the commencement of the present reign, this branch of manufacture had been carried on entirely by hand and the process was slow and expensive. To the Firm of Milward & Sons belong in a great measure the credit of having cheapened these small but invaluable articles; much of the patent machinery in use at the Washford and Forge Mills, where the operations of the Firm are conducted, being their own invention. Nor have they, in reducing the cost of manufacture and lowering the price of needles, neglected the quality of their goods, as a glance at the list of distinctions won by the Firm will abundantly testify:
no less than seventeen or eighteen medals have been awarded them for the superiority of their manufactures, including those of which they were the recipients at the Exhibitions of New York 1853; Paris 1855, 1867, 1875 and 1878; London 1862; Lyons 1872; Vienna 1873; Philadelphia 1876; Sydney 1880 and Melbourne 1881.
The art of needle-making was first introduced into England by one E. Kraus, a German, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, previously to which time the bulk of the needles used in this country had been imported from Germany and Spain.
Other needle-makers afterwards came from Normandy and their trade was commenced at Long Crendon, whence it spread into various villages of Warwickshire and eventually settled down on the borders of Worcestershire. Redditch, which was then but a small country village, has now grown into a manufacturing town of some importance and by the survival of the fittest has become the only seat in England of the industry introduced by Kraus. As for the needle itself, it has continued nearly if not exactly the same, with point, eye and polished shaft, ever since its introduction until the present year. There have been improvements made from time to time in the process of manufacture and hand-work has of late been to a great extent superseded by machinery; but the form of the article itself has remained the same. It seems, however, that the year of Jubilee has been signalised by the introduction of an improvement in the make of the needle which promises to revolutionise the trade and which certainly should bring joy to the heart of many an aged needlewoman with failing sight; we refer to the invention of the "calyx-eyed" needle, for which also this country is indebted to a German, Mr. E. Kratz. The object of the new invention is the dispense with the necessity for passing the end of the cotton through the eye, an operation which, in the case of small needles and persons with bad sight, is attended with considerable difficulty and no little vexation. The threading is accomplished by merely drawing the cotton through a slit above the eye and the old method, which has been termed, in a serio-comic spirit, one of the remaining grievances of civilisation, is thus, we trust, for ever done away with. But how is it, people may ask, that the thread which passes in so easily does not easily slip out again? The explanation is very simple. Below the eye is a second opening and the two together form a spring which opens to admit the cotton and closes when the cotton is safely lodged inside. It is evident that for the formation of the eye of this newly-invented needle the most delicate manipulation is required and also a perfect temper in the sides of the eye itself; nor can we suppose that these two requisites would anywhere be more certainly obtainable than in the establishment of Messrs. Milward & Sons, the largest and most complete needle factory the world has ever yet seen. After the needles are made the work of the manufacturer, however, is not yet finished, for many important processes have still to be undergone before they are in a fit state to be sent out from a first-class factory. Among these we must mention the process of hardening, which requires great skill and experience, the process of brightening; the process of picking out all defective needles, which is done in the Washford and Forge Mills with the utmost care; the process of polishing, for which Messrs. Milward have an advantage over other makers in the possession of machinery invented and patented by themselves and finally the process of fixing the needles in papers ready for the market. Needles of every description and size are among the goods sent out from these works, including those for hand-sewing, for tailors, for dressmakers and for milliners; every kind in daily use by the needle woman, whether for hand-work or for machine-work; packing-needles, knitting-needles, crewel-needles and a number of other varieties which we have not even space to name.
In concluding this article, we must mention also the fish-hook department of Messrs. Milward & Sons' Works. It has been a matter of some speculation as to why the manufacturing of needles and fish-hooks have both settled in the small country town of Redditch; but, be that as it may, the fish hook industry has obtained large importance. The most savage equally with the most cultivated people require the fish-hook and orders are received by Messrs. Milward from Fiji and the South Pacific Islands, as well as from London, Paris and New York. Sir Lowthian Bell, in a recent Jubilee article upon steel products, instances the fish-hooks of this Firm as some of the most highly valuable among the finer applications of that metal and the manufacture of the tiny, delicate hooks required in some markets, such as France, India, &c., demand the utmost skill from the men and women employed upon them. The machinery of the Firm for this purpose is by far the most complete of the district. We must also put our readers on their guard against unscrupulous attempts to pass off spurious goods as coming from the works of Messrs. Milward. The names, marks and labels of the Firm should always be carefully identified.