Man at Work

JAMES WILKES LTD

by Reg Aston

Man at Work

2.  Origins of the Company

James Wilkes

The business had been founded in 1915 by Mr James Wilkes Snr. He was born on 27th July 1879. He was a local preacher and in earlier years preached at many chapels in the area. He was apprenticed to the Bilston printing firm of John Price & Sons before leaving in 1902 to become a partner in the firm of Messrs. Woolley & Wilkes, who were located in the Orchard, Bilston. This partnership continued until 1915 when James Wilkes formed his own company. This business was James Wilkes Caxton Press and could also be found in the Orchard.

The company prospered. One of its important publications was "The Bilston Weekly", which was a free newspaper funded by the adverts it carried. In 1931 the firm printed and published the book by the Bilston historian, John Freeman, "Black Country Stories & Sketches", which has become an invaluable source of information on nineteenth century Bilston. The company was also responsible for printing and binding the Bilston Council minutes, along with its traditional jobbing printing it undertook for local people and industry.

Bilston Weekly News Header

In 1933 the decision was made to relocate to Moxley and a suitable site in Oxford Street was purchased in the Spring of that year from Bilston Town Council. In a remarkably short time of 6 months the transfer was completed and the factory itself built in 6 weeks. When I joined the company in 1961 there were still a number of employees who had transferred from the Orchard to Moxley. At that time the joint longest serving employees were Cyril Evans, the Works Director, and Bernard Humphries, a "stonehand" in the composing room. Both had completed 38 years service. On Saturday March 12th 1955 a presentation of long service awards was held at the Victoria Hotel, Wolverhampton when a total of 19 employees received these awards.

By the time I joined the business was in the control of Mr James Wilkes Jnr and Mr Stanley Wilkes. Following Mr Stanley's resignation on 13th November 1956 a number of senior managers were named as additional directors. They were A.E.Hayes, Secretary, S. Caddick, Commercial Manager, H.L.Peace, Sales Manager, J.M. Wilkes, Methods and Organisation and C.J.Evans, Works manager.

The Directors

These were the directors in 1965.  Left to right:  James Wilkes, Harry Pearce, Harry Tonks, Sam Caddick, Cyril Evans

Major rebuilding was commenced in the mid 1950s, with new offices built replacing the original 1930s building; and the factory at the rear was extended providing additional shop floor area.

In 1959 a dinner was held at Bilston Town Hall to celebrate the 80th Birthday of Mr James Wilkes Snr. But ironically most of the firm's four hundred employees were on strike due to a national printing dispute. The dinner was attended by the Mayor of Bilston, Councillor Wolverson, and among the invited guests were the employees who were with the firm in the early days. Their names were Tom Moorhouse, Jim Jones, Bernard Humpheries, Sam Bailey, Harry Bowen, Robert Evans, Percy Cox, Cyril Evans, S. Rogers, Sam Caddick and Fred Devereaux. Mr James Wilkes Snr. died during August the following year but the firm continued with Mr James Wilkes Jnr. in control.

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