St Gobain Abrasives/Universal Grinding Wheel

Family ties

This factory has seen no less than 7 family members spanning over 3 generations to this factory!  An end of an era! The complete demolition of this factory has definitely affected my family and if i’m honest makes me a little sad as well, even though the plaster unicorns that were on this factory site have been saved, I can’t help but feel like progress comes at a cost!

The visit i was very grateful to have the opportunity to visit and walking in the canteen provoked a memory of the tables in there; but they were over my head! Amusingly i was able to speak to my uncles very recently and asked if i would have gone in there and the Christmas parties were indeed held in there and I would have definitely been in there when I was tiny!

Background

The origins of Universal go back to Rooper & Harris Ltd’s Castle Works factory, founded in 1893. They produced a number of abrasive products, including some for finishing processes in the shoe industry, and in 1913 a new works was opened on Doxey Road to make vitrified grinding wheels. In 1914 they combined with a number of other similar businesses to become the Universal Grinding Wheel Company of Stafford. The factory was extended during the First World War, and in 1921 the Castle Street works was closed.

By the late 1950s the Doxey factory was the largest of its kind in Europe, covering a 44 acre site. As well as laboratories and a variety of specialised production units, the company had excellent sporting facilities, including a cricket field, tennis courts, bowling green and social club.

By the 1970s they had become Europe’s largest manufacturers of grinding wheels and employed 1,600 people in Stafford in May 1977. Universal’s parent company, Unicorn Industries PLC was acquired by Fonseco Minsep PLC in 1980 which in turn was acquired by Burmah Castrol PLC in 1990. Venture capitalists Apax Partners bought the abrasives division in 1992 and sold it to Unitec Ceramics. The new group was called Unicorn International PLC with headquarters at Doxey. Finally, the Unicorn business was acquired by the French company, Saint Gobain, the world’s largest abrasives business.

In September 2019, just prior to the demolition of remaining buildings on the Doxey site, Saint-Gobain Abrasives UK relocated its head office and distribution centre to Unicorn House, on the Redhill Business Park, on the outskirts of Stafford.

The origins of Universal go back to Rooper & Harris Ltd’s Castle Works factory, founded in 1893. They produced a number of abrasive products, including some for finishing processes in the shoe industry, and in 1913 a new works was opened on Doxey Road to make vitrified grinding wheels. In 1914 they combined with a number of other similar businesses to become the Universal Grinding Wheel Company of Stafford. The factory was extended during the First World War, and in 1921 the Castle Street works was closed.

By the late 1950s the Doxey factory was the largest of its kind in Europe, covering a 44 acre site. As well as laboratories and a variety of specialised production units, the company had excellent sporting facilities, including a cricket field, tennis courts, bowling green and social club.

By the 1970s they had become Europe’s largest manufacturers of grinding wheels and employed 1,600 people in Stafford in May 1977. Universal’s parent company, Unicorn Industries PLC was acquired by Fonseco Minsep PLC in 1980 which in turn was acquired by Burmah Castrol PLC in 1990. Venture capitalists Apax Partners bought the abrasives division in 1992 and sold it to Unitec Ceramics. The new group was called Unicorn International PLC with headquarters at Doxey. Finally, the Unicorn business was acquired by the French company, Saint Gobain, the world’s largest abrasives business.

In September 2019, just prior to the demolition of remaining buildings on the Doxey site, Saint-Gobain Abrasives UK relocated its head office and distribution centre to Unicorn House, on the Redhill Business Park, on the outskirts of Stafford.

It has all gone now, made way for a road, I’d imagine they won’t even keep my great grandfathers fence either! I’ll go and take some images of whats in its place once it has been built!

  • Stitched Panorama
  • Stitched Panorama

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