Tungstone closure marks end of an era

FOLLOWING last week s announcement of the closure of Tungstone Batteries, the Mail delved into the archives to trace the history of one of the town s biggest employers.

The factory in Lathkill Street has employed generations of Harborough families for more than a century.

From humble beginnings, it became one of the largest battery manufacturers in the country during the 1980s.

Just before the turn of the 20th century, John Haddons, a London company specialising in advertising, printing and publishing, decided to start manufacturing lead type for printing.

The company was owned and run by Walter Haddon at this time. He decided to set up the type manufacturing business as Haddons in Market Harborough because of the relatively low labour costs.

The company, then known as Haddon Caxton, began to produce lead type the brass rules that divided the lines of type an electric pump division and a wood working department which made type spaces, drawers for storing type and other furniture.

The name Tungstone came from a walking stick given as a present to Walter Haddon. The timber used to make the stick was green heart which was so hard it wouldn t take nails or screws. Walter decided to use it exclusively for all the printers spaces. He registered the name Tungstone because the wood was as strong as the metal, tungsten, and it sank like a stone.

In the 1920s, the lead type making industry was threatened so the company looked for other products it could make. They had worked in lead and wood for years so the production of wooden cased lead acid batteries was an obvious option. In the mid 1920 s the company made the first batteries using the Tungstone name and they were soon making batteries for cars, houses and schools.

During the Second World War, Tungstone began to employ women for the first time and they helped produce a variety of military products including ground starter batteries for aircraft, RAF lorry batteries and loud hailer batteries for the Navy. After the war the industrial and vehicle battery production resumed.

In the early 1960s London Merchant Securities bought the business from the Haddon family and eventually Tungstone became part of the Hawker Siddeley Group.

By the 1980s Tungstone were one of the largest battery manufacturers in the country, producing more than 700,000 batteries a year.

More recently, however, competition from foreign firms which had lower costs, combined with the decline in demand in the battery market, forced the company to lay off workers as it struggled in vain to combat heavy losses.

Last week, bosses accepted defeat and served all 180 workers at the factory with 90 days notice of redundancy.