Henry Williams invited to Parliament

Darlington-based Henry Williams Limited was one of only 40 businesses nationally asked to display a product at Made By Britain, a project launched today (Wednesday, July 6, 2011) by the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group to promote the best of Britain’s manufacturing ingenuity and quality.

Henry Williams, a major supplier of products for the UK’s rail and road networks, was nominated by Darlington MP Jenny Chapman for its fishplates, specially-designed metal plates used to build and maintain railtrack.

The fishplates, and the products of the other 39 companies, were featured on an interactive online map to which MPs across the country were challenged to add their own constituencies’ manufacturing successes.

Henry Williams, established in Glasgow in 1883 but based in Darlington since 1911, where it employs 97 people, has designed and manufactured over 100 different types of fishplate. They have a variety of uses, from a joggled fishplate to facilitate emergency welding through to stepped fishplates for the jointing of different rail sections.

The company recently invested £750,000 on a rapid acting German made banning hammer to enable it to make fishplates quicker and more efficiently, as well as competitively. It forges 5,000 fishplates a month, or 60,000 a year, and the products are sold all over the world, including currently the latest stage of a major extension of Metro de Santiago, in the Chilean capital Santiago.

Managing director Andrew Nelson attended the Made By Britain parliamentary launch at Portcullis House, Westminster, which was addressed by Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, and Sir Alan Rudge, Chairman of the Board of Management of the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.

Mr Nelson said: “It is a great honour for Henry Williams, a company which has been at the forefront of engineering innovation for 130 years, to be invited to participate in the Made By Britain initiative.

“Our fishplates are a successful product because of their quality and the broad scope of their potential application, but just as important, there is not an aspect of the business which hasn’t benefited from investment in the past 36 months and that has provided a solid foundation for this success.”

In rail terminology, a fishplate is a metal bar which is bolted to the ends of two rails to join them together on a track. The name is derived from fish, a wooden bar with a curved profile used to strengthen a ship’s mast. The top and bottom edges are tapered inwards so the device wedges itself between the top and bottom of the rail when it is bolted into place.

The device was invented in 1842 by William Bridges Adams (famous for his “Adams Axle”, which was in use up until 1968), who had become dissatisfied with the scarf joints and other systems of joining rails then in use. He noted that to form the scarf joint the rail was halved in thickness at its ends, where the stress was greatest. The fishplate was first deployed on the Eastern Counties Railway in 1844, but only as a wedge between the adjoining rails. It was not until 1849 that James Samuel, an engineer on the Eastern Counties Railway, developed fishplates that could be bolted to the rails.