John Goode & Sons, Established 1830

Gold Chain Manufacturers and Goldsmiths, Quality Works, Gt. Hampton Street, BIRMINGHAM.

Taken from a company brochure

Photo shows new premises 1914

In 1830, John Goode, who had probably served his apprenticeship with his father, a silver chain maker, commenced the manufacture of gold chains in a small workshop at Regent Place, Birmingham.

In those days the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter was in its infancy and the district largely a residential area. At this time he lived in a house adjoining the workshop, and it is recorded that he was in the habit of supervising the start of the working day at 7 a.m.; nine o’clock at night often saw him still at work, balancing his ledgers or writing mail.

It was John Goode’s proud boast that he had a practical knowledge of every process in the making of gold chains, and he would frequently sit down at the board to show an employee how his work should be done.

These were the days, too, when a lad entering the trade served his time as an apprentice, and on the completion of his indentures was well on the way to becoming a skilled craftsman. It was also the age of the Pioneer in industry and John Goode, like many of his contemporaries in other artistic trades, established a great tradition in handicraft.

This tradition carried on, being handed on from craftsman to learner, and fostered and encouraged by successive generations of management, until the 1960’s, when the company sadly closed. One of the company ledgers shows the existence of an interesting barter system—cloth, glass, etc. were on occasion accepted in payment for gold chain. From small beginnings his business prospered.

John Goode later became a committee member of the first trade protection association formed in the Jewellery and Allied Trades in 1851, a stepping stone towards the Birmingham Jewellers’ Association. Much later, in 1925, Mr. Ernest W. Goode was to serve’ as President of the Birmingham Jewellers’ Association, thus completing the family link with both Trade Associations.

With the increasing demand for Watch Fobs, Alberts (named after the Prince Consort) and Long Guard Chains for ladies, in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the business expanded considerably under the capable management of John and Albert Goode – sons of the founder. In the course of this development, much of what had been the founder’s garden was utilised for extensions to the factory.

In the ‘nineties the firm commenced to expand its export trade, building up a flourishing business with India and Australia. A design much favoured by the Indian market was a fancy spangle pattern Albert Chain, and several of these were made up in 22 ct. gold, set with diamonds, for the use of Indian Princes.

Among the many interesting overseas customers who visited the factory at this time, was a native West African merchant, a striking figure in picturesque national costume and carrying an outsize in vivid green umbrellas. His arrival at the works was heralded by a large crowd of small children of the neighbourhood who hung about for hours, confidently expecting him to give a dramatic free show at any moment.

In the course of time, the founder’s grandsons, Ernest, Cyril, and later Shirley, entered the business. Catalogues and other trade literature issued by the Firm about the turn of the century bear witness to the wide and varied range of chain patterns then produced. The intricacy of many of these patterns is itself a tribute to the ingenuity and skill of the craftsman of the time. It is interesting to note that many of these early patterns were being utilised until the company closed in the 1960’s in catering for the popular demand for the fashionable Charm Bracelet and bolder Neckwear.

In 1913, the original factory premises occupied since 1830 proving inadequate and impossible of further extension, a new factory was built and equipped to suit modern conditions. This fine, new building was opened on the very day war broke out in 1914, and in its layout and open planning; it was ahead of its time. The new factory was completely self-contained with facilities for melting, rolling, wire drawing and tool work, all under one roof. The making-up department was centralised on one well lighted floor, and the building was planned for the most efficient reclamation of gold.

During the Great War, in which two partners and a number of employees served with the armed forces, nearly all the Company’s production was diverted to work for the Ministry of Munitions. A variety of specialised work was carried out, of which mention should be made of large contracts for shell fuse caps and phosphor-bronze bushes for aero engines. As regards the jewellery trade the War period may be said to mark an important turning point in design. Soon after World War I, in 1922, it was decided to change the partnership into a Private Limited Company.

Between the two World Wars, the more flamboyant and heavy chain-work of the Victorian and Edwardian eras gradually gave way to finer and more restrained designs. The Dress Chain gained in favour at the expense of the heavier Albert, and Snake Chain came to the fore as representing yet another aspect of the changing fashion. To cope with these new trends, the Company acquired and set up a number of machines in 1927 for Snake Chain production.

However, there was one particular development which was to have a far reaching influence on the future. The wrist watch introduced prior to the Great War now gained rapidly in popular favour. The demand for Ladies’ Expanding Bands grew steadily and in 1927 the Company were among the first in this country to engage in the production of Milanese Watch Bands. The imported machine-made bands were proving unsatisfactory, due to tearing of the edge. After considerable experiment a hand-linked and soldered band was produced in several widths and later, in vari-coloured gold.

These bands enjoyed an immediate success and this led to a greater capacity being devoted to Watch Bands, the production of which has continued to grow in order to meet the considerable demand for the ‘Chaincraft’ Watch Bands.

It is interesting to note that two of the snaps designed for Men’s and Ladies’ Bands in the ‘thirties remain the basis for two of the most popular snaps made by the company until the 1960’s.

John and Alan Goode, the great grandsons of the founder, entered the business in 1925 and 1931 respectively, representing an unbroken chain of four generations of management in a century. In 1933, the well-known and old established business of Messrs. C. B. Bragg & Co. was incorporated, and with the co-operation of Mr. Alan Bragg, the production of Sporting Jewellery was developed.

The production of jewellery was practically at a standstill during the Second World War. Two of the Directors and a number of employees were on War Service, and many of the remainder were diverted to munition work. In the immediate post-war years, production was on a severely limited scale for some time, due to War damage at the factory, which was not finally repaired until reorganisation was possible in 1947. A further limiting factor was hat bullion was in extremely short supply, owing to Britain’s serious economic position as a result of the War.

During the reorganisation, it was appreciated that the Tool Shop would have a far more important part to play. This department was completely modernised, enlarged and re-equipped to bring it into line with the most up-to-date practice. A number of new specialised machines were installed, so that the Company was able to make all the fine precision tools it needed for its own requirements. The benefits of this important development were immediately apparent in the number of snaps and fittings which have been designed and tooled up. Another innovation was the installation of an automatic electric laundry with filter plant, believed to be the first of its type in the Trade, which further increased the efficiency of the existing gold reclamation facilities.

Realising the importance of an expanding export trade as a feature of this country’s economy, the Company set up an export development department in 1947 which specialises in the many facets of the export problem. Extensive: market research began in the same year, following upon a series of market surveys undertaken by one of the Directors, covering a number of countries in South America, Cuba, The West Indies, and the Bahamas. As a result, agents were appointed in a number of these and other markets.

Following two fact-finding visits to Canada, when retailers were visited from coast to coast, it was appreciated that special facilities were required to cater for this growing market. At the conclusion of the second tour in 1953, a subsidiary Company was set up, with Headquarters in Toronto, and a manager appointed to deal with requirements on the spot.

At John Goode & Sons the friendliest relationship has always existed between the management and employees. This is exemplified by the striking records of service over the years. A newspaper cutting of 1912 shows fourteen of the firm’s employees with a total of 540 years’ service, an average of over thirty-eight years each.

In looking back through the years the following individual records of service are especially worthy of mention.

William Hill was a highly skilled craftsman in gold chain making, who came to the firm as a lad in 1870. He gave loyal service for 60 years and was a true friend. His father was in the service of the founder—J. T. Goode—for about 50 years.

Ann Corrigan came as a young girl, and was one of the finest linkers of long guard chains. She served faithfully for 58 years until her retirement in 1914.

John Bull came to John Goodes after 20 years in the army, where he served throughout the Indian Mutiny, and was awarded the Medal with clasp and the Meritorious Service Medal. He completed 45 years of outstanding service to the firm, and on his death his widow gave the firm his photograph and Campaign medals.

How the premises now look in August 2020. Photo: Mark Haddleton

These remarkable records are not confined to the manufacturing side, for in just over one hundred years the firm employed only two chief cashiers. J. Prestridge retired in 1895 after 50 years’ service, and was succeeded by J. A. Harris, who occupied the same position until his death in 1947.

More recently, in 1954, three employees retired on pension, each one having completed his 50 years with the firm, and there are others, both men and women, in the offices and factory who have been with the firm from 40 to 50 years and are carrying on the fine spirit of earlier years. Among these, Miss May Hatton retired from her place in the works after 43 years, and Miss Dixon was still there with 44 years to her credit.

Amongst the special advantages provided by the Firm might be mentioned a profit-sharing scheme for all employees, a canteen service which provides hot meals and break snacks at subsidised prices, and retirement pensions for long-service employees.

In the 125 years of its history, the Company has experienced the ups and downs of trade and witnessed many changes. Throughout all these years, however, the policy remained the same, the production of well-designed and soundly made gold jewellery which depends for its attractiveness and finish on the skill of the craftsman.


Source: The Hockley Flyer October 2012 Issue No 328

Updated: The Jewellery Quarter Heritage magazine Issue 1 (additional photos in Issue 1)


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