South Shields-based Ford Engineering has remained in the same hands for more than a century and is celebrating its 110th birthday.
Today the Group is a global specialist in the high precision machining and pressing of parts and sub-assemblies for the aerospace, industrial, and other high-technology sectors and is headed up by the great-grandson of the original founder.
The company can trace its roots all the way back to 1910 – and a photograph of its founder, Robert Ford, remains proudly on display at the South Shields office.
It was formed with a £25 loan from Robert’s freemason colleagues that enabled him and two staff to set up a new manufacturing venture.
Although his business proved a success and he was able to repay the loan, the company might not have been set up were it not for an injury he sustained in 1909 while working for his former employers, Newton and Nicholson.
Robert’s hand was crushed in a pressing machine and he lost the ends of two fingers in the machinery which initially left him unable to work as a corrugated steel joints maker at the manufacturer.
Today, great-grandson Chris continues at the helm of the business keeping his great-grandfather’s legacy alive.
He said: “My great-grandfather was only 29 years old when he was laid off from his job following the accident and he needed to make ends meet. That’s when he decided to set up his own company making corrugated steel joints and Taylor ‘O’ rings for the steam and defence industries.
“By 1914, my great-grandfather was supporting the war effort through the steam industry as a major source of power. The company grew organically over the war years focusing on the defence industry which helped grow the business at that time.”
The founder’s son, Robert Ford Jnr, then took over running the company with his brother William Joycey in 1942, with them helping the company to survive the Second World War, and the bombing of the docks by the Nazis.
Robert’s son, Geoff, broke the takeover tradition for a while after he became an accountant at the Newcastle steel foundry of George Blair & Co before moving to Berkshire and then to France as an internal auditor for a heavy machinery business.
However, in 1974, he came home and took over as managing director at Ford & Co. His mettle was further tested during the recession and a large fire at the Tyne Dock facility in 2003 during which the factory roof collapsed.
Despite this, Geoff always endeavoured to maintain Ford’s position as one of South Tyneside’s leading employers.
Ford Engineering is now based in Tyne Dock where it occupies one site and manufactures a variety of components for various sectors. Although Robert originally bought the business’s first office in Commercial Road, South Shields 110 years ago.
All in all, at least six family members have worked in the business during its long and enviable history, surviving two world wars and now a pandemic, due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
Chris said: “We have had to move with the times and have diversified over the years into other areas. We are now working in the renewables sector as well as the more traditional markets.
“Today there’s three members of the Ford family here, me and my cousins Joanne and Clare, but it doesn’t feel like it’s just the three of us. It sounds cliched but it feels like a big family here. We have a number of loyal staff with mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and it means we all pull together when times are tough.
“It’s a fantastic business with brilliant people, Ford really does owe everything to its employees and workforce over the years and it’s testament to them that we’re still operating successfully today.
“Yes, the business has been through the rough times and COVID is one of them, but with thought dedication and hard work of our team we can continue to keep people around the world moving safely with our products and services.”
Photo: Chris Ford, CEO of Ford Engineering and great-grandson of the founder Robert Ford