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Report - - The Universal Grinding Wheel Co. - Stafford - 2012 to 2019 | Industrial Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - The Universal Grinding Wheel Co. - Stafford - 2012 to 2019


Speed

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Ive been in love with this factory for many years now but it has always been a bit of a thorn in my side exploring wise. We first noticed it back in 2012 at the same time as the nearby Castle Works. Unfortunately this was already slightly too late as about 25% of the site had already been demolished and replaced with houses. Production at the site had apparently ceased around 2004 but some of the buildings were still being used for storage and distribution. We had a few goes at exploring some parts that were fairly disused but ultimately there wasn't much we managed to get in back then. With the works sandwiched between the main road and main railway line it wasn't very easy to get to some of the more derelict parts without being clocked and when we did manage we found them sealed up so well we had to settle for peering through a few windows. As if missing the first 25% wasn't annoying enough we turned up for another go a few years later to find two more of the buildings had gone, it was a low point and tbh i gave up checking on it after that.


Aerial view of the site as it once stood. The Red area is the main factory that currently remains along with the main office block in Green. The Blue areas which contained Engineering and Stores were demolished in 2014. The Yellow was demolished some time before 2012 and the Pink is the GEC/Bagnells Castle Works site.

Fast forward to 2019 however and decent places are so thin on the ground now me and @clebby found ourselves discussing what might be a goer around my neck of the woods, not a sausage in Birmingham at the mo but by chance we had a google of Uni and to our surprise the first result was about the relocation of the company to a new modern industrial unit. The next day we went to try our luck and what do you know i think we finally had a bit of luck with the place! The diggers are poised at the gates but on the whole we found the factory fairly untouched and more importantly totally unguarded with easy as pie access so finally i had my chance for a proper look around whats left!

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The site in the late 1930s. It developed quite a bit after these were taken

Uni is a big name in engineering and ive grown up around its products. I think every industrial training school in the UK must have been given a display of grinding wheels in a wooden case at some point, old skool advertising at its best! So what did they do? Clues in the name i guess. They made grinding wheels but also other abrasives like oil stones and sheet abrasives like emery cloth and 'scotchbrite' (although i think they called it something else!) Hopefully i can run you through a few details of the process as we go, im no expert but these places are a lot more interesting once you know whats going on. Its easy to make sense of the smaller items left behind and transforms what alot of people just see as an empty factory in to a place of real interest.

staffssc.net said:
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.

The company continued to expend during the inter-war period and a small housing estate was built for workers at Greensome Lane, Doxey in 1935. 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.

External Shots


The site in 2013


Main Office Block


Note the Unicorns on the frontage, these have now been removed but im unsure where they have gone


Another Unicorn on the former stores building (demolished 2014)


Engineering block entrance (also demolished 2014)


Hydraulic pump house external (2013)


Aggregate Silos/Dust Extraction (2013)


Rear of site (2013)


Former Boiler House (Demolished 2014)


Main Office Block
I have to say i found this building a little more disappointing that i had hoped, it appeared to have been in use for longer than i had first imagined from the external run down appearance so most of the space was fairy modernised. That said its an amazing 1930s deco building that really should have been retained and converted to flats or something like that rather then being levelled. There was still plenty of nice bits in there both architecturally and just nice old fashioned touches.

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The main feature in here has to be its crazy over the top staircase

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Complete with chrome handrails

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and marble

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The top floor seemed to have been out of use a fair while

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So many of these through out the whole site

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The floor appeared to have been training rooms mainly

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Next floor down house the executive offices

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Lovely cork floors hidden under carpet

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The boardroom appeared to have been refitted at some point

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Fire instructions

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On the ground floor we found the medical centre but it was fairly crap

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The telephone exchange was much better tho

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Testing device

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I also really appreciated the computer room.

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Sadly the mainframe was long gone!

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There was also a large loading bay

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where we found the remains of the buildings they had demoed in 2014

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Mythical beasts


Stay tuned for the main works next​
 
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Speed

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Main Works

This main works building was the manufacturing hub of the site but was later changed around a bit and simply used as warehousing. I was impressed however at how much was left in there related to the manufacturing and how many really old untouched areas there were to hunt out. the building spans quite few eras from original early 20th century factory through to a 4 story 60/70s extension.

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We started in the earlier section of the factory that you can see on the aerial shots i posted

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A lot of the place was just empty shop floor but there were a few nice bits

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And lots of old stock!

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Rooms full of tat


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Nice old staircases with those grinding wheel displays i mentioned

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The main entrance

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A lab

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A great hat stand

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More lab toot

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An amazing washroom

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Complete with iron columns and glass partitions. Hope these dont end up in the rubble!

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Urinals

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Moving on to bit more of the place, this seemed to have been some kind of workshop for testing products

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Saint Gobain bought the company in the early 90s

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Our first glimpse of how the wheels were actually made, I was quite excited to see this one press as all the others had been removed.

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The hydraulic pump house. I had found my way in here in 2012 and was a little baffled as to its purpose. Then i realised it was to run all the presses though out the whole works rather then each press having its own hydraulic power pack. Something i have never seen before in the 100s of factories ive visited. Very interesting and fairly unique!


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Some switch gear for the pumps

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Pressure was maintained in three accumulators by the look of it

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Next a little canteen and another washroom block

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My favourite staircase in the building of epic staircases

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Mmm 50s'ness

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Back into the factory at large and another part of the process of making wheels. Wheels would have been cured in these large kilns

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I also stumbled across this unusual item. A big bank of magnatrons? Im not sure sure what these would have done exactly but basically is like whats inside your microwave oven!

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Next we had a look at the later 4 story section of the works of which the upper floors seemed to have been devoted to the 'sheet abrasives'

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On the lower two floors it seemed to be more about the raw abrasive material

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Hoppers would presumably have held different abrasives like silicone carbide

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The last bit i should cover is this upper floor that seemed to have been out of use for ever.

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Once a training school maybe?

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Latterly just an area to store junk

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But ive run out of photos so i will have to leave it at that!

 
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urbanchemist

28DL Regular User
Regular User
Great stuff - I'd read that these local factory-wide hydraulic networks were once common where there was a lot of pressing etc. going on - nice to actually see one.
Maybe people should keep more of an eye out for 'hydraulic epic'.
 

Speed

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Great stuff - I'd read that these local factory-wide hydraulic networks were once common where there was a lot of pressing etc. going on - nice to actually see one.
Maybe people should keep more of an eye out for 'hydraulic epic'.
Yeh i guess its an old idea when you think about it, just never seen it in a 1950s era place
 

albino-jay

28DL Regular User
Regular User
Great report mate. I really enjoyed it here. It just reminded me of what exploring these places used to be like. Not a care in the world, a relaxed wander having a good rummage.

i wonder where them unicorns have gone. We were gutted when we arrived to see them missing. Good to see what the other bits in the loading bay were off though on your old pics.
 

host

28DL Regular User
Regular User
That’s a cracker I remember popping this in leads and rumours now it’s time to follow it up.
 

Speed

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I can only think they are either in a museum or will turn up on the gate posts of the new development or somthing like that.
 

GiJo

28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
Awesome work, I walked over yesterday the gates were open and the lorries and workmen are on site, 3 crews! Small window in stafford sadly, such a shame as 3 generations of my family worked there, my great grandad built the old fences that are to the left of the site.
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