The history of Newman Industries of Yate

January 31 2020
The history of Newman Industries of Yate

Yate and District Heritage Centre: David Hardill looks the history of Newman’s as the centre stages a new exhibition.

ALTHOUGH the closure of Newman Industries of Yate is well within living memory for many local people, wholesale redevelopment in the town centre has eradicated most of the traces of this once famous company. Newman’s was a major factory in the centre of Yate, producing electric motors, from the early 1930s to 1988 – and for many people the long red perimeter wall of Newman’s was the face of Yate. The company itself played an immense role in the social and economic lives of people in the wider Yate area and Bristol.

Such has been the enthusiasm for all things Newman from past staff and supporters that we continue to get wonderful images, documents and associated artefacts to add to our already-burgeoning Newman collections. A fresh re-visit to Newman Industries has therefore been well overdue.

There are many strands to the Newman story, which we will cover in our forthcoming display, including many lesser-known themes such as the Second World War. Newman’s wartime history is oft neglected, as the more dramatic bombing raids on Parnall Aircraft in early 1941, not surprisingly, take centre stage. Nevertheless, there is a tale to tell.

Like Parnall Aircraft, Newman Industries was put on a war footing from the mid-1930s. Newman’s, ostensibly a producer of electric motors, had only been in Yate a few years before bombshell case production came to dominate the company’s output. The metal working and precision engineering skills required in making motors enabled the firm to produce bombshells. Staff like Ken Skuse were taken on to oversee lathe production in order to drill the metal shells.

As a result of this work, Newman Industries became a target of the Luftwaffe, along with neighbouring Parnall Aircraft. There were early bombing raids on the company, causing severe damage, and former staff recall regular air raid sirens and aircraft flying overhead were regular sights.

Newman's in 1941

Newman Industries in 1941

The Newman wartime story would not be complete without mention of the new staff. Worker numbers increased from a few hundred to a few thousand at this time. Workers came from other industrial areas of the country. Male staff were replenished by women, who were engaged in most manual jobs, including operating lathes for drilling. Newman’s also began their long, proud tradition of employing displaced families. Around 1940 and 1941, Belgian refugees were both housed by the company at Lawns House (later the Lawns pub) and worked for Newman’s in different departments. Later, Newman’s would employ Hungarian refugees in the foundry following the Hungarian uprising of 1956.

The display will be on from January 29 to March 25.

Diary

January 29-March 25: A Celebration of Newman Industries – history of the electric motor firm of Yate, featuring much of our collection of artefacts, images and documents from the company’s heyday. Funded by Richard Newman.

February 19, 10.30am or 1.30pm: Holiday craft workshops, Hearts and Flowers. Make your own Valentine-related Victorian-style cards. Ideal for children 5-12. Booking essential. Adult supervision expected.

February 19, 7.30pm: Yate Archaeology Group, Birdlip Graves. Malcolm Watkins discusses the prehistoric Birdlip Graves of Gloucestershire. £3 admission or free for members of Yate Archaeological Group.

February 20, 10.30am or 1.30pm: Holiday clay workshops, Making Greek Pottery. Make your own ancient Greek style pottery and discover the world of the ancient Greeks. Ideal for children 5-12. Booking essential. Adult supervision expected.

February 25: Yate Lecture Series, Fykes Ferries and Fishing. John Putley discusses the fishing communities on the Severn during the 19th and 20th centuries. £2 admission or free for Friends of YHC.