Saturday, November 8, 2014

Vanished Tool Makers: Rabone Chesterman, England

Linen tape rules were once the standard before steel rules reached a level of quality that could replace them.  This particular elegant, leather-bound rule was made by John Rabone & Sons of Birmingham, and carries the British “broad arrow” mark on the brass handle that signifies a tool made for the British war department or ministry of defense.

Below, a No. 1167 boxwood rule made by the firm:

Interestingly, Rabone made the same rule for Lufkin.  See below (Rabone No. 1167 top, Lufkin No. 3752D bottom):

Michael Rabone created his rule- and tool-making company in 1784.  After his death in 1808, his wife ran the company until her son John took it over in around 1835.  

He introduced steam-driven machinery, although the workers resisted and one man even stabbed him the chest when rebuked for not using it!  In 1871 the company moved to a new factory which it named the Hockley Abbey Works (their logo later incorporated three triangles signifying Hockley Abbey).  In 1877, the company became John Rabone & Sons.  

James Chesterman started his own business in Sheffield in 1820. He invented an automatic rewind tape measure and in 1837 the company adopted the name “Bow Works” with a bow becoming their trademark.  The company was known for the quality of its tapes, steel rules, callipers and squares.  

In 1945, the company went public as James Chesterman & Co., Ltd.  In 1961, they had 550 employees. 


In the 1960's, a number of specialist tool making firms in England had to join forces or go under.  So, in 1963, the Rabone and Chesterman companies merged and their products were marketed under the Rabone Chesterman name.  

In 1970, with the acquisition of Fry's of London,  another British toolmaker, the company was renamed RCF Holdings (Rabone Chesterman Fry's).  A year later, Parry and Bott joined the group.  Then, in 1981, the company was acquired by the Bardsey Group.  

In 1989, Stanley Tools, one of the Great White sharks of tool empires, purchased the assets of Rabone Chesterman from Bardsey PLC.  The sale didn't come cheap:  $14 million changed hands.  Since then, the name has disappeared from their product lines.  Pity, although one suspects that under Stanley's ownership Rabone Chesterman would have been just a label.
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