ELEY BROTHERS, LIMITED, LONDON
HEAD OFFICE: 254, Gray's Inn Road, London, W.C.
CAPITAL: £300,000 nominal. £250,000 issued.
FACTORIES: Angel Road, Upper Edmonton, London, N.
Harty Ferry, Faversham, Kent.
PRODUCTS MANUFACTURED: Sporting and Military Cartridge Cases and Cartridges for every description of Small Arm, Percussion Caps, Gun Wads, Lead Shot, Fulminate of Mercury.
PRIME MATERIALS USED: Brass, Copper, Cupro Nickel, Lead, Gunpowder, Paper, and Felt.
PRODUCTS are manufactured for home and for foreign consumption.
Agents and Depots in Birmingham, Glasgow, Exeter, Liege (Belgium).
Agents in Gothenburg (Sweden), Florence (Italy), Winnipeg, Canada, Buenos Ayres, Argentina, Sydney, N.S.W., Cape Town, Cape Colony.
NUMBER OF BUILDINGS ON THE FACTORIES: Five main buildings in which manufacture is carried on. Four magazines and a number of isolated wooden buildings specially arranged to meet the requirements of the Explosives Act.
The works are built upon an estate of sixty acres.
SPECIALITIES MANUFACTURED OR INVENTED : "Pegamoid" (Waterproof) Cartridge Cases and Cartridges.
BENEVOLENT INSTITUTIONS: Sick and Benefit Society.
Three classes of subscriptions 6d., 3d., and 2d. per week.
Sick benefits respectively 10s., 5s., and 4s. for thirteen weeks,
5s., 2s. 6d., and 2s. for a further thirteen weeks.
Free medical attendance.
Payment at death £10, £5, and £2. 10s. Firm contributes 50 per cent of members' subscriptions up to a total of £300 per annum. Dividend shared out at end of each financial year.
Superannuation Fund for skilled Engineers. Each contributes 2s. per week, with £4 per member, per annum, added by the firm.
DISTINCTIONS OBTAINED: At the International Exhibitions, in Paris, 1900, Liege, 1905, and the Franco-British Exhibition, 1908, Grand Prix have been obtained, whilst numerous distinctions were received ever since 1876.
The discovery of new agents of ignition which towards the latter half of the eighteenth century were applied to firearms, closed a period of nearly 200 years, during which scarcely any important advance in projectile weapons had been made. Among the notable inventions evolved at this period was the detonating lock. From this, by imperceptible process of evolution, sprang the percussion cap, and ultimately the cartridge, the genesis of all the vast progress made in firearms during the last century. Much as the percussion cap facilitated the construction of the cartridge, no less did the latter expedite the development of breech-loading firearms, by providing, in its expansible case, the means of securing that complete obturation of the breech which had for centuries defied the efforts of generations of gunsmiths.
Until about the year 1800, the gunsmith, in conjunction with the powder maker, provided practically all the accessories appertaining to the use of the gun, but, curiously enough, the latter appears to have been indifferent to the progress accomplished in allied branches, so that the manufacture of detonators, percussion caps, wadding, and cartridges, became at this period the subject of new and separate commercial enterprises.
By 1828 the demand for these accessories gave promise of opening an almost unlimited field for inventive ingenuity. William Eley, the founder of the present firm, was early attracted to this interesting branch, and literally devoted his life and fortune to mechanical inventions. To him is attributed the once-famous wire cartridge, which, by delaying the dispersion of the pellets, effected the same purpose in the guns of the period as is now produced by choke-boring. At the age of forty-seven he fell a victim to a disastrous explosion of fulminate of mercury, which simultaneously destroyed him, his laboratory, and its contents. The business initiated by Mr. William Eley was continued by his three sons under the style, Eley Brothers, until 1874, when it was converted into a joint-stock enterprise, with limited liability.
Established at a period in the last century when the evolution of modern firearms was in the first stages, Messrs. Eley Brothers, as makers of an infinite variety of caps, detonators, wads, and cartridges, have since been closely associated with every successive advance. The displacement of the flint-lock by the percussion muzzle-loader was attended by a rise in the demand for percussion caps, which attained its height about the year 1865, and has, since the introduction of breechloading weapons, about that period, steadily declined, while in its place has developed a correspondingly increasing demand for breechloading cartridges. Changes in military weapons were generally somewhat anticipated by similar changes in sporting-guns, and some of these are well illustrated by means of the annexed diagram, in which the curves relating to the output of pin-fire and central-fire sporting-gun cartridges indicate how the former have been superseded by the latter.
Similarly, the curves, commencing with the introduction of smokeless propellents about the year 1886, illustrate the still growing preference for smokeless over black gunpowder.
In an undertaking involving, from the first, the use of vast quantities of explosives in combination with metal and paper, each prone to exercise some deleterious influence upon the other, the chemist is an important factor, and more especially has this been the case since the introduction of smokeless sporting and military powders. A laboratory replete with modern testing plant is a feature of the factory, and continues to advance in importance as the materials employed in cartridges became more numerous and more complex.
As the last decade of the eighteenth century evolved new agents of ignition which revolutionized firearms, so history repeated itself almost exactly a century later, by which time smokeless nitro-compounds began to exhibit unmistakable signs of extinguishing the older black gunpowder, and bringing about another revolution. Advantage has already been taken of the increased energy of modern explosives to reduce the size and weight of military cartridges, thereby enabling many more to be carried, and imparting practicability to magazine and automatic reloading rifles. The nickel-jacketed, pointed projectile of the .280 calibre Ross-Eley cartridge, of 140 grains weight, having a muzzle velocity of 3,050 feet per second, affords, when compared with the .577 Snider-Enfield bullet, of 480 grains weight, with a velocity of 1,100 feet per second, an interesting example of the progress of military rifle ballistics of the last fifty years.
Another interesting feature incidental to the introduction of smokeless sporting powder is that whilst forty years ago three cases satisfied the requirements of the 12-bore shot-gun, upwards of a dozen are now deemed necessary.
To what extent the cartridge maker has contributed to progress in firearms is scarcely perhaps fully appreciated. When the manufacture of guns and cartridges became independent industries, the necessity of co-ordinating the dimensions of guns with those of cartridges became apparent, and by the influence naturally appertaining to an immense business, Eley Brothers were able to induce the adoption of measurements common to guns and cartridges, which have since achieved so much towards facilitating the manufacture of both. The inventive ingenuity of William Eley was inherited by his son William Thomas Eley, and subsequently found expression in the production of machines by which the construction of cartridge cases was immensely simplified and cheapened, and it is particularly to a machine devised by him, which entirely revolutionized the manufacture of percussion caps, that much of the early success of the firm may be attributed.
Seeing that for a period of nearly fifty years the firm shared with but one competitor almost a monopoly of the British cartridge-making industry, while to every nation it has supplied cartridges in countless numbers, it has exercised a direct influence upon the design and development of the firearms of the world.
For quite a long period it rested with the cartridge maker to advance or retard the progress of the gun by making, or declining to make, any modification in cartridges which might be necessary. To what extent the firm has responded to continuous changes in the interests of the gun is indicated by the fact that since its inception upwards of 1,000 sizes and types of cartridges have been produced, and to-day some 400 different cartridges are made at its factory at Edmonton.
This firm has frequently been called upon to supplement the resources of the national arsenals, and maintains the plant and organization essential to the production of military cartridges.
Source: The Rise and Progress of the British Explosives Industry - 1909