Peter Stubs Limited

Dates: around 1773 to 2020 (not involved in wire until circa 1802)

Location: Scotland Road Works (1802-1973) and then Wilderspool Causeway (1973-2020)

Specialities: Tools, pinion and steel wire. Latterly wire products, chains and links.

Primarily known as a toolmaker, Peter Stubs Limited (later Erasteel Stubs) were also part of Warrington’s wire heritage. 

Peter Stubs Limited’s association with Warrington lasted over 250 years. The founder of the company, the titular Peter Stubs (1756-1806), began his working life as a file-cutter making mainly saw-files (used in woodworking) and watch and clock files (used  in clock making). He had set up his own business manufacturing files on a small scale by 1777, but because it was typical at the time to seek out a supplementary form of income he also decided to expand into the brewing business as well. In 1788 he acquired the lease on the White Bear Inn in Bridge Street, where he ran the pub while continuing his file-cutting business in a small workshop at the back.

By 1802 the file-cutting side of his business had expanded to the degree that he was able to move his business to a larger site at Scotland Road. There he was able to establish a number of file-cutting workshops and forges, eventually abandoning the lease on the White Bear Inn and brewing business completely by 1803.

Peter Stubs (1756-1806)

It was around this time that Stubs became involved in the growing wire industry. Initially he acted as an agent, supplying the Sheffield firm of Hawksley and Sons who were in the market for pinion wire – a kind of ridged wire used to make the toothed wheels in watches and clocks. To fulfill the order he employed a wire manufacturer who specialised in pinion wire, William Houghton & Son, to produce wire on his behalf. Later on Peter Stubs was to incorporate wire drawing into the firm’s industrial practices, mainly through other companies and contracted outworkers.

The entrepreneurial Peter Stubs died in 1806, but his business was continued and developed by his three sons – John, William and Joseph Stubs. The family firm had initially concentrated on forging, cutting and hardening small steel files – principally saw-files, watch files and clock files. After 1815 they started to diversify into manufacturing large engineer’s files for use with machinery and into manufacturing other tools, clock parts, small machines and wire.

Plan of Stubs’ Scotland Road works in 1902

By 1826 the company were producing so many tools that they were beginning to encounter supply problems. Unable to acquire a Warrington site they acquired a steelworks around 60 miles away in Rotherham which they renamed “The Warrington Works”. This Yorkshire steelworks supplied Stubs’ with steel for 130 years as well as offering a profitable sideline, allowing the firm was able to sell off any excess steel produced in England and Europe.

In the mid 19th century the firm had grown to the point that they were able to employ up to 200 people, and yet they were still struggling to meet demand. To overcome this problem they began out-sourcing even more of their manufacturing processes to out-workers. Most of the file-cutting was retained in Stubs’ workshops on Scotland Road, but all other tools, small machines and wire were made by cottage industry out-workers and other small firms, mainly scattered across South-West Lancashire. This allowed the company to not only adopt a greater scale of production, but also to innovate and to respond to new market demands.

The firm continued to prosper over the following century, and soon they not only dominated Warrington industry, but captured a large share of a fast-expanding market for files and other tools in England and overseas. The Lancashire clock industry, centered on Prescot, was a major customer and Stubs was responsible for manufacturing many of the tiny precision files and hammers needed to finish clock coils, plates and springs. Later on the company diversified into producing dental equipment, medical instruments, nippers, pliers, shears and vices.

At its height in 1891 Stubs employed over 400 people in Warrington, and its products were sold throughout the United Kingdom. Stubs files were highly-prized in Europe – particularly Russia, France and Germany, and were also highly regarded in America where clockmakers would specifically request “Stubs” files.

Unfortunately, like other Warrington industries, Stubs struggled to modernise during the early 20th century. File-cutting was an exhaustive 18 step process that was still carried out by hand. By the middle of the decade Stubs had switched the whole of their operation to machine cutting, but they had already fallen behind other firms.

Women at work in Stubs’ machine cutting room in the mid 1930s

Another issue was that by this point Stubs had also expanded into steel production, becoming a major world manufacturer of a highly-polished form of steel known as “Silver Steel” – still known as “Stubs Steel” amongst engineers today.  Unfortunately this shift in emphasis meant that Stubs became another victim of the upheaval of the British steel industry after the Second World War.

Stubs were forced to sell off their Rotherham works in 1958 and around a decade later were acquired by the Sheffield toolmakers James Neill and Company. In 1973 Stubs decided to close their Scotland Road works after 170 years and moved to a more modern, purpose-built site in Wilderspool Causeway.

Stubs works at Scotland Road

Stubs remained a subsidiary of the Sheffield company until 1988, when they were sold the majority of Stubs to the engineering company James Wilkes PLC. By the 1990s the firm had abandoned tool making altogether, having decided to concentrate on the production of silver steel, steel wire, key steel and a variety of other specialist steel products.

In 1996 Peter Stubs Limited was sold to the Chemicals and Engineering conglomerate Ascot Group who later decided to concentrate on their chemical interests and sold their remaining engineering concerns. The French multinational Erasteel acquired the Warrington company in 2001, renaming it  “Erasteel Stubs”. By this point the firm was focused almost exclusively on wire products, chains and springs. Erasteel certainly invested in their new company and in 2012 they unveiled a £2 million pound extension to Warrington site.

Unfortunately, following the upheaval of the coronavirus pandemic and the loss of a major client that accounted for 70% of the company’s output, Erasteel closed its Warrington Erasteel Stubs works for good in 2020.