The company was formed in 1926 by Fullerton George Gordon Armstrong as The Armstrong Patents Company with a factory in Beverley, North Yorkshire.
F. G. Gordon Armstrong (born 1885) had an engineering background, serving as an apprentice from 1902 to 1906 at Clarke, Chapman and Company, who were old established marine and electrical engineers and boilermakers, based in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. Following his apprenticeship, he served as a Marine engineer on the SS Kura until 1907, when he became Chief Mechanic at North Eastern Garages in York. Not one to let grass grow under his feet, he went on to found the East Riding Engineering Works in Beverley, where he designed and produced the Gordon Cyclecar from 1912 to 1914. This was powered by a 9 horse-power V-twin JAP engine.
He is also credited with building an aeroplane, which was said to resemble a Bleriot, but with a triangular chassis and larger tail.
Armstrong’s Patents Company, which started producing shock absorbers at its factory in Eastgate, Beverley in 1926, became a private company in 1930. In 1935 it was formed as a Public company, known as Armstrong Shock Absorbers Ltd with The Patents Company continuing as the operating company.
By 1939 the company was producing 4,000 shock absorbers a day and employing 450 workers; it was clearly a major manufacturing concern.
Now aged 60, F. G. Gordon Armstrong handed control of the company to his son, William, who established a research and development facility in Fulford on the outskirts of York.
In 1949 William Armstrong opened a new factory in York to manufacture a new type of suspension unit for Ford cars and to establish the company’s range of telescopic shock absorbers.
If you Google ‘Film Armstrong patents East Gate Beverley shock absorber taken in 1954’, you can view a fascinating film of what life was like on the Armstrong production line at its Beverley factory in 1954. Doubtless, if you own a late TD or TF, your shock absorbers would have been produced at this factory.
The film was taken by local film-maker, W. E. Jackets, a retired police inspector and is of 17 minutes duration. There is a slight pause about half way through (the screen goes black), but it starts up again.
Of particular note in the film is that the majority of workers in the factory were women (no equal pay in those days!). There was very little space between the workers and the various machines, and whilst one might think that the whole operation seemed rather chaotic, it was obvious that each individual knew exactly what s/he was doing. My favourite part of the film was watching men pouring molten metal into the moulds and after a while, ‘cracking’ the moulds open to reveal the shock absorber bodies.
In 1961, Armstrong Shock Absorbers changed its name to Armstrong Equipment, with the subsidiary, Armstrong Patent Company Ltd.
The 1960s was probably the most successful period for the company, as it now had three manufacturing divisions; the one making shock absorbers, one making Helicoil screw inserts for repair of spark plug threads and one making “Strongarm” door closers and hydraulic remote controls. Total number of employees in the group was now around 4,000.
The York factory was expanded in 1965, but just six years later, employees were warned that up to 250 of its work-force could be laid off, due to disputes in the Ford motor company and postal strikes.
Armstrong Patents Company factory in 1980 (photo courtesy of ‘The Press’ which featured a series of nostalgia galleries on old York workplaces).
After years of UK-wide industrial strife, and as foreign-built cars grew in popularity, the company announced another 400 redundancies in York in 1980. A year later, the Beverley factory, where it all started, closed with the loss of 300 jobs.
In1986, Armstrong’s was diversifying by making replacement exhausts for cars; the company won an appeal to the Law Lords against British Leyland to be allowed to make such exhausts without payment of royalty to BL.
Fears the York factory would close in 1986 were averted, but then in 1989, after losing a £3.3m contract with Nissan, the company was sold to the American firm Tenneco and the York factory became Monroe’s. Further redundancies followed, and the factory closed in 2000 with the loss of the remaining 392 jobs. At one time the company had factories in Australia, Canada, the United States and South Africa.
Mention has been made of Helicoil screw inserts; these have got me out of trouble (recovering stripped threads) on a couple of occasions. Here is a period advert.
There is also a short film (less than 5 minutes) taken in the Heli-Coil division of the Beverley factory. It is not as interesting as the one taken in the shock absorber division. Google ‘ARMSTRONG PATENTS EAST GATE BEVERLEY HELI-COIL DIVISION’.
So, what is the legacy of the company started all those years’ ago by Fullerton George Gordon Armstrong?
We have previously noted that the shock absorber division was sold to the American firm Tenneco, which took over Monroe. The latter company became a Tenneco brand in 1977.
New Armstrong rear shock absorbers are still available for late TD, TF and MGA from NTG Motor Services and from the MG Octagon Car Club. I am not sure who makes them, but I could not find any reference in the Monroe catalogue.
I am also not sure what happened to the Armstrong Helicoil division (unless it was sold to Tenneco, along with the shock absorber division). I have noted that an old-established company by the name of Böllhoff, manufacture threaded inserts, but as far as I could see, there was never any ‘tie-up’ with Armstrong. Böllhoff manufactures a vast range of fasteners, including locknuts with special HELICOIL® NUTS for secured screw joints.
As for the division making “Strongarm” door closers and hydraulic remote controls, with Armstrong’s concentrating increasingly on the automotive market, the remote control equipment manufacture was transferred to James Lyon & Sons, a Merseyside company, in 1970. This company adopted the Armstrong name through its association with Armstrong Patents and is now known as Armstrong Lyons Hydraulics.
Fast forward 65 years+ and Armstrong shock absorbers are still in use on our cars. I’ve just had my rears reconditioned by Raj Patel in Leicester and I’m very pleased with them. Here’s a picture, taken on return from Raj.