If there is such a thing as a quintessential Yorkshire manufacturing company then Hargreaves Foundry in Halifax is probably it.
Although the precise date the company started trading isn’t known, the 1881 census shows that Ebenezer Hargreaves was operating as an iron founder on the Water Lane site in Halifax with 6 labourers.
Hargreaves Foundry is still operating on the same Water Lane site as the engraving and recent photo show. Although the Hargreaves family retired from the industry the current owners took over in 1984 and production has remained continuous.
So that’s a history of casting iron for nearly 140 years, spanning three centuries, on the same site. And in some ways Hargreaves reflects the history of Halifax over the same period. Out of the hugely important textile industry there followed a burgeoning engineering industry which was dependent on cast iron. Having started by manufacturing architectural castings and street furniture, production then moved to meet the needs of the machine tool industry created by the First World War. Hargreaves continued supplying castings to the many local engineering companies throughout the 20th century.
When Michael Hinchliffe, a local lad, took over in 1984 he realized that this market was shrinking, engineering and machine tool manufacturing was gradually moving abroad. Customers were either closing down or moving away, an effect felt equally by Hargreaves and the town.
Michael saw an opportunity in 1993 to provide cast iron rainwater and soil drainage products and took it. Having begun production at Water Lane he then took the decision to increase capacity by importing drainage castings from abroad. Hargreaves Foundry is now one of the leading cast iron drainage manufacturers and suppliers in the UK.
At about the same time Michael was approached by an artist to cast a sculpture on his behalf. It was a quite a daunting task from a casting point of view and not something that the foundry had ever contemplated before, but Michael decided to accept the challenge. After a lot of problem solving and a couple of ‘all nighters’ the team successfully cast it. The artist was Antony Gormley and since then Hargreaves has cast many, many sculptures on his behalf which have been seen all over the world. Having successfully adapted the foundry’s skill set to accommodate the challenge of art casting Hargreaves has established a reputation for manufacturing fine art castings and is now the choice of many other artists.
As it moved into the 21st century the business turned full circle by going back into the production of architectural castings and street furniture, the point at which Ebenezer had started back in the 19th century. This has provided opportunities to be involved on projects for some of the country’s most prestigious buildings. In the last few years we have been involved in restoration work on the Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) and the Palace of Westminster, designed by Charles Barry who also designed Halifax’s beautiful town hall. This led to the foundry being featured in a Channel 4 documentary about the restoration and filming for Quest TV’ Scrap Kings. Hargreaves has also provided castings for Buckingham Palace, Holyrood House, St James Palace, Halifax’s stunning Piece Hall and also more modern buildings such as One Pancras Square designed by David Chipperfield Associates.
When asked why he thought Hargreaves had survived where most other foundries hadn’t Michael said “We love making stuff at Hargreaves and taking opportunities when we see them. There has also been some luck, some ‘right place and right time’, but this is only any good if you have a workforce that is not only skilled but also prepared to adapt and change, prepared to do things differently and who understand that it is the customer who matters most. I’ve been lucky at Hargreaves Foundry because there is a team of hard working people who are skilled, reliable and able to cope with change”