One of Huddersfield oldest surviving family businesses is celebrating 150 years in business.
Thomas Broadbent & Son Ltd has stood the test of time – thanks to a worldwide reputation for engineering excellence that has stretched across the decades and enabled the firm to manufacture everything from heavy plant for cranes, winding gear and steelworks to industrial centrifuges, laundry equipment and wartime midget submarines.
Today, it is the front-runner in its field for centrifuge technology – supplying customers across the globe in sectors such as plastics, sugar, chenuicals, mienrals and food processing.
And it is a major name in the supply of industrial laundry equipment for hotels, hospitals and other organisations.
Simon Broadbent, joint managing director, said the 150-year milestone was “a tremendous achievement, adding: “The best successes ar wonderful and the future is all to play for!”
The firm still operates from the site at Queen Street South where founder Thomas Broadbent started in business as a millwright in 1864 – working from a modest two=-storey workshop..
Thomas launched the business after taking an engineering apprenticeship and briefly partnering a fellow engineer making hydraulic pumps, presses and steam engines.
Thomas founded his own business as a general engineer and millwright in a two storey workshop.
After repairing and refurbishing several centrifugal extractors – installed as dryers in the textile industry – he saw the potential for applications in other industries which had a need for separating liquids and solids.
In 1870, Broadbent produced its first centrifugal extractor for the speedy removal of water from washed wool and cloth. It proved so reliable that the company was flooded with orders from mills throughout West Yorkshire.
Thomas died aged 47 in 1880, without having seen the end results of his many innovative designs and inventions.
He was a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and its journal recorded that “ he was an architect and engineer for the winding gear which hauled the clay waggons of the Huddersfield Water Works reservoir project at Wessenden Head” and that “he was frequently consulted in other engineering works in the town of Huddersfield”.
Thomas’s wife Helen ran the business for the next five or six years until their sons William and Horace were able to take over.
At the outbreak of World War One, Broadbent made centrifuges for the production of explosives and chemicals as well as heavy plant for steelworks, cranes and lifting gear, motorised capstans for hauling railway rolling stock and an endless number of cast-steel aerial bombs.
Several Royal Navy ships at the Battle of Jutland were also equipped with ammunition hoists produced in the Huddersfield factory.
At the start of World War Two, Broadbent employed 500 people with a turnover exceeding £200,000 – about £11m in today’s money. The firm again supported the war effort, making up to 4,000 Black Bombard Light Bomb Throwers and two-pounder anti-tank guns.
Most famously, it produced small single engine seagoing submarines – called X Craft. Weighing 35 tonnes without their armaments, the subs carried seven tonnes of high explosive attached to the outside of the hull and released from the inside.
About 20 submarines were produced by three firms, including Broadbent, which became the lead company, charged with organising the project and arranging for all components to be delivered on time for each firm to assemble complete vessels. Each craft left the works disguised as a large motor boat.
After the war, Broadbent won contracts to supply centrifuges for the sugar industry – with machines going to locations including the USA, Hawaii, the Netherlands, Hungary, India, China, Norway and Russia.
Centrifuges were also sold to developing commercial laundry businesses.
In 1932, the UK’s first washer extractor was supplied by Broadbent for dry-cleaning garments in the non-flammable solvents produced by ICI.
As result of a series of talks with the Initial Towel Supply Company of London in 1954, the firm developed a machine for folding towels – the basis of many designs for automatic folders produced by Broadbent for the laundry and textile industries.
Today, Broadbent designs and installs a complete range of automated laundry systems throughout the UK and Ireland – while subsidiary Vega Systems UK is one of the leading suppliers of large scale industrial laundry systems.
In parts of the Far East, Broadbent has had success supplying centrifugal decanters to dewater chemical ingredients used in the production of polyester fibres. These machines – among the largest centrifuges available – now operate in India, Taiwan, Thailand and China.