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2 Nov 2017

Birmingham Manufactures:
Chad Valley

If you are following the Birmingham Manufactures Project in twitter (@BrumMfr ) you may have noticed in the past couple of months that we have been looking at Chad Valley toys. I’m sure many of you will recognise that name from your own childhood, and if you have small children it will certainly be familiar! The company history is extensive, but here is a little about how they developed and some examples of Chad Valley in our collections!

The company was originally involved in printing, engraving, bookbinding and the production of stationery, starting life under the trading name of Messrs. Johnson Bros. Taking its name from its proprietors, it was started by Joseph Johnson who in his former years had worked for his father’s stationery company. In 1897, Joseph moved the company to Harborne, and his new factory was named the Chad Valley Works due to its close proximity to a stream called the Chad. Despite the name of the factory, Johnson’s company was trading as Johnson Bros. (Harborne) Ltd and didn’t change its name for a further 20 years or so. As well as still producing stationery, the company had also started production of a range of cardboard games.

Chad Valley Sooty Tidleywinks

These games became increasingly popular and their range more diverse over the coming years, and the company took advantage of the fact that toys could no longer be imported during World War 1. At this time they branched out to producing other types of toys too, with their first soft toy being released in 1915. Their teddy bears were particularly well known for having jointed limbs, which can be seen our lovely example below.

Chad Valley teddy brear

In 1919, Johnson Bros. (Harborne) Ltd acquired another building nearby which they used for the manufacture and printing of their boxes and labels, which just goes to show the extent of the production they were carrying out at this time! 

It was about a year later in 1920, that the company was reorganised and adopted the title The Chad Valley Co. Ltd that most of us are familiar with. The expansion of the company continued at this time, with their soft toy production being moved to an external site in Wellington, Shropshire, and major factory extensions at their original Harborne site between 1928 and 1932. 

By 1938, after buying out an additional company who created wooden toys, the reputation of Chad Valley was such that they obtained the Royal Warrant of Appointment as Toy Makers to Her majesty the Queen! World War II brought a halt to the factory’s manufacture of toys and games as the company focussed on helping the war effort by manufacturing cases used on the barrels of anti-aircraft guns. Despite this, the government allowed Chad Valley to continue a small production of games and toys which were sent to military hospitals and used by the armed forces across the globe! 

At the end of the 1940s and during the 1950s, Chad Valley bought out a number of different companies. These were not just other toy companies but also metalworking companies, for example the Birmingham tin-plate business Hall and Lane in 1951. It is around this time that some prime examples of Chad Valley in the Birmingham Museums Trust collections were made, an example of which can be seen below.

Chad Valley items including jigsaw puzzle and Sooty Tidleywinks

The company history becomes a little more complicated after this time (perhaps a subject for another blog), but there is no doubt about the popularity of the company in the early and mid-19th century. Looking at these charming objects has certainly encouraged me to dig out some toys belonging to my family, and it turns out we have a bear just like the one you’ve seen above! Hopefully this blog might inspire people to dig out their childhood toys, you never know what history you might have sitting in your cupboards!

Chad Valley toy van