The First Phoenix

box1The story of The Phoenix Engineering Co. Ltd. starts back in 1839, when the Smith Brothers’ Phoenix Iron Foundry started trading. 45 years later Edward Rusk, a London financier, acquired the freehold to the foundry and in November 1891 he set up Phoenix Engineering Company Limited in order to buy the Phoenix Iron Foundry. Rusk was the majority shareholder and the rest of the capital was owned by some London-based engineers, Roger Bolger Pownall, Charles Harris and Thomas John Jennings, who was the company secretary.

Phoenix Engineering Company Limited continued to manufacture the same product lines as the Smith Brothers had, as well as pumps for the Pulsometer Engineering Company. Thomas Jennings had worked for Pulsometer and the pumps he now produced were to be sold under the Pulsometer brand name.

A New Phoenix Rises

Between 1891 and 1904 Phoenix made an annual profit only twice so in 1905 it was decided that a radical reorganisation was necessary. Thus a new company was incorporated by the directors to buy Phoenix Engineering Company Limited and to acquire the freehold of the Phoenix Iron Foundry from the estate of Edward Rusk, who had died in the February of that year. The shareholders in the old company were issued shares in new company, The Phoenix Engineering Co. Ltd., on a one-to-one basis, thus giving Edward Rusk’s executors control.

In 1906 the new Phoenix made an annual profit of £269/8/8 on a turnover of £4538/16/8 and product lines were expanded to include bitumen heaters and sprayers sold under the Rapid trade mark. Then, in 1909, Phoenix signed an agreement with Llewellin and James of Bristol, one of their biggest competitors at the time, to become the sole supplier of all their tar boilers and the two companies agreed to sell their boilers at the same price.

Expansion and Exports

camelDuring WWI Phoenix increased their manufacturing operations to include agricultural machinery and after the war found a good market for bitumen equipment and pumps in the British Empire. This was the beginning of their strong export figures.

Along with countless other companies, Phoenix was badly hit during the recession, as public spending on roads was drastically cut, but with the advent of WWII there was an increased demand for their products. In fact, demand was so great that the War Department ‘gave’ them a subcontractor in Glasgow for the production of bitumen boilers. Phoenix then streamlined their product lines, mainly producing bitumen equipment, pumps and, temporarily, field kitchens.

A Phoenix “Rapid” wood fired Tar Boiler on the road between Santa Cruz & Orataza, Tenerife in 1923

Ground Breaking Design

In the early 60s the original foundry was closed and the manufacture of pumps ceased and John Pownall developed the self-propelled chipping spreader and spreaders based on his design, plus bitumen heaters and sprayers now account for the vast majority of the company’s sales. During the 70s Phoenix concentrating on increasing their sales overseas and in 1977, at the height of the oil boom in the Middle East and Africa, we won the Queen’s Award to Industry in recognition of our achievements in the export markets.

Phoenix Continues to Flourish

In 1997 we again won the Queen’s Award to Industry for Export Achievements and exports over recent years average at 65% of total sales. We have exported Chard-built equipment to many countries, including Vietnam, Laos, the West Indies, Nepal, Mongolia, Japan, as well as Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Far East.

Phoenix continues to go from strength to strength as it nears its 122nd birthday and is still run by descendants of the original founding families.

Phoenix Engineering staff, circa 1996

Phoenix Engineering staff, circa 1996