Friday, 16 September 2011

Hillaldam Coburn Ltd - Celebrate 100 Years of Manufacturing Sliding Door Gear in the UK

August 2011 saw Hillaldam Coburn Ltd a leading UK manufacturer of sliding door gear celebrating 100 years operating in the UK.

Before the introduction of Tubular box track sliding door gear into Britain from   America, door gear was largely characterized by top bar rail and single and double wheel hangers or straps.  This sold widely in Britain and was a standard inclusion in catalogues of some old and famous names of lock and door furniture manufacturers such as,  Gibbons of Wolverhampton,  Lockerbie & Wilkinson of Birmingham, Laycocks of Sheffield,  Kenricks of West Bromwich and Youngs of Westminster.

Hillaldam Coburn’s origins actually stretch right back to February 1888 when Mr. Lemuel Coburn founded the Coburn Trolley Track Company of Holyoke, Massachusetts, USA with capital of $10,000. Production was initially undertaken in a room just 50ft x 30 ft!

The foundation of the business was Lemuel Coburn’s invention of a special form of enclosed track for sliding doors. Listed in the 1906 ‘American Trade Index’ as ‘Coburn Trolley Track Manufacturing Company, Holyoke, Mass. Trolley tracks, parlour, barn and fire door hangers, overhead tramways, rolling ladders, standard fire proof doors and hardware for same.

The rapid success of the company led to the opening of agencies in practically every city in the USA together with branch offices in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago, also in Manchester UK. The Manchester agent was W.S.Loud, 17 Dalton Chambers, 41, Dalton Street, Manchester.

The business growth demanded larger premises and the company moved to a new plant spread over 2 acres in Williamsett directly across the river from Holyoke.

The original importer into the UK was O’Brien Thomas Ltd of London and around 1902 they employed a Mr. E. H. Goddard as company cashier. However Mr. Goddard left the company after a short while only to return later as manager of the Ironmongery Dept.

Although sales increased significantly under Mr. Goddard’s management the American manufacturer was not satisfied and they decided to appoint regional distributors all of whom would buy direct from the USA. These distributors were O’Brien Thomas (Southern England), Parker Winder & Achurch (Midlands), H. Luke Ltd (Northern England) and George Boyd & Co. of Glasgow (Scotland) plus Brooks Thomas & Co. Ltd for the whole of Ireland.

The UK government of the time, under Lloyd George, passed an act allowing UK firms to copy foreign products without infringing overseas patents. This gave Mr. Goddard the idea to start manufacturing a UK copy the American made Coburn gear.

It was in 1911 that Mr. E. A. Goddard actually commenced production in the UK, manufacturing Coburn products in London under the company name British Trolley Track Company. The company operated from the basement of the Wrights Coal Tar Soap factory in Southwark Street. Thus started a long association between The British Trolley Track Company and the Goddard family. Mr. E. H. Goddard’s son John and grandson Anthony holding the reins until the merger with E. Hill Aldam and the eventual sale of Hillaldam Coburn in the late 1980’s.

‘Coburn’ was widely known in Britain at the time of the First World War, and commanded  a virtual monopoly ……. any make or form of tubular overhead track was termed the “Coburn System”, used by architects and the building trade in general.

The, then separate, E. Hill Aldam Company was founded in 1916 (subsequently incorporated in 1922) by Mr. Ernest Hill Aldam and initially imported a range of Sliding Door Gear from Richard Wilcox of Canada.

The E. Hill Aldam company originally operated from offices in Holborn Viaduct, London but soon moved to a property in Stamford Street, Southwark, within just a mile of their rivals, The British Trolley Track Company.

E. Hillaldam displayed Richard Wilcox products at the Wembley exhibition in 1924 and this was supported by a comprehensive catalogue containing details of the whole range available.

The late 1920’s and early 1930’s saw a number of changes in both companies.

After a visit to Canada in 1929 permission was granted to allow E. Hill Aldam to start manufacturing in the UK. This was partly because imports into the UK were severely restricted during the Depression. The company then moved to larger premises in Earlsfield, near Wimbledon, South West London.

In the 1930’s sliding door gear became extremely popular with architects who saw the advantages of its space saving qualities. These years were good for business and the British Trolley Track Company opened the doors of a new factory in Orange Street London (later to be renamed Copperfield Street because of its Dickensian connections), and in 1936 E. Hill Aldam published its first Architectural Catalogue.

Ernest Hill Aldam had 3 sons, Donald and Kenneth from his first marriage… ….and Charles from his second. All 3 remained in the business for many years, through the merger with The British Trolley Track Company, and Charles was company chairman up until the sale of Hillaldam Coburn in the late 1980’s.

Kenneth’s son Robert was also with the group until the late 80’s and as well as being heavily involved in the sliding door gear division he was responsible for the sister company Galleon Fireplaces.
Charles’ son Toby was company secretary and Donald’s son Peter was also involved with the business before setting up on his own in the early 1980’s.

During the Second World War production of sliding door gear was suspended and, along with many other companies, E. Hill Aldam concentrated on product of components for guns and tanks

Edward James Dancer, a manufacturers representative in South Africa, learned of E. Hillaldam before the War, and his son Errol revived the interests in the early 1950’s and secured the agency for South Africa.  In 1957 he persuaded Don and Ken Aldam to set up a factory in South Africa, and Hill Aldam Sliding Door Gear (Pty) Ltd was incorporated in 1958 with joint ownership.
Later, HASDG (Pty) Ltd  purchased the Coburn name in South Africa from  F. Gwilliam (Pty) Ltd,   who were the Coburn distributors and manufacturers in South Africa, but had all but ceased operations. Hence Hillaldam Coburn Systems (Pty) Ltd was branded.

In the late 1950’s and early 60’s there was another boom in the sliding door gear market and both companies flourished.
BTT moved out of London in 1957 to a new factory at Peasmarsh near Guildford in Surrey. A year later E. Hill Aldam, having outgrown Earlsfield, moved to an extensive purpose built factory in Tolworth, Surrey.

As well as South Africa branch offices and distribution centres were opened in Dublin, Holland, and Denmark plus UK depots in Glasgow, Bolton and Bristol.

The formation of Hillaldam Coburn Ltd took place on 2nd July 1968 when the two companies joined forces and in 1971 all production moved to Tolworth. Both the Aldam and Goddard families continued as directors of the new company.

In 1988 the company was purchased by Triplex Lloyd Ltd thus ending the long Goddard and Aldam family connections in both The British Trolley Track Company. and E. Hill Aldam.

A year later the Tolworth site was sold while both door gear and Solair patio door production were transferred to the Midlands with the head office remaining in new premises at Surrey.

In August 1993 Trim Acoustics, formerly another part of Triplex Lloyd became a division of Hillaldam Coburn Ltd operating from Tottenham and West Bromwich.

In February 1994 a new chapter opened when the company became the first to be purchased by JBS Industries Ltd. and a decision was made to move door gear production back from the Midlands.
In February 1995 the company moved to premises in New Malden, Surrey in order to provide the additional space needed for manufacturing.

Today, 2011, Hillaldam Coburn Ltd operates from head office and production facilities at Merton, near Wimbledon, London SW19.

The company remains a market leader in the UK plus exports worldwide.
North America where both British Trolley Track Co. and E. Hill Aldam originally sourced product over 100 years ago is, today, one of the company’s major export markets

With excellent marketing strengths and quality products the company looks to the future with great optimism.
For details of their current range of products visit

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