Our Royal Label Factory subsidiary has a long history, from humble beginnings evolving into a company that would go on to gain royal patronage and become a world leader in its field. It is now the oldest manufacturer of Fingerpost signs and cast signage still in production in the United Kingdom.
In the early 1870s, Bell & Thorpe’s company began producing metal garden labels in a small unassuming workshop, close to William Shakespeare’s final resting place at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. Eventually the business gained the attention of John Smith, who eventually took over and re-named the company to become ‘The Metallic Label Works’ and trademarked ‘The Stratford’ label in 1875.
Queen Victoria was so taken with the cast iron garden labels, with their raised lettering and bold, clear rendering, that she commissioned them for her rose gardens at Sandringham – eventually granting permission for the business to use the ‘Royal’ prefix in its title.
With the Royal Warrant in hand, the business became known around the world as “The Royal Label Factory”, with the unmistakable name plates denoting roads, streets and other places in Africa, Canada, India and the West Indies. The raised lettering on the signs, which at this time was unique, had made such an impression on the Queen as she was experiencing problems with her eyesight and the letters could be used like braille.
By November 1918, The Royal Label Factory moved premises again within Stratford upon Avon, from where it began to produce road signs in vast quantities that met the specification of the Ministry of Transport.
Across the world and in particular the Commonwealth, the company’s cross road, level crossing, Halt and Slow signs were renowned and were produced for these export markets in aluminium and iron. During the Second World War as part of the national industrial mobilisation, a further diversification took place with the factory producing aircraft parts. After the war, the firm returned back to sign production.
By now, the signs were cast in high-grade silicon aluminium and finished by spraying with synthetic enamels and oven cured to harden. The opening of the larger Chipping Norton site in 1963 signalled the beginning of the end for the Stratford factory and slowly production was transferred over until the eventual demise of the College Lane business in 1982.
The Royal Label Factory continues to trade to this day with the business locating to Buxton, Derbyshire as a subsidiary of Leander Architectural. Cast plaques, High quality street nameplates, Geared Fingpost signs, Town Signs and many other cast signs are still produced using the traditional techniques. Far from being flossy Victoriana, the bold, durable letting can still be seen on signs and lamposts today.