Gloucester’s Poeton celebrates 125 years in business
By Bethany Winter | 7th November 2023
The story of surface treatment specialists, Poeton Industries, began on bicycles, but has literally reached distant planets.
To mark a century and a quarter of industrial achievement, this summer saw a proud 1898-2023 banner hoisted over a grand celebration party for employees and their families, at Over Barn, near Highnam, Gloucester.
The celebrations for Poeton's staff were a moment of reflection on an epic journey across five generations, marking a dynasty that has consistently carried the baton, first handed down by Arthur Poeton, when he founded the company in 1898.
As well as its Gloucester HQ, Poeton also has production facilities in Cardiff and now in Rzeszow, Poland, but this family story opened during the twilight years of Queen Victoria, in Bristol.
Arthur, one of 12 children to emigrant watch and clockmaker Josiah Poeton, started his working life in Massachusetts, USA on the silver plating of timepiece dials. When he returned to England with his wife, Alice, he rented his first workshop premises on Bristol's Tower Hill.
Costing £184 as a start-up, the rented space would eventually become too small for Arthur's chosen specialism in plating and enamelling bicycle parts and frames. They were busy years: after a diversion during the Great War to work on plating plugs for artillery shells, Arthur's son, George, joined the company and the 1920s signalled a roaring trade. Poeton moved into a variety of new contracts, ranging from the cadmium and nickel plating of Post Office vending machines to special finishes for the automotive, motorcycle and tobacco industries.
By the 1930s, after 80% of the company's work had become chromium plating, and with expanding commitment on plating photogravure rollers for the printing industry, bigger purpose-built premises were built in Bristol. Three years later, in 1938, George's son, Roy, joined the business.
War returning in 1939 led to a change of direction: hard chrome, which is thicker and more durable, was the Government's order of the day and Poeton directed all its resources into the war, making flap tubes for Blenheim bombers and pipe barrels for the Beaufighter.
Before peace broke out, George's other son, William, joined the team, crucially bringing with him experience in electroplating. By 1952, Poeton had developed a corrochrome process that meant printing rollers would last twice as long.
With a top-down reorganisation following a year later, William took the managing director's chair for the first board meeting for AT Poeton and Son Ltd. Interviewed around this time, William famously stated: "We don't want to be the biggest electroplaters in the UK - we just want to be the best!".
What would now follow, through William's vision, was a decade of heavy investment in technology and equipment. And with a sharper focus on nickel-polished chromium, approval for the industrial motor trade was a badge of honour for the company. William also took aim at the ambitious goal of plating giant 20-tonne cylinders, now used in the chemical, paper and steel industries.
And although William's pursuit of quality before quantity underpinned the company's progress, by 1958 it could lay claim to an industry first with the opening of the biggest aluminium anodising plant in Europe at Poeton's Whitehouse Street plant, in Bristol.
Troubles in Bristol soon followed. After tangling with local bureaucracy, Gloucester became part of Poeton's story, when the former freehold factory of Gloucester Plating became available, in 1961. Eastern Avenue has been HQ for Poeton ever since.
The timing of the firm's commitment to Gloucester could not have been better: it cemented closer relations with Dowty Equipment and lit the landing lights for Poeton to step up work within the aircraft industry.
Against the backdrop of a 1963 expansion into Cardiff, Poeton breakthrough milestones through the following decade included hard chrome treatment for piston ring grooves in large-bore marine engines and a pioneering thermal coating.
William's eldest son, Anthony, joined the business in 1973. A stand-out achievement happened in 1974 when, thanks to a new hard-chrome plating technique, Poeton literally got NASA out of a hot spot, by cracking the issue of overheating titanium plates on the US space shuttles.
In the 1980s, Poeton entered into a licensee agreement with US surface treatment company General Magnaplate. As we neared the new millennium, Poeton - having by now moved into robotics - built a one-stop surface treatment shop in Cardiff for OEMs in the aerospace industry. The 1996 creation of Teikuro Poeton, a Japanese-English joint venture in Gloucester, turned the key on closer working relations for the Far East's auto industry.
Further technical firsts and awards have come thick and fast this century. Perhaps the most impressive, was the choice of Poeton's Apticote 100 Hard Chrome as a protective coating on the Beagle 2 Mars Lander, as well as the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission in 2004.
If alien life analyses some of mankind's furthest-flung achievements and decides on a trip to Earth to find out more, it seems likely it will be plotting the co-ordinates for Gloucester!
Anthony Poeton, chairman of Poeton, said: "I'm incredibly proud of the company and all it has achieved over the years. Throughout its long history, it has been a family-run business backed by an amazing talented team of stakeholders, employees, suppliers and advisors, who have worked as a team to deliver quality products - year after year, decade after decade. I cannot thank them enough, but I hope our up-and-coming party will, in some way, show our appreciation."
During the pandemic, Punchline-Gloucester.com named Poeton as one of Punchline's Business and Community Champions, after working with customers in the production of medical ventilators and donating around 11,000 gloves to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital.
For more information, contact 01452 300500 or visit www.poeton.co.uk
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