How it all began

How it all began

GTL has had an exciting year so far with the rebranding of the whole company and the incorporation of Losomat UK. A number of ground-breaking new tools are currently in development or approaching production, and our focus is very much on looking to the future and continuing to stay ahead of the game in a fast-moving industry.

At the same time though, it's important to remember how far we've come, and we thought our customers and distributors might be interested in hearing a bit about the history of our firm and the road that has led us to our successful and profitable membership of the Gedore Group.

Some of you may know that GTL was founded in 1937 as a small sub-contract machining business by Messrs Marshall, Hardy and Headland, hence the name MHH Engineering. The company started out on the same site that GTL occupies today in Bramley, Surrey, on what was originally a tannery by the Wey and Arun canal. The pic shows a Centreless Grinder owned by MHH from around this era, which was made in the mid-1940s from salvaged iron and steel as part of the war effort, and purchased by MHH in the late 1950s.

Gradually attempts were made by MHH to branch out and develop its own products. It is believed that the first torque wrenches were developed after the founders had seen similar tools being used by American servicemen working on their aircraft during World War 2 at what is now BAE Systems in Weybridge.

During the 1950s one of the original three partners died, and the remaining two fell out although what caused this rift is lost in the mists of time! As a result of this MHH Engineering was sold to a small conglomerate firm called Bullough Securities, and the Managing Director, Harold Cowlishaw, who had been taken on just before the sale, was kept on as MD.

Prior to joining MHH, Harold, a blunt Yorkshireman, had been working as an engineer for Rolls Royce in Derby and is remembered as a considerable character. Marketing wasn't his strong point as his view of customers was that they should be told what they should buy, and if they didn't like it, that was their bad luck! He had been married three times and when he met new people he would often mention this fact. Apparently startled customers didn't quite know whether to congratulate or commiserate with him.

However, during the next 17 years at MHH Harold developed the range of wrenches and screwdrivers which basically form the foundation of the current GTL range. He also experimented with a few new ideas such as outboard motors and water carriers for campers and caravanners, which didn't catch on, and the sub-contract work was slowly phased out.

As part of the search for additional products, a relationship was struck up with a firm called Bourdon Gauges of Paris, and a joint 50/50 venture was formed by the incorporation of Gauges Bourdon GB. The idea was to sell a range of French-made gauges, augmented by various flanges and accessories made by MHH. A salesman was employed named Geoff Morson and initially the firm occupied some very dilapidated offices in the old tannery. The firm was quite successful to begin with, selling to the new oil companies, particularly in Iran, and as a result MHH as landlords and joint owners of the business built a new office called Meadow View House which is, with considerable alterations, still our current office. However, Gauges Bourdon GB eventually moved out, gradually the business declined, and MHH and Gauges Bourdon France decided to close the business.

Harold was coming up for retirement in 1976 but he was extremely reluctant to go. His replacement had been chosen - a Mr Gosling - but Harold decided to sack him to gain some extra time! Eventually the Bullough Group made an external appointment, Geoff Allen, and Harold was forced to give in. He did take Geoff out for a meal at the Grantley Arms in nearby Wonersh though, where he ordered fish and chips which was apparently what he had had every single time he had been in there for many years.

A few years previously Harold had eloped with the MHH storekeeper's wife, and the couple now retired to a wooden riverside property in Staines. However, Harold's particular brand of unluckiness followed him there and his exuberant Irish wolfhound, known for leaping on people and sending them crashing to the floor, jumped up at the stove, knocked a chip pan off and burnt the house down. Fortunately Harold and his partner escaped although the fate of the wolfhound is unknown.

With the arrival of Geoff Allen, MHH began the shift from a small firm which paid its way but made little profit, to a firm which intended to compete seriously in the international market. Geoff had undergone a five year engineering apprenticeship at Rover Cars when it was a private business, and was working for an electroplating company in Nottingham which had been purchased by Bullough. His mission was to expand sales, which, in 1976 when he took over, were between £250,000 - £300,000 p.a. with the only notable export sales going to Mountz, with which GTL still has a very successful relationship.

One of the first moves of Geoff's tenure came when the marketing name of MHH was changed to Torqueleader, in order to use something more meaningful for the business and so that people would instantly know what the business was about. There was also a drive to sell positively rather than reactively, both in the UK and, more importantly, in the export markets, and our very successful private label work was also started up at this time.

On top of all this, some major work needed to be done to the factory and office site, which was at the time liable to flooding up to half a metre deep from the adjacent river and turned into a quagmire on a regular basis. A pipe was dug under the adjoining disused railway line to drain excess water into a nearby lake which largely solved the problem, and then Meadow View House was built which gave the firm smart new offices to replace the old tannery buildings. An interesting discovery occurred when a skeleton of a horse or cow (it was not possible to tell which!) was unearthed during the building works, and when Harold's old desk was removed a 4.10 shotgun cartridge was found in the drawer, left over from when Harold would regularly leap up from his desk and take potshots at rabbits in the adjoining field.

Geoff describes his first few years as a huge learning curve, and one of the key things occurred two years into his tenure as MD when Torqueleader first exhibited at the Cologne Fair in 1978, albeit in a very low key way. This was the start of the firm making a real impact in the industry and it is still an important annual event in GTL's calendar. As a result distributors began to be appointed for the first time and proved vital in getting our tool range in front of potential purchasers.

Meanwhile, MHH's owner, the Bullough Group, was not doing as well as its subsidiary. A decision to invest in various office furniture companies proved disastrous in the late 1980s when the UK was hit by recession, and as a result, MHH, which was a very profitable firm, was sold in 1999 to raise money.

Luckily for us, the new owner was the Gedore Group which was a major customer of MHH at the time and which was keen to purchase the company. Geoff knew Herr Karl Dowidat, father of current MD Karen Dowidat, well, and was sure that this would be an excellent move and would safeguard MHH's business.

And so it has proved, with Gedore Torque Ltd, under our new name, a forward-thinking, internationally successful member of a thriving manufacturing group. From a small, rather eccentric English firm to a world player in the precision torque tool market - we've come a long way in 79 years!

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