Horseshoes, bomb shelters and balustrades – F.H. Brundle’s 134-year journey

F.H. Brundle’s Managing Director Michael Brundle charts the company’s eventful history, from the 1890s to today.

Building a business is hard. Building one that lasts – and that retains something of the values that inspired its founders in the first place – is much harder.

For F.H. Brundle, the story began in 1889 – the year the Eiffel Tower opened, Charlie Chaplin was born, and my great-great-grandfather, 32 year-old Frederick Henry Brundle, went into business for the first time.

Having borrowed £500 from his father, F.H. acquired premises on Paper Street in the city of London, close to the city’s bustling docklands.

Original FH Brundle Offices

At the time, British trade was booming, and British ships were transporting goods all around the world. Those goods had to be stored in something – and companies like the newly-minted F.H. Brundle supplied the packing crate fittings.

Frederick was entrepreneurial, no doubt, but he was anything but cutthroat. Throughout London, he quickly won a reputation for his generosity. When valued customers found themselves in financial difficulty, he was known to offer them large interest-free loans, and help them reorganise.

For decades, F.H. Brundle steadily grew, trading on a mix of product quality and compassion. But when the 19th century became the 20th, the company found itself in more challenging circumstances.

Brundle’s biggest challenge

F-W Brundle 1915

F.W. Brundle – 1915

In 1914, the First World War began. Two of the Brundle’s eight children were called up to serve – my great grandfather Frank Walter Brundle, who would eventually succeed his father as sole proprietor, fought in Belgium.

I still have a picture of him in his uniform from 1915.

Thirty years later, Britain was at war again. But this time the action was much closer to home.

By the 1930s, my great grandfather was head of the family firm, and had become a well-respected local dignitary. He was a very active member of the Corporation of the City of London – the body that governs the capital’s historic centre.

He’d also become Chair of the Civil Defence Committee – the group responsible for helping local residents and businesses withstand German air raids.

During the Blitz, the German Air Force dropped 45,000 bombs on London, and after the war Frank oversaw the construction of the city’s largest underground bomb shelter.

In 1942, he was featured on the front page of the City Press, praising the workers who built it for their “inexhaustible energy and patience, as well as a keen sense of humour and faith in human nature.”

Beating the bombs

However, Brundle didn’t escape the war unscathed – during one late-night raid, a German bomber scored a direct hit on Brundle HQ.

That could’ve been devastating – even spelled the end of the business. But the Brundles’ years of generosity paid off.

In a huge testament to the fondness many in the sector had for Frank and Frederick before him, a number of key competitors banded together to help him re-establish himself in the months that followed, even letting him use space in their premises.

With their help, F.H. Brundle survived the War. But its next adversary was one it was never going to beat – progress.

Changing with the times

By the ‘50s, the company has become one of the leading suppliers of steel products to the city’s farriers – the people who would fit horseshoes to horses’ feet.

But the number of horses on London’s streets was in drastic decline. When reliable sources of custom like the city’s milkmen started to swap their carts for motorised vehicles, the company knew it had to diversify.

But while that was a big blow at the time, it was that need to adapt that set F.H. Brundle on the trajectory that made it what it is today – market-leading trade suppliers of steel sections, handrailing and fencing with a vast, comprehensive range.

It also continued a company tradition of seeing challenges as opportunities.

Decades later in 2007 – by which stage the company was helmed by my father Richard and I – we received a letter.

The good news was that London had just won its bid to host the 2012 Olympics. The bad news was they wanted to put the Olympic Park right where F.H. Brundle HQ was.

That meant the 3rd move in a 118 years  for the company – to their  biggest premises yet, in Rainham, Essex.

A proud legacy

It’s here – a large site in Rainham in Essex – that F.H. Brundle has grown to become Britain’s biggest suppliers of mesh, wrought iron components, gate hardware and innovative fencing and handrailing solutions.

Rainham with new sign on side

Today, we stock over nine thousand products, encompassing everything from wire mesh and railheads to decking and high-end balustrades, spread across six locations that total 500,000 square feet – all supplied from a distribution hub in the Midlands.

A fleet of over 70 F.H. Brundle-branded vehicles move that stock around the country, and all deliveries over £150 are totally free.

It’s those resources, and the sheer scale of that offering, that ranks F.H. Brundle among the best businesses of its kind – but it’s the friendly, dedicated, good old-fashioned service that makes it one that tens of thousands of customers around the country genuinely enjoy dealing with. I hope it’d make my great-grandfather proud.