For information about the early days of Illston and Robson we have to thank Graham Robson, grandson of the founding Robson, who wrote most of the following account:

Billy Illston was a very successful salesman for BSA machine tools, then of Golden Hillock Rd, Small Heath. It is rumoured that he was so successful that he made a lot of money, and was eventually eased out of the BSA for putting them under too much pressure of work. He met up with a very handy bloke called Tal Robson, who was Works manager at a factory whose name I can no longer remember.cover of original catalogue

They decided to form a company together, and obviously, by 1913, had enough machinery to merit moving to new premises. The pictures in the 1913 brochure are, in fact, from the original premises, in Jenkins St, Small Heath.

Old hands claim that Tal Robson ruled the shop floor with a rod of iron. He was an uncompromising, bullish but fair man, who used to watch the start-of-shift stragglers come running down the road at one-minute-past-eight . . . then lock the door as they got there.

original machine shop

It is claimed he used to go into the factory, stand and look at them all and shout “Work! You buggers, Work!” . They’d burst into feverish activity. He’d then go and read the paper. And they’d all stop again ‘til they reckoned he’d be back.

Billy Illston begat Arnold Illston. A real gentleman of the old school, and a proper MD of the era, even down, I believe, to the striped trousers. Arnold Illston married Maurice’s mother [quite right, too] and she was, in fact, a childhood sweetheart of the issue of the marriage between Tal and Rachel, Frank Robson, my Dad. Bless ‘im.Bomb damage of Office Entrance

Wartime [second, not first] and the factory was bombed, probably deliberately. [Power of advertising?] The big big German manufacturer of balljoints, or “ winkelgelenke” was Eihrenrich GmbH, and you can imagine them quaking in their shoes at the prospect of I & R as competitors, resulting in their writing to Hitler asking if he could ask the bombers to “bitte karry eine kleine bit past Coventry und chuck eine kouple on Small Heath danke”. Or perhaps it was downright bad luck.

The bombs landed. The factory was damaged [see photo] and my Dad claims to have heroically unscrewed the brass plaque off the outside of the building and uttered the immortal words “I’ll build a new factory behind this”.

We were hastily re-housed in the Mirror Laundry.Mirror Laundry Entrance

Capstan shop

They were heady days, when factory floor workers moved so fast they were blurred in the picture.

Back eventually to Herbert Road, in new premises, with some new machines, too. Offices were originally single storey. Second floor [designed to be similar to the factory next door] added in the late 1950s.

During the 60s the factory continued to grow and the product range increased to include balljoints, initially made under licence from Tourek. The product range then expanded again to include airline couplings. The firm remained in the care of the founding families until it was sold in 2003.