In the early years, the company was predominantly a manufacturer of fishing reels, but this manufacturing base was quickly extended to cover many other items of angling equipment. By the early 1870’s Heaton’s fishing reels and angling products were sold worldwide in their tens of thousands. Right from his early years in the industry to around the turn of the century, Reuben Heaton was responsible for many of the early innovations that have shaped the angling equipment we know today.
The first angling scales appeared in the company catalogue as simple spring balances around the turn of the century. It was much later in the 1920’s before the first dial scales appeared. Because of the company’s engineering capabilities, Heaton’s have been involved in the manufacture of various products over the years such as bicycle wheels and brake testing equipment in addition to the angling products which dominated the company’s catalogues up to the early 1970’s.
It was as a result of one particular engineering project that the first dial scales appeared. Initially made of cast iron and then much lighter aluminum Heaton’s match scales were a soon common sight on canal and riverbanks. Later in the 1980’s individual anglers were added to the range, and this aspect of the company has continued to develop to the present day.
Reuben Heaton is still an engineering based firm based in Warwickshire, manufacturing high quality weigh scales and weighing equipment as well as angling products. Scale manufacture now dominates production and Heaton’s supply many markets both home and abroad, with an extensive range of products covering both commercial and sporting markets including the angling trade where Heaton’s high profile is underlined by its sponsorship of national teams and international events.
Heaton’s continue to manufacture in the UK, an aspect of the company that after 150 years, we are very proud of. Heaton’s now import and export not only their own products but also other brands around the world. With recent investments abroad, Heaton’s are also able to design and build scales to suit most markets.
The name Heaton was well known in Birmingham, with family members involved with the Birmingham Mint. At the tender age of eighteen, Reuben Heaton was given a sum of money to enable him to start out in life. This appears to have been the case with all the Heaton's children when they came of age, and with this new-found wealth Reuben, a keen angler with an inventive mind set himself up in the business of tackle manufacture, and hence the company was born.
Very little is known about the early years of the company prior to the 1880's. The evidence of Reuben's business success and his influence on angling is borne out by the prolific number of inventions and patents applied for during this period. From the Hospital Street premises, we see the evidence of frantic development in rods, rod rings and ferrules, landing nets, balances, gut twisting machines, baits and of course the full range of metal and wood reels including both centerpin and multiplying designs. Initially at 9 & 10 Hospital Street, then just number 10 and finally 161-165, the company continued to evolve and expand before moving on in the early 1900's to new premises in Aston Birmingham. Some of the more familiar patents and products to appear during this time were as follows.3250 Strike From The Winch Reel - 1884 13388 The Sun Nottingham Reel - 1885 18817 Spindleless Reel - 1888 8957 Patent Drum Catch - 1897.
Business continued to flourish at the new site during the early 1900's, with the product range as strong and diverse as ever. The mainstay of the production at this time were the wooden reels for both course and sea, with the company proudly boasting of its production rate in the tens of thousands per year. The range of metal reels in brass and alloy shows development in this sector too, but the emphasis was on wood. As seems to be the case throughout the company's history, the majority of products bore no Heaton's marks. Many reels were manufactured in great quantity for other companies such as Allcocks and Army and Navy, and more often than not stamped with the customer's name, or just left blank.
Other events of the early 1900's saw a young Reuben Heaton 2nd join the firm, around the same time that the Great War began to take its toll. Heaton's began to manufacture munitions for the war effort, as did many companies at this time, and the resulting suspension of trade combined with the inevitable drop in sales around this time saw Heaton's suffer along with everyone else. Products were sold cheaply just to recoup money in an effort to survive, Heaton's made many changes to both production techniques and product range, focussing much more on reels and less on accessories. 1923 saw the death of Reuben Heaton 1st aged 83.
Around 1930 the production of dial scales for match fishing began. This product is still being manufactured to the present day, indeed many products continued in production for long periods of time virtually unchanged in some cases, confirming their design as being ahead of its time. However, resistance to change in certain areas showed a lack of will to accept changes occurring in the angling trade, a trend that would cost the company dearly.Whilst the list of countries and companies being supplied during this time was impressive to say the least, new ideas in angling and the advent of fixed spool reels, saw Heaton's for once not at the forefront of the development race. There is evidence that Heaton's dabbled with designs for fixed spool reels, but for some reason these trials never bore fruit.
Product ranges tended to stay the same, and this period sees Heaton's become decidedly set in its ways. As the face of angling began to change in the late 40's and early 50's Heaton's product range began to look very dated.
Trends in both markets and tackle technology saw the end of many of the old established lines, and the product range altered accordingly. The early 1930's saw the production of the first scales, adapted from brake testing units which the company made alongside their tackle products. The design of the scale has changed very little over the years apart from the adaptation of the adjustment system, now located at the top of the scale instead of the side. The present day scales are still machined and individually calibrated by hand; no two scales are identical. It is this authenticity which enables Reuben Heaton to achieve the high standard of workmanship and personal service expected by its founder over one hundred and forty years ago.
Heaton's moved to Tamworth as a result of the redevelopment of the area around Aston, in particular the area around the Heaton's factory, which eventually made way for a shopping centre. The product range still contained the traditional centerpin reels mainly of the cheaper pressed metal variety, along with wood and Tufnol sea reels, and it was these that became the mainstay of production at this time. Right up to the close of the site in the 1971, the Scarborough reels proved to the best selling product along with the match scales. Other products included rod ferrules, bank sticks, gaffs and various metal products. Due to the closure of several major customers, the firm closed its doors in 1971 and the company was split up between the family members. The match scales part of the business moved to the home of family member Ralph Heaton and became Reuben Heaton (Scales) Ltd, whilst the reels stayed with John Heaton, Ralph's cousin.
Reuben Heaton - The ScalesLindrossa Road, Sutton Coldfield
Ralph Heaton continued to produce the match scales in his garage workshop over the next few years, before selling the business on again to a tackle dealer Ken Austin around 1975. The address of the Lindrossa road site can be seen on the dial face of the scales, and indeed, all of the locations where the scales were made show up on the scale dials. This fact enables us to approximate the age of most scales, and in many cases give an accurate date, as many were stamped inside with the date of manufacture.
Whilst based at the midland tackle shop, the business revolved solely around the alloy match scales and weighing equipment. The match scales became very popular and a common site on the match circuit, whilst facing little competition in this market at this time.Scale making continued here until the late seventies when the business was again sold to an agent Trevor Dolman working in the tackle trade.
Under new management Heaton's continued to produce a range of the traditional alloy match scales, weighing accessories, and angling equipment. In a bid to take a wider share of the match scale market Heaton's bought out a rival match scales manufacturer Contesta. The scales side of the business was further developed in collaboration with another scale manufacturer Waymaster, who made small quantities of lightweight, plastic bodied scales for Heaton's to sell to individual anglers. In 1989 the company was sold to its current owners, remaining at the Market Bosworth premises until the early 90's. Competition in the match scale market lead to Heaton's expanding the specialist scales side of the business in an attempt to broaden its base. Production of the new scales soon meant a move to larger premises in the nearby village of Barton in the Beans in 1993, a place previously made famous by its clock making history.Following the acquisition of Waymaster by the Kenwood Company, manufacture of the specialist plastic bodied scales was moved form Kenwood to the Barton site in a bid to improve production. As the business continued, Heaton's again began to manufacture for other companies, and slowly the business began to grow. Other developments included a name change back to Reuben Heaton Ltd, the "scales" portion of the name being dropped as the product range increased to include weighing accessories and items of angling equipment.Further collaboration between Heaton's and Kenwood in 1998, saw the opening of much larger premises just to cope with scale production alone, as the product range increased dramatically.
In the early days, production at this new site included many new scale models produced for other companies, including a range of catering scales for Kenwood. The plastic scales were now being sold for both angling and general use in all markets, and new additions to the range saw the transition of Heaton's from an angling based company to a general scales manufacturer.When Kenwood was acquired by the French company DeLongi, catering scale production slowed at the factory, but was quickly replaced by further expansion of both standard and angling scale production. Recent developments have seen the firm increase its weighing accessories range, and most recently of all, a welcome return to the production of new angling based products. After five years, the opportunity to purchase larger more suitable premises, to cope with continued expansion saw Heaton's return to the historical town of Market Bosworth in 2003.
Whilst Heaton's now produces many products for sale outside the sphere of angling, the angling market still forms the heart of the company. Now just 147 years young, the company continues into the new millennium, development and design of new products continues, and hopefully more milestones will be celebrated in the future.
After the close of the company in 1971, John Heaton the last member of the family to have an active involvement with the firm, continued to produce Scarborough type reels as he had done for many years since starting work at Heaton's at the age of eleven. He continued for some years after the closure at Tamworth, manufacturing both wooden and Tufnol patterns of the reel. In conjunction with a colleague Tom Woodhouse, who made a new dual dialled match fishing scale, production of reels and match scales continued under the Heawood brand name.Reel manufacture at this point mainly consisted of the cheaper Tufnol models. These reels sold at nearly half the price of the wooden reels making them far more popular, with a range of sizes from six inches in diameter, to specialist sizes in excess of ten inches. The wooden Scarborough's were still being made but in far lower quantities. Early 1984 saw some of Heaton's main customers close down owing Heaton's money. The resulting cash flow problems saw an end to Reel production and the closure of the company. Remnants of the reel business were eventually sold in late 1984 to another company Lewtham Engineering. Lewtham were already manufacturing fly reels at the time, along with priests and other angling itemsInitially making only the Tufnol version of the Scarborough reel, the company started to revive the sea reel business, even to the point of restarting production of the wooden Scarborough's in 1986. The company still makes Tufnol and wooden Scarborough reels to this day, along with a range of pressed metal and machined alloy centre pin reels and other angling accessories.
Whilst the company history is being researched there are many aspects of the history uncounted for, can you help?, do you know someone?, or did you yourself have a connection with the company, please let us know.