FOUNDED in 1881, St Helens engineer T.M. Utley Offshore has plenty of history, but its links to the ill-fated RMS Titanic make it richer than most.
The firm made the ship’s bell, port holes, or port lights, and windows for the world’s most famous liner – but its third generation owner has secured its future with a Middle East joint venture focusing on the offshore and onshore oil and gas energy sectors.
Utley’s was the world’s leading port light manufacturer early last century.
Its links with Liverpool date back to when the Utley family, from Yorkshire, imported thousands of cattle through the docks in the 19th century.
But they lost large numbers of livestock due to poorly ventilated ships’ holds, so young Thomas Utley invented a ventilation system and opened an engineering business in Silverdale Avenue, Tuebrook.
His grandson and current owner, also named Thomas, said: “I think he had a bit of a fall out with his dad and decided to go into engineering.”
The firm strengthened its links with the maritime world by making bells, windows and port lights for vessels such as the Lusitania, the Royal Family’s Albert and Victoria yacht. and its successor the Britannia.
Mr Utley said his grandfather soon became a key figure in the city.
He said: “He was a Liberal councillor and a JP and when he died in 1927 the streets in Tuebrook around the house were lined with people.”
He added he was hard but fair: “I used to go to the works as a young lad and spoke to some people who worked with him. One, ginger, polished the Titanic port holes. Granddad caught him asleep under a bench and he sacked him but he didn’t realise he had worked for three days flat, so he reinstated him.
“When someone died who worked for the company he gave the family £25 and, then, it was a lot of money.”
Mr Utley’s father, also Tom, took over in 1927 and came perilously close to losing the company in 1939, the outbreak of World War II, when work on the Queen Mary liner was cancelled, but a merger with Rainhill firm John Roby saved the day and the new combined entity flourished by working with Birkenhead shipbuilder Cammell Laird and diversifying into munitions.
Mr Utley said: “Cammell Laird put a warship in the water every 22 days in the war.”