Capitalising on reputation

Opportunity knocks: Solder before being wound on to reels at Heaps, Arnold and Heaps.
Opportunity knocks: Solder before being wound on to reels at Heaps, Arnold and Heaps.
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Heaps, Arnold and Heaps was founded in Leeds around 1770.

No-one really knows who the ‘Arnold’ in the company name was, but the Heaps family continued to run the business for 220 years, operating from various locations in Leeds.

Lead has always been Heaps, Arnold and Heaps’ core business, although the mix of products has changed as the metal moved in and then out of favour for things like gas and water pipes and weights for fishing nets.

The company might still be in Leeds today, making products like lead sheet for plumbers’ merchants, counter balance weights for sash windows, shielding for applications involving radiation, and lead ‘came’ – profiles to hold glass in stained glass windows. However, with Leeds looking for somewhere close to the city centre to make way for the development of the Royal Armouries Museum in the 1990s, Heaps, Arnold and Heaps’ factory was compulsorily purchased.

Faced with relocating the factory, the Heaps family decided to sell the business, although one offshoot of the founding family’s line, David Carter, stayed with the business after it was acquired by a consortium of businessmen from Sheffield, Rotherham and Chester.

David Carter retired six years ago and the company is now run by Derek Briscoe, whose son, Marc, is the company’s general manager, Stephen Eades and Andrew Steel

While some might have viewed lead as a material facing declining demand, Heaps’ new management saw opportunities for developing the business by moving into new areas and capitalising on Heaps reputation.

Heaps’ new owners all had experience of using lead, either within the lead industry itself or from working in sectors that use lead like the nuclear, construction and engineering sectors.

As a result, Heaps, Arnold and Heaps continues to do everything it used to do in Leeds, but now on a much larger scale at its Barbot Hall Industrial Estate factory.

Demand from some traditional customers, like the fishing and armaments industries, has declined.

Once the company would have been making beaded lead wire to weight trawler nets five days a week.

Now, it might run the highly specialised machine that makes the wire for a couple of days a month.

While cowboys in Westerns might still threaten to “fill you full of lead,” the reality is that the demand for lead wire for making modern bullets has also declined.

By contrast, lead is making a comeback in sash windows, winning market share back from cast iron, which simply isn’t dense enough to fit in the space available and be heavy enough to act as a counter balance.

Even when cast iron is used, add-on weights, made from lead are often needed and Heaps is now producing 70 tonnes a month of sash weights and add-ons, which, as Marc Briscoe says, is a huge amount.

Some sectors like nuclear demand products made from certified, newly-refined lead, which Heaps buys in.

Others are perfectly happy with recycled lead, so Heaps has invested in a recycling plant, which turns lead that might otherwise have gone to landfill sites back into a useful raw material, without the health and safety issues surrounding smelting lead ore.

Following the move to Rotherham, Heaps also expanded into tin, zinc and chrome products used in electro-plating and surface finishing and began making tin-based leaded and lead free solders for the plumbing industry.

Its Capsol brand is now one of the leading brands of plumbing solders in the UK, used by plumbers who still prefer a soldered joint to the more recently developed “push fit” joints.