Brief History of Rice & Co. Eagle Foundry.
The birth of Rice & Co's Eagle Foundry was hi 1870, when William Rice, a farmer at Courteenhall who was born in Cotton End in 1824, bought Barwell & Co foundry in Bridge St. This had been started by Edward Barwell in 1823 and employed 150 men.
William Rice died in 1875 and the foundry was run by trustees for 10 years until his son, Pickering Phipps Rice, took charge, in partnership with James Barry JP, twice Mayor of Northampton. The foundry was situated on part of the Phipps Brewery premises ( William's wife was Ann Phipps, daughter of Pickering Phipps ) and remained there until 1928 when a new foundry was built in South Bridge Road; the offices remained in Bridge St. until 1950.
Pickering Phipps Rice died in 1927 and his son Arthur Henry Rice took over the foundry, having joined the company in 1897; his brother John had also been with the firm since 1913. Times were hard in the late twenties and early thirties and the company did well to survive until World War Two, which changed everything.
From 1870 -1940 the foundry produced a huge variety of iron castings, such as lamp posts, manhole covers, gulley grates, kitchen stoves and ranges, ornamental fireplaces, gates and railings, stable fittings, road signs, even spiral staircases and skylight frames. Cast iron was king in those days!
Production was gradually changed to engineering castings during WW2 and this was maintained and developed over the next fifty years, supplying customers making textile machinery, presses, machine tools, compressors, pumps, generator engines, pipe fittings, valves, power transmissions and many other applications.
Arthur Rice died in 1963 and is son Peter died two years later in a tragic road accident. Peter had joined the company in 1928 and had been joint Managing Director with his father for some years. Following his death, Peter's son Jeremy had to take over the reins, having joined the company in 1956. Change and development was needed for the foundry to survive and prosper and in late 1965 Albert Whitmore joined the firm as Works Manager, bringing the benefits of outside experience and a broader view of the industry; he and Jeremy started a programme of modernisation and expansion and by 1975 production and profitability had increased significantly. At this stage a separate foundry was set up at Round Spinney to produce high precision castings; Albert Whitmore ran this new specialist foundry (RSM Castings) which was, and still is, a great success.
Production of general engineering castings continued at South Bridge and output grew steadily. In 1988 and 1991 Jeremy's sons, Julian and Peter, joined the company and were appointed Directors in 1993. In 1994 a new mechanised moulding plant was installed and in 1995 Peter took over as Managing Director, Jeremy remaining as Chairman. In 1996 production reached £5.5million per annum, but by this tune life for British foundries was being made increasingly difficult by Eastern European competition, whose wages were 20% of ours and UK iron foundries were facing an uncertain future. To add to the problems, the Borough Council were intent on redeveloping the whole South Bridge Rd Industrial area, which by then had only two occupants, and the cost of complying with environmental regulations applying to a foundry surrounded by housing was prohibitive. We had been on the site for 68 years but that didn't seem to matter!
Accordingly, in October 1997, the order book and goodwill of the company was sold to a newly built foundry hi Belfast and the last metal was poured at Eagle Foundry in June 1998. A sad day, after six generations of hard work and co-operation by management and workforce, but inevitable, and almost all heavy industry has since gone from the town and the whole country.
The whole area south of the River Nene at South Bridge is now housing and South Bridge Road no longer exists.