GOWLLANDS LIMITED

 

21st April 2008  -   Gowllands Ltd was placed in liquidation by its Pakistani owners.

For the official announcement in "The London Gazette" of 23rd April, click here.

The company was re-structured in early May 2008, the name being changed to "Gowllands Medical Devices Ltd": it may be contacted by telephone to +44 20 8683 1221 [0208 683 1221], by fax to +44 20 8665 1225 [0208 665 1225) or by email to gowllands@gmail.com.  The website is www.gowllandsmed.com.

 

Summary of history of Company 

 

As far as is known, William Gowlland in 1897, at the age of twenty-seven, founded a company, William Gowlland Ltd, in premises over a wheelwright’s shop in Liverpool Road, making, amongst other things, Juler Ophthalmoscopes.    He took into partnership his brothers Egbert (then aged twenty-five) and Charles (who allegedly had just left school, and was still wearing knickerbockers when he started work  -  but as he was nineteen at the time, this story seems unlikely); and moved the firm to Morland Road in Croydon.   During the following years the product range widened to incorporate retinoscopes and other ophthalmic instruments.

In 1908 this business was transferred to William Gowlland Limited: in greater enlarged premises, activity increased enormously, and, in particular, mass production of ophthalmic lenses was commenced.   This company initiated the export business which subsequently represented the major part of the activity.  Thus, for example, they took part in, and were awarded certificates of merit from, the International Brussels Exhibition of 1910. -  for list of exhibitors, click here.

William soon moved again, this time to Seaford, in Sussex; and only attended the Gowlland factory infrequently thereafter.  In 1912 he was bought out for £7,000 by his brothers. 

Charles became “erratic”, probably as a result of an accident in which a counterweight from an automatic machine fell on his head.  Unable to reason with him, Egbert left the company.   Charles borrowed large sums of money and started building up production and manufacturing vast quantities of spherical lenses regardless of cost.  The inevitable happened, and the company was saved from bankruptcy only by Charles being bought out for £17,000.  The liquidators re-installed Egbert who, assisted by his son Geoffrey (who had just obtained his degree from the Royal College of Science), then ran the business.  [Two of the three directors appointed at that time were still on the Board in the early 1960s when Geoff’rey's son John became a director].

Charles was very dissatisfied with the agreement and sued the Company for damages for wrongful dismissal as a director.  After a very expensive High Court action, which he lost, he moved to Bournemouth, where he lived at "The Maples", 46 Elgin Road North, Talbot Woods. 

In 1916/17 there was a company reorganisation and William Gowlland Limited was liquidated.  The business was transferred to William Gowlland (1916) Limited on 28th March 1917.  The production of ophthalmic lenses was brought more into line with demand, the product range was rationalised, otoscopes and laryngoscopes were added in order to supply the general medical market rather than the considerably more limited ophthalmic market, and the company prospered.

In 1931 William Gowlland (1916) was liquidated and its assets were taken over by Gowllands Limited.  The philosophy at this time, and thenceforward, was to concentrate on price rather than quality: of the half-dozen or so manufacturers of ophthalmoscopes and diagnostic sets, Gowllands Limited was easily the cheapest.  What the management failed to appreciate was that ultimately this was not a successful policy, as practitioners began to demand better (and thus more expensive) instruments, and even Gowllands' cheap instruments would be unable to compete against similar items coming from Asian countries.  By the early 1960s, after the death of Egbert, it was evident that the product range needed to be brought up to date and improved; but by then too much skill and expertise had disappeared and, despite introduction of new products, it was never possible to match the resources and experience of the larger competitors.

From the 1960s to 1998 the company was profitable, this profit latterly arising from three roughly equal elements, namely (a) trading profit on the sale of the Gowllands range of products; (b) merchanting profit on the sale of items not manufactured by Gowllands; and (c) interest on bank deposits.  Throughout this period the percentage of export sales was consistently above 90%.

In 1998 Gowllands Limited was sold to Medicamenta of the Czech Republic

Automatic Machines producing turned parts from brass in about 1917

 

Charabanc outing showing part of Gowllands' workforce in early 1920s

 

Partial list of contents:

 

1    List of patents, and explanations of their background, taken out by Charles Septimus, Egbert, William, George (Lewis) and Henry Orford Gowlland, all sons of George Gowlland and grandsons of George Castle Gowlland - to follow

2    Memoir of Mrs Nellie Smith recalling her early days working at the company during the First World War: for this, click here.

3    Memoir of Mr Eric Jeans regarding Egbert's handling of industrial relations in 1940/41: for this, click here.

4    Memoir of Mrs Jenny Atkins and Mrs Shirley Wallbank of Gowllands in the 1970s: for this, click here.

5    Photographs of works outings by charabanc in the early 1920s - to follow

6    Photographs of factory activities in 1917 - to follow

7    Photographs of factory activities in 1946: for this, click here.

8    1912 Catalogue of William Gowlland Limited - click here.

9    List of agents and buyers of Gowlland products from about 1960-1970 - click here.

 

 

To return to the Gowlland Family website click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This catalogue can be sent to you on a CD.  This comprises each of the 151 pages as a JPG, and also as a PDF - the latter require the password < oaicc > for access.  These files are stored on c:\website\Miscellaneous_unpublished\Wm Gowlland Ltd. (E).