Laidlaw & Thomson started business in Manchester in 1876 as a partnership between Frederick Thomson and Richard Laidlaw concentrating on malleable iron harness and mill equipment. Builders’ ironmongery products were added later which developed further into architectural ironmongery. The business became a Limited Company in 1920.
In the 1930’s, architectural ironmongers rarely ventured outside their immediate location and each major city had a well-known high quality distributor: Laidlaw in Manchester; Quiggan in Liverpool; Ramsay in Newcastle; and Parker Winder and Achurch in Birmingham. These companies generally looked after the sales interests of the top quality manufacturers – Wm. Newman & Son for door closers; Walter Rowley for hardware; and E. Tonks for locks.
There was little building from 1939 to 1945 apart from reparation of war damage and Government projects. Companies worked to Government direction – Laidlaw had metal labels made for ammunition boxes with the details of future contents stamped on them.
The company benefited from the post war boom which, in the construction sector, focused on local authority housing, especially in the Wythenshawe area of Manchester.
David Whitworth joined the company in 1955 as Company Secretary, becoming Managing Director in 1958 on the sudden death of his father who had been MD since 1945. The company then employed 70 staff in Manchester.
Laidlaw were supplying many hospital projects and when the Ministry of Health made it a condition that national coverage had to be offered, Laidlaw took the lead by creating, with other ironmongery businesses, the Architectural Hardware Consortium, giving David Whitworth the opportunity to get to know senior staff in the member companies. He later used this knowledge to make acquisitions or to start ‘greenfield’ sites to develop a branch network.
In 1969, Laidlaw acquired KS Neale Ltd, a Birmingham architectural ironmonger followed by further acquisitions in Scotland (1973) and, significantly, in London (1972), with Alfred G Roberts (Exports) Ltd who represented UK and continental manufacturers in the Middle East.
There was further rapid growth through start-ups in Gateshead (1971), Bristol (1974), Rhuddlan, North Wales (1975), Dublin (1979), Sheffield (1980) and Cambridge (1982).
The Gateshead operation was used additionally to develop cylinder systems, ultimately to become Locking Systems Ltd. Additionally, Laidlaw created a hollow metal door activity in Gateshead, being later formalised into Fenlock Solutions Ltd.
A notable development was made in 1980 by the entry into the UK window fitting market through Muir Laidlaw
The surge in activity in South East Asia led to an investment in 1981 in Hardware Services International PTY Ltd in Sydney with a branch in Brisbane. Sadly, while the company was number two in the New South Wales market, the Australian managing director died within three years and the investment was sold.
Export opportunities were developed in Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates, and in Hong Kong where Laidlaw & Thomson (Asia) Ltd was established together with Laidlaw & Thomson Hardware PTE Ltd in Singapore.
Fifty percent of the ownership in the Hong Kong and Singapore operations was sold to Newman Tonks Ltd, in 1984, principally to promote the manufacturer’s products. A notable major contract was obtained in Beijing in 1988 for the World Trade Centre, through a French contractor, with Tokyo architects specifying Japanese hardware worth £1 million plus!
A public listing for Laidlaw was obtained in 1985, the directors having demonstrated the opportunities it provided to investors and the quality of its organisation. By the end of 1988, Laidlaw sales were £26.5 million and the company employed 270 people. The following year Laidlaw was sold to Newman Tonks Group in a deal which was considered to be in the best interests of its shareholders and in recognition of the increasing need at the time for integration of the manufacturing and distribution processes.
Newman Tonks, and with it the Laidlaw business, was itself subsequently acquired by Ingersoll Rand in 1996. After a number of years in which they became increasingly refocused on manufacturing ,Ingersoll Rand sold the Laidlaw business in 2003 to a Management Buy-Out team led by the current owner, John Jefferies.
Following the MBO Laidlaw refocused on the specification and supply of Architectural Ironmongery, Doorsets, Handrail and Balustrading and Access Control Systems through extensive product development and service enhancement. As a result the company achieved significant organic growth and made a number of regional and national acquisitions to further strengthen its business and its service to customers. In 2008 Laidlaw set up a Middle East operation based in the United Arab Emirates.
In August 2011, Laidlaw in association with its private equity partner Rutland acquired the Interiors Manufacturing division of SIG and formed the Laidlaw Interiors Group. The Group consists of Laidlaw Solutions, Komfort, Leaderflush Shapland, Fitzpatrick, Longden and Cubicle Systems.
In September 2012, The Laidlaw Group completed the acquisition of Mansfield based door manufacturer Timbmet Door Solutions Ltd (TDSL).
Today the Group generates sales of around £130M and employs around 1500 people from 35 locations in the UK and overseas.