Crittall Windows Archive
The Museum is very fortunate to house the company archive of Crittall Manufacturing Company with over 2000 artefacts in our collections including catalogues, photographs and works of art.
A Brief History
The Crittall family lived in Kent from the fifteenth century and are thought to have taken their name from Crit Hall, situated between Benenden and Cranbourne. Francis Berrington Crittall’s family owned the ‘Swan Inn’ at Wickham but he left the family home to serve an apprenticeship with an ironmonger at Brentford. In Braintree there was an ironmonger’s business, originally established in 1635, at 27 Bank Street, which had been inherited by Mrs. Maria Shave and consisted of a shop with living accommodation above, a warehouse and a yard.
In 1849 Francis Crittall decided to move to Braintree and agreed to rent the business from Mrs. Shave. He was then aged 24 years and that same year he married Fanny Godfrey from Rutland.
This was the modest beginning of the Crittall Manufacturing Company which subsequently became world renowned in the business of metal window production, with branches all over the world. They were involved in the installation of windows in a vast number of houses, shops, offices, schools, hospitals and other buildings of every description including many famous ones such as Buckingham Palace, the Royal Festival Hall, BBC Building, London, Coventry Cathedral, League of Nations, Geneva, Peace Palace, The Hague, the Titanic and many others.
When Francis Berrington Crittall died in 1879 his first son Richard was left the bulk of the estate and the control of the firm. However, there were differences of opinion between Richard and his brother Francis Henry who also worked in the family business and in 1881 Francis Henry moved to Birmingham. In 1883 he moved back to Braintree to live over the shop in Bank Street and his brother Richard moved on to establish a heating company in London.
Francis Henry Crittall was then left to take over the reins of the family firm and, with a handful of skilled craftsmen he carried out metal work of all descriptions, diversifying into street lighting and drainage.
By 1889, the firm had a sufficiently good reputation to win orders for work from as far afield as Liverpool and Francis began to experiment with metal windows, manufacturing the product which was to lead to the future growth of a worldwide company.
As the work grew, the Bank Street premises became so crowded that by 1893, with a workforce of 60 people, lack of space seriously restricted further development. Fortunately, in the same year, a Mr. S. Parmenter joined the Board and he offered part of a builder’s yard between Coggeshall Road and Manor Street for the building of a new Crittall works and this opened in 1894.
Just before the outbreak of the First World War, Francis Crittall’s two elder sons joined the firm and they were to have a huge impact upon the further development of the company. They were Valentine George Crittall, later to become MP for Maldon and Lord Braintree and Walter Francis Crittall.
Although the making of metal window frames dates back to Tudor times at least, the development of the industry as an engineering process and capable of mass production, is a more recent development and in this Crittalls can be said to have led the world.
The headquarters, for the production of the windows, was based in Braintree but distribution and sales centres were established in many different parts of the country and, particularly in the 1920s, metal window factories began to be set up in many countries abroad. By 1925, 12 factories around the world had been started up.
Before the outbreak of the First World War, Valentine Crittall had secured agency agreements for Japan, Korea, China, Manchuria, India and Burma. Factories in New Zealand and Australia were both started by Braintree men from Crittalls and South Africa became a source of prolific orders.
The urgent need for new housing, after the First World War, was instrumental in the development of the standard metal window. Between 1918 and 1920 Francis Crittall built 65 flat roofed houses at Braintree – the Clockhouse Way Estate. These revolutionary houses were the first modern buildings anywhere in the country and were the forerunners of modernist architecture.
The houses were designed on a metric grid with units of standard sizes. The idea was to provide low cost housing capable of being built anywhere. The size of the window openings chosen became standard sizes to be used universally by manufacturers and architects and it was found that the standard window was ideally suited to quick and cheap mass production and it proved an enormous success.
During both the First and Second World Wars, Crittalls played a vital role in the conversion of their factories to the making of munitions.
After the first World War ended, Francis Crittall was inspired to create a new village to provide housing for his employees and employment for those disabled by the war but still capable of work. The building of Silver End Village was seen by him as ‘a community of Crittall families enjoying the amenities of town life in a lovely rural setting’. The village of Silver End was created between 1926 and 1932 and it was a revolutionary development and represented the only large group of modern-movement houses at the time. It was considered to be revolutionary in that not only were the houses of modern design, but they were provided with proper sanitation, electricity, water and sizeable front and back gardens. In addition many other communal facilities were provided including a clinic, social club, sports ground, lecture room, library and others. Silver End was important in the development of Crittalls and also in the history of architecture and design. In 1968 it was taken over by the then Witham Council.