After WW2, the 'dispersed' factory built and equipped by Alfred Rose in record time to meet an Air Ministry requirement (see Rose Brothers (Gainsborough)) was used to produce anything that suited their tooling and the skills of the men. This included children's toys and machines for aerating and cleaning lawns but also included the prototype of a machine invented by Air Vice-Marshal Geoffrey H. Ambler, chairman of a wool spinning company in Bradford. Until then the textile industry had always recognised that a thick sliver of wool one yard long could only be pulled out (or drafted) to seven or eight yards long.

Rose ASD Spinning units

Alfred Rose took up this challenge and he and the director in charge of Saxilby, John Hunter, produced a smooth running machine capable of making 'drafts' of 150 yards in worsteds and 300 yards in synthetic yarns. The savings in operations, machines and labour was obvious and, despite having no experience of the textile industry, Rose became sole suppliers of the Ambler Superdraft units selling over four hundred thousand units around the world over the next 16 years.

Rose had also begun to make self-aligning spherical bearings, some of which were sold into the textile industry and it became clear that the potential number of other uses for these bearings would increase rapidly. John Hunter learned that the Heim Corporation of Fairfield, Connecticut, was producing similar bearings for the US market and he considered that it made sense to join forces with them.

From 1954, Rose began to concentrate exclusively on the development and production of bearings at Saxilby. By the 21st anniversary of the factory in 1965, under general manager J.M. Hartley, the company employed just over 200 people. In terms of output the division had enjoyed considerable success. and annual output had increased fifty-fold. In addition to their own range of designs Rose were commissioned to make and sell Spherical bearings for the Heim Company, USA. By 1968, the factory was more than eight times the size of the original factory.

It is important to describe here exactly which type of bearings were made at Saxilby. They were not the ball or roller bearings used in high speed rotary motions. Rose made spherical bearings and rod ends – used for an entirely different purpose – linkage. In 1970, Rose was selling through eight agents in the UK and three were interviewed by the group newspaper, “Group News”, and made the following comments:

You may not notice them but it is impossible to move far from the influence of Rose bearings. Everywhere you go you will see machines that contain Rose bearings, or objects that were made on machines incorporating them. Every time I fly in a British aircraft I know it contains Rose bearings; if I walk down the street I may see makes of commercial vehicles, excavators or bulldozers, including them. If I visit my son-in-law’s laundry the machinery there includes them; when I switch on a light, I know the bulb was made on a machine including them. Every time I buy anything that is packaged, I know that the packaging machine contains them; if I go to a bowling alley, there are scores of them in the pin setting mechanism”

“There are so many applications for Rose bearings, no-one has any idea where the list will end. Once you have a man convinced of the value of the product, the applications they think of are sometimes amazing. In the same day you can talk to a chicken farmer who wants them to open and close roof vents, a man who needs them for 6d-in-the-slot hobby horses you find in large shops, and an executive at a world famous aircraft factory”.

“They are used by virtually every aircraft maker in Britain. They have been included in satellites and in the rockets that launch them. On the ground, racing cars, railway locomotives and carriages, go-karts, hovercraft, snowploughs, yachts and ships include Rose bearings”.

“They are used in cranes, artificial limbs, office copying machines, shields that protect miners from rockfalls, precision control linkages in atomic power station equipment, shock absorbers, machine tools, printing machines and conveyors. They have been used in shoe, knitting and agricultural machinery, church roofs, bottling plant, diesel engine controls, carpet weaving and net making looms, cash registers and gamma ray units”.

"‘Rose" became a generic term for rod ends and spherical bearings in much the same way as we still clean our carpets with a "Hoover".

1965: Saxilby Machine Shop

The Rose Bearings division and Rose Brothers (Gainsborough) Ltd were merged with Forgrove Machinery Company Ltd to form Rose Forgrove Ltd in January 1967.

Bearings manufacture took place at two locations - Initial machining, automatic work and milling were carried out at the works in Church Road, Skegness after which they were shipped to Saxilby for finishing and assembly and where the administration, drawing office, sales, accounts and purchasing departments were also located. The complexity of the work at Saxilby created many organisational problems, especially in a factory that had grown only a few square feet at a time since 1947.

Some 10,000 bearings, comprising 30,000 components would be passing through the factory at any one time. 80 ranges of bearings were made with up to 20 sizes being offered in each range. Rose Bearings specialised in 'specials' rather than standard, mass produced bearings with 40% of production falling into the 'specials' category.

Bearings were moved backwards and forwards from one process to another, often from one end of the factory to the other. People even joked that the bearings moved further in the factory than they did during delivery to the customer. The Saxilby assembly and finishing cell took all of the components at one end of the assembly line and turned them into packaged bearings ready for despatch at the other. Many of the processes in between, however, were complex and closely guarded secrets.

The company's products were fitted in aircraft – the Hawk trainer used by the Red Arrows, Tri-star, BA 146, the European Airbus, Concorde (both French and British versions) and the SRN Hovercraft - with Rose exhibiting on a regular basis at the Farnborough Air Show, and later at the Paris Air Show; mechanical handling equipment, marine and dockside equipment, electrical switchgear, military vehicles, railway equipment (such as the advanced passenger train) and in racing cars.

The bearings produced at Saxilby were not always small, although most were. In 1967 they produced the largest spherical bearing ever made in Britain. With an eight inch bore, and measuring just over one foot in height by seven inches wide, weighed 120 lbs each, and had a carrying capacity of 350 tone each. Eight of these monsters were used to operate 18 inch bore hydraulic cylinders in a steel mill in Wales.

After producing bearings used in racing cars for many years, Rose Bearings sponsored its own racing driver for the first time in 1970 and a year later had its own Formula 3 racing team for the 1971 season. The driver was James Hunt, who later went on to become the Formula 1 World Champion in 1976. By 1973, Rose was supplying almost 75% of the bearings demand from the motor racing industry. Rose Bearings were also used in Richard Noble's land-speed record car, Thrust 2, in 1983.

James Hunt Richard Noble

The company's largest market was the UK but even so 20% of production was exported – to Australia, South Africa, Holland and Scandinavia – but selling to the USA and Latin America was precluded by the licensing agreement with Heim. Sales were via selling agents situated throughout the UK and overseas. Some of these agents were stockists but the majority of bearings were despatched direct to customers from Saxilby.

1985: Rose Bearings People

1973 was perhaps the best year for Rose Bearings, with a record order intake. During the difficulties of the late seventies and early eighties, the demand for bearings seemed relatively impervious to the effects of the world recession and nationally generated labour disruptions and order levels, particularly for the aircraft industry, held up well.

Rose Bearings usually exhibited at Farnborough Air Show and it was demand from the aircraft industry that, in 1980, made up the shortfall in orders from the commercial side of the business.

In 1984 Rose Bearings was organised as a separate profit centre with its own management team reporting to a general manager, Tony Herod, recruited from outside the business. An intensive programme to increase efficiency was carried out and, in 1985, a new ball grinding cell commissioned and the factory layout changed to improve product flow and throughput. Emphasis was placed on sales of special and aerospace bearings, particularly for the Airbus and BA 146. The next major step was to install a modern computer facility, linked to the Rose Forgrove, Leeds HQ, to computerise production control,, costing, inventory management, order processing and analysis, and purchasing – all aimed at helping to cut down stock and work-in-progress as well as improving delivery performance.

1985: Saxilby Factory

The result was that delivery performance improved, costs were better controlled and there was "another healthy increase in order taking". This improvement in performance continued up until the time of the merger between Baker Perkins and APV in 1987.

Rose Bearings was sold by APV in 1992 to NMB-Minebea and its name changed to NMB-Minebea U.K. Ltd in 2003. The company is still at its original locations in Saxilby and at Church Road, Skegness.


History of Baker Perkins in the Packaging Business
History of Rose Forgrove
History of Rose Brothers (Gainsborough) Ltd
History of Northern Manufacturing Company
History of National Folding Box Company

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