Roger Bisby visits Gledhill in Blackpool and finds products that are British through and through.
Earlier in the year when I fitted an unvented Gledhill horizontal solar cylinder into an eaves cupboard I really had no idea how much design and work went into making that item. In the building industry we fit a lot of products and like it or not you have to trust the process. But for me there is nothing like seeing inside the guts of a product to boost your confidence in it and when that product is made in Britain I also feel that warm glow of partiotic pride even if I had nothing at all to do with the making of the product. Funny that but then I have known the family run business of Gledhill for many years, as have most plumbers of a certain age. Back in the day if you needed a non standard copper cylinder for a pipe for pipe replacement you could give them a sketch with a few dimensions and they would make it almost while you waited. In fact they would sometimes say “Go off and get yourself some breakfast” and provided you didn’t rush they would have the cylinder ready to go when you returned. What surprised me in these days of stainless steel is that Gledhill still has a thriving business making specials. Now of course with emails and instant photographs you can communicate your requirements a lot more easily than turning up with a bit of paper. This business, like their stock cylinders, is channelled exclusively through merchants but plumbers in a hurry still turn up to collect the order.
While the satellite Gledhill branches concentrate on copper, the main factory in Blackpool makes stainless steel cylinders of the vented and unvented variety. Actually the biggest difference between vented and unvented is the kit that comes with it. The stainless steel and the welds for a vented cylinder are identical to an unvented and you get the same 25 year guarantee. In these days of cheap Chinese cylinders I asked what more the Gledhill cylinders offer? I was taken on a tour of the pickling plant. This is where the cylinders are chemically cleaned to make sure that nothing contaminates the welds. This pickling is an essential process if you are to guarantee a leak free life but it costs money and is not done on many cheap imported cylinders.
The welds on the bosses are also state of the art, carried out automatically and unseen by lasers inside a chamber. The coils, however, are configured by hand and secured to frames to stop them rattling. With water being pumped through the corrugations at speed it would be all too easy for a cylinder to rattle if this detail was neglected.
The corrugated stainless coils are easy to wind around by hand but the real reason for using them as opposed to machine bent coils is that they are 20% more efficient than plain tube, partly due to the greater surface area but also to the way the water pulses through the corrugations. I was shown other areas of the factory and not allowed to take photographs. Presumably those Chinese readers of Professional Builder scour our pages looking for trade secrets. They are safe with me, my lips are sealed which, anyone who knows me can testify, is a rare thing. What I will say is that there is a lot more to Gledhill cylinders than meets the eye. They take the quality of their product very seriously and are constantly looking for ways of improving it, and I am pleased to say they have expanded the operation in recent years, acquiring land and building a new production area. It is still owned by the Gledhill family and they are very much hands on. I had a good chat about plumbing and heating and was surprised by how much knowledge they have built up on everything from solid fuel to solar. You might think that is a given but it is by no means universal with manufacturers of plumbing products, sometimes they know very little of the world outside their factory gates and care even less. So discovering people who have a passion for their products is reassuring and made visiting their Blackpool factory a real pleasure.