GKN plc is a British multinational automotive and aerospace components company headquartered in Redditch, Worcestershire. The company was formerly known as Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds and can trace its origins to 1759 and the birth of the Industrial Revolution.

GKN plc
Public limited company
Founded1759 (1759)
(Dowlais, Wales)
HeadquartersRedditch, WorcestershireEngland
Key people
Michael Turner, CBE
Nigel Stein
ProductsVehicle and aircraft components
Revenue£9,671 million (2017)[1]
£699 million (2017)[1]
£509 million (2017)[1]
OwnerMelrose Industries
Number of employees
58,000 (2017)[2]
DivisionsGKN Driveline, GKN Aerospace, GKN Land Systems, GKN Powder Metallurgy


1759 to 1900

The origins of GKN lie in the founding of the Dowlais Ironworks in the village of Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, by Thomas Lewis and Isaac Wilkinson. John Guest was appointed manager of the works in 1767, having moved from Broseley.[3] In 1786 Guest was succeeded by his son, Thomas Guest, who formed the Dowlais Iron Company with his son-in-law William Taitt. Guest introduced many innovations and the works prospered.[4]

Under Guest's leadership, alongside his manager John Evans, and after his death in 1852 that of his wife Lady Charlotte Guest,[5] the Dowlais Ironworks gained the reputation of being "one of the World's great industrial concerns".[6] Though the Bessemer process was licensed in 1856, nine years of detailed planning and project management were needed before the first steel was produced. The company thrived with its new cost-effective production methods, forming alliances with the Consett Iron Company and Krupp.[6] By 1857 G.T. Clark and William Menelaus, his manager, had constructed the "Goat Mill", the world's most powerful rolling mill.[7]

By the mid-1860s, Clark's reforms had borne fruit in renewed profitability. Clark delegated day-to-day management to Menelaus, his trusteeship terminating in 1864 when ownership passed to Sir Ivor Guest. Clark continued to direct policy, building a new plant at the docks at Cardiff and vetoing a joint-stock company. He formally retired in 1897.[6]

1900 to 1966

On 9 July 1900, the Dowlais Iron Company and Arthur Keen's Patent Nut and Bolt Company merged to form Guest, Keen & Co. Ltd.[8]

Nettlefolds Limited, a leading manufacturer of fasteners, established in Smethwick, West Midlands in 1854, was acquired in 1902 leading to the change of name to Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds – (GKN).[8][9]

In 1920 John Lysaght and Co. was acquired.[10]

Guest Keen Baldwins

Steel production remained at the core of the company, but under increasing profit margin pressure. In 1930 the company combined its steel production business with that of rival Baldwins to form Guest Keen Baldwins, which now held:[11]

  • Baldwins: Coke ovens at Margam; Blast-furnaces and steel melting shop at Margam; steel works and rolling mills at Port Talbot; blast-furnaces at Briton Ferry; lime stone quarry at Cornelly
  • GKN: Dowlais Iron and Steel Works; Cardiff Iron and Steel Works; coke ovens at Cwmbran; limestone and silica quarries

In 1935 the company demolished the Cardiff works to construct a new production facility on the same site, funded by an issue of debentures.[12] Due to a resultant global shortage of pig iron, in 1937 the company fired-up the single remaining blast furnace at Dowlais.[13]

All of the sites were heavily bombed by the Nazi Luftwaffe during the war, and the required investment meant that all of these assets were nationalised as part of the 1951 Iron and Steel Act, resultantly becoming part of the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain.[14]

GKN were still highly reliant on the supply of good quality steel, so in 1954 negotiated from the asset realisation company the repurchase of key assets from ISC, which were renamed Guest Keen Iron and Steel Co. In 1961 the company's name changed again to GKN Steel Company.[15]


These mergers heralded half a century in which GKN became a major manufacturer of screws, nuts, bolts and other fasteners. The company reflected the vertical integration fashionable at the time embracing activities from coal and ore extraction, and iron and steel making to manufacturing finished goods.[16]


After the First World War it became apparent that Britain was likely to follow France and more recently the United States in developing a large scale auto-industry.[17] GKN acquired another fastener manufacturer, F. W. Cotterill Ltd., in 1919. Cotterill owned a subsidiary named J. W. Garrington, which specialised in forgings. The forgings produced at the Garrington Darlaston plant, later supplemented by a large plant at Bromsgrove, enabled GKN to become a major supplier of crankshafts, connecting rods, half-shafts and numerous smaller forged components to the UK auto-industry during and beyond the period of massive expansion between the two world wars.[17]

Pressed steel wheels

In 1920, GKN purchased steel company John Lysaght and their subsidiary, Joseph Sankey and Sons Ltd.[17] After training as an engineer, Sankey founded a major tea tray producer. A pioneer motorist, he became friends with Herbert Austin, becoming a supplier of sheet steel components to the industry.[17] By 1914, the company's customers for sheet steel bodies included Austin, Daimler, Humber, Rover, Star and Argyll.[17]

Due to complaints from motor manufacturers about the propensity of the then-wooden wheels on early cars to disintegrate on the slightest encounter with any roadside kerb,[17] using his experience from tea trays Sankey developed an alternate pressed-steel wheel.[17] Production started in 1908, with customers including Herbert Austin and, later, William Morris.[17] In addition to his original factory at Bilston a new plant was established near Wellington, Shropshire, which was devoted to wheel production.[17]

By the time the business was acquired by GKN, the plant was supplying wheels to many UK manufacturers. By 1969 the highly automated Wellington plant was producing over 5½ million wheels a year at a maximum rate of approximately 30,000 per day.[17] The business also undertook other automotive related works, including supplying the chassis for the Triumph Herald and its derivatives.[17] They were also at this time building the versatile GKN developed GKN FV432 armoured personnel carrier.[17]

Nationalisation of Steel

The postwar government nationalised the steel industry under Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain. The act of parliament of 1949 took effect in February 1951.[18]

In 1951, a new subsidiary Blade Research & Development (BRD) was formed at Aldridge, Staffordshire, to produce aero-engine turbine blades. Following a fall in demand for turbine blades in the late 1950s, the BRD factory switched to producing constant-velocity joints and driveshafts for vehicles.[19]

In 1953 Britain's steel industry was de-nationalised by a new government but that lasted only 14 years.[20]

1966 to 1991

At the end of April 1965, the recently elected Labour government published a White Paper proposing the nationalisation of 90 per cent, by output, of Britain's steel industry.[21] GKN Steel was transferred to public ownership at the end of July 1967.[22]


Beginning a programme of diversification into the automotive field in 1966 GKN bought BRD's much larger competitor, Birfield Ltd,[23][24] which held the great bulk of the British market for CVJs, constant velocity joints, and was a company that since 1938 had incorporated both the Sheffield based Laycock Engineering later best known as a postwar overdrive manufacturer, and Hardy Spicer Limited of Birmingham, England, also a manufacturer of constant-velocity joints.[17] Historically, such joints had few applications, even following the improved design proposed by Alfred H. Rzeppa in 1936. However, in 1959, Alec Issigonis had developed the revolutionary Mini motor car that relied on the Hardy Spicer joints for its front wheel drive technology. The massive expansion in the exploitation of front wheel drive in the 1970s and 1980s led to the acquisition of other similar businesses and a 43% share of the world market by 2002.[8]

On the death of founder Tony Vandervell in 1967, GKN acquired the lucrative Maidenhead-based Vandervell bearing manufacturer that was at the time exporting more than 50% of its output to overseas vehicle manufacturers.[17] This was part of a larger trend for GKN that during this period, under its Managing Director Raymond Brookes, was working to reduce its dependence on UK auto-maker customers at a time when the domestic industry was seen to be stumbling, in response to bewildering "Government interference and fiscal short-sightedness", with British new car registrations in the first four months of 1969 a massive 33% down on the corresponding period of the previous year.[17]

As a result of the large number of mergers, Abram Games was commissioned to develop a new corporate identity in 1969 when the distinctive angular GKN symbol was created and the new company colours of blue and white introduced.[25] In 1974, GKN acquired Kirkstall Forge Engineering, a manufacturer of truck axles in Leeds.[26]

GKN Steel

By 1968, GKN Steel had recreated its downline business, and started to build its upline business through aggressive building of a steel stockholding business. In 1972 it acquired Firth Cleveland, a hot and cold rolled strip business with a downline in sintered products, reinforcement steels, wire fasteners and garage equipment. In 1973 it exchanged the remaining assets at Dowlais along with £30 million in cash to the nationalised British Steel Corporation,[27] in return for the previously nationalised Brymbo Steelworks.[28] After acquiring steel stockholding competitor Miles Druce and Co, by 1974 the company had created a full integrated steel production and manufacturing business.[29]

By the late 1980s, with extensive Japanese competition in the axle and constant velocity joint business, the company started selling off its steel and fasteners businesses. By 1991, it had disposed of all of the assets within these two business lines. This included the closure of its Bilston factory in the West Midlands in 1989. The factory buildings were demolished soon after. The offices (built in the late 1950s) were not demolished until 1995.[30]


Having disposed of its steel production asset, in 1986 the company renamed itself GKN, and focused on military vehicles, aerospace and industrial services.[31] In 1994 it acquired the helicopter manufacturing business of Westland Aircraft.[8]

In November 1995 associate Dana Corporation bought GKN's axle group. At that time GKN held 34% of the world market for constant velocity joints.[32] At the same time GKN took larger shares of its other driveline joint ventures with Dana in Brazil, Argentina and Colombia.[33] From the late 1990s, the company built a major global business in powder metallurgy, which operates as the GKN Powdered Metallurgy group.[8]

In 1998 the armoured vehicle business was sold to Alvis plc,[8] and subsequently incorporated into Alvis Vickers Ltd. In July 2000 Finmeccanica and GKN agreed to merge their respective helicopter subsidiaries to form AgustaWestland.[8] In 2004 GKN completed the sale of its 50% shareholding in AgustaWestland to Finmeccanica.[8]

In 2002 GKN acquired a significant stake in – and by 2004 took over the whole concern of – the Japanese manufacturer of differentials and driveline torque systems Tochigi Fuji Sangyo K.K, based in Tochigi, Tochigi.[34] GKN went on to acquire Monitor Aerospace Corp in Amityville, New York and Precision Machining in Wellington, Kansas in 2006,[35] part of the Airbus plant at Filton near Bristol for £150 million in 2008[36] and all of Getrag's axle business and axle manufacturing facilities in 2011.[37]

In 2011 GKN Aerospace Engineering services division was acquired by QuestGlobal.[38]

In July 2012 GKN agreed to acquire the Swedish aerospace components manufacturer Volvo Aero from AB Volvo for £633 million (US$986 million).[39][40] Following Kevin Smith's retirement at the end of 2011, Nigel Stein took over as Chief Executive on 1 January 2012.[41]

In 2015 GKN acquired Dutch aerospace company Fokker Technologies, headquartered in Papendrecht, the Netherlands.[42]

Melrose Industries bid £8.1 billion for the company in March 2018.[43][44][45] The UK Government allowed the transaction to proceed, having reviewed objections by GKN workers and unions,[46] and after Melrose agreed national security measures.[47]


The company is organised as follows:[2]

  • GKN Aerospace[48]
    • Aerostructures
    • Engine Products
    • Propulsion Systems
  • GKN Driveline
    • Driveshafts
    • Freight Services
    • Autostructures
    • Cylinder liners, Sheepbridge Stokes
  • GKN Land Systems
    • Power Management
    • PowerTrain Systems & Services
    • Wheels and Structures
    • Stromag
  • GKN Powder Metallurgy
    • Sinter Metals
    • Hoeganaes


  1. "Preliminary Results 2017" (PDF). GKN. Retrieved 9 March 2018.
  2. "About us". gkn.com. Archived from the original on 6 December 2016. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  3. Owen (1977) Page 13
  4. Owen (1977) Pages 15–16
  5. "History, section "Lady Charlotte Guest: a pioneering woman"". GKN Aerospace. Archived from the original on 29 May 2018.
  6. James (2004)
  7. Owen (1977) Pages 57–58
  8. "GKN 250 Home – GKN PLC". gkn.com. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  9. Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds Flight Global
  10. Colin Mayer (14 February 2013). Firm Commitment: Why the corporation is failing us and how to restore trust in it. Oxford University Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-19-165025-3.
  11. The Times, 5 April 1930
  12. The Times, 22 May 1935
  13. The Times, 16 March 1937
  14. Hansard, 19 February 1951
  15. The Times, 19 August 1960
  16. "GKN Fasteners". Grace's Guide. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  17. "Making the most of it Or – are you driving a GKN?". Motor. 10 May 1969. pp. 58–60.
  18. "Records of the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain, the Iron and Steel Board, and related bodies". National Archives. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  19. "Lord Brookes". The Telegraph. 6 August 2002. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  20. "Steel in the UK: a timeline of decline". The Guardian. 30 March 2016. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  21. 90% Of Steel Output in State Plan. The Times, Saturday, 1 May 1965; pg. 10; Issue 56310
  22. Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds, Ltd. The Times Wednesday, 10 April 1968; pg. 24; Issue 57223
  23. International Sense Behind £22M. Birfield Bid. The Times, Friday, 10 June 1966; pg. 19; Issue 56654
  24. Birfield Accept. The Times, Friday, 5 August 1966; pg. 17; Issue 56702
  25. Design 1969, issue 243 page 82. None. Retrieved on 17 August 2011.
  26. "Kirkstall Forge Engineering". gracesguide.co.uk. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  27. O‘Donoghue, J.; et al. (2004). "Consumer Price Inflation since 1750". Economic Trends. 604: 38–46, March.
  28. The Times Wednesday 8 August 1973, 17, col.A
  29. "Miles, Druce & Co". Grace's Guide. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  30. "Bilston's Changing Landscape – post 1979". 20 April 2006. Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  31. "ST share index line: where they are now". Retrieved 7 April 2017.
  32. GKN. The Times, Thursday, 2 November 1995; pg. 28; Issue 65414
  33. GKN sells axles division for £73m. The Times, Thursday, 2 November 1995; pg. 31; Issue 65414.
  34. "GKN Acquires Stake in Tochigi Fuji Sangyo (TFS) of Japan; Together, GKN and TFS will be world's largest independent suppliers of advanced torque management devices". thefreelibrary.com. Retrieved 15 March 2015.
  35. GKN Buys Stellex to Position Itself in Titanium. Defenseindustrydaily.com (7 August 2006). Retrieved on 17 August 2011.
  36. GKN to buy Airbus Plant for £150m. Thisismoney.co.uk (10 August 2008). Retrieved on 17 August 2011.
  37. "GKN to acquire Getrag's Driveline Products Business". 28 July 2011. Archived from the original on 17 September 2011. Retrieved 30 July 2011.
  38. "QuEST acquires GKN Aerospace's engineering division". The Times of India. 2 December 2011.
  39. "GKN agrees to buy Volvo's aero engines division". BBC News. 5 July 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  40. Ruddick, Graham (5 July 2012). "GKN buys Volvo Aero for £633m". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  41. "GKN plc Chief Executive". GKN. 24 March 2011. Archived from the original on 24 May 2013. Retrieved 18 November 2012.
  42. "GKN completes acquisition of Fokker Technologies". Fokker. 28 October 2015. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  43. Michael Gubisch (29 March 2018). "Melrose wins shareholder support for GKN takeover". Flightglobal.
  44. Robert Wall (29 March 2018). "Melrose Industries Wins Bruising Takeover Battle for Britain's GKN". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  45. Phil Serafino, Benjamin D Katz (17 January 2018). "Melrose Makes $10.2 Billion Hostile Offer to Acquire GKN". Bloomberg. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  46. "GKN takeover concerns to be assessed by government". BBC. 30 March 2018. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  47. "GKN takeover given green light". Reuters. 24 April 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  48. GKN Aerospace capabilities and products. Gknaerospace.com. Retrieved on 17 August 2011.


  • Elsas, M. (1960). Iron in the Making. Dowlais Iron Company Letters 1782–1860. Glamorgan: County Records Committee.
  • James, B. Ll. (2004) "Clark, George Thomas (1809–1898)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, accessed 21 August 2007 (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  • Jones, E (1987). A History of GKN Volume 1: Innovation and Enterprise 1759–1918. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-34594-0.
  • — (1990). A History of GKN Volume 2: The Growth of a Business 1918–45. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-44578-3.
  • Owen, J. A. (1977). The History of the Dowlais Iron Works 1759–1970. Newport, Monmouthshire: Starling Press. ISBN 0-903434-27-X.
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