The Betts name has been
inextricably linked with precious
metals for over a quarter of a
Millenium and the family business
is the oldest surviving precious
metal refining and dealing business
in the UK.
1760 saw the dawn of the industrial revolution in
England and the ascension of King George III to
the throne. Alexander Betts came from Battle in
Sussex to the village of Birmingham to set up a
smelting and refining business to recover gold
and silver ores and recover precious metals from wastes being produced in Birmingham’s
newly established Jewellery Quarter.
The business was known as Betts and Sons. Birmingham’s growth as a great industrial
city can be traced from this time, with many entrepreneurs coming to the city to start up businesses based on newly available technologies, energy and an efficient transport infrastructure. Many new industries were born in Birmingham in the late 18th century, including the first cotton mill in 1771. In 1791, Arthur Young described Birmingham as
“the first manufacturing town in the world”.
Alexander Betts died in 1781 and his son Edward carried on
the business until his death in 1817. His sons John and William
continued the family business which expanded and prospered
for the next century as Birmingham grew to be known as the
“workshop to the world”. John led the business until the late
1840’s and died in 1864 at the age of ninety. He was an
energetic man and was one of the first sixteen elected
aldermen of the first council of the city of Birmingham
on its incorporation as a city in 1838.
During the mid 19th Century the family became involved in
exploration and trading overseas, notably Australia, where
some family members emigrated to New South Wales and
were involved in expanding the geological knowledge that led
to the initial gold discoveries in Australia in 1851. There are
records of many consignments of ores and concentrators
shipped from Australia to Birmingham for smelting at the Betts
factory. This family trait for exploration and innovation which
is present in the projects on-going today was evident from
this early stage.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected president of America in 1860,
the company reached 100 years of profitable business, and in the
late 19th century the company continued to expand at its works in
Charlotte Street, Birmingham and 131 Long Acre in London. In 1874
Alfred and his brother John Betts bought the adjacent land to Charlotte
Street on the corner with Newhall Street for £2050 (approximately
£2.5m in today’s terms) in order to expand the works. Unfortunately,
due to a corrupt lawyer the brothers were left without the land or the
money. Subsequently the Birmingham Assay Office was built on the site.
The first part of the 20th century saw expansion to additional
premises in Vittoria Street in Birmingham, but also saw hard times
for the business until after the First World War. The factory was,
however, prevented from closing due to its contribution to the war
effort through the use of its furnaces and services. During this time
silver ceased briefly to be quoted as having any value.
After the end of the First World War a longer period of stability
ensued for the business, and by the time President Kennedy was
assassinated in Dallas in 1963, the business had been trading for
over 200 years. In addition to recovering wastes from the jewellery
trade the company recovered precious metals from potteries,
mirror manufacturers, photographic & plating industries, and
actively traded the recovered metals on the precious metal markets.
The direct line of descendants has sometimes hung by a thread
and this is particularly true during the Second World War. John
Francis Betts was a captain when he was shot and reported
missing in action, presumed dead, after being surrounded
and cut off by Germans whilst fighting to defend the retreat
from Dunkirk (for which he receive a M.C.). He was eventually
discovered in a hospital in Belgium where he recovered from
a bullet wound which went straight through his mouth.
An inch higher and the Betts line would have died out.
John Francis Betts had two sons and despite many difficulties
during the 1970s, including the theft of over £1 million of silver,
the company survived and continued under Stephen. Charles
Betts, Stephen’s youngest son, is the current Group Managing
Director, representing the ninth consecutive generation of the
Betts family to manage the business.
The current Group is a relatively diverse range of businesses engaged in activities from dental alloy manufacture to gold exploration and from investment metal trading to wedding ring design. However, the Group’s core ethos of integrity and quality service, and its focus
on precious metal expertise have remained its cornerstones since 1760.