Portrait by Inès Elsa Dalal
E L Chaplain & Co. started as a company specialising in electroplating, gilding and polishing. The family-owned business passed skills from generation to generation as they began silver and gold plating sought-after items such as watch bracelets, medals, bathroom fittings and car badges.
Kenneth Chaplain has a deep family connection to the Jewellery Quarter. In addition to being born in the Jewellery Quarter and surviving the German bombing raids as a child during the Second World War, both his grandparents and parents worked in the area as polishers and metal finishers. After leaving school, Kenneth became an apprentice tool-setter with Newly Bros. and made bicycles. After doing his national service for 2 years with The Royal and Mechanical Engineers, he worked at Phillips Cycles in Smethwick for a short time, and then went on to join his parents in silver polishing. His parents then began silver plating and gold gilding, working as sub-contractors for E J Clewley and Co. Originally in Hylton Street, they eventually took premises in Frederick Street and opened E L Chaplain & Co. as a retail business, selling large amounts of jewellery for catalogue sales. When his father retired, Kenneth took over the family business and then passed it onto his sons, Martin and Grant.
– Kenneth Chaplain
We did all kinds of works. I remember my father having a contract to polish the Ford Zephyr badges, it was actually thousands and thousands we did. It was a very popular car the Zephyr was. We also had a contract for polishing an item called a gripper, which was used in the Kidderminster carpet industry. We used to do thousands and thousands of those as well.
Listen to Kenneth
Kenneth talk about the risks involved in his work and changes in health and safety