JJ Smith's centenary – a history of innovation

The Smith family originated from Crosby, near Maryport in Cumbria. Jack Smith was a farm manager, and later moved the family to Blacon, near Chester, to manage a stud farm, which bred the famous Clydesdale horses. Three of his four sons – William, Percy and Tom – remained in Cumbria and served their apprenticeships at the locomotive works in Maryport. The other son, John James, went off to the United States.

JJ Smith & Co. (Engineers) Ltd

When John James returned from the USA following the end of World War I, he had the idea of setting up an engineering firm in Liverpool; this came to fruition in 1923, as he and William established JJ Smith & Co. (Engineers) Ltd. The factory was located on Marlborough Street in Liverpool City Centre, and Tom and Percy eventually joined them.


JJ Smith & Co. (Engineers) Ltd's original Marlborough Street factory, located in Liverpool City Centre

In the 1930s, having taken over two small engineering businesses that manufactured saw benches and sanders, the company began specialising in woodworking machinery.

Melling factory

When the factory was destroyed during the Liverpool Blitz of 1940, John James and his brothers secured a six-acre plot of land in Melling, Merseyside, on which they planned to build a factory. At the time, this area was open countryside, but would later become a mix of industry and housing.

During the global conflict of World War II, the company turned over production to aircraft parts, which called for precision engineering. Propeller nuts for the famous de Havilland Mosquito – one of Britain’s fastest wartime planes – were manufactured by Smith’s, who also produced merchant ship radar huts for the Admiralty.

The Smith range

Once the Second World War was over, it was business as usual, and the next phase saw the company start to produce the famous Smith range of planers, mortisers, saws, sanders and spindle moulders, with the machine bases manufactured in their own iron foundry. This range was sold extensively in the UK as well as internationally. During this period, second-generation Smith family members joined the business: John Bruce – John James’ son; and Colin/John – William’s sons.


A 1953 brochure for a Smith electric chain and hollow chisel mortiser

In the late ’50s, the company began to renovate and sell second-hand woodworking machinery and employed a workforce of over 100. With such huge demand, JJ Smith decided to devote full-time operation to this side of the business and eventually phased out the Smith range, which had previously been so successful.

A pioneer of woodworking machinery imports

With the arrival of the ’60s came the exponential increase in second-hand machinery sales, with many being exported worldwide. During the same period, the decision was made to start selling new machinery – manufactured by Wadkin, Robinson and Cooksley – which resulted in a new showroom being built to house and demonstrate this important range.

In the early ’70s, JJ Smith was recognised as one of the pioneers behind the importation of woodworking machinery manufactured in Germany, Italy, USA and Japan.

During the late ’60s and early ’70s, two further second-generation family members – Tom’s daughters, Joan Jones and Kathleen Stanley – also joined the company.

Further expansion & a UK first

Between 1976 and 1983, third-generation Smith family members came on board: John and Guy Stanley – Tom’s grandsons; Cathy Bell – Tom’s granddaughter; Martin Smith – John James’ grandson; and Jane Reid – William’s granddaughter. Second-generation Smith, Shirley Armstrong – William’s daughter – also joined and was tasked with looking after sales of tools and spare parts.


The Melling factory and offices circa 1970

The 1980s also saw the opening of another new warehouse in Melling along with a new showroom and office situated near Heathrow Airport.

During the ’90s, Smith’s went on to consolidate their position as one of the leading importers of machinery, and supplied the first CNC controlled copy lathe onto the UK market. They also introduced the first fully automatic crosscut to the UK, which still remains one of the top selling machines some 30 years later.

The arrival of 2000 marked the sale of the Melling site for housing development, and the subsequent move to a new – and still current – 3,750m2 factory, showroom and offices in Knowsley, North Liverpool.

Fourth-generation & an important joint venture

In 2003, Ian Stanley – the first of the Smith family’s fourth-generation – began his career within the business, and the following decade saw the company enter into an Anglo/Dutch joint venture for the worldwide manufacture and distribution of a range of equipment for timber-frame house production. Importation of more specialised CNC machines for furniture parts, sofas and joinery was added and still remains an important part of the company’s sales portfolio today.

Between 2013–2015, fourth-generation family members – Rachael Baker, Michael Stanley and Adrian Smith – also joined this successful company.


JJ Smith's existing Knowsley showroom houses an extensive range of new and used equipment from the world's leading manufacturers

Knowsley Small Business Of The Year Award & 100-year anniversary

In 2022, JJ Smith was awarded the prestigious Knowsley Small Business Of The Year Award, which recognised the company’s ongoing commitment to hiring apprentices from the local community, as well as the pioneering design of machinery for the ever-growing offsite construction industry.

To reach this 100-year anniversary is a true milestone for JJ Smith, and one which both the directors and shareholders are justifiably very proud of. This has only been made possible due to the hard work and dedication of every single employee over the last century, not to mention the support of continental manufacturing partners, many of which JJ Smith has been working with for over 30 years.

For further information on JJ Smith, call 0151 548 9000, email [email protected], or visit www.jjsmith.co.uk.

JJ Smith & Co (Woodworking Machinery) Ltd
Moorgate Point, Moorgate Road, Knowsley Industrial Park
Kirkby, Liverpoo
L33 7DR
0151 548 9000