Young's Rapidex reel

J.W. Young & Co.

Young's Ambidex No 2 reelThis famous British family business was probably founded in 1894, although it is possible that they were making tackle on a small scale ten years before that. The reason for the uncertainty is that for most of the firm’s history, its products were sold wholesale, being retailed initially by Allcocks, but also by a long list of other companies, the list including Albert Smith, Arjon, Carl Goluch, Daiwa, Farlow, Garcia, Hardy, Milward, Peek, Eaton & Deller, Ogden Smith, Hamlin, Herters, Sealey, Shakespeare and Orvis. This means that a particular Young’s reel was often known by different names depending on who was retailing it, adding extra interest to collecting them, since the same reel can be often found with vastly different colour schemes and finishes. It seems that all the work J.W. Young did in the early years was on Allcock’s behalf, but as the economic situation improved after the First World War, the firm became more adventurous and built what became known as the ‘Mayfield Works’ on the site of an old apple orchard in Redditch, the town at the heart of the British tackle trade. By 1925, Youngs were making five different reels, none of which bore their name, because they were all sold by other companies, a situation which continued right up to the Second World War, at which point the factory switched its output over to making parts for aircraft instruments and, interestingly enough, the brass surround for the Spitfire gun firing button.

The family threw themselves back into the tackle business in 1946, but with a considerable change in direction - whereas once they had been happy for the Youngs name to remain in the background, it was given a much higher profile post-war. This was the first time many anglers realised how dominant Youngs had become in the reel market and it marks the period when Youngs began to decide what their reels should be called instead of their competitors; so it is from this moment that their reels become really collectible. The four main lines the firm produced were the Beaudex and Pridex fly reels; the Rapidex centrepin; and the Ambidex, although new reels were added to the range, including a multiplier, as the years rolled past. By 1959, the company was undisputed king of mass market British reel manufacturing and very few post-war anglers in Britain have not owned a Youngs reel at one time or another.

Young's Beaudex reelThe sixties were a tough time for the British tackle industry, which was facing increasing competition from overseas and had failed to retool and redesign its products so that it could compete. Youngs was no exception to this, the Ambidex, for example, having been given little more than cosmetic updates since it grown a full bale arm. The unstoppable rise of Mitchell and far Eastern imports led to a merger with Allcocks in late 1963, inevitably the Youngs name was submerged in this venture, although the famous lines of reels continued to be made. By 1965, a further merger had taken place, to form a conglomerate called Top Tackle, but this was a very short lived venture, which was promptly taken over by Shakespeare.

In 1966 Jim Young was instrumental in introducing a magnesium alloy multiplying fly reel which was later called the Fish Hawk, and other ‘Young’ lines were designed, including the Beaulite, the Condex, the Speedex. and three reels marketed by Orvis and known as the Battenkill Ultra-light’ range. Jim was happier with the idea of working as a subcontractor, so in early 1970, he and Roger Bayliss formed the Swift Manufacturing Company, which built reels exclusively for Shakespeare; this situation continued until they discovered the J.W. Young & Sons company name was still available in 1983. Their recreation of a reel making business under this name explains why J.W. Young are still trading today and make - needless to say - one of the best lines of modern centrepins available, a real classic, the Purist.

In 2001 Masterline International, now known as Masterline Walker acquired J W Young. Under the new arrangement Jim set up his own workshop, Concept Engineering where he continued to make the components for the centrepin reels which are now assembled in the Masterline works in Tewkesbury with final inspection being undertaken in person by Jim. In 2010 Jim sold out Concept Engineering to his former employee, Garry Mills who still supplies the bulk of the components to Masterline. Although officially retired Jim still retains his consultant role to Masterline and personally inspects the production up in Tewkesbury.

JW Youngs bookIf you would like to read more, try Elwyn Attwood's J.W. Young and Son, published by the Medlar Press. This comprehensive history of the company covers the many reels that Young's made in great detail, as well as providing a tremendous amount of background on this great, but elusive manufacturer of British fishing tackle. Everything is there, from the early days when J.W. Young operated as a satellite of Allcock's, to the final days of the old company before it disappeared into the short-lived Top Tackle venture.

Visit the modern J.W. Young and Sons website here.