Hill and Smith: 200 years of engineering history

21/02/2024

Hill & Smith PLC celebrates its 200th anniversary this year - a huge landmark for perhaps the most historic and certainly one of the most important companies in the highways sector.

Providing everything from temporary and permanent road safety barriers, renewable energy lighting and power solutions, Intelligent Traffic Solutions, street lighting columns and bridge parapets, the company has earned a storied place not just in the history of highways but at the heart of British engineering.

Foundations in the past

Dating back to 1824 in the West Midlands Black Country, the company was originally known as Hill’s Ironworks, before a partnership between Edward Hill and Henry Smith saw the company evolve into Hill & Smith in 1853.

Over the years, it has played its part in history - including supplying miles of fencing for Queen Victoria’s estate and working on iconic structures like the Sydney Harbour Bridge - and naturally has had to adapt to it, for instance during the world wars when it offered more bespoke engineering services. 

Picture:The 1960s Hill & Smith factory

A watershed moment came in 1922, when it turned its attention to steel railings and bridges, starting a move towards public safety and security work, which continues to this day.

In 1969, it was listed on the London Stock Exchange, and in the 1970s it developed a new line of work manufacturing crash barriers for the Department of Transport. These were the first UK-tested restraint systems on the market and were built in Hill and Smith's own galvanising plant.

The modern era for the company truly began in 1986 when H&S Holdings was created to support expansion - that trading name has now become Hill & Smith PLC.

A modern division

Finally, Hill & Smith Infrastructure was created in 2022. Forged (pun intended) from the combination of Hill & Smith Barriers - the founding company and still based in the West Midlands - with Asset VRS, Hardstaff Barriers, and Varley and Gulliver. These four leading road safety companies now represent a leading road and security division:

  • Asset VRS: Supplies a comprehensive range of temporary and permanent vehicle restraint systems (VRS) and hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM) products and services most recently on the M40/M42 upgrade.
  • Hardstaff Barriers: Delivers the National Barrier Asset (NBA) for high profile events such as the Commonwealth Games, and the King’s coronation, and also offers, zonal protection and delineation solutions, and temporary and permanent safety barrier installations.
  • Hill & Smith Barriers: Pioneers in vehicle restraint systems, with decades of being a VRS supplier to National Highways and road authorities worldwide, Hill & Smith Barriers provides highway safety solutions around the world from the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme and the Saudi/Yemen border road.
  • Varley & Gulliver: Experts in metal fabrication since the 1920s, Varley & Gulliver leads in designing, installing and maintaining bridge parapets, pedestrian barriers and bespoke solutions. Its international reach stretches from installations on the Erskine Bridge in Scotland to the Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi.

Visions for the future

Hill and Smith has pledged to achieve net zero across our operations by 2040 and recently launched a range of low-carbon products, with both materials and processes stepping with light carbon footprints.

'Combining our past and present, Hill & Smith Infrastructure is not just a company – it’s a legacy in motion, ' the team says.

Its latest investment in a £750,000 Vernet machine, and a recent move of its West Bromwich factory into the existing Bilston site to optimise space and reduce carbon emissions, show it is still restless to make new history. 

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