1825 – In 1825, Henry Thomas Norman (1812 -1882) set up a general plumbing and glazing business in a small cottage at 19-27 Freeschool Lane, Leicester.
Some years later, he was joined in partnership by his nephew John Underwood (1833 – 1901).
Together, they grew the firm substantially, developing a merchant business for glass and plumbing materials and investing in processing plant for making mirrors, glass tabletops and shelves, leaded lights and stained glass windows. They also began to cast lead sheet using traditional sand casting techniques.
In 1866, the company received its largest individual order for glazing when it was commissioned to glaze the roof at the new St. Pancras railway station in London.
1890 – By the 1890s, John Underwood had become a very well known figure in local business and politics, serving as Mayor of Leicester in 1892.
1900 – At the turn of the century, the business passed into the hands of two of John’s sons – Alfred (1868-1932) and Edwin Underwood (1874-1955). Alfred developed the glass merchant side into a prosperous trade while Edwin built up the plumbing and lead casting business. The firm grew rapidly and the brothers had to extend their premises.
In 1929, Norman & Underwood became a Limited Company under Edwin’s chairmanship and trade continued to flourish. Alfred’s two sons Norman (1896-1949) and Reg (1906-1949) were appointed directors in the same year, followed by Edwin’s son Linley (1910-1967) in 1935.
Although business was more difficult during the war years, the company won large contracts for special lead castings used in aircraft radar systems.
1949 – Tragedy struck the firm in 1949 when Norman and Reg died within three months of each other and Edwin was taken seriously ill. Despite his illness, Edwin continued to play an active role in the business.
Norman’s son Michael (b 1929), the current Chairman, joined the business in 1950 as an apprentice, spending nine months in training with Pilkington Glass.
In 1953, the company won one of its most prestigious contracts with an order to re-cast and re-lay the lead work on the roofs of Westminster Abbey, just a few months before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Linley Underwood took over as managing director in 1955 on the death of his father. He led the company to another historic contract win, with the commission to re-cast and re-lay the lead on the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. The sheets of lead were so large that a new casting table had to be made specifically for this project.
1967 – When Edwin died in 1967, the role of managing director passed outside the family for the first time. However, Frank Bryant, and his successor Edgar Mason in 1969, both completed more than 50 years’ service with the firm. Michael Underwood and John Castleman (1927-1997), another of Alfred’s grandsons, were appointed as family directors.
In the 1970s, the company carried out the very first installation of a stainless steel church roof. With help and advice from Norman & Underwood’s roofing department, a Sheffield company developed a stainless steel roofing sheet with a very thin layer of lead/tin which, once weathered, gave the appearance of lead.
1975 – The business returned to family management in 1975, when Roger Castleman (1931-2004) joined the company as Chairman and Managing Director. He became the most successful MD in the firm’s history, seeing it grow tremendously.
In Leicester, the glass warehouse was rebuilt, the paint division relocated to bigger premises and a prestige plumbing and kitchen showroom opened. New glazing businesses were established in Kings Lynn, Cirencester, Corby and a leaded lights business acquired in Leeds. Unfortunately, as economic and trading conditions have deteriorated, many of these developments have subsequently had to close or have been sold.
In 1982, Roger brought his son Jonathan (b 1966) into the firm as an apprentice plumber so that he could learn the traditional craft skills. By 1994 Jon had worked his way up to manage the most prestigious contract on one of the world’s finest buildings – the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
2000 – In 2003, negotiations began for the sale of the 2.5 acre site at Freeschool Lane which had been home to Norman & Underwood for almost 180 years. Although unwilling to move, the risk of a compulsory purchase order being imposed meant a deal had to be done. In 2004, the company and its 110 employees moved to Scudamore Road.
Michael Underwood became Group Chairman in 2004, with Dr Jonathan Castleman DSc appointed Group Managing Director in 2006. Despite going through the sixth – and probably the worst – recession in its history, the company has continued to develop. Norman & Underwood Conservation Ltd was formed in 2009, building on the Group’s traditional craft skills, and the firm became the saving partner in the 200 year old Taylor Bell Foundry in 2010.
2011 – Norman & Underwood continues to win contracts for some of the UK’s and the world’s most important buildings, including Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace and Salisbury Cathedral, as well innovative new developments.
Today, the Group employs 95 people and is the oldest independent family company in Leicester.