Businessman, former Chairman of the Metal Box Company

Edward Charles Barlow, the founder of Edward C. Barlow & Sons, had been described by contemporaries as ‘a tough, sometimes terrifying, Cockney, barely literate’. Another writer summarised Edward Barlow’s character as “almost illiterate, fond of women, violent if crossed, an autocrat in his business”. Edward Barlow’s son, Robert Barlow (1891-1976) was better educated, but just as ruthless and ambitious as his father. Robert Barlow also shared his father’s volatile temper and autocratic methods. W. J. Reader, the historian of the Metal Box Company, describes Robert Barlow as a strong, forceful character who was “ruthless, cunning and devious”, and directed by a high intelligence “clothed in overwhelming charm”.

Metal Box Company - Sutton Place, Hackney

Metal Box Company – Sutton Place, Hackney

A Director of the Metal Box Company in 1930, Robert Barlow resisted attempts by the American Can Company to control can-making in Britain. Using manufacturing methods modelled on the American canning industry and introducing machinery based on American technology, Robert Barlow built up a British-owned, can-making industry.

The factory of Edward C. Barlow & Sons (later merged with the Metal Box Company) provided employment to large number of Hackney’s inhabitants. Muriel Hughes (born 1914, Hackney) who started working at the age of fourteen at the works in Sutton Place, Urswick Road, Hackney was one of hundreds of girls and young women who earned their living by operating machinery in the Barlow’s metal box factories.

Sir Robert Barlow, who was knighted for his services to trade and industry during the Second World War, rose to become Chairman of The Metal Box Company Limited. In 1942 (the year before he was knighted), Robert Barlow married the distinguished British actress Margaret Rawlings (1906-1996)

He was married to Margaret Rawlings.