Westwood Works 1903-2003
Both the obsession of the Founders with inventing and the nature of the business – process engineering – dictated that constant experimentation and customer demonstration would be a vital part of day-to-day operations throughout the company’s development.
That invention and experimentation dominated Jacob Perkins’ life - even to the detriment of commercial success - is clearly shown in The Origins of The Founders - Jacob Perkins. This trait was inherited by his grandson, Loftus Perkins, whose achievements are described in History of A.M. Perkins & Son Ltd. Loftus’s work on marine steam engines and refrigeration was certainly inspired – if not bordering on genius – but did not, unfortunately, bring significant reward in the market place.
Charlie Hayward, who became Loftus Perkins’ right-hand-man, recalled the many hours spent in 1887 with the great man:
“When I returned to Regent Square Works after my spell on the river, the “Arktos” (refrigeration device) was in full swing and I often sat beside Loftus Perkins watching thermometers. He would sit for an hour without speaking, pushing his quarter pound (tobacco) pouch across to me. We were especially watching to see when the thermometers ceased to go up and started to come down, for it was the low temperature that he was after. We had to watch twelve – six each. Now the mercury in a thermometer, if closely watched, on starting to come down becomes concave – if still rising the column is convex. All at once, he would jump up and say, “Going down is yours?” I would say, “Yes”. Then he would put on such a smile and say, “Ah, we are on the right tack”.
I have seen him in the Works discussing some very important things with Professor James Dewar, Sir Fred Bramwell, Hill of Thames Iron Works, Peter Brotherhood Snr, Donaldson and J.I. Thorneycroft. I have often thought what a man he was because these visitors looked at him with awe and wonder”.(See also History of A.M. Perkins & Son Ltd).
Great efforts were made to demonstrate the potential of the “Arktos” device to customers. Charlie Hayward records –
“We had a gateway in Seaford Street, 40 feet long by about 10 feet square. (See also Before Westwood). We insulated it and made it into a long cold room. We got the apparatus going and brought the room to 20 degrees F, and started putting in some tons of soles which were hung on wooden rods and, when frozen were piled in heaps. When the fishmonger’s men came to get them for sale, they carefully put them, like chips, into baskets. I suppose many a City man took to his country residence soles that were months old. But they were edible and very tasty and you would not think that they did not come that morning from Billingsgate Market”.
“We also had erected in the Works a Brewer’s Wort cooling machine, which was nearly automatic, and which created a great deal of interest among the brewing fraternity……………. We made several hundredweights of ice a day which we shared with the Royal Free Hospital and the Ear and Throat Hospital, both in the Grays Inn Road”.
Meanwhile, Joseph Baker, Jacob Perkins’ co-founder, was also involved in a significant amount of experimentation. Muir tells us that –
“The busy brain of Joseph Baker, now in his middle fifties, had been evolving other machines. Only three years after they were established in London, the Bakers were showing equipment at the Exhibition of Flour Mill Machinery, held in 1881 at the Agricultural Hall in Islington. One notable exhibit was their biscuit-making machinery - the branch of the food industry that was first to be mechanised”. (See also History of Baker Perkins in the Biscuit Business).
NOTE: The rate at which Joseph Baker was able to develop new machinery was remarkable, bearing in mind that, when he first established his factory in Tabernacle Walk, Finsbury in 1878, it was only producing Joseph’s original sifter. It is clear that Joseph was also able to match his engineering genius with a rather higher level of business acumen than could his co-founder.
One of the most significant examples of experimental work at any time in the company’s history is that of the very young J.E. (Johnny) Pointon and his father as, in the 1890s, they struggled to produce a mechanical dough divider. The story is told at length in The Pointons but in Johnny Pointon’s own words – “Our difficulties were many and the more we investigated the problem the more it was evident that we had started on a long and difficult task. It was a real start from scratch. We had no information about dough or how it reacted to mechanical mechanism, no textbooks and no previous automatic machine that operated on dough for dividing purposes. The only machines at that date offered to the Bakery Trade were a simple flour sifter and the universal type of dough mixer. The ovens consisted of the brick type Peel Oven with a few brick type Drawplates operating in several large bakeries.
My Father and I worked on models at home at night and week-ends, with a lot of time spent in Lewis's bakery at night thinking out and studying how best to start and obtaining all the information we could about dough and dough conditions. Our first thoughts were for a machine into which a small batch of dough, say 50 lbs, could be placed and pressed out through a nozzle or die in a continuous stream like a brick making machine, then cut off into sections of the required weight”.
Johnny retired in 1953 after little short of 60 years' service. He is credited with having largely helped, through his inventions and developments, to raise the company to its leading position in the production of equipment for the bread baking industry. It is true to say that the basic principles of the design of the bakery equipment being manufactured today at APV Baker, Paston are identical to those developed by John Pointon in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In the History of Werner, Pfleiderer & Perkins Ltd, mention is made of the top floor of the Regent Square factory being used as a store for mixers imported from Germany. Charlie Hayward also tells us that the same area was used for – “several sizes of machines ready to mix any article sent”. Clearly an early experimental/customer demonstration department.
An even less salubrious site within the Joseph Baker & Sons factory at Willesden was the cradle for the experiments from which “British Arkady” – the world famous bread improver company – grew. Hinman Baker, son of W.K. Baker, carried these out in the early 1920s in “half the draughtsmen’s lavatory at Willesden”. This area was later handed over to George Wilson to create his first Experimental department. (See History of British Arkady and History of Joseph Baker & Sons Ltd).
Unfortunately, we have no photographs of the ‘draughtsmen’s lavatory’ but there are many excellent images of the Willesden factory in Before Westwood.
With the creation of Baker Perkins Ltd in 1923 and the subsequent re-development following The Great Fire, the new Design and Development Department set up at Peterborough was under J.E. (Johnny) Pointon, whose genius had always been of a practical kind, see The Pointons. He had a bakery constructed at Westwood Works for his experiments. The development work for some of the other departments had, for a time, to be carried out where space could be found on the crowded shop floor.
The superb set of photographs of the rebuilt Westwood Works in 1923, after the Great Fire, includes a view of the Demonstration Bakery in 1923. The location of this is not clear but the window in the back wall suggests that it was on the railway side of the building.
This photograph of the Test Bakery is believed to have been taken in the early 1930s when located in the southeast corner of the Machine Shop – between the Machine Shop/Offices steps and the railway line – in what had been the 1903 Jig Stores (next to the CPO).
For more photographs of the factory in 1923, please click here.
Gordon Hennis, who joined Baker Perkins as an apprentice in 1939, accepted a post in the Experimental Department at the age of nineteen (together with another apprentice, H. Holmes) - Gordon later became a foreman. He recalls the department as being –
“Contained in two areas, one was in the left, southeast, corner of the machine shop. This had a roller door at the end and signs of a rail link – rails were let into the floor across the width of the bay. The area was being turned into a small bakery with a peel oven, bread dough mixing machines, an electric oven, etc. The other area was situated on the ground floor of the 1933 multi-story office block and ran, on the front – road side – of the block from the lifts to the far west end of the building. This formed one of two bays on the ground floor of the building, the other bay, on the north side overlooking the machine shop, was the first Apprentice Bay. (See also Training Facilities). This bay was unsecured – you could walk through it – but the first bay – containing the bakery – was a protected area, the doors of which could be locked.
The whole facility was under the control of G.D. Wilson who had two fitters working for him – Jimmy Garner and Jimmy James – and a baker, a gentleman working towards his retirement. The first three persons had come up from Willesden in 1933 and I believe that they started the experimental facility at Peterborough”.
In his pre-apprentice days, Gordon worked on the wire band machine, making bands for chocolate enrobers. This machine, sited next to the Apprentice Bay, was thought to have been brought up from Willesden and was the only one in the country.
The Department was, inevitably used for armaments work in WW2 and both Jimmy James and G.D. Wilson joined the Baker Perkins Home Guard (see also Westwood Works in World War 2). Jimmy James was one of the founding members of the Baker Perkins Home Guard and was promoted once or twice, eventually becoming an officer. GDW was also an officer.
When Gordon received his call-up papers for the Royal Navy in September 1946, his experiences at Baker Perkins led to him becoming an ordnance artificer, serving on a Royal Navy minesweeper off the north coast of Scotland for 6 months. After an absence of 18 months, Gordon returned to the Experimental Department, this time reporting to Austin Palmer, G.D. Wilson having been made a director of the company and put in charge of the Drawing Office. A new man, Cyril Hester, an experienced baker was now in charge of the bakery.
Among the first experimental jobs recalled by Gordon Hennis were two designs that emanated from the USA. The first was a Supertex bread moulder, designed by Mr. Harbour, the second being a large reel oven that had been shipped across the Atlantic in parts.
Augustus Muir, in his “History of Baker Perkins” – Chapter 26, reminds us that, after WW2, although no automated plants had been built in the United Kingdom on the scale of those in America, similar problems of rising cost, shortages of labour and a need to enhance hygiene by reducing the human handling of foodstuffs, were being faced by Baker Perkins’ customers all over the world. Once the initial pressure from fulfilling the huge backlog of orders eased, the existing product range came under close scrutiny and G.D. Wilson, in charge of experimental work, did his best with limited resources and many new projects were begun.
Against the background of an obvious need to gain technical mastery over design and materials, the directors decided that a specialised experimental department building was required. Completed in 1950, it had its own miniature bakery, burner-testing apparatus and a wide range of other equipment, allowing experimental work to go ahead with a new impetus. Rigs for trials in customers’ factories were first erected here. Before any machine went into regular production, there was close liaison between the drawing office and methods department so that errors could be corrected during construction of the prototype.
The people from the old facility moved with the original equipment into the new building. It was virtually a self-contained unit, equipped with a large and a small lathe, milling machine and welding plant. together with two 5-ton cranes. Later, they were joined by Cis Hart and Ron Hill. Gordon Ennis recalls that very soon, Keith Wadsley and a number of new fitters – Eric Andhill, Lew Smith, Gordon Lightfoot, Gordon Truss, Doug Brothers, Fred Hooke, Harold Cawper, Arthur Barratt, Bill Chamberlain and Peter Lister, together with a number of labourers, were recruited and Jimmy James became foreman. Arnold Stevenson was the service engineer.
The department also began to be split into discrete sections.
John Peake recalls that - “At this time there was a small scale universal mixer in the department . This was required for Chemical customers to assess the suitability of the machine for their processes and gauge the size of the production machine they would need. I remember that John Cobbing's judgement was remarkably accurate in predicting the scaling up effects. (See also History of Baker Perkins in the Chemical Business).
The experimental department building was extended on a number of occasions
over the years as the company expanded and new generations of test equipment
were developed. As I remember, the department grew in size and new machine tools
were introduced so as to be less reliant on using the main Works production
capacity. Prototypes were built in the experimental department instead of in
the production shops.
Every week, bread would be baked in the bake-house inside the experimental building and produced a wonderful smell throughout. It was excellent bread, much better than anything bought in the shop and most certainly better than the standard white loaf then mostly sold, and loaves would be sold for a few pennies to those fortunate to be around at the time”.
Formed by Claude Dumbleton in the early 1950s, (see also History
of Baker Perkins Ltd), the Designs Committee’s task was to review
the work being done under G.D. Wilson’s direction. GDW explained how the
projects were progressing and how the money was being spent. The secretary to
the Committee changed frequently – A.I. Baker, Peter Lewis-Smith, J.M.
Peake and David Ogilvie being involved at different times as part of their training
for senior management. Later, four people – Roy Brunswick, Charles McCaskie,
Eric Scarpa and John Smith, shared the secretary’s job.
The department continued to grow rapidly in size and importance, as did the number of personnel. Gordon Steels recalls about 40 being on the staff of the department at one time.
A 1974 site plan showing how the experimental department was extended over the years.
The experimental department can be seen in the aerial photograph of the Westwood site – 1954 Site View – in Outside Views. It is the white, 2-bay building to the left of the factory chimney, just behind the single-bay, black roofed building.
Sections of the department were developed to house specific machinery for tests on chemical mixers, rubber extrusion, biscuit, bakery and chocolate + confectionery equipment and, in later years, food extrusion.
Gordon Steels remembers his first contact with the experimental department:
“I suppose it would be around the mid 1950s that I first was involved
with experimental work and the testing of prototype machines under the direction
of G D Wilson and A. A. Tunley. The Experimental department was run, at that
time, by Austin Palmer reporting to G D Wilson.
Austin had rather an abrupt manner and chased out any person he thought should not be on his territory and his main interest was in the bread side on which most of the department’s resources were used. Austin considered the C & C side somewhat of a Cinderella which took second place in the priority order for experimental work.
I recall being sent to the experimental department by my then boss, A. A. Tunley, to carry out some experiment or other he had had set up, only to escorted (thrown) out of the department by Austin Palmer as soon as he had seen me enter. A phone call from A. A. Tunley sorted the matter out and I was allowed in to carry out the task given, but I had the feeling of being unwelcome. This experience was not uncommon and I later learned that some of my colleagues had received similar treatment. When I reached a more senior position a few years later, I had no further problems”.
In 1955, Shell moulding was a relatively new process that was gaining ground in the Foundry industry. A single station prototype machine was designed by Jack Hucklesby and tested successfully in the experimental department. Ray Dobson, a coppersmith, was transferred to the department to work on this machine, under Doug Grey. (See also History of Baker Perkins in the Foundry Business).
Demonstration and Test equipment
As well as working on the bakery machinery mentioned earlier, Gordon Hennis recalls testing tubes for peel ovens. These would have been "stopped-end steam tubes" to Loftus Perkins' 1865 patent, (see History of A.M. Perkins & Son Ltd). The tubes were taken to the air-raid shelter near to the Pattern Shop, (See – Westwood Works in WW2 – Air Raid Shelters), thermocouples were placed along the length and one end placed in a gas burner before vacating the area very quickly. The tubes, on occasion, did blow up!
Although at the outset, the department worked principally on Bakery Machinery but as will be seen below, became involved over time in work on all aspects of the company‘s product line.
(See also History of Baker Perkins in the Laundry Business).
Baker Perkins had acquired the laundry machinery business of Aublet Harry in 1924 and was still very much in the laundry machinery market. The experimental department did quite a lot of work on these machines – building and testing ironers, washing machines and, at one time, a dry cleaner. To bring the necessary expertise to bear, relevant people were transferred from various parts of the factory – the aforementioned Eric Andhill, for example, being a laundry engineer.
(See also History of Baker Perkins in the C+C Business)
A laboratory had been built within the experimental department and later, as
the C & C business moved to continuous processes such as the Candymaker
plants, it was used amongst other things to analyse hard candy samples for residual
moisture and invert sugar content as well as the microscopic examination of
fondant/creme and chocolate.
This analysis became an important part of a contractual agreement in the supply of equipment. Jock White carried out all of the sugar boiling and made the sweets for testing and demonstration purposes.
After C P Lewis-Smith took over the running of the department in 1963, on G.D.
Wilson’s retirement, experimental engineers took over the testing of prototype
machines and plant, in some cases also taking over the running of them in the
For a number of reasons this arrangement did not work out in practice, one being that the design engineers responsible lost the essential "hands on" approach which was necessary not only to improve their process knowledge but could lead to new ideas and innovations. The transfer of essential information proved to be difficult and the procedure naturally changed to the experimental engineers assisting the design engineers rather than taking over from them or from experienced Service Engineers.
Among the C+C machines built in the department were chocolate enrobers. And Bert Slater was seconded from the main factory to help build them. Bert stayed on in the experimental department, later becoming foreman of the section that remained after the "Major Change" (see below). . It was around this time that Gordon Steels spent some time at Sollich’s factory in Germany, picking up a lot of information that he later incorporated into Baker Perkins chocolate enrobers.
Another machine developed in the department was the microfilm cooker. This was used to produce toffee to feed the Confectionery Developments depositing plant mentioned below. Jock White, an outdoor service engineer, spent some time in the department teaching the experimental people how to make toffee. More ingenuity was called for when it was found that the department’s steam equipment was unable to raise enough pressure to serve the microfilm cooker. Peter Lewis-Smith bought a second-hand carriage heating boiler from British Railways which, coupled to the existing steam supply, existed for many years in a corner of the department.
When the Chorleywood Bread Making Process was being publicised in around 1955, Baker Perkins saw this attempt to produce a ‘no-time’ dough (i.e. one that eliminated all of the time and space consuming requirements of the normal bulk dough fermentation process prior to dividing), as a major threat. The next two or three years saw an intensive range of experimental work being carried out, using first batch mixing and, later, a Strahmann continuous mixer, in the Bakery section of the experimental department by Arnold Stephenson – Baker Perkins’ leading Bakery service engineer. Stephen Hargreaves recalls that –
“The resulting bread was bland and tasteless and, though white in colour, unattractively cotton-woolly in texture”.
(The later development of the Chorleywood Process and Baker Perkins’ acquisition of Tweedy Mixers will be covered in The History of Baker Perkins in the Bakery Business).
At around this time, there was great interest in a Swedish continuous mixer – the Ivarson. Many tests were carried out on this in the experimental department, particularly, it is understood, on biscuit doughs. Inevitably, the powdery and granular characteristics of biscuit ingredients caused problems in continuously feeding the mixer with sufficient accuracy and Bob Fuller carried out many tests on different feeders, including a device called the “Weighfeeder”. (See also History of Baker Perkins in the Biscuit Business). In the event, continuous mixing for food products did not prove much of a success until much later with the development, from the chemical side of the business, of the single- and twin-screw cooker extruder, see History of Baker Perkins in the Snack Food Business.
One of the materials on which continuous mixing tests were carried out was toothpaste. Bob Fuller decided that the efficiency of mixing could be measured by adding a radioactive tracer to the mix. Inevitably, this caused some concern to the men in the department, as they were, understandably, unsure of the potential effects of radiation. The advice of Dr. Marshall, the company doctor, was sought and he assured everybody that the use of the trace was not dangerous– a decision that was not readily accepted by all concerned!
Radioactive toothpaste was by no means the only ‘oddity’. Some strange machines passed through the hands of the fitters in the department. A Sachamatt Press for fusing rubber soles onto leather uppers was tested with the intention of Baker Perkins becoming a sales agent for them. Although not taken up by the company, the tests were successful to an extent, a number of the fitters walking around in new shoes for some time afterwards!
As well as strange machines, it was sometimes necessary to cope with ingredients outside the usual range – not all of which had as useful a potential as that described in The Lighter Side below. Native wit had to be used after carrying out some tests using a quantity of meat. It had to be disposed of somehow. It could not be dumped on the company scrap heap and the weather was getting warm - things were getting serious. Fortunately, the Co-op abattoir had taken over the old Aublet Harry buildings on the other side of Westfield Road and they, of course, had a similar problem with the disposal of offal. The man in charge agreed to take the meat and, apparently, gave or sold it to a man who was breeding mink. That was the kind of problem regularly faced by the experimental men.
Pilot Bulk Handling Plant in Experimental Department
The late 1950s/early 1960s had seen Baker Perkins developing a competence in the bulk storage and pneumatic handling of ‘solid’ ingredients – particularly flour and sugar. These could now be delivered to the biscuit factory by road tanker, discharged into huge silos and then pneumatically conveyed via sifters and weighing devices to the dough mixers with no mess, dust or human intervention save the turning of a switch on a recipe panel.
In 1960, a fourth bay was built onto the experimental department and used to house a pilot test/demonstration bulk handling plant. and, in 1962, an extension was made in the form of a large tower to house two bulk storage silos. These were filled with various materials over the years, which were then blown around the shop as part of the testing procedure.
Bulk Handling plants were sold to many of the market sectors served by Baker Perkins, see –
In 1960, the chemical division entered upon a new venture with the Government of Israel and Israel Mining Industries in the development of the use of the heavy liquid, Tetrabromoethane (T.B.E.), found in the Dead Sea in Israel. Tests were carried out in the experimental department before an office was set up in Letchworth. Unfortunately, it was found that the substance was just sufficiently toxic to be unsafe and the project had to be abandoned in April 1962. (See History of Baker Perkins in the Chemical Business).
1966/1967 was a time of major change in Baker Perkins Ltd - see History
of Baker Perkins Ltd - and H. D. Byles was charged with the task of implementing
substantial staff reductions in the experimental department, leaving about 7
permanent staff from the original staff of 40 or so. Some were made redundant
and some fitters were re-assimilated into the factory. After the reductions
had been carried out, H. D. Byles moved back to take over from Mike Leggatt
as Divisional manager of the newly formed Biscuit & C+C division. (See also
of Baker Perkins in the Biscuit Business).
With the reduction in staff, prototypes were again manufactured in the production shops and Divisional personnel became responsible for all the activities connected with testing prototypes and installations in customers’ factories. The remaining experimental staff provided engineering facilities and assistance only but this became somewhat of a difficult balancing act to organise with the five independent divisions all fighting for the same resources. Each division was responsible for providing its own staff to test prototypes and man the demonstrations that were on the increase with new product lines being introduced. Apart from the usual problems of priorities, the new approach was felt to work reasonably well.
Following the “Major Change”, it was decided to use the facilities in the experimental department for production purposes and the management contracted to build some Schuler coin presses for the British Treasury – the government agreeing to buy from Schuler provided the presses were manufactured in England. The experimental men soon achieved the standards required and some 25 presses were delivered to the Royal Mint at Bridgend, where they were used to produce the copper coins needed for Decimalisation. However, this type of work being so different from what they had enjoyed previously, discontent set in and, at the end of the contract, this use of the Experimental Department was discontinued.
(See also History of Baker Perkins in the Foundry Business).
Fascold machines being tested at the Bedewell Factory (see The History of Bedewell)
In 1972, Baker Perkins Ltd demonstrated the machine that it hoped would revolutionise the making of cores in foundries throughout the world. The machine was called Fascold and had been developed jointly by the British Cast Iron Research Association and Baker Perkins Ltd. For the full story, see History of Baker Perkins in the Foundry Business.
(See also History of Baker Perkins in the Printing Business).
During Urwick Orr’s deliberations on the company’s future in the late 1960s, it was suggested that one bay of the building might be used as an overflow erection shop for the, then, rapidly growing printing machinery business – see also History of Baker Perkins in the Printing Business and Planning. In the event, the building was used in 1977 to erect the prototype G16 blanket-to-blanket printing press.
It might come as some surprise that much of the work of the experimental department was not conducted behind locked doors. As has been stated earlier, much of the work involved trials during which customers’ own materials and recipes could be tested on both existing and prototype machinery. A number of pilot plants were used to demonstrate new processes and customers were encouraged to pay personal visits during which their opinions were carefully considered. Muir points out that –
“It was sometimes found that a visitor, casually watching a machine in operation might realise how a particular feature could be used for his own purpose. In this way, a machine devised for the extrusion of rubber attracted the attention of a client and a suggestion was made that pointed the way to its adaptation for making breakfast cereal”. (See also History of Baker Perkins in the Snack Food Business).
Despite this openness, there was a part of the building to which access was restricted, with access by card-entry only. Behind these closed doors, work was carried out, where appropriate, on customer developments under conditions of total confidentiality.
The Customer demonstrations were usually carried out by Jeff Stone, aided at one time or another by Brenda Venters, Brenda Longmuir, Pat Weldon and Judy Fairchild.
(See also History of Baker Perkins in the Chemical Business).
By 1962, Baker Perkins was building the entire range of Troester cold-feed and hot-feed rubber extruders for sale in the UK. (See also – History of Baker Perkins in the Chemical Industry). A magazine article of the time commented:
"Baker Perkins offer, free of charge, demonstration facilities for evaluation of clients' stock using, if need be, clients’ dies and this offer is of more than casual interest in view of the competition which is likely to shortly be faced from the Continent".
There is another side to this story as Gordon Hennis remembers:
“We used to extrude rubber for tubes, pieces of pipe, etc. One day we were asked to carry out an experiment with snack foods. Soya material was put into the machine, together with apple juice, and extruded through a small die. The intention was to produce something like a potato crisp. A product resulted but was not developed further. This was in the early 1960s, long before the snack food extruder was developed”. (See History of Baker Perkins in the Snack Food Business).
This close personal contact with customers significantly enhanced the company’s reputation and competitiveness, forming a valuable feature of its commercial and marketing approach. Customers from all over the world visited the experimental department on a regular basis. An example of the effectiveness of this approach is recalled by Gordon Steels:
“When BP took over the sales of the confectionery depositing plant
manufactured by Confectionery Developments of Hemel Hemstead, E. E. (Bobby)
Miller was in charge of both the C & C sales and technical departments.
(In fact, he was the forerunner of the Divisional Managers, although it was
not recognised at the time).
(See also History of Confectionery Developments Ltd and The History of Baker Perkins in the C+C Business)
At this time C D Ltd., was only producing depositing plant, batch fed with small outputs and was not known in the export markets and almost immediately it was decided to set up a hard candy depositing demonstration, linking the depositor to the newly patented continuous vacuum Microfilm cooker which delivered coloured, flavoured and acidulated liquid hard candy direct to the depositor hopper. Additionally a Forgrove 5IST twist-wrapping machine was supplied by Leeds, so that the whole process could be demonstrated from beginning to the end, i.e. from the raw materials to the finished wrapped confectionery.
The demonstrations took place over a whole week, each day, morning and afternoon, and seen by large numbers of both home and overseas visitors as well as being used to instruct the sales representatives, and about one ton of fruit flavoured wrapped candy was produced and easily disposed of.
The demonstration resulted in an on the spot immediate order and set the ball rolling for later orders and plant outputs eventually doubled and later quadrupled”.
The first vertical laminator was built in Experimental – for producing Jacob’s Cream Crackers. The department also built a couple of biscuit sandwiching machines, designed by a customer who further developed them after installation.
In around 1973, a 12” wide version of the 62BA Biscuit Cutting Machine (See History of Baker Perkins in the Biscuit Business – Second Layer Biscuit Plant), was installed in the experimental department to be used not only as a demonstration machine but also to develop customers’ products – an important selling aid. It was fitted with a 3-roll sheeter, 2 gauge rolls, rotary cutter and rotary moulder. Shirley Paine, Duncan Manley and Glynn Sykes were involved with this work at one time or another.
Amid all the excitement of a major reorganisation -the management were coping with the introduction of micro- processors and work was progressing in the Experimental Department. Qualified electronics engineers were recruited, one of whom was Peter Down and his memories of life at Baker Perkins can be accessed here.
With the completion of the Baker Perkins Ltd divisionalisation process by the creation of three separate companies in April 1985, Baker Perkins BCS Ltd – under J.P. (Paul) Parkinson – was allotted its own dedicated part of the Westwood site. Part of the experimental department building was converted into the BPBCS customer services department under Tim Whittaker.
BPBCS Customer Services Department
Following the merger with APV in 1987, the food machinery businesses were transferred to the new Paston factory, where experimental activities were housed in a purpose-built, state-of-the-art building.
More photographs of the inside and outside of the experimental department building, after the move to Paston and before demolition, may be found in Awaiting the Developers.
As with most things at Baker Perkins, there was a lighter side to day-to-day
activities. Many ex-employees will remember the large family of feral cats that
inhabited the north end of the site (see The
Baker Perkins “Cat-Man”). One female adopted the experimental
department as its home and raised a family in one of the cupboards (see The
Story of Huey). Other stories of experimental department life are told by
James Preston – a student apprentice - in “Reminiscences”, see – “A Buzz in the air” and “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”. And now it can be told – a story from Gordon Hennis:
"At one time, we were asked to carry out mixing tests on a lot of fruit – raisins, currants, etc. On completing the tests, there were a number of drums of fruit left over in our storeroom. Someone had the bright idea of asking Cyril Hestor, the baker, if he had any yeast to spare. Dropped into the drums of fruit, the yeast soon began to ferment and for quite a long time we were secretly producing wine – not of the highest quality, perhaps, but it tasted all right and created a lot of fun. Although higher management was unaware, I am sure that middle management chose to turn a blind eye – as I did – it created a lot of enjoyment".
A key player in the company’s experimental activities, from the 1920s until his retirement in 1963, was G.D. (George) Wilson. As mentioned above, George Wilson had begun his involvement in experimental activities at Willesden. He had been a pilot, having gained his wings in the First World War. Gordon Hennis remembers him as “a gentleman – a gentle man but who could be very pointed in his comments”.
C.P. Lewis-Smith took over from G.D. Wilson as manager – experimental department in 1963. Austin Palmer was Chief Experimental Engineer and L.T. (Jimmy) James was Superintendent, Experimental Manufacturing. A number of graduates were brought into the business, some with previous experience in industry, to work on chemical machinery developments. These included Alan Burbage, Jeff Stone (a chemist who carried out most of the customer demonstrations), Frank Streek, Chris Wiggins, Norman Calvert, Ray Bennett and Bob Fuller. (See The Baker Perkins Gallery).
These graduates needed someone to do the mechanical work for them and among the people recruited for this purpose were Pete Hornsby (charge hand), Joe Throne, Ivan Ermer, Ray Dobson, Harold Garratt, George Wilson, Ron Coles (electrician) and two labourers – Percy Manton and Fred Benson.
After the "Major Change" described above, Gordon Steels became Manager- Experimental Facilities with Ernie Hudson as Senior Experimental Project Engineer.
C.N. Wiggins was manager - experimental department in 1975.
Some of the later staff of the Experimental department on the occasion in 1983 of Gordon Truss’s retirement. The man in the white coat on the LH end of the back row is Bert Slater, a foreman and one of the key figures in the preservation of Baker Perkins’ history.
1957: Experimental Dept. Football Team.
1958: Taking the Strain!
Gordon Hennis joined Baker Perkins in 1939 and worked all his life for the company. His father had moved to Peterborough from the northeast in around 1935 and was employed by Baker Perkins as an outdoor engineer for the rest of his life. Gordon’s two brothers were at Westwood and his son-in-law continues to work with the present Baker Perkins, ironically, working on the snack food extruders, a concept which Gordon had been involved with many years earlier - see Rubber Extruders above.
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