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Westwood Works 1903-2003

How it Started

Index

Origins of the Baker Perkins Group

(For a more detailed history of the Founders, click on The Origins of the Founders of Baker Perkins).

This website does not claim to be a definitive history of the growth of the companies which came to make up the Baker Perkins Group. A much more detailed account can be found by visiting www.bphs.net and in Augustus Muir's book - "The History of Baker Perkins" - published by W. Heffer & Sons, Cambridge in 1968. A list of total activities of the Baker Perkins group in 1987 can be found in Documentation - click on the "1987 - Baker Perkins Group Activities" thumbnail. For more information and memorabilia relating to the Baker Perkins Group see Where to find more information in the "Appendix". The two founders - Joseph Baker and Jacob Perkins - were gifted inventors. Joseph Baker produced a flour sifter which formed the basis of his food processing business; Jacob Perkins originally concentrated on experiments with high-pressure steam. These two technologies were at the heart of what became the Baker Perkins business.

1825 - Jacob Perkins' Steam Gun. Perkins demonstrated this gun to the Duke of Wellington in 1825. Now in the Armories of the Tower of London, it fired 1,000 musket balls each minute and was capable of piercing eleven 1" thick deal planks an inch apart at a distance of 115 feet.

1874 - Joseph Baker's Flour Sifter. This is the piece of kitchen equipment which founded the fortunes of Joseph Baker & Sons in England.

A Patent from the Past - the original Patent for Joseph Baker's Flour Sifter.

The origins of the Baker Perkins business.

Westwood Works was developed as a result of the growth of the Werner, Pfleiderer & Perkins business. Their factory in Regent Square, London came under pressure as, following the agreement with Herman Werner which partitioned the trading areas of the two firms, a considerable quantity of equipment made at Cannstatt was being sent to Regent Square for sale in Britain and the Commonwealth. Mr Ihlee therefore had to turn part of his factory into a German warehouse. No additional premises could be found in the vicinity and Ihlee questioned whether they should follow the example of other London-based industrial firms and transfer the factory to a location where wages and general expenses were lower and where more freedom to expand existed.

Although it seemed to make sense to move to Wellington, Shropshire, alongside the Pointon factory, no suitable site could be found. At last Peterborough was suggested and, although a small agricultural town, it had the advantage of being on a busy railway line and was not too far from the raw materials of iron, steel and coke.

For a record of its development over the next nearly one hundred years, see Outside Views. Further historical information on the early development of the Perkins and Baker businesses before moving to Westwood can be found in Before Westwood in The Appendix at the end of this Website.

Although this illustration was probably produced in 1893 - when Werner, Pfleiderer & Perkins Ltd was registered, following Werner & Pfleiderer (London)'s merger with A.M. Perkins & Sons Ltd., it shows most of the Management who would have moved to Peterborough in 1904. One who would have been missing, however, was Loftus Patton Perkins - Loftus Perkins' elder son and great-grandson of Jacob Perkins.

Loftus Patton Perkins and his younger brother, Ludlow Patton Perkins, both at the time in their twenties, had grown ever more disillusioned at Paul Pfleiderer's increasing domination of the new company, to the point where Ludlow left the company soon after the merger and Loftus Patton was "offered a clerkship in the office at a pound a week".

So, even before the move to Westwood and the subsequent merger with Joseph Baker & Son, any connection with the Perkins family in the running of the company had long ceased.

(Loftus Patton Perkins was something of an artist and started a business selling his prints when in his teens. See Another Artist in the Family in the Appendix).

Growth in employment at Westwood Works

It is interesting to note that once Mr. F.C. Ihlee had made his decision to move from Regent Square to Westwood, he was disappointed that few of the 145 workmen opted to move to Peterborough. However, it says much for the existing management skills that despite having to cope with a workforce largely inexperienced in the type of work - " a task of great magnitude" - turnover fell by only 8 per cent.

Soon after the move from Regent Square, the Pointons also moved their factory from Wellington, Shropshire to Westwood. This time, many more of the existing employees made the move.

The firm of David Thomson of Edinburgh, also makers of baking equipment, was acquired by Joseph Baker Sons & Perkins in 1922 after running into financial problems. Its office staff and parts of its manufacturing plant were also moved to Peterborough a few years later.

In 1933, the number of employees at Westwood was further augmented by the closure of the Baker factory at Willesden (see Willesden to Peterborough)

Maranello, Detroit, Solihull... Peterborough?

One of the first things to be made at the Westwood site was a motor car. Three cars were built in all but they were not popular with the 1906 driver who still preferred horse drawn vehicles to the idea of internal combustion. The disappointed director, F.C. Ihlee, was not encouraged to make a fourth.

The "Mercial" sprang from Mr Ihlee's pre-Peterborough obsession with motor launches on the Thames near his home at Putney. In this venture he was aided and abetted by Josh Booth but when even this level of support did not result in volume sales, in an attempt to recoup some of the 4,000 spent on plant for its manufacture, a new body was put onto the "Mercial" chassis and called a delivery van.

A sales brochure for this new contraption was produced containing some extremely confident claims for its performance (a copy appears below). Unfortunately, it was blessed with no more success then the original car design and the whole venture was allowed to lapse.

F.C. Ihlee filed a Patent - 29, 248 of 1904 - the essence of which being that on a motor vehicle the engine, transmission and driving wheels and axle may be mounted, not directly onto the chassis, but on a "carrier" (or as it would now be called - a sub-frame) all of which can be removed from the rest of the vehicle in one piece for repair or replacement.

We are indebted to James de la Mare for the following comments:

"This is the forerunner of the sub-frame found on Alec Issigonis's BMC Mini and subsequent Metro designs of about 50 years later, and no doubt other cars as well that enabled a mechanic to take out all the mechanical assemblies at one time simply by removing three of four bolts.

Of course, by the 1950s, the monocoque design was common and car repair facilities were much better organised than in 1904 but this does not detract from F.C. Ihlee's inventive and intelligent attempt to over come the problems of the time. It seems to have been the distinguishing feature of his Mercial car and van design that he had hoped Werner Pfleiderer & Perkins would manufacture."

An intriguing glimpse of what might have been is given by an excerpt from the Peterborough Advertiser of 12/08/1905. The horsebus company - The Peterborough Omnibus& Carriage Company Ltd - established in 1896 had been, with the coming of the trams, wound up in 1905 and in the same year, some of its directors went on to found the Peterborough Motor Bus Company.

"The Company will establish a service of motor omnibuses in Peterborough and District for a radius of about 20 miles, for the conveyance of both passenger and other traffic; will arrange for the collection, quick transit and delivery of dairy and farm produce, Royal mails, newspapers and other goods and parcels within a radius of 15 to 20 miles and to and from the surrounding districts and the various railways for which Peterborough is the recognised centre".

"An important fact is that the motor buses are made entirely in Peterborugh and their manufatcure may be expected to open up a new chapter in the commercail life of the City. An arrangement has been effected with Werner, Pfleiderer & Perkins by which they would supply  the Company with their "patent" Mercial Chassis of the best and most modern make, embodying in the opinion of the manufacturer, and other experts, all the latest improvements with the highest standard of efficiency in the most simplest form. The Mercial is a combination of all the principal mechanical parts in one compact "Tractor" centrally suspended, and so maintaining correct alnement, arranged so that driving becomes a matter of the greatest simplicity, and can be done by any average working man. The manufacturers will maintain the buses for the first six months, and at the end of that time it is expected that the capability of the vehicles for doing the work will have been tested".

At the time, the Company estimated that 5 buses would be needed but there is no evidence that WP&P did in fact supply any buses despite the illustration of a "Mercial" with a bus body on WP&P's brochure above. Indeed, Augustus Muir states in his book - "The History of Baker Perkins" (Page 53), "........The three existing Mercials (thought to have car bodies) gave good service but at Westwood Works there was never a fourth. Cynics at Westwood said that Frederick Charles Ihlee never quite go over it".

Electric trams came to Peterborough in 1903. We do not know why the agreement between the Peterborough Bus Company and WP&P was cancelled but the Peterborough Bus Company was finally wound up in February 1912.

 

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