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Westwood Works 1903-2003

The Heating & Ventilating Department

Early first steps

Space heating installations were an early development for the Company, Jacob Perkins himself having been involved on a fairly large scale in Boston, Massachusetts prior to his move to London in 1819.

A successful business

Soon after his arrival he was installing a hot-air central heating system for Hansard, the printers of Parliamentary debates. It was, however, left to his son, Angier, to make a commercial success of this business, improving on his father's ideas to produce an early version of the "indirect" heating system found in many houses today.

Systems were installed in many businesses - Heal's furniture factory in Tottenham Court Road for example - and in many of the largest houses in England - the Duke of Wellington, Lord Palmerston, Sir Robert Peel, the Duke of Hamilton, The Earl of Jersey being just some of his many clients. Installations existed in the British Museum, the State apartments of St. James's Palace, the Old Bailey, the Guildhall and in St. George's Chapel at Windsor (See Documentation). A Perkins Patented heating system was also installed to prevent freezing of the hydraulic system that opens and closes Tower Bridge in London.

A list of installations of prestigious Heating & Ventilating installations by A.M. Perkins & Son Ltd.

A reference to the Tower Bridge installation.

Many architects recommended the system for use in houses, institutions, churches, public halls, theatres, hotels and passenger ships. In an early example of direct marketing, fifty personal letters recommending the equipment went out every week from Regent Square, some five pages long, in many cases being followed up by personal visits by Angier Perkins himself. See also The Perkins Heating System.

H&V as a support for the main business

The great success of this sales drive had the effect of highlighting the Perkins patent oven and this, too, became widely accepted in ships, hotels and bakeries all over the country. One result was that the manufacture of the oven, developed by Angier's son, Loftus Perkins, gradually gained greater importance than the heating and ventilating business. With the death of Loftus Perkins in 1891 and the subsequent involvement of Paul Pfleiderer in the company's operations, the supply of bakery machinery and ovens became the key focus of operations.

It is possible to obtain some insight into business conditions at the time from a relevant sales brochure. The first illustration is the title page from a sales brochure for Heating & Ventilating systems dating from the days of A.M. Perkins & Son - which was formed in 1889 - and which, judging by a series of Testimonials printed inside, was produced around 1898.

However, the second illustration shows that the front cover has been crudely overprinted with "Werner, Pfleiderer & Perkins Ltd.", which was registered in 1893. It perhaps says something about the lack of funds in the company at this time that a new printing block could not be financed for the cover of a prestigious sales brochure some five years after the takeover of the business by Paul Pfleiderer.

(For more on the developments in the company at this time see "The History of Baker Perkins" by Augustus Muir).

It is worth noting here that, despite our concentration on the activities of the Perkins branch of the business, they were not alone in providing such equipment. The 1901 product catalogue for Joseph Baker & Sons lists among " Other specialities of best London workmanship, manufactured in our London Works, Willesden Junction, London" - "Heating and ventilating appliances for buildings and factories, and drying apparatus for every purpose".

Involvement in central heating did not end there. Much of the process plant made at Westwood - bakery, confectionery and laundry equipment - being installed around the world on a day-to-day basis required connection to a supply of steam, the supply of the necessary steam generating and control equipment often being undertaken, as part of the sales contract, by the Outdoor Department (see The Outdoor Men). Closer to home, the whole of the Westwood factory was heated by a Perkins stopped-end steam tube system from the time that the factory was first built in 1904 up until the installation of the new Boiler House in 1951 (See Site Facilities and Maintenance).

We are told by Augustus Muir that, shortly after the acquisition of WP&P, Peterborough, by Joseph Baker & Sons in 1920, the reorganisation of both factories (Peterborough and Willesden) was begun. Willesden was to concentrate on biscuit, chocolate and confectionery machinery, while Peterborough specialised in bakery and chemical equipment - "and continued to administer the oldest section of the Perkins firm, the Heating Department, with its premises in Collier Street, London". Collier Street is close to Kings Cross Station, between Pentonville Road and Caledonian Road.

The address of the offices of A.M. Perkins & Son, Ltd., Heating and Ventilating Engineers is given in the brochure cited above as 117, Queen Victoria Street EC. This street runs from Blackfriars to the Mansion House and is some way from both the Perkins factory in Regent Square and from Collier Street. It is possible, therefore, that the "Heating Department" changed its location sometime between 1898 and 1920.

It is interesting to note a description of the H.& V Department which appears in "Baker Perkins Dissected" by Barton D. Baker, written in January 1928:

" addition to these factories (Peterborough, Edinburgh and Willesden), there is a Heating Installation Department which is operated at Collier Street, King's Cross by a separate organisation similar, on a smaller scale, to those conducted at Willesden and Peterborough, and which is under the supervision of Peterborough, whose executive is therefore responsible for the results obtained."

Post - WW2 developments

We are not clear how long the business was run from Collier Street but we do know that the heating system for the 1933 multi-storey office block at Westwood Works was designed there. (See here). It is also clear that both the Drawing Office and Outdoor Department at Peterborough had their own small "Heating Sections" in the '40s and these expanded considerably from the early '50s. An ex-Perkins employee, George Stephenson Purse, was in charge generally, with David Gunston running both the drawing office side and the research and testing of the gas/oil burners that fired the company's ovens. John Castle at times assisted David in his burner duties.

(NOTE: We have heard from George Stephenson Purse's grandson that his family records show that George Purse was living in North Harrow up until 1940. This then is the likely date that the H+V Dept moved to Peterborough. George retired in 1950).

[Further to the above, some more detective work by John Purse appears to confirm the date of the relocation. John reports:

"I recently had a bit of spare time around St Pancras station, so I walked round to Collier Street in Pentonville, where the offices of Baker Perkins heating dept were located between the wars. Records show that they were at No. 7 Collier Street. Virtually all the street has been redeveloped, and where no.7 must have stood there is now a children’s playground – part of the Joseph Grimaldi Park. The LCC bomb damage maps show that the entire row that included no.7 was lightly damaged (eastern end, south side) and that adjacent blocks more seriously damaged. I guess this would have triggered the move up to Westwood, had it not already happened. It supports the view that the relocation took place in 1940."]

George Purse's grandson also passes on some insights into the problems faced by his grandfather when dealing with customers in the early part of the century - he joined Werner Pfleiderer & Perkins in 1908:

"One of my few memories of him talking about his work was his description of extensive travels around the country by train, frequently ending up on slow trains to isolated rural stations where he would be met by a carriage or car sent from the local great house. On reaching the house, there was usually a formal meeting with the owner before the investigations turned to how BP might improve the heating system. George said he took particular care in how to address different strata in the gentry and aristocracy who owned these houses. This was sometimes challenging, as certain ladies with grand pretensions expected more deference than they were entitled to!"

The Heating Department's main activities were related to the design and erection of mechanical services for Baker Perkins commercially produced plant and for the buildings which housed that plant, usually bakeries and laundries. The design and research activities were based on the 3rd Floor of the 1933 Office Block. The site erection activities were controlled by Bill Baker, for some time located in a small office on the 1st Floor of the Office Block. After Bill's retirement, Ernie Cutmore was in charge.

Services provided included coal and oil fired boiler house plant, fuel storage, steam, condensate, heating, hot water supply, cold water supply, fuel oil, compressed air and other associated pipe work, together with some ventilation. A number of draughtsmen under Section Leader Dick Doone, some apprentices, tracers, clerical staff, an estimator (Tom Seath), and a commercial correspondent (Dennis Barber) were involved in producing schematic and working drawings, costs, and ordering materials for the presentation and execution of projects. At that time, there was little or no competition for this business, but this situation did not last long.

An attempt to broaden the business

Around 1958/59 it was suggested that the supply of mechanical services to business premises represented a growth opportunity and a new Heating and Ventilating Department was formed under Bob Watson to extend the company's activities into this area. The new department changed location to the mezzanine floor of the multi-storey block. Ernie Cutmore, with the assistance of Don Jeneson, had a mezzanine floor office base in the new Heating Department from which they organised their site supervision activities, ably supported by the clerical contribution of George Fenn. Ernie's early death from cancer in 1958 while still in service was a severe shock to all his associates. Don Jeneson took over Ernie's duties.

Inevitably, the new department came up against large, established engineering services contractors and orders proved both difficult to obtain and to carry out profitably. Although the Baker Perkins plant related business continued, with the formation of the large plant bakery organisations came a reluctance on the part of those companies to accept a single quotation. Serious competition had arrived.

A number of employees benefited from the company's sponsorship of courses at the National College, leading to successful candidates earning exemption from the qualifying examinations leading to associate membership of the Institution of Heating and Ventilating Engineers. These included Chris Loweth, Peter Marshall and Barry Moulton in the late '50s and a vastly experienced John Castle together with apprentices Rattue, Noyes and Appleyard in the early '60s. Unfortunately, the apprentices and John Castle were affected by the 1961 redundancies during their time at college and none returned to Westwood. However, the company continued to support them all until the completion of their courses in 1962.

A major shock - the Department closes

One of the biggest contracts undertaken was the boiler house for the Peterborough Memorial Hospital. This proved to be also the last major project as, in late 1961, the Management decided that competition from the large civil engineering companies was too great for significant profits to be made and announced that the Department was to be closed and all of the employees made redundant. This sent huge shock waves through the company, it being the first time since the Great Fire of 1922 that Baker Perkins had announced a significant number of redundancies.

It must be said that the company's treatment of the displaced personnel was sensitive and fairly generous and in most cases individuals advanced their careers by moving on. Several staff joined the Engineering Division of the East Anglian Regional Hospital Board, providing an influx of trained and experienced designers at just the right time for the huge expansion of hospital building. (Chris Loweth eventually occupied the most senior post in the Engineering Division, that of Regional Engineer). Bob Hay remained at Baker Perkins for 18 months after the general exodus, to wind up all the outstanding projects. His departure in March 1963 to join his ex-colleagues at the EARHB effectively marked the end of the Baker Perkins Heating Department. It could be argued that even in adversity, the company managed to serve the community.

A view from one of those employees displaced

Mike Appleyard recalls:

"I started work at Baker Perkins, as a 'Student Apprentice', in September 1960, in the then 'Heating and Ventilation' department under the leadership of Mr Watson. Passing through all the departments, from the Apprentice Training School, and thence out onto site. It was the sort of training that set me up for life, being followed by a year at The National College for Heating Ventilating and Fan Engineering. In the grand scheme of things the company decided to close the H&V section, however they ensured my smooth progress into the building industry, finding me a position with another company, at the completion of my college year.

I can honestly say that my time as an employee of Baker Perkins, was enjoyable, and I was being paid! As an enlightened employer the grounding I received was probably the best in the country, and served me well throughout a 45 year working life as a Heating and Ventilating engineer.

I did visit the old site at Westwood Works, prior to the move to Paston, and walking through the doors into the machine shop, for a split second, was transported back 30 years to my days as an apprentice. My fondest memories are of my days, either in and around the workshops, and being out on site, which taught me that, life at the 'sharp end' was often difficult, cold, dirty, and a little cross on a drawing, represented a 6 inch cast iron valve, which could weigh a hundredweight or more!"

Bob Watson, who took over the running of the drawing office from David Gunston and then became manager of the independent department, undertook the design of a full air conditioning project for F. Matarazzo of Brazil. The other members of the section were absolutely in awe of this ability to outshine them all, and from that moment on, he was always known by the respectful and affectionate nickname of "Matty", right up to his tragic early death.

(NOTE: We are indebted to Bob Hay for the information contained in the final part of the above).

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