Westwood Works 1903-2003
"The point that the writer wishes to make is, of course, that the Outdoor Construction Service is a Sales force, in the main a money earning factor as opposed to a money saving factor. A force that by inefficiency can discount entirely the work of the Sales department, a force that by good service can enormously assist in making the Firm's position unassailable."
Barton Baker - "Baker Perkins Dissected" - 1928.
The unique nature of the Westwood product line, particularly the huge food production plants and printing presses, meant that it was not just a question of completing the machines in the factory, shipping them half way across the world and then plugging them into the mains and hoping that they would work. Each line of plant required very careful re-erection in the customer's factory and then tuning to ensure that it turned out the exact product to the quality expected when the order was placed.
Westwood had the largest service organisation in the Baker Perkins group. A team of 200 highly trained men - mechanics, electricians and service engineers - was responsible for two distinct classes of service. On the one hand, there was initial installation, repair and maintenance, on the other, after sales service. Normally, Westwood mechanics built the plant; a Westwood service engineer then put it into production.
After sales service - advice to customers on the application of plant - is a necessity throughout the industries that Westwood served. A request for help would bring an engineer to the customer's premises any time during the life of the production plant or piece of equipment. Breakdowns, at any time of the day or night, and overhauls were dealt with on a routine basis. A strategically planned network of depots served customers in the United Kingdom and it was Peterborough-based, Sam Leavy's job to ensure that spare parts were delivered to UK customers in the shortest possible time. The supply of engineers and any necessary spare parts to customer locations in overseas countries was also planned and co-ordinated from the Field Engineering Department at Peterborough.
The importance of what was once known as the Outdoor Department grew steadily over the years and it became a vital part of the Company's competitive edge. Such was the output of a typical Westwood process plant - typically many tons per hour - that any delay in getting a new machine into production, or repairing it when it went wrong, could cost the customer a great deal of money. Customers depended on "the Outdoor Men" to get them into business and keep them in business. It is no exaggeration to suggest that any failure or inefficiency in this area would have had a disproportionate effect on future sales.
In the early days, the fitter who completed the machine on the shop floor went with it to the customer's factory to make certain that there was no flaw in its installation. When the increased workload at Westwood made it difficult to spare the fitters from their shop floor work, men were trained to form an outside field staff, ready at a moment's notice to set out for any part of the world. These engineers working from the depots around the UK, backed up by the Field Engineering staff back at Peterborough, were able to give customers expert advice not only on the running of the equipment but also how to develop and improve the product being manufactured.
The Outdoor mechanics were required to develop many skills and to use these skills often under very harsh local environmental conditions. The ability to be self-sufficient, to manage local labour having variable levels of relevant abilities and often with the smallest grasp of English, and to do this many miles from home and support, demanded a particular type of person.
In an extract from his book, "The History of Baker Perkins", Augustus Muir observed:-
Field engineers are often required to spend long periods away from family and friends, living in unfamiliar surroundings, working with people who may have the barest smattering of English. The field engineer must sometimes train himself to be a linguist, nor must he be deterred by local politics - nor by Acts of God, such as a hurricane in the West Indies or an earthquake in Venezuela, which are hazards which he regards with the usual British stability and aplomb.
As time progressed, the complexity of some of the newer equipment put a strain on the versatility of the field staff. More intensive specialisation was needed and a group of high-grade mechanics was formed into a Service Section, with each member being a specialist in the processes used in each particular industry. Gordon Richardson - who controlled the Department for many years - said "these skilled men are individualists by nature - men of uncommon initiative who must, nevertheless, sometimes unite as a single team, ready to pool their energies and skills to complete some urgent job or help a customer in the midst of crisis".
In the later years, the company's move into the application of electronics, pneumatics, computerised plant control and process production planning to its products demanded even greater efforts from these specialists. It is, however, easy to overlook the very different skills required in the early days of Westwood Works.
For forty years Mr. Ted Lansdown built brick ovens - first for Werner, Pfleiderer & Perkins and later for Baker Perkins. His son, Mr. Bert Lansdown, carried on the family tradition, starting oven building in 1925 when he was 16. At that time the company employed 250 oven builders - men who worked with a trowel, building small brick ovens all over Britain and abroad. In later years, with the introduction of the large travelling ovens, the demand for Bert's skills lessened. However, it did not die out completely and bread and confectionery are still made today on some of the ovens that Bert and his father built.
Due to the expertise of "The Outdoor Men", it is today possible to sample English specialities such as cream crackers, water biscuits, swiss rolls, chocolate wholemeal biscuits and many other similar types of snacks and confectionery in just about every corner of the World.
|Men of the Field Engineering Department keep in touch.|
The Outdoor Men were certainly a breed apart and a vivid picture of everyday life on the "Outdoor" is provided by these memories from Denis Swingler:
“When I joined the Outdoor Department, as it was known in 1961, it was managed by Gordon Richardson. My first day consisted of getting kitted out and then travelling to the Birmingham Office to report to the Area Engineer, Jack Coles. In the Peterborough office George Burgess furnished me with:- a toolbox, containing a basic toolkit. This was green, weighed a ton, and had a very thin handle. (I think they may have been made in the Apprentice School); a leather case with all the paperwork, timesheets, report book etc.; three pairs of brown overalls (sorry, ‘regulation one piece safety garments’); a certificate allowing me to work on unfenced machinery whilst wearing the aforementioned garment; a small float in lieu of my first weeks expenses; and the address of the Birmingham Office. So, with my suitcase in one hand, toolbox in the other and the leather documents case tucked under one arm I set off for Birmingham. Not having a car at that time I took a train to Birmingham, eventually arriving at New Street Station and got a bus to New Inns Road, Handsworth. The bus driver tipped me off when the next stop was the closest (I think he felt sorry for me) and when I found the place I staggered up a dark, narrow staircase and into the office. The office “boy” whose name I only ever knew as Mac told me that ‘Mr Coles’ was out today but I should come back in the morning. He gave me one or two addresses locally where I might be able to stay and let me leave my toolbox and leather case in a corner of the office (I think he felt sorry for me as well.) I found somewhere to stay, an old Victorian house that let rooms, and stank of cats. The next morning ‘Mr Coles’ put me with an engineer who was a native of Birmingham (Jack Spencer) and I spent a few weeks helping him on various jobs all over the area. I got used to the cat smell and eventually didn’t notice it.
This being before divisionalisation, the one department covered the whole product range. Consequently, as a “new boy” you could find yourself in a biscuit factory one day, a foundry the next and probably in a bakery for a weekend job. In the company of another, more experienced engineer this wasn’t too much of a problem, but once let loose on your own, it was a different matter. Of course, as time progressed, you tended to become familiar with, and therefore associated with, one product range, rather than the whole gamut. I can still remember early on getting a phone call on a Friday afternoon, telling me to go to a foundry in Wakefield (E. Greens?) the following morning to meet a Service engineer and help him out. I duly arrived at 8.00 a.m. (I was keen) and was met by the factory manager, who greeted me as the Baker Perkins expert on his B.P. moulding machine. He didn’t know but, in fact, the only foundry I had ever been in was the one in Westfield Road! I recall wandering up and down a row of totally unfamiliar machinery looking for one with the B.P. logo on its nameplate to give me a clue as to where to wait. Eventually the service engineer turned up and an embarrassing situation was averted. This kind of thing happened fairly frequently but, one way or another, it was usually resolved without incident. I guess you just got better at it with practise.
If I recall correctly, the living allowance at that time was around 25
shillings a day. This covered all food and accommodation; if it didn’t
cover it, you were out of pocket but there was usually enough left to buy a
few pints. Travel expenses were based on bus or rail-fares, even if you travelled
by your own transport. A mileage allowance was paid to a few privileged ‘senior’
engineers; they were expected to take any other engineers travelling to the
same job as passengers and woe betide you if you claimed a rail-fare when you
had travelled in a “mileage” car.
The price and quality of the digs varied tremendously depending on the area you were in and, to some extent, how lucky you were. At one time I shared a room in a transport café in Batley with Ernie Jordan and an engineer whose name I think was Jack Condron, or something like that. This was fine until those two were sent away on another job and I found myself sharing with three Irish road workers. Good guys, no problem, but their habit was (naturally) to go drinking every night until closing time when they would come back singing; take off their wellies and hang up their socks to air overnight, presumably in the forlorn hope they’d be a bit fresher in the morning. They would snore(and worse) all night. It was quite a small room and not well ventilated!
Then there was the place in Leeds where I was sharing a room with Albert Marriott and Ron Dawson; although there were several rooms, each with three or four occupants there was just the one bathroom and toilet. There was a bath, but no plug. If you wanted a bath you had to tell the landlady and she would sell you the plug for an extra shilling. She would then hover around outside the bathroom door to make sure you didn’t illicitly pass the plug on. Some ‘digs’ didn’t have a bath at all and if a bath was deemed necessary or just a good idea (e.g. Friday night if you were going to a dance) a visit to the local public slipper baths was the only option.
One time when I was sent to a bakery just alongside the Stonebridge Highway on the outskirts of Coventry, I was recommended to go across the road where I would find some cheap and very convenient digs. I think it was Ron Ladley who introduced me there, although an engineer called George Mellor was also working at the bakery and it may have been him. The ‘digs’ was originally a displaced persons camp after the war and looked to me as if many of the original inhabitants still lived there. I particularly remember being issued with a knife, fork, and spoon, and an enamel mug when I checked in. I also remember it always smelled strongly of boiled cabbage. It was certainly convenient and only 10 shillings a night but I didn’t stay long.
I think the best ‘digs’ I ever had was when I was working at the Glenfield and Kennedy foundry in Kilmarnock. Ken Campbell (Outdoor plater and good friend at the time) had found a farmhouse near Troon, which did tourist B&B in the season. In the winter they were more than happy to have a couple of workers staying for a few weeks. The farmer’s wife cooked an enormous breakfast; if you cleared your plate, you would find an extra item on it the next day, and so on, a bit more each day, until eventually you couldn’t manage it all, and she would then serve you that amount from there-on in. She also made us a pack-up each day and sent us off with two bottles of fresh milk straight from the cow, like two little schoolboys. I got a very heavy cold while we were there and she made me a hot toddy and told me to go to bed and drink it straight down. For all this I think she charged around a pound a night.
The digs were usually somewhere between these two extremes; quite often in private houses where someone had a spare room and to whom the extra money was useful. There are lots of stories that could be told about this category, but this is neither the time nor the place for those!
It was quite common for an engineer to take on a ‘Local Assistant’ where it was appropriate and provided it was agreed to by the Area Office. This had the advantage to the company of being able to send one engineer on a job that really needed two pairs of hands. These ‘assistants’ would be selected at the local Labour Exchange and paid in cash by the engineer. We had to fill in a timesheet, calculate the wages, calculate the tax and deduct it, add in expenses at the going rate where applicable (less than the engineers’ rate) and pay the man the amount on the bottom line. Sometimes they were just employed for a specific installation in which case they would be local and expenses, apart from bus fares, were obviously not warranted. If you came across a really useful ‘local’ he would often travel with you to the next job. Several of the long term engineers had local assistants who had been with them for years. I recall one oft-repeated tale, although sadly I can’t remember either of the names. An engineer and his “mate” were working as part of a small team on an installation. The engineer, walking along a scaffold platform at the rear of an oven, knocked himself out when he hit his head on a roof beam. His mate, following behind a few minutes later, saw him laying down with his eyes shut; thinking he was sleeping, he laid down beside him and had a few minutes himself!
We used to work a ten day fortnight in those days. This meant that you had to be on-site ready to start work at 8.00 a.m. on Tuesday morning and would work through until a week the following Friday, when your day finished at 3.00p.m. If you were working within reasonable travelling distance of home this was okay. Outdoor engineers were salaried (graded according to experience etc) with no payment for overtime. Therefore, for working (or being available for work) on the mid Sunday you were credited with a half days ‘Rest Leave’. The idea was that you would build up a credit balance of rest days which could be used if you needed any time off; alternatively, if there was nothing for you, say in between jobs, you could be asked to take a ‘rest day’.
I had only been on the ‘Outdoor’ a few weeks when I was instructed to report to B.P. Engineer, Charlie Leiper at Burdett’s Bakery in Inverness. In those days when the A1 went through Stamford, Newark and most towns along its route, this was a fifteen hour, non-stop, journey by car, Peterborough-Inverness. Even the overnight rail sleeper from Inverness to Euston (which I took, once or twice), was a long haul. It was particularly annoying to pass through Peterborough in either direction since Peterborough didn’t warrant a stop. So to get a short week-end at home I got into the habit of taking Friday and Tuesday off as two ‘rest days’. All legal and above board, of course. However after a few weeks of this, instead of having a rest leave credit I had a rest leave deficit. I was called into Peterborough Office and George Burgess explained to me that they were supposed to owe me days, not the other way around!
The Area engineers usually had one or two District engineers doing a lot of the leg work for them. The Birmingham office had John Smythe and Jack Short to help out Jack Coles. When you consider the number of clients in an area of this size it is not surprising that the Area engineer needed some help. In the few months I spent there I must have worked in at least half a dozen bakeries, several biscuit factories; some sweet factories, as well as Cadbury (Bourneville), H.P. Sauce (Aston Cross), Rolls Royce (Derby), Dartmouth AutoCastings (Smethwick), British Celanese (Spondon) and many others. I was once sent to a ‘hospital’ out in the middle of nowhere, to take delivery of an autoclave. The ‘hospital’ turned out be a mental hospital – or, lunatic asylum – as they could then called. They didn’t tell me that when they rang from the office to despatch me; I only found out when I arrived and was followed everywhere I went by a male nurse (or warder) who had a large bunch of keys to unlock and relock every door we went through.
Looking back now those early days may seem quite grim at first glance, but we were generally a pretty happy bunch. Of course people moaned about living allowances, salaries and so on, as always happens. Over the years the living allowances slowly improved, shadowing general advances in housing and living conditions generally throughout the country. Quite a few years later overtime was eventually paid.
I wouldn’t have missed it for the world”.
Denis Swingler 2005
Photographs of life on the "Outdoor" have proved to be rarer than hens' teeth so we are grateful to Ray Bartram for these examples of the luxurious conditions in which these men worked. They go a long way towards proving the truth of Denis Swingler's reminiscences above.
Ray served his apprenticeship at Westwood before joining the Bakery Field Engineering Department where he spent 10 years as an outdoor fitter.
Ideal working conditions - Pete Salmon (left) and Ray Bartram (right) at Cambridge Co-op in 1979.
Lunch in the Dining Room - Alan Ingham in a bakery - Cairo 1979.
Making new friends - Ray Bartram and Alan Ingham - Cairo 1979.
Ivan Smith and Ray Edwards check the unloading of a bakery mixer in Skopje, Yugoslavia.
Ray Bartram (right) and Ray Edwards (left) relax after a hard day in Skopje.
For a further insight into the challenges imposed on Outdoor Engineers, see The History of Baker Perkins in the Printing Business - Installing a Printing Press.
Derek Exton started his apprenticeship in March 1947, 2 months before his 16th birthday. Derek recalls:
"My first job was working with Ted Beven, the company Metallurgist, as a laboratory assistant. The lab was situated originally in the main stores overlooking the main railway line and marshalling yards. It was moved later into the new purpose built Heat Treatment Shop adjacent to the Foundry. In the September of 1947, I moved to the Apprentice Bay Training School in the Fitting Section (Jack Ingram and Jack Hurst) - the words "Fitter Lad remove Burrs" are burnt indelibly into my mind - then onto the Machine Section (Charles Bullard). My next move was out to the main machine shop (Mr. Hargreaves) on Capstan Lathes. The Supervisor Bob Wilmot, who was a member of the Westwood Works Musical Society, was always singing the songs from the current show which they always performed at the Embassy Theatre. From there I went to Peter Jackson's section in the Fitting Shop on repairs. I felt that I was not learning enough and spoke to Jim Deboo who arranged an interview with the Outdoor Heating Department. I have much to thank Jimmy for as I was accepted and thus began my travelling career. I completed my apprenticeship in 1952 whilst working with Don Jeneson at Greens Bakery in Poole Dorset. I met my wife there and we still live in Poole. I still have my Certificate/ Qualification as a Heating Engineer.
The Tube Shop
It is worth backing up a little and remembering my time in the Tube Shop. This was part of Peter Jackson's section and was situated between the Main Fitting Shop and the Steel Stores. It stretched from the Railway to the main road which separated the Main Factory from the Plate Shop. It was in two sections, the first being the Blacksmith with their forges and then the Tube Shop proper. The profile of the set of tubes needed for a Drawplate Peel Oven was drawn on the floor with French Chalk. Tubes were cut to length following which the Blacksmiths sealed one end. Peter Jackson would measure out the correct dose of water for each tube and the other end was then sealed. Tubes were shaped to the profile chalked on the floor. Baker Perkins did design and build a special machine to seal the tubes. The machine set the tubes at an angle and held in a chuck. When the machine was switched on, the tube would rotate at very high revs and the noise was horrendous. A friction tool was applied to the rotating tube until it became white hot and then forced round to seal the tube. The seal was far superior than the previous method. The friction tool was imported from Germany.
The Drawplate/Peel Ovens were built by specialist brick builders (Ovenbuilders). On completion the Heating Dept would then fire the ovens to a programmed schedule raising the temperature very slowly. This would be spread over 7 days and nights to achieve baking temperatures. Burners were either Gas or "C" type oil burners using diesel oil.
I believe I was the last apprentice to be trained on the Perkins High Pressure system. I worked with Wally Pavett and Alf Palmer and together we built the heating coils for several companies. These coils were made in the Tube Shop in Westwood. I recall going up to a Cotton Mill in Rochdale working on specialised heating cabinets for drying and hardening cotton spools. This system was special in that the system was pre pressurized with nitrogen to 1,000psi to give a higher temperature in the cabinets.
Perhaps the last heating coil made was for Paston Church. Together with Alf we made the coil and installed it. One feature was that the expansion tubes were in the steeple and we had to clamber over stone coffins laid in the base. The outcome of that story was that having fired up the heating system we found the the ancient lead covered wiring had shorted out and the whole church was "alive". The vicar was not pleased as he had to close the church for rewiring.
It wasn't all work
Jim Cupit's brother, Jack, was Derek's mentor during his training as a service engineer, working on a wide range of types of plant from Batch Bread ovens in Scotland to Farleys Rusks in Plymouth, Pork Pies in Stroud to the very first ovens in Weetabix. The work was often hard and the working environment not always congenial but, after, the construction and successful commissioning of a line of plant, the customer would often throw a lavish celebration party. In particular, Derek remembers such an event at one of Baker Perkins Chinese customers in May 1988. The photographs speak for themselves.
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