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Westwood Works 1903-2003

The Pointons

INDEX

The story of the development and manufacture of food machinery at Westwood Works would be incomplete without mention of the Pointons. However to do them and their story justice we have to step outside our time frame once again to the years leading up to the founding of Westwood Works.

Charles Pointon and his son John were employees of the Wrekin Foundry in Wellington, Shropshire in the early 1890's. Being considered "useful with their hands" they were asked to take a look at a problem being experienced by a prosperous local grocer, George Lewis, who also baked the bread sold in his shop. The story of how they tackled this task and its result is best left to John Pointon's own words:

Development of the Dough Divider by the Pointons

In the year 1890, my Father (C.E. Pointon) met George Lewis who carried on a Bakery and General Grocery business at Park Street, Wellington, Shropshire. Mr Lewis was looking for an Engineer, he had no mechanical knowledge, who he thought may be able to invent and produce a Dough Divider for weighing from the bulk, into pieces of the required weight for loaves of bread of varying weight.

My Father was then managing the Engineering Section of a small Works owned by Wm. R. Mansell, Wrekin Foundry, Wellington, Shropshire. I, (J.E. Pointon, his son), was working in the General and Drawing Office. It was only a small Works employing altogether about 60 men, with a small foundry attached. I was 15 years old and had been working in the Works and office for nearly 3 years, starting when I was 13 years old.

This small Works made Horizontal and vertical Steam Engines up to about 14HP. Also Hot Wire Coiling Machines, Cropping Shears and General Engineering items for the mills and forges then operating in Shropshire, including Nettlefolds Ltd. of Hadley, now removed to Newport, Mon.

My Father saw Lewis many times and I was always present when they discussed this problem. It may appear strange for this lad of 15 years sitting there and listening to what appeared to be a fantastic idea, but I was always with my Father and very keen. After many such talks my Father and I thought that it might be possible for us to invent, design and build a machine for dividing dough and we told Lewis that we were prepared to have a go.

We approached Mansell and told him about our venture; he was not a business man and would not assist us. He thought it useless to attempt such a thing and said that if a machine was produced the market was small, so he had no interest. This was rather a blow but it did not dampen our enthusiasm and we decided to carry on with the proposition, Lewis agreeing to find what money was required. My father and I found the brains; we were to receive no remuneration in any form until a satisfactory machine was produced.

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 in to 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.

Our models were made in wood, hand operated, but we soon found that the sticky character of the dough made it impossible to manipulate dough against a wooded surface. We therefore decided to line all surfaces coming in contact with dough with tin. We tried cylinders of various sizes and shape having a piston or other means for forcing the dough out of the cylinder's chamber, but with no result on account of the varying pressure required which gave a different density to the stream of dough forced out through the die or nozzle.

We then tried worms and screws of various designs, a la pug mill. This gave some promise from a weighing point, but we discovered that any screw or worm action on the dough was so severe that its fermentation was seriously checked or even killed. We carried on with models built to these principles for about two years. It was hard work at night and week ends with very little, if any, success and my Father got rather afraid that we should never succeed.

We had by now found out by hard experience that dough was not clay, but a live substance always increasing in bulk and, if you destroyed its fermenting agent, you killed the dough and the volume and other qualities of the loaf were inferior in every respect. I was now 17 years of age and taking a keen interest in all our experiments, which had been going on for about two years.

After long consideration I came to the conclusion that the principles on which we had been working were wrong. I told my Father so. I said I was afraid we should never succeed in dealing with batch quantities of dough. My ideas, although vague, forced me to think we must have a principle on which the dough was filled into a hopper from which, by some means, small quantities could be drawn and then forced in to another chamber or chambers having the required cubic capacity for the weight of dough piece required. By this means I thought that we should prevent any felling or killing action that we had experienced with our previous models.

The question was how could this be done. I started to work out a scheme based on the principle outlined. I had further come to the conclusion that we must have our models in iron or steel, not wood lined with tin. The outcome was that I conceived the idea of a Hopper, with a top or receiving box under same into which a ram was fitted and then a chamber, or chambers, into which the ram forced or pressed the dough.

I worked on a rough scheme for some time and at last produced drawings showing how I thought that the principle could be carried out. We could not get any help from Mansell and we could not make the model in iron or steel at home. We had, however, a friend in Wolverhampton, Daniel Smith, who ran a small factory of his own making Power presses, so to him we went with our problem. He was extremely interested and although he could not manufacture for us if the idea was successful, he agreed to make a working model in metal.

After a few months the working model was completed and the great day arrived for trial with dough. We certainly got some divided pieces through the model but it was clear that a variable travel main ram was necessary, also some from of top knife and a better method of discharging the dough pieces from what we now call the division box.

We played about with this model for some time but finally decided a new design must be produced embodying the features stated. Again we got to work on this new design and produced the drawings. After a lot of difficulty, Mansell agreed to make this new design Divider for us. It was a four-box machine and this time was a full size one. This is the design Divider for which we applied for a patent. The patent was taken out in the name of Geo. Lewis, because up till now he had financed everything. The patent was No. 9683, dated 17the May 1894. The machine was finally produced and put to work in Lewis's Bakery.

It proved to be successful and the weighing was quite good. After working the machine under commercial conditions for some time, during which various alterations and adjustments were carried out, we thought the time had arrived to try and place same on the market. Between us we got out a small circular giving particulars of the machine, a condition being that Lewis's name appeared, stating that it was Geo. Lewis's Patent and Mansell's name being the manufacturer. We sent out this circular to many Bakers, I also went round the Birmingham area trying to interest Bakers. At that time my sales knowledge was very limited and I returned with a blank order book. I did, however, make a friend who assisted very much later on, Thos. Fletcher - a Birmingham Baker. I had only just returned from this trip when we received a letter from Paul Pfleiderer of Werner, Pfleiderer & Perkins Ltd., 43 Regent Square, London, asking for further information about the machine and stating that he had seen the circular issued. In a few days after our reply P. Pfleiderer arrived in Wellington and we demonstrated the machine to him. He was very quick to discover that we had produced a practically perfect divider to weigh dough from bulk. His interest was so great that he would not leave Wellington until he had obtained our promise the WP&P Ltd. should become our sole Selling Agents.

In due course a Sole Agency Agreement was completed. We further perfected the machine and it was arranged that Mansell should manufacture for us, although he continued to put many obstacles in our way. It was further agreed that my Father should take charge of production and that I should look after new design work and inventions, which would develop the equipment for the Baking industry, take charge of erections, satisfy customers and assist technically when required on the sales side. I will give one or two experiences later of the difficulties we were up against in the early days of getting the divider established.

The first divider was installed in the Bakery of W. Harris, Merthyr-Tydfil, S. Wales; the second at Smith & Vosper, Portsmouth and the third at W. Turner & Son, Nottingham. It was agreed that all further patents would be taken out in the name of the actual inventors my Father and myself. One of our early difficulties occurred with the compound ram for varying the stroke according to the quantity of dough drawn down from the hopper into the top box. After due consideration and trials this resulted in the simple dead weight acting main ram for which we filed Patent No. 21520, date September 1896.

It became increasingly evident that we could not continue production and development at Mansell's After consultations between Lewis, Pfleiderer, my Father and myself, it was finally decided that we should form a Limited Company in which Lewis and ourselves would be allotted paid up shares for our interests and Pfleiderer would provide cash for his quota. A further decision was that our company when formed should start a small factory as soon as possible at Wellington for manufacturing the divider and for future development work.

In due course, our Company Lewis and Pointons Panification Limited was incorporated on February 28th, 1898. We leased and afterwards purchased a small building with vacant land for the factory. The alterations to the building and general repairs work, together with the equipment of a few machine tools, getting together our raw materials, castings, etc. took some time and it was no light effort, whilst continuing, under considerable difficulty, to obtain some small output from Mansell.

However, where there is a will there is a way. My Father and I fixed the gas engine for driving the machine tolls and line shafting, the fitting benches, etc. our only help was one labourer. We used one room in a cottage for office purposes. Our reward was that, from the day we started up with 8 men, until the first finished Divider was loaded onto the railway wagon, was three weeks. We continued to plus along, improving the Divider and considering other requirements or equipment for the Bakery Trade.

In those days the bread in England was nearly all Cottage and Coburg loaves and a Moulding and Handing-up machine was our next thought. I kept on experimenting and finally struck the idea for our present day Cone Table Handing-up and Moulding machine. The principle was to round up balls of dough by putting the interior or inside of the dough ball in compression and the outside skin in tension. We patented this idea, Patent No. 17185, date August 8th 1898, also Patent No. 5068, date February 1902. We continued to increase the sales of both Divider and Handing-up Machines.

Our largest order for Dividers was for the United Co-operative Society of Glasgow. This order I well remember. Mr Ballcarris, Chief Slaesman for WP&P Ltd., asked me to go with him to Glasgow and together we met their Committee. I was pretty raw in those days but answered technical questions whilst Ballcarris looked after the inner needs of the Committee and played his Commercial stuff. The result was that we remained in Glasgow about one week and the outcome was their order for twelve Four-box Dividers, delivered and erected complete. It was a big order in those days and I was more than excited.

Whilst this development was proceeding, we started our small Foundry in which we produced castings for our own requirements and also supplied the castings for WP&P, London. This included all Oven and Kneading machine castings.

The next item of equipment for the Bakery Trade was the Prover. We experimented a lot with this but finally decided that the right principle was the Swinging Tray type of machine, into which the divided and handed-up dough pieces were placed by hand on trays and, after the required proof, automatically delivered on to the final Cone Table Moulding machine. See Patent No. 26527, dated December 1902.

About this time, WP&P and ourselves were considering amalgamation and putting down a modern up-to-date Factory for our joint requirements. Mr Ihlee, my Father and myself were the prime movers. We all searched for some suitable site. Wellington was considered a good centre providing that a suitable size piece of land could be purchased adjoining the Railway, but nothing could be found. Bedford, Luton and other towns were visited but, eventually, Peterborough came into the picture. It was then only a small agricultural town but we found suitable land at the right price. It was also a good rail centre and not too far away from our raw materials iron, steel coke, etc..

Workers were difficult and it was necessary to bring our own men and also import others. At last all these points were settled and the amalgamation terms agreed. Westwood Works, Peterborough was created, first WP&P were installed and later Lewis and Pointon Panification Ltd. followed in the Spring of 1905 our own company being finally wound up on December 1st 1905. After the two Companies had settled down in the new Factory, Westwood Works, we went ahead completing Automatic Bread Plants, Batch, Peel and Drawplate Ovens; also Chemical Mixing Machines, Rubber Washers etc., all under the name of Werner, Pfleiderer & Perkins Limited.

The first World War came in 1914, when the name was changed to Perkins Engineers Ltd., and we changed over on to munitions, chiefly the 6" mobile Howitzer Gun and Field Bakery equipment for the Troops. It was during this war period that Mr. Ihlee and Mr. Gilpin got together, I believe in the first instance in connection with bakery equipment for the Army.

The outcome of this ended up in another amalgamation, viz:

J. Baker & Sons Ltd. of Willesden, London, and Perkins Engineers of Peterborough.

From now onwards our history is well known. I will therefore only add that this last tie up set the foundation that had been well and truly laid and upon which was built up our present world wide organisation in Bread Plants, Biscuit and Chocolate Plants, Confectionery Machinery, Chemical Machines and Laundry equipment.

To end my very rough and short outline of the birth of the Dough Divider and its development into the fully Automatic Bakery Plants, known today throughout the world. It was hard going and at times very rough, but all concerned had the will-power and energy to succeed, which we did. The work was exciting but everybody loved their jobs.

J. E. Pointon
February 1951

John Pointon mentions that his new divider was not greeted with open arms by all sections of the Baking Trade. There were "Luddites" who were concerned that the new development would have an adverse effect on jobs. John describes below some of the encounters with sceptical bakery staff.

Early and trying difficulties in getting the Divider accepted by Customers and Workers

I had some very trying times during the early days in getting the Divider accepted and established from both sides, customer and workers. I will only quote three typical cases that occurred out of very many.

The first was at Bristol, where we had installed a Divider.

After many weeks trying to satisfy our customer that the machine was weighing good commercially, and accurate to 1/3 oz. plus and minus from the normal, he said if he was to retain the machine there must be no variation whatever in the weight of any piece, but dead accuracy throughout each batch of dough. I was at my wits end when I decided to stop the machine and asked our customer if he would meet me in the bakery at night in about a week's time for further tests. He agreed and we fixed the date and time, 2 a.m. one morning.

The appointed date arrived and we met. He was surprised to find the Divider was not working and asked what I wanted and why the machine was idle. I then asked him if he would test the weight of dough pieces in a batch that had just been previously sealed off by hand and was ready for setting in the oven. He did so with very great surprise, for he found all the loaves over-weight, and in some cases up to 2 oz. over. I said that is what you get in the middle of the night by hand sealing. Needless to say, my troubles were at an end and the machine remained.

I had another very troublesome case in London at J. & B. Stevenson's Battersea Bakeries.

Mr. Ritchie was manager and he said every loaf passed through the Divider tasted of iron. He had been very patient, but after submitting samples running over several weeks to his typists, they always confirmed that those from the machine tasted of iron, and he requested me to have the machine removed.

It was a real trouble, but after some careful thinking I decided on one dramatic test. I asked Mr. Ritchie to meet me one morning in his office and we fixed an appointment.

I arrived and then asked Mr. Ritchie not to leave the office or have anyone in until we had finished our test. He agreed. They sent in several loaves made by hand and also some that had passed through the Divider.

Mr. Ritchie cut slices from same, which we numbered and passed out for his typists to taste. In due course their report arrived. Those made by hand tasted of iron, those through Divider did not. Mr. Ritchie, a true sort, said "I give in, you win." We parted very friendly and the machine remained in Battersea Bakery.

My last example of difficulty was at Bootle in J. Blackledge Ltd. Bakery. It was a 4 box Divider. Whilst one Engineer remained with it no trouble occurred, but immediately he left some breakdown carefully planned, always occurred. At last things got very bad and Blackledge said unless we could prove it was not the machine which was at fault we must remove it. I said "Right, if the machine runs for 3 months without trouble will that satisfy you?" and he said "yes". So an Engineer, H. Meakin, and myself sat by this Divider every night in turns for 3 months. It did not go wrong and there was no breakdown. The machine remained in Blackledge Bakery and he understood what had occurred. The men did not want it.

I could go on giving examples of the trouble we experienced in those early days, but it's just the penalty one must pay when opening up with machinery to replace hand labour, and in particular a food industry in which it was nearly all hand work, except for a Kneading machine. Now those days are over and in some cases the reverse occurs they will accept machines which are not suitable for the work intended.

(signed) J. E. P.
January 1951

There is more that can be added to this story.

When Paul Pfleiderer returned to London after viewing the new Divider, he decided that WP&P would not participate: this was to be a private venture of his own. He informed Canstatt (Werner & Pfleiderer, Germany) who bought the European and American manufacturing and selling rights, being careful to retain for himself the British and Empire rights.

Lewis & Pointons Panification Ltd.

The private company formed to exploit the inventions Lewis & Pointons Panification Ltd.- had a modest capital of 5000 in 1 shares of which the Pointons accepted 500 each. A copy of the Memorandum and Articles of association is shown above. Paul Pfleiderer allotted shares to George Lewis and himself and became both Chairman and Secretary. Charles Pointon was paid 2.10s per week and his son 2, with a bonus of another 1 per week at the end of every three months. Paul Pfleiderer, as their agent, was to receive personally one-third of any profits that might be made then and in future years. It was not until after Paul Pfleiderer's death in 1903 that the Pointons were to receive a share in the selling price of the machine that they had invented and developed.

It was also after Pfleiderer's death that F.C. Ihlee proposed that a union between the Pointon's company and WP&P would benefit both companies. The Pointons had by now developed the swinging tray prover which mechanised the rest period required by the dough after its battering by the kneading and moulding machines. The essential process link had been made at last between the Universal mixer and the steam oven.

By 1904, when Westwood Works was being built, the L&PP Ltd premises had grown with 150 on the payroll more than worked at the WP&P factory in London. The Pointons moved their business from Wellington to Peterborough shortly after and were given 13, 160 in shares and elected to the board of WP&P.

John Pointon has been described as " the most brilliant inventor of bakery machinery in the United Kingdom, if not in the world". He became a director of the new Baker Perkins Company in 1920 and had control of Design and Outdoor Erection. John's father, Charles was appointed foundry manager.

John 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 Baker Perkins, Paston are identical to those developed by John Pointon in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

It is perhaps appropriate to finish this section with a few words from Claude Dumbleton (a Director of the company from 1939 to 1963):

"Johnny was a self-taught engineer and a good practical one at that in fact, he was self-taught in everything he did: designing very practical and very simple. At commercial work Johnny was very good indeed and I knew many large baking concerns who preferred doing business with him rather than through orthodox channels. His was almost the perfect combination designing with one eye on the profit and loss account a combination that I doubt we shall see again in the organisation.

I mention him at length because I write with affection about a "great" little man. He had a passion for food machinery and an overriding obsession to make money, both for the business and personally. I always remember my first meeting in Peterborough with Johnny Pointon at the Great Northern Hotel. He bought me half a pint of beer, which cost 6d, and remarked, "There goes 2 % on a pound for a year". This attitude was typical and projected itself into all of his designs".

It is interesting to note that later generations of bakery engineers suffered with problems that were not dissimilar to those tackled by Johnny Pointon. John Haward's description of "Problems with High Output Dividers" - experienced in the late 1970s can be found in History of Baker Perkins in the Bakery Business.

For an insight into the competition that existed between John Pointon and John Callow to be the first to mechanise the bread dough making process, see here.

The site of the Lewis & Pointons Panification factory

The factory was sited in Foundry Lane, Wellington, Shropshire.

1902 map of the area showing the Panification Works in the middle foreground.
Entrance to the factory from Foundry Lane.
Entrance to the factory in Foundry Lane.
The Panification Works is shown in the background. It was later used as an egg packing plant and then as a timber yard.

John Pointon and his family

The following pictures have been received from Su Andrews, whose great-grandparents were good friends of the Pointons. It is believed that the small ( head and shoulders) images are of John Pointon. Is anyone able to positively identify John's wife and daughters, please?

           

 

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