Marcel A. Boschi, David Drew-Smythe & John F. Taylor
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A History of Mather & Platt Ltd.
" Integrity and Industry"
Copyright © all rights reserved 27 november 2012
Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - A Lancashire Business
Chapter 3 - From Partnership to Company
Chapter 4 - The Growth of the Company
Chapter 5 - Technical Invention and Business Enterprise
Chapter 6 - Education for Industry
Chapter 7 - Workshop Relations
Chapter 8 - Changing Horizons
The Jubilee Book 1958
The first draft of this history was written in 1953 at the request of the Chairman, Loris Emerson Mather, by a team from the company itself. This draft is dated 1958. It reflects the birth, growth and life of an extraordinary entity and is both comprehensive and clear in its scope. Very few companies in the world can boast of the existence of such a profound body of researched work dating back - as this does - to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Almost fifty years have passed since this book was written. People and places are now gone. Mather & Platt no longer exists in Manchester; but the history of this remarkable company remains - rich, detailed and alive. It is reproduced here as a tribute to the company, incorporating some amendments based on new evidence of fact, to acknowledge the greater contributions of some other personalities in the company, and as a celebration of the work undertaken by the original writers. The book they wrote was never actually published, has been designed as an internet companion volume to "Marcel Boschi's History of Mather & Platt Ltd." which is a detailed text and photographic record of the companies, men and machines mentioned in this history.
David Drew-Smythe & Marcel Boschi, February 20, 2012
(Update, September 10, 2012 by Marcel BOSCHI & John F. TAYLOR)
This book tells the story of the growth of a great engineering enterprise and is published to mark the end of the third of three periods in the history of Mather & Platt Limited each of approximately fifty years.
It commemorates an era of great expansion, including the closing years of the nineteenth century when Mather & Platt Limited became a public limited company and the early years of the twentieth century when it was decided to build the works which is now the headquarters of the company at Newton Heath. The company had its origin in the early days of the nineteenth century when the first Mather in whom we are interested started a roller turning business in Salford. It had been in existence about fifty years when the partnership of William and Colin Mather changed the firm into Mather & Platt through the arrival on the scene of William Wilkinson Platt.
The origin of the firm; the change to the partnership of Mather & Platt and the formation of the public company by the union of Mather & Platt with the firm of Dowson, Taylor & Company Limited, are the most important landmarks in the story. A story of the growth of what started out as a small north-country millwright’s works devoted mainly to the production of textile finishing machinery, into a large scale general engineering organisation with world wide ramifications.
This story is far more than a tale of technical progress or the conquest of new markets, for in the course of its long history the company has acquired a tradition and an international reputation, which can now be counted amongst the biggest of its assets. It is hoped that the history of Mather & Platt will prove to be of interest not only to the shareholders, directors and workers but to a much wider circle of readers because it throws light on both local and national history as a whole, particularly in the social and economic fields.
As Professor Richard Pares has recently written, “Until we can quote histories of representative banks, steamship companies, jerry-builders, tea planters, wine merchants, servants, registries, coal miners and the like, we shall still be talking about the history of economic policy, not about economic history. A particularly bad mistake to make about a country like Great Britain, where the efforts of society have usually counted for so much and those of the rulers of society comparatively speaking, for so little.” (1) He might have added to his list, cotton mills, bleaching dyeing and printing works as well as factories to make the machinery needed by these industries. It is an accepted fact that Lancashire cotton and Lancashire businessmen explain much in nineteenth century English history.
It is fitting that the first draft of this book was written (1953) during a year of national festival, when it was timely to recall the industry and enterprise which made possible the development and expansion of the British economy. Also that it should be published during the year made memorable by the Coronation of Her Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In telling the story, we have tried to set it against a national background as well as to select the facts of special interest and to discuss new techniques in terms of changing economic and social conditions.
Too often there has been a barrier of misunderstanding between technicians and historians. The technicians concentrating on know-how and the historians trying to concentrate on know-why. At the present time there is a general interest in history; the history of anything and everything from governments to factories, from statesmen to machines. In this study of Mather & Platt limited, we have tried to talk about both men and machines which have helped to shape the world in which we live, and have often had to stray from the confines of the factory into the larger workshop of the world. This is because it has been so completely re-fashioned during the period of which we write.
In telling this story it has proved impossible to mention, by name, more than a few of the employees of Mather & Platt Limited who have contributed to the success of the business. This is partly because it is often invidious to select certain names from among the rest since it is difficult to collect information about some worthy people who left their mark on the fortunes of the firm over fifty years ago or in the more remote periods of its history. Yet it was the efforts of these individuals who made this story possible, for economic progress was not achieved anonymously or automatically. The company has grown as a result of the loyalty and service of its directors, staff and workpeople, each of whom had their own story to tell.
We have to thank so many people for helping with the compilation of the material for this history, for telling their own stories and for placing invaluable information at our disposal. These people are so numerous that it would be invidious to mention them all by name. The Chairmen, the directors, the managers, the staff, the foremen and the workers, have all helped us to learn much of Mather & Platt Limited, not only as it was, but as it is in the middle of the twentieth century.
(1) Quoted by Richard Pares, a West Indian Fortune (1950), p.vii
The Authors - Draft Dated 1958
- A Lancashire Business
“What Art was to the ancient world”, wrote Disraeli, in his novel, 'Coningsby', “Science is to the modern: the distinctive faculty, in the minds of men, the useful has succeeded to the beautiful. Instead of the city of the Violet Crown, a Lancashire village has expanded into a mighty region of factories and warehouses, yet, rightly understood, Manchester is as great a human exploit as was Athens”. (1)
When Disraeli wrote these words in 1844, Manchester was a newly incorporated town and, along with Salford, which was separate from it by an administrative rather than economic boundary, was mainly pre-occupied with the production and distribution of cotton goods. It was cotton that had transformed villages lining the banks of the Irwell into crowded workshops, “the great metropolis of machinery”. By 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition, there were nearly half a million people in Manchester and Salford, where there had been only 25,000 eighty years before; at this time cotton goods made up about one third of the total value of British exports. The firm of Mather & Platt, whose history is told in this volume, was a characteristic product of the Manchester enterprise during that period of expansion.
Mather & Platt Limited grew up to cater for the demands of local industry to manufacture, in the heart of the cotton area, plant and machinery for the bleaching, dyeing, printing and finishing the textile materials. The engineers who serviced the cotton industry were small men making machines by hand but between 1800 and 1850, a revolution in tools and a differentiation in workers trades, helped to shape the engineering industry on which Britains industrial supremacy was based.
Manchester was a centre of engineering as well as of cotton cloth production. It was there that Roberts, Fairbairn, Whitworth and Nasmyth applied and developed the principles of Henry Maudslay, whose automatic screw cutting lathe, built in 1800, marked the beginning of the engineering revolution. While these important developments were taking place, it is reasonable to suppose that the first Mathers and Platts of our story, were each pre-occupied with small scale production, seeking customers and exploring new techniques in the back streets of Salford. It was only after the move to Salford Iron Works in 1845, and the establishment of the partnership between the Mathers and Platts in 1852, that the first steps were taken in the evolution of the firm from a small business, mainly producing textile machinery, into an important general engineering undertaking.
During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when textiles were already ceasing to overshadow all other branches of British industry, the firm of Mather & Platt took over new inventions at a critical stage and extended the horizons of its enterprise. In addition to the production of textile finishing machinery, it had already manufactured steam engines, bored artesian wells and supplied the associated pumping equipment. Having provided a host of other machines for special purposes, it now acquired the rights to make machines that were to lead industry forward from the nineteenth century into the twentieth century, three new important lines were developed.
In 1873, Professor Osborne-Reynolds designed a turbine pump that was to mark a definite advance in centrifugal pumping. Mather & Platt developed and improved upon this new invention and in doing so laid the foundation for what eventually became a flourishing Pump Department.
In 1883, the rights to manufacture Edison’s electric dynamo were acquired by the firm and, as a result of improvements by Dr. John Hopkinson, the Edison-Hopkinson dynamo reached a degree of perfection not previously known in such machines. This was the first stage of setting up the Electrical Engineering Department.
Finally, also in 1883, William Mather, whilst on holiday in the United States, secured the sole rights to market the Grinnell automatic sprinkler in all parts of the world except the United States and Canada. This was the event that marked the beginning of yet another side of the firm’s activities, the foundation of the Fire Engineering Division.
Events have proved that the manufacture of these new products was taken up at the right time. Technical innovation and business initiative went hand in hand. Business initiative was necessary to see the extent of the opportunity: technical invention was necessary to open up new horizons of industrial progress. Much of the basic scientific technique involved in new inventions depended upon research and experiment, often in fields of pure physics and chemistry.
The city of Manchester was as important a centre of scientific and technical research as it was of business enterprise. Reynolds, working at Owens College, was first attracted to the problems of centrifugal pumping by his philosophic interest in fluid motion. (2) Hopkinson, also educated at Owens College and Trinity College, Cambridge, was interested in the fundamental theory of magnetism as well as in the construction of dynamos. (3) For both men, Manchester was an ideal centre, but their conception of science, which Disraeli had already considered a “distinctive faculty” in 1844, was far removed from the craftsman's skill of the eighteenth century textile inventors. The applied science of the twentieth century depended upon the large-scale organisation of research, both in factories and universities, along the lines inconceivable to Disraeli when he wrote Coningsby
By learning the lessons of scientific advance and by building up a team of skilled workmen, the firm of Mather & Platt was able to become an engineering undertaking of worldwide renown. Flexible and adaptable enough to move without difficulty, after a period devoted to the mechanics of textile finishing machinery, into the age of oil and electricity. This move was made whilst maintaining its leadership in the field in which it had its origin. The production of textile finishing machinery continued and expanded but it was developed in association with new developments in industry. The firm, which grew up to serve the needs of the local manufacturers in the early phases of Manchester’s industrialisation, still claims, with pride, that it “can equip a textile print works of A to Z” in any part of the world.
(1) Coningsby, Book IV, Chapter 1. “It is the philosopher alone who can conceive the grandeur of Manchester, and the immensity of its future. There are yet great truths to tell, if we had either the courage to announce them or the temper to receive them.”
(2) R.W. Bailey, The Contribution of Manchester Researches to Mechanical Science, a paper read to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, June 1929.
(3) J. Greig, John Hopkinson, 1849-1898, The Hopkinson Centenary Lecture, November 1949, printed in Engineering, 13 January 1950.
It has been suggested that it was in its pre-occupation with foreign business, that the firm of Mather & Platt evolved its enlightened attitude towards invention and research. Lancashire was the home of the firm, but the world was its market. In concerning itself with the export trade during the early part of the nineteenth century, it was typical of Manchester business as a whole. In seeking particularly adventurous overseas outlets it was exceptional, as it was also in its constant willingness to learn technical lessons from teachers in other lands.
Manchester was proud of the fact that it was the manufacturing centre of the world as well as the industrial centre of the kingdom. “Our treasures of iron and coal” wrote Henry Dunckley, in 1854, “our crystal mountain streams and convenient outlets to the ocean, could hardly have failed to render us distinguished in the annals of commerce”. If providence had never planted the cotton shrub, we would, in all probability, never have known that prodigious expansion of trade, which has distinguished the last hundred years. In that case, our exports would probably have been little more than half their present amount; our command over the productions of foreign climes would have been proportionally less. Also the magic impulse which had been felt during that period in every department of national energy, making us almost a new people, would never have been communicated. This wondrous plant had become one of the most powerful agents of civilisation and, associated with human skill, had given a broad and ineffaceable impress to the condition of the world. (1) The Manchester manufacturer had his attention drawn as naturally to the state and the problems of international trade, as, “that of the farm labourer to the state of the weather in the time of harvest”. (2)
While Mather & Platt were still engaged mainly in the production of textile machinery, and before the manufacture of the centrifugal pump and electrical machinery played an important part in their programme, they were actively engaged in developing worldwide trade. In this respect, they were pioneers even among the many business firms centred in Manchester. As a youth, in the middle years of the nineteenth century, William Mather visited France, Belgium and Germany. In 1860, under the guidance of his uncle, Colin Mather, he first visited Russia, which in later years was to play a central part in the firms expanding trade and, reflecting later upon his commercial career, he claimed “I must have spent nearly half my life there, at intervals from that time up to the end of the century”. (3)
In 1883 he first visited the United States and with bubbling enthusiasm, wrote of his stay that ”no like period was ever lived with so much mental and physical enjoyment of a high order before”. (4) Those Russian and American associations were no doubt uppermost in his mind when he christened his son, the present chairman of Mather & Platt Limited, Loris Emerson; “Loris” after Loris Melikoff, the Russian commander in Armenia in the Russian Turkish war, and “Emerson” after the American writer and philosopher.
(1) H. Dunckley, The Charter of the Nations, an essay on the results of Free Trade to which the Council of the national Anti-corn Law League awarded its first prize (1854, pp.7-8.)
(2) Ibid., p.13
(3) L.E. Mather, Sir William Mather (1925), p.32.
(4) L.E. Mather, op. Cit., p.193. Both these statements and that quoted under footnote (3) come from diaries of Sir Williams’s travels.
It should not be thought from this that William Mather was the first or only member of the original partnership to travel in Eastern Europe. From 1878, John Platt, another partner in this great enterprise, spent eleven winters in Russia, of which six months were in that part of Russia which lay two hundred miles inside the Arctic Circle. Colin Mather and his sons were also eager travellers. Colin Mather senior was one of the earliest travellers to Russia in search of business for the firm, and the younger Colin, travelled regularly and extensively in the United States and Canada. He negotiated a considerable amount of business for textile machinery in both countries, giving his personal attention to the design, erection and start-up of new plants. He would spend as much as six months of the year in the New World until the McKinlay tariffs came into force and put an end to shipments of textile machinery to America.
For the great part of its long history, the Company has provided men to go abroad under contract to supervise the erection of plant and machinery. It has also been the policy to send its apprentices outside the home country to gain experience on the erection and start-up of new plant and as a result the firm acquired an international reputation. In 1928, on completion of a round the world trip, John Taylor, at that time, Vice Chairman of the company, said “It was inspiring to learn that the name of Mather & Platt was so highly considered wherever I visited.” (1) This reputation has been maintained through all the great historical changes of the last hundred years and the Company still retains its international outlook and the travel reminiscences of directors and employees would fill a book larger than this volume.
A study of the early order books of the firm gives the same sense of a truly international undertaking. A sales book of 1866 is punctuated with recurring references to customers in Holland, Germany, Russia and the United States. Beneath one order, there is a characteristic footnote “The whole to be arranged as per plan agreed upon by Mr. William with them on the premises”. These foreign orders, which established the goodwill and prosperity of the firm, long before the days of government sponsored export drives, jostle with local orders, such as for a boiler for the Salford Union Workhouse. The blending of local and international was most aptly illustrated when the new works at Newton Heath were built round a machine shop that was originally the American machinery hall of the Paris Exhibition of 1900.
From what has been written it is clear that even in its internationalism, the firm of Mather & Platt was a child of industrial Lancashire. The career of William Mather emphasises the relationship even more. It proved impossible in international Manchester, with its high-articulated interests, to separate business and politics, commercial and public life. Behind these different activities there was felt to be an underlying unity of purpose and theme. As chairman of the Company of Mather & Platt Limited, incorporated in 1899, William Mather could survey many years of business progress. As the Manchester Guardian said of him in later years, “The claims of a great business have never detracted from the labour and devotion with which Sir William Mather was ever ready to meet those of public duty.” (2) William Mather’s philosophy was shaped by the city in which he lived. At the age of seven he had driven all day long with his father in a large barouche at an Anti-Corn Law League demonstration and had been seated, wedged on the box seat between two large sheaves of corn. (3) Over fifty years later, as Sir William Mather, he still proclaimed himself true to the gospel of Cobden and Bright, which had made Manchester and Salford the centre of a crusade.
(1) Proceedings of the Annual General Meeting, 29 February 1928.
(2) The Manchester Guardian, 2 September 1913
(3) L.E. Mather, Sir William Mather, p.246.
William Mather’s philosophy of life was far from narrow, though he strove hard for free trade and international amity, based upon the exchange of goods and services, he believed also in close relations between employer and employed founded on deeper ties than mere economic association. “Men are not doing their duty in simply making a prosperous business”, he once said, when addressing an influential Lancashire audience. “They are doing their duty in that business when, prosperity having come and means have accumulated, they determine that other people shall be helped and other institutions assisted, so as to make the world a little sweeter and happier.” (1) Making the world “a little sweeter and happier” meant recognition of duty both in international and local affairs.
William Mather’s public career as a Member of Parliament, town councillor, and member of innumerable committees, was a tribute to his public spirit. When he encouraged trade with a country, such as Russia, he acquired a personal interest in it, which made him seek to understand its international point of view honestly and without bias and to communicate that knowledge and enthusiasm to his partners and fellow directors. As an advocate both of both Anglo-Russian and Anglo-American friendship, he stood out among his contemporaries, and in his belief in the entente-cordiale with France, he won the support and friendship of all concerned with good relations between the two countries.
In local life Sir William was interested in the administrative problems caused by the artificial division of Manchester and Salford as he was in the broader questions of Alsace Lorraine or Poland. In his own workshop he saw that close relations between employers and employees were as important as close relations between the countries in the bigger workshop of the world. One of the last acts of his business career was to draft a scheme “for harmonising the interests of capital and labour”. It proclaimed that “class distinctions such as master and servant can have no party either as a definition or relationship in the future.” Long before the First World War focussed national attention on the problems of industrial relations, the firm of Mather & Platt had already evolved, under his direction, a policy based on the encouragement of technical education and the establishment of welfare services. In 1893, the firm had been one of the first to experiment with a 48-hour week and its labour policy always remained progressive and frequently pioneering in character. In 1917, when the phraseology was not very familiar, Sir William wrote to his son that he had “always had continuity and full employment before me all my life”. (2)
When Disraeli wrote about Manchester, businessmen themselves were not finding it easy to fit into an established social order in which landed interests were supreme. Many of them had built their factories as monuments to the skill and power of “their order” as much as “to obtain a return for their great investment”. (3) In Victorian times they established their position and by the 1880’s many of them were anxious also to help labour to find a new place within the social order. That labour did find such a place, smoothly and without violent jolts, was due partly to its own developing organisation and partly to the attitude of enlightened employers like Mather & Platt who, in the words of Sir William, insisted that “labour must be regarded not as distinct from but as a actual partner with the shareholders in the concern”. (4)
(1) Sir William Mather, The Textile Industry and its Future, an Address delivered to the Annual Conference of the Textile Institute, October 1915.
(2) Sir William Mather to Mr Loris Mather, 21 October 1917.
(3) Coningsby, Book IV, Chapter 3.
(4) Sir William Mather, Ways to Industrial Peace in the Nineteenth Century, February 1917
A family business in Manchester and Salford, converted into a limited company in 1899, was in a favourable position to switch over from a paternal policy in labour relations to one of closer association with the democratic age. In the Salford of the late nineteenth century, Mather’s Queen Street Institute, opened by Bishop Fraser in 1873, stood for responsible interest in the welfare of others within the framework of a local community. “We bought a lot of wretched cottages in a slum” said William Mather, “and cleared a large space on which we built the Institute”. (1) In the years since 1900, which have seen the growth of Park Works, a large factory population has inevitably lost some of the intimate ties, which existed at Salford, but a labour policy based on the same ideals has been evolved. This evolution was made to fit a changing society and it has not only prevented friction but has encouraged active co-operation. Salford was a world in itself, when local worlds still remained coherent and self-sustained, even within the framework of international commerce. One man, asked for his opinion on the story of fifty years at Park Works, replied simply, “Well you see, I was a Salford man”, as though that should explain everything, which in a way, it did. Even though times have changed, Mather & Platt Limited still remains firmly rooted to its Manchester and Salford background.
Traditionally its employees have been local men who have given long years of continuous service, in fact many of them have served the company for the whole of their working lives. The firm has been able to maintain a loyalty and cohesion which enterprises of more recent growth have not always enjoyed. Some of the workers in the firm have already seen their names pass into works legend, men like Joe Heap, Jack Greaves, Joe Mundy, Tom Roberts, George Taylor and Jim Clark. Others who have remained anonymous, helped to make the expansion of the firm possible, the early mill-wrights, working in Brown Street, Salford; the first travelling representative, touring strange lands and the broad ranks of skilled engineers. Of these it was written by a member of staff at the beginning of the twentieth century, while the Boer war was in progress,
“We’re nobody particular, no lasting fame is ours,
We’re but the parts that go to make the force that over powers,
We’re soldiers, but every one of us, with tools upon our backs,
We wage the war of commerce, but we leave no banner tracks.
We nothing know of guns or spears, we’re simply engineers,
But where the white man dares to tread, you’ll find us pioneers,
We desolate no smiling land; we raise no battle cries,
Let others fight to conquer men, we fight to civilise,” (2)
These were the men who provided the high level of technical skill without which a great engineering concern could not expand. With outstanding works managers like Edwin Buckley, who rose from the ranks of manual labour, the Company was able to draw upon the talents and resourcefulness of the Manchester and Salford neighbourhood.
The achievements of Manchester as a centre of free trade internationalism in the middle of the nineteenth century have often been appraised. Its contribution to the shaping of the twentieth century has less often been acknowledged. The leaders of the Manchester school would have been disturbed to see the way in which twentieth century wars have shattered the international society of which they dreamed. They would have hoped, like William Mather, that out of the struggles a New World would arise.
(1) L.E. Mather, Sir William Mather, pp.93-94.
(2) Memories, by Sea-Hay (C. Aitchison) (1899-1903).
A world free from the “idiotic waste” and “scars of war”, when “the doors and windows of bounteous nature will pour out her riches so that we shall lack the store houses to contain them”.(1) Although Mather & Platt Limited was destined to make a large and important contribution towards the war efforts of the twentieth century, William Mather’s words still express the authentic vision of Manchester.
For most part, the story of Mather & Platt is the story of the developing arts of peace, the making of the hidden machines that have helped to produce a world of vast potential plenty. Yet during the First World War, more employees of the firm were killed in the fighting than the total number of employees in the works during the middle of the nineteenth century.
The history of Mather & Platt Limited takes us back far from an age of violence and international tension deep into the “Hundred Years Peace” which followed the final victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. An age of rapid economic expansion in which the firm was built up on sure foundations. In this chapter, an attempt has been made to describe the developing personality of the firm as reflected in one of the greatest characters and its close links with Manchester and Salford, the cradle of its activities.
To understand its fortunes more fully, it is necessary to turn to another chapter and there examine the origins of the partnership between Mather and Platt and the growth of the modern Company.
(1) Sir William Mather to Lord Eversley, Christmas Day 1915.
- From Partnership to Company
The early nineteenth century, though separated from us by only a relatively short span, is something difficult for the present generation to comprehend. There was so much that was new which we take for granted, the machines themselves, the factories where they ran, and the industrial towns where men worked and lived. For the thinking man, these new social and economic phenomena raised strange problems which admitted of no easy answers but for the first generation of business men they merely provided the essential conditions of advance in an age of change. The pioneers of early industrialisation left few written records of their triumphs and defeats; they were men more interested in work rather than posterity. In working themselves to the bone as well as forcing others to work; in working without respite; in order to achieve success to expand their enterprises. At times they were men who seemed to be driven ahead by the logic of progress itself.
They were not often men who lacked humanity or social sense, they were men whose views of economics were often expressed in religious language, even though at times they seemed to have no time to worry about the general environment they were creating. Material progress meant individual forging ahead. “Manchester streets may be irregular,” wrote an outside witness surveying the scene in mid-century. “Its trading inscriptions pretentious; its smoke may be dense, and its mud ultra muddy, but none of these things can prevent the image of a great city rising before us, a very symbol of civilisation foremost in the march of improvement and a grand incarnation of progress”. (1) That was what Disraeli discerned in Manchester more than ten years before the above words were written, but it was a clearer vision than that caught by the first industrial pioneers, who did not care to express their personal strivings in such sophisticated language. They saw their opportunities and they took them.
It was said that the Mathers came to Manchester from Montrose, Scotland, at an unknown date and for unknown reasons; so far as we know, they certainly left no written records of their journeys or their objectives. Also since they left no records of the daily business of their first enterprise, we know far more of the opportunities open to them in Manchester than of the way they tackled them. The early nineteenth century is a dark age for that reason too, we know more of the world of necessities and opportunities than we do of the people who lived in it and shaped it.
Manchester, primarily a cotton manufacturing centre, was a city to attract the enterprising pioneer. In 1800 there were 38 steam mills in Manchester and Salford and by 1820, no less than 66 cotton mills in the two towns. (2) Steam power was also employed in the bleaching, dying and printing branches of the cotton trade, and there were many finishing factories of this type in the Manchester neighbourhood. Lancashire was supplanting London as the chief centre of the calico printing trade and forging ahead of Scotland in bleaching and dying. (3) As a result, there was a flow of Scotsmen across the border, men like the Cheeryble Brothers, so well described by Charles Dickens in “Nicholas Nickleby”.
(1) Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, new series, Vol. IX (1858), p.251.
(2) A. Redford, Manchester Merchants and Foreign Trade, 1794-1858 (1934, p.238.
(3) G. Turnbull, A History of the Calico Printing Industry of Great Britain (1951), p109.
Merchants had to link up to the fortunes of Lancashire with the development of cotton producing areas overseas, and machine manufacturers had to provide and repair the large wheels, the cylinders, boilers and pipes and the rollers for printing, without which the cotton factories would have come to a standstill. The demand for textile machinery often of a very simple character, brought into existence a large number of one man or family concerns making machines by hand; roller makers, iron turners and millwrights. Some of these men and firms survived; others disappeared, hit hard, no doubt, by commercial misfortunes and trade fluctuations, which suspended demand for their products, or by the competition of more powerful rivals.
It is among the small men who survived that we first trace Colin Mather, cabinetmaker, of Gun Street, Salford, in 1817. (1) He is probably the same man who appears as Colin Mather, a machine maker, and just over ten years later at Waterloo Place. (2) The transition from cabinet making to machine making would be quite a natural one for an immigrant from a non-industrial area. By 1834, he had moved to Brown Street, Salford, (3) that has often been regarded as the birthplace of the present firm. The site was convenient, not far from the River Irwell, and by 1836, Colin had become associated with his brother William in an enterprise as that of “Engineers, machine makers and millwrights”, 23 Brown Street. (4) Compared with some rival ventures, Colin and William Mather’s establishment appears to have been small and unimportant.
In the decade after the Napoleonic Wars, two of the most renowned engineering partnerships in Manchester, were Peel, Williams and Peel, of the Soho Foundry, Ancoats and Galloway, Bowman and Galloway of Great Bridgewater Street, (5) but by modern standards, these two firms were also small in size. Indeed, for some years Galloway and Bowman merely called themselves millwrights, although they employed pattern makers, iron and brass founders, smith's, firemen, hammermen and turners. Another firm, T.C. Herves, extensively employed in erecting mills and filling them with machinery, found work for 140 to 150 men. (6)
(1) Pigot and Dean’s Directory (1817). There is an earlier reference in the same directory to Peter Mather, roller manufacturer of Gun Street, Salford; the first entry is 1804. In Dean’s Manchester and Salford Directory (1809) he appears at 12 Rushalm Lane: In Pigot’s Manchester and Salford Directory (1813) There are two Peter Mathers, one a roller maker at 3 Rushalm Lane, the other a whitesmith at 33 Gun Street. The name Mather was quite a common one in Lancashire and it was a branch of the Lancashire Mathers, which emigrated to America in the seventeenth century. The first reference, in a Manchester Directory, to a Colin Mather appeared in the 1817 edition.
(2) Wardle and Kings Directory, (1828), his home was in Waterloo Place, his workshop in Foundry Street, according to the directory of the following years.
(3) Pigot’s Directory (1834)
(4) ibid., (1836)
(5) J.T. Slugg, Reminiscences of Manchester Fifty Years Ago, (1881) p.102. The Peels were relatives of Sir Robert, the great calico printer.
(6) Select Committee on Artisans and Machinery (1824), p.340, 27.
There was one other active concern in Salford, which was to provide the eventual site for the Mather and Platt partnership at the Salford Iron Works. Indeed, the building was known as the Salford Iron Works when William Green drew his map of Salford in 1794. It was then owned by Bateman and Sherratt, (1) Bateman lost interest in the firm, and the Sherratts, a Westmorland Family became the dominant influence. (2) In 1795, Aikin wrote that, “a considerable iron foundry is established in Salford, in which are cast most of the articles wanted in Manchester and its neighbourhood. Mr Sharrard is a very ingenious and able engineer, who has improved upon and brought the steam engine to great perfection. Most of those that are used and set up in and about Manchester are of their make and fitting up. They are in general of a small size, very compact, stand in a small space, work smooth and easy and are scarcely heard in the building when erected. They are now in use in cotton mills and for every purpose of the water wheel, where a stream is not available and for winding up coals from a great depth in the coal pits, which is performed with a quickness and ease not conceived”. (3) This was an interesting forecast of the sort of claim that was to be made eventually for engineering operations carried out by Mather & Platt and as a reference, it also showed how established was the Sherratt firm before the Mathers had begun their operations at all.
In 1834, when William and Colin Mather had begun their operations, a wage book dated 1829, established that William and Colin Mather were in business as millwrights and engineers at the date that J & T Sherratt were described as brass founders, engine makers and iron founders. (4) The description indicates that they were concerned primarily with general engineering rather than with the production of machinery for the textile trade, a task which was still left to small men, although from a later entry, it is clear that the Sherratts continued to do some textile machinery work. In the eighteenth century, many cotton mills grew up in the same neighbourhood as iron works, and the textile industry and the engineering trades flourished side by side. (5) As late as 1836, Sherratts still called themselves “iron founders, steam engine manufacturers, millwrights and hydraulic press manufacturers”. (5)
In 1837, Thomas Sherrat died, and two years later, his trustees leased the Salford Iron Works to John Platt. (6) Little is known about John Platt, for he is not described in the Directories until 1836, when he was described as a “machine maker”, living in Roman Road Terrace, Higher Broughton. (7) His workshop before he moved to the Iron Works was in Greengate.
(1) Evidently, Manchester men, like men elsewhere, had no idea of uniform spelling. Sherratt is sometimes rendered Sharratt and even in Aikin, as Sharrard.
(2) F.S. Stancliffe, John Shaw’s, 1738-1938 (1938) p.87
(3) J. Aikin, A Description of the Country to Forty Miles Round Manchester, (1795) p.176.
(4) Pigot’s Directory (1834).
(5) L.C.A. Knowles, The industrial and Commercial Revolutions in Great Britain during the Nineteenth Century (1922), p.29.
(6) Pigot’s Directory (1836)
(7) Ibid (1838)
Platt had entered into partnership with George Yates, the two of them continuing Sherratt’s line of business. From their small workshop in Brown Street, the Mather’s could contemplate the roomy premises occupied by Platt and Yates at the Salford Iron Works across Chapel Street. For reasons which remain obscure, the Mathers and the Platts became connected when in 1845, John Platt leased the Salford Iron Works, or at any rate part of them, to William and Colin Mather. (1) The premises were to grow substantially in size in later years, but here was the beginning of a larger ‘Mather’ enterprise than had been envisaged before.
Stepping into the shoes of the Sherratts, they advertised themselves in the Directory as “Engineers, Machine-makers, Millwrights and Iron-founders”, Garden Lane, Salford. (2) At the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, they referred to their premises not as “Garden Lane” but as “Salford Iron Works” and went to London to display “A calico printing machine for printing eight colours at one operation with drying apparatus, a sewing machine and patent pistons”. (3) The sewing machine for the batching of the pieces was a new invention of 1847. (4) The patent pistons were made at Brown Street. (5)
One year after the Exhibition, Colin Mather entered into partnership with William Platt, the son of John Platt, who had died in 1847. It was this partnership which laid the foundations of the later business. The younger Platt, who had carried on iron founding work in the Salford iron Works, (6) provided land, buildings and money for the new partnership, while Colin, apparently, contributed technical skills and ideas. This sort of division of labour in industrial partnerships was by no means new, indeed it had already been established as a well-tried recipe for business success.
Colin Mather, “Cast Iron Colin”, as he came to be called, was an engineer of ingenuity and brilliance. As the active head of the business, with Grundy as his manager, he not only built up an efficient organisation to produce textile finishing machinery, he also concerned himself with a wide range of ingenious ideas, including the design of piston rings, particularly for use in ships engines. There was also well boring, the production of magnesium in quantity in cast iron pots instead of in expensive platinum and porcelain vessels which had been used previously; and the method of preventing coastal erosion with a system of cast iron plates. He had something of Wilkinson’s zest for turning iron into a universal material and it was easy to see from the list of his pre-occupations how he came to earn his nickname.
(1) Lease of 1845; J. Platt to W. Mather and C. Mather.
(2) Slater’s Directory, 1845.
(3) Official Catalogue of the Great Exhibition, p.38.
(4) G. Turnbull, Calico Printing, p.37.
(5) Manchester Mercantile Annual Directory (1854-55). Mather and Platt appear as iron founders, Salford Iron Works, Garden Lane and Deal Street, and Drying and Sizing Machine Makers, Deal Street and Brown Street. There was also a reference to them under Brown Street – Mather and Platt, Patent Piston Works.
(6) Pigot and Slater’s Directory (1843).
Such clever ideas have sometimes led engineers to their ruin, for as Campbell had written in the middle of the eighteenth century, “an engineer ought to have a solid not a flighty head, otherwise his business will tempt him to make useless and expensive projects”. (1) These did not prevent Colin from building up the solid side of the partnership’s activities for in 1852 the firm was employing about 125 men, (2) ten years later the number had increased to 300 and in 1875, about the same number were employed. (3)
The entry of William Wilkinson Platt into the partnership coincided with the withdrawal of Colin’s brother William, who had been associated with him since the 1830’s. William had been more interested in public life and politics than in engineering and at the time of his death in 1858, he had few business interests. However, as a result of domestic circumstances, it was William's son, also called William, later Sir William Mather, rather than Colin’s sons who was destined to play the biggest part in the subsequent development of the business in the nineteenth century.
Colin Mather had three sons, the eldest, William Penn, whom after spending a few years in the family business decided to emigrate to America. The second, John Harry was sent to Alsace to study tinctorial chemistry, in which the firm, as makers of dyeing machinery, had an active interest. The youngest, another Colin, spent over 40 years in the family business and in due course became a director of the Limited Company. Colin played a prominent part in the technical developments of the time and left his mark in many branches of engineering, especially that associated with the textile finishing trade.
When Colin Senior met with an accident at work and was compelled to take a less active part in the affairs of the firm, it was to William, the second son of old William that he turned. (4) and not to his own children, who were still too young to accept important positions in the business. Young William was capable, far seeing and energetic and in 1850, at the age of twelve, he had begun three strenuous years of apprenticeship in the family business. He had broadened his industrial education by spending some time in Germany and had returned at the age of eighteen to work in the family business. It is on record that his hours of work extended from 6.00 am to 6.00 p.m. and most of his evenings were spent at night school in the Mechanics Institute, which both the Mathers and the Platts had sponsored three years before.
This was learning the hard way, but it paid good dividends, for, as a result, William Mather always understood the value and dignity of manual work and the importance of establishing happy relations with his employees. As he said on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, in the course of a celebration at Belle Vue, he had “always loved working men from his youth”. Because he knew so much of them in his early life, he had “a profound respect for the honest, diligent, earnest, working man”. (5)
(1) R. Campbell, The London Tradesman (1747), p.248.
(2) The Manchester Guardian, 14 January 1852. In that year the firm was involved in the lockout between the newly set up Amalgamated Society of Engineers and the Engineering Employers. The dispute continued through February and March.
(3) L.E. Mather, Sir William Mather, p.14.
(4) The first son, also called Colin, died in 1857.
(5) Quoted by Sir John Wormald in "The Sprinkler Bulletin" July 1908.
In 1858, the year when his father died, William was made assistant manager at the Salford Iron Works. Five years later he was taken into partnership with Colin Mather and William Wilkinson Platt and the occasion was marked by a celebration at Belle Vue Zoological Gardens. All employees were given half a day’s holiday and invited to attend a social gathering, the first of many similar functions given by the firm. The programme included a characteristically Victorian meal and a feast of speech making and dancing. (1)
Young William Mather represented a new generation, wider in its interests and more cultivated in its tastes, than the generation of pioneers who first saw the possibilities of advancement in the world of machines and factories. It was fitting that for a time he should be the sole figure on the stage of the story of the firm. Colin Mather retired soon after 1863 and William Wilkinson Platt in 1872. William Mather was thus left in sole control between 1872 and 1878 when he took into partnership young John Platt, the son of W.W. Platt. The men of the new partnership were different from those in 1852, representative of a changed age, about which we know more and of which we can find out more if we try. Indeed, we have numerous photographs, diaries, records and outside observers’ comments to help us. Of John Platt, who had served his apprenticeship at Hulses’ machine tool makers in Salford and who died in 1927 at the age of 79, we have fewer records. So far as can be traced from available documents, he spent much of his time travelling in search of business and frequently visited Italy, Austria, Germany and Russia. A study of old order books indicates that as a result of his efforts in these countries, he left a definite imprint in the commercial history of the concern.
Between the beginning of the 1870’s and the end of the nineteenth century, the firm was expanding rapidly, both in the size of its plant and the scope of its operations. In 1873, adjacent property in Deal Street, known as Drinkwater’s Mill and the whole of Foundry Street were taken over. This increased accommodation provided new offices, a lodgeman’s house, stores, pattern and joiners shops and a light fitting shop and the number of employees increase to about 600. From 1888 onwards, land was being acquired from the Salford Corporation. In 1894 agreement was reached concerning the closing of a portion of Union Street in order that the area covered by the street and two rows of cottages, could be absorbed into the Salford Iron Works, thus providing space for a fine erecting shop and new offices. The new erecting shop soon became know as “Klondyke” as it was being erected about the time when gold was discovered at Klondyke in Alaska. The men working in the building through the winter felt that the term was a bright and apt one. “Klondyke” was more up to date than the rest of the buildings, but it marked the effective limit to the expansion of the Salford Iron Works site. In order to expand further the firm had to look outside, just as William and Colin Mather had looked across the way from Brown Street nearly fifty years earlier.
As the firm expanded in size the partners had another problem to face, should it remain a partnership or be turned into a limited company? The Limited Liability Act of 1862 had codified previous legislation, but the limited liability Company had not yet become dominant or even a representative type of business organisation. However, between 1889 and 1891, there was an unprecedented increase in the number of changeovers from family businesses to limited liability companies, particularly in the north of England, and the question arose as to whether the partnership of Mather & Platt should follow the fashion. William Mather’s son-in-law, John Petro, who had been making a close study of the Companies Acts, discussed the idea with his father-in-law, who was at that time much opposed to the changeover.
(1) L.E. Mather, Sir William Mather, p.14.
This opposition was based on interesting, but at that time fairly commonly held grounds among family industrialists, he said that he could not part with what was “his creation” and that “the works would always remain the private property of the partners”. He thought that enterprise would not be fostered nor advancement made under the control of a board of directors; and that the personal element would depart from the Works. (1)
This opposition was gradually overcome; indeed the roots of it had in fact been cut away before William Mather expressed himself so strongly. In 1888, Dowson and Taylor, a firm which had been installing automatic sprinkler systems and had just started to buy “Grinnell” sprinklers from Mather and Platt, the selling rights of which Mather had acquired from Frederick Grinnell in 1883, was turned into a private company to take over the sprinkler department of Mather and Platt and to merge it with Dowson and Taylor. The new company was called Dowson, Taylor and Co Ltd with Ralph Dowson, John Taylor and John Wormald as Managing directors, William Mather as non-executive Chairman and John Platt as a non-executive director. The Dowson and Taylor firm that had moved from Bolton to Blackfriars Bridge, Manchester had for some years been interested in fire fighting devices with their own “Simplex” sprinkler and patented alarm valve and had entered into an agreement with Mather and Platt to buy “Grinnell” sprinklers and use them in place of their own “Simplex” sprinkler. The success of this venture was calculed to make William Mather less sceptical in considering a general changeover in the status of the Mather & Platt partnership
In 1892, he agreed to form Mather & Platt into a private limited company with a capital of £40,000. The first directors were, William Mather, John Platt, Dr. Edward Hopkinson, who had managed the Electrical Department since its foundation, and Hardman Earle, who was also connected with the Electrical Department. The funds of the company were increased by the private issue of mortgage debentures to members of the family. So certain were the directors that there would be no change in the constitution of the private company, that these debentures were issued as “irredeemable” and a “first charge on the works”.
At this stage we must turn our attention to another partnership which affects our history, it is the Dowson-Taylor partnership which brief reference has already been made and which later amalgamated with Mather & Platt. The central figure in this part of the story is John Taylor, who was destined to become, for nearly 35 years, Managing Director and Vice Chairman of Mather & Platt Limited and the organising genius and driving force at Park Works. He comes on the scene as an ambitious young man of twenty; ready to work hard to ensure the success of the great enterprise to which he devoted his working life. On leaving school, he had joined the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company at Bolton and in the evenings, had studied shorthand and other commercial subjects in order to fit himself for office work.
John soon discovered that life in the office of the Railway Company had little to offer to one of an adventurous outlook, so he obtained a position in the works of the Bolton Chemical Fire Extinguisher Company. Here he had his first real encounter with that stirring element “fire” and here he found adventure in plenty for he soon discovered that he was working in a sinking ship. Sales were not enough to keep the place going, the firm was losing money and it could not pay its way. No doubt the lessons he learned from its failure helped to develop that acute commercial sense which was such an asset to him in later life. Many young men would have lost heart when they saw the firm they worked for sinking and would have sought a safe job elsewhere. Not so John Taylor and a young colleague named Ralph Dowson who enjoyed his confidence and with whom he was prepared to embark on a business career. These two enterprising and energetic young men, confident in their own ability and possessing a great capacity for hard work, decide to strike out on their own at an age when most of today’s engineers are still serving their apprenticeship.
(1) A statement of John Petro, quoted by L.E. Mather, Sir William Mather, p.21.
In 1883 when the Bolton Chemical Fire Extinguisher Company finally closed down, Dowson and Taylor started their own firm, in Bolton, under the title “Dowson and Taylor, Fire Engineers”. Thus began a partnership which was to play a great part in the future of Mather & Platt Limited. The title “Fire Engineers” which Dowson and Taylor adopted was indicative of a new attitude towards that enemy of civilisation “Fire”. It told of the resolve of engineering science to place its resources at the service of a crusade which has since saved the world untold damage and many millions of pounds.
John Taylor brought to this early venture the great qualities of the self-made Lancashire man, hard headed business sense, a determination to get the best out of himself and those about him and great energy. The first aim of the new firm was the perfecting and marketing of a Chemical Fire Extinguisher called the “Simplex”, it held five or six gallons of liquid, weighed about eighty pounds and was carried on the back as a soldier carried his pack. In 1884 it was awarded a medal at an International Exhibition in London and was soon installed in royal palaces, railway stations and public buildings. Following this early success, the next stop was to produce a more portable machine and it was not long before the well-known “2 gallon Simplex” extinguisher made its appearance. Today the modern “Simplex” Chemical Extinguisher is still recognised as an efficient hand appliance with which to fight small fires.
If one were asked to name some of the secrets of John Taylor’s success, the reply might well be “his swiftness to learn from others; his ability to pounce upon a new idea and his eager eye for anything which might further his life’s work”.
Thus, in 1881 when Bolton received a visit from an American fire-fighting enthusiast named Parmelee, John Taylor had been quick to see the possibilities of the automatic sprinkler. Parmelee was out to market an automatic fire extinguisher. Automatic! Here was a word to fire John Taylor’s mind. Some fire engineers ridiculed the idea, but Bolton was ready to learn. The Corporation allowed Parmelee to build a shed in the Wholesale Market ground for the purpose of giving practical demonstrations. According to eyewitness accounts, as published at the time, the demonstrations made a great impression on all present, but some months later Mr. Parmelee decided upon a more thorough test, under conditions approximating to a Cotton Spinning Mill. He adopted the bold policy of hiring the Spa Mill in Bolton, an old cotton-spinning factory of non-fireproof construction, five storeys in height, with wooden boarded floors, which were saturated with the oil of fifty years work. The building was fired on 22 March 1882 and the Bolton Evening News, of the same date, published the following report of the event.
“It will be remembered that, in June last, a trial was made of a specially erected wooden building on the Wholesale Market, and it was then considered that the contracted space condensed the heat, therefore the Sprinklers came into operation sooner than would have been the case under less circumscribed conditions. The present experiment was therefore arranged, and on the fourth floor two pairs of spinning mules were erected, thirty-two sprinklers were fixed in this room and a similar number in the top storey. A quantity of shavings and combustible material was scattered around one pair of mules and a light applied. Within a very short time, the flames obtained complete mastery and dense volumes of smoke filled the room; in fact, it was all but possible to breathe within two minutes after the light was applied. At the expiration of a minute and a half, the first sprinkler came into operation and two others shortly followed. Within three and a half minutes, the fire was extinguished and the spectators, who had made a hasty and somewhat undignified exit, were able to return. It will, therefore, be seen that the experiment was entirely satisfactory and furnishes the best recommendation for the general adoption of the system”.
The demonstration made a profound impression on the large and influential company present, but another result and one of more importance to our story- is that John Taylor, who was one of the eager spectators at the initial demonstration, had already been charged with enthusiasm and had decided that he would one day perfect a sprinkler of his own. Thus it came about that before long, Lancashire cotton mills were installing the “Simplex” Automatic Sprinkler, designed and manufactured by the firm of Dowson and Taylor.
It was in 1883 after Parmalee had given his first demonstration, in Bolton, That William Mather made the visit to America, to which reference is made elsewhere and brought back from the United States, the world selling rights, apart from North America, for an automatic sprinkler called “Grinnell”. No sooner had John Taylor studied the mechanism of the “Grinnell” head and seen it tested under fire conditions, that he knew it to be the best sprinkler yet invented. Mather and Platt started to sell the “Grinnell” sprinkler and there was fierce competition between the two firms. John Taylor had invented and patented a sprinkler alarm valve which was by far and away better than anything else made at the time.So here we had two firms in competition both having the best designed working parts of a sprinkler system. Some-how the two inventions had to be brought together.
At this point another important person comes on the scene. John Wormald who at the time was the surveyor for the Bolton Mutual Insurance Corporation and who had written and had published the first set of rules for the installation of sprinklers He had done this for the Bolton Mutual Insurance Corporation who were to offer discounts on fire insurance premiums for buildings protected by automatic sprinklers installed to their rules. Bolton Mutual’s decision to grant discounts for properly installed sprinkler systems was so successful that the larger fire insurance companies soon followed and so a means to incentivise factory owners to install automatic fire sprinkler systems was established. John Wormald was of course well known to John Taylor who had assisted him in drafting the rules one Sunday afternoon on a park bench in Bolton, he was also known to William Mather. John Wormald saw the fierce competition between Mather and Platt and Dowson and Taylor and appreciated that each owned the best products for a sprinkler system but that neither had the use of each other’s products.
John Wormald knew that John Taylor would like to have available to his firm the “Grinnell” sprinkler he also knew that William Mather would like to have available the Taylor patented alarm valve. However Ralph Dowson was a formidable salesman and Mather’s sprinkler department were finding it difficult to over come the Dowson and Taylor competition. The first step to solve this, was an agreement in 1887 where Mather & Platt agreed to sell “Grinnell” sprinklers to Dowson and Taylor. This arrangement was so successful that John Wormald suggested to both John Taylor and William Mather that the two firms should come together and combine their activities and that in the event that this could be agreed that he would leave the Bolton Mutual Insurance Corporation and join the new combined enterprise to promote automatic sprinkler systems on a national scale.
On the 10th May 1888 John Wormald’s efforts were rewarded and Mather and Platt and Dowson and Taylor signed an agreement for a new company called Dowson, Taylor and Co. Limited to be formed with Ralph Dowson, John Taylor, and John Wormald as Managing Directors and William Mather as non-executive Chairman and John Platt a non-executive Director. The purpose was for the new company to purchase the Mather and Platt Sprinkler business including it’s agency for the Grinnell sprinkler in exchange for 2500 Ordinary shares in Dowson, Taylor and Co. Limited plus £7,000 and to purchase the Dowson and Taylor business with it’s patents for 2,500 Ordinary shares plus stock equipment, tools and work in progress at a reasonable valuation.
The new company wasted no time and soon a London office was opened under John Wormald in Victoria Street with him having responsibility for all sales south of River Trent. North of this the sales were the responsibility of the Manchester office.
Thus we see that while still a young man, John Taylor had proved his capacity for big business by joining forces with men like Dowson and Wormald who could work hard with him to build up the business in which they were engaged. Typical of the man was the advertisement which first brought into service of the firm a boy who was later to become Secretary of the Company. It was brief and very much to the point, “Wanted, Office Boy, not afraid of hard work and with his head screwed on the right way”. There was no demand for matriculation standard ant not even a promise of a bright future in an age of golden opportunities, for John Taylor always held that work brought it’s own reward. How hard the three Managing Directors worked in the early days of Dowson, Taylor & Co. Limited. Can best be judged by the achievements of the first ten years.
Once the big Insurance Companies had accepted the principle of allowing rebates on insurance premiums in respect of buildings protected by automatic sprinklers, and the efficiency of Grinnell Installations had been established by their satisfactory performance in extinguishing numerous mill fires, the future was assured. It was merely a matter of time before the cotton mills and warehouses of Lancashire were fitted with sprinklers as a matter of course.
Some men might have been content to reap the local harvest, not so John Taylor and his colleagues on the board of Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd. They lost no time in planning to cultivate a wider field and the minute books, covering their first twelve months as a limited company, contain references to the activities for negotiating business in the Metropolitan district; to the appointment of Resident Managers for Scotland and Ireland; to the establishment of branch offices in London and many provincial centres; to negotiations for agencies to cover special industries in the British Isles; to the completion of agency agreements to take the “Grinnell” system to France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand and India as well as arrangements to stage demonstration fires in London for Press, Insurance Officials and leaders in Industry. Quite ambitious programmes for one year for a company still in its infancy!
In view of William Mather’s business connections with Russia, it is not surprising to find that he was instrumental in bringing the “Grinnell” system to the notice of his many friends in that country. Thus he secured concessions from the Russian Insurance Companies, with the result that automatic sprinklers were soon installed there on a big scale. During his early years as Chairman of Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd., William Mather himself could witness the success of the new company and so very soon John Wormald himself took overall charge of the Russian business. In due course John Wormald arranged for a branch office to be opened in Moscow under the supervision of Martin Cox, who later became a Director of Mather & Platt Limited. As a means of cementing and studying the technical problems of the country, John Taylor also spent some months each winter in Russia for many years.
In 1890 John Taylor on a visit to the U.S.A. negotiated the right for Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd to manufacture the “Grinnell” sprinkler, so ending the need to import “Grinnell” sprinkler heads from America and at the same time licenced the Grinnell Company to manufacture his patented alarm valve for use in North America.
For some years the story of Dowson Taylor & Co, was one of uninterrupted success but in May 1896, the Company suffered its first great loss. This was the death of Ralph Dowson, who died with tragic suddenness in Bombay, whither he had gone while on a ‘tour to further his company’s business interests in India.
The untimely death of the man who had lent his name to the original Dowson-Taylor partnership, while still a young man and apparently at the heyday of his career, was a heavy blow to his colleagues in the firm and it robs our later history of the lustre of a man whose achievements would have added colour to our study of many great personalities. This is not idle speculation; conjecture it may be, but it is conjecture based on the considered opinion of John Taylor who, near the end of his business career, when he himself enjoyed an outstanding reputation among his business associates and had travelled in all parts of the civilised world in search of business and had met Kings, Princes, Government Officials and all men of Big Business in every country, described his original partner as “One of the finest business men I have ever met: a man of wonderful vision, a typical English gentleman and a man with whom it was a delight to work”. To the end of his life, whenever John Taylor spoke of Ralph Dowson he did so with deep emotion.
From this point until the two firms went into voluntary liquidation in order to amalgamate and form Mather & Platt Limited the destinies of Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd., were in the hands of John Taylor and John Wormald as joint Managing Directors, with William Mather and John Platt as non-executive Directors. This was a great combination and each man made an outstanding success of work in his own sphere: John Taylor, the engineer, carried the responsibility for the works production policy and all technical and commercial administration. John Wormald, from his headquarters in London devoted his tremendous energy to formulating and. carrying out an aggressive sales policy at home and overseas.
Much of the success of Dowson, Taylor and Co. Ltd., was due to the ability of each in his own sphere and to the fact that each concentrated on his own work. There was no overlapping and in all phases of their business dealings each manifested supreme confidence in the other.
Later they carried this same principle into good effect in administering the business of Mather & Platt Ltd, of which company they were destined to become managing directors,
Some examples of the work carried out by John Taylor when as a boy in the office of the Railway Company he attended night school in order to fit himself for a position as a shorthand writer are still in existence. Work in his shorthand notebook was written with meticulous care and approached perfection in execution. The result is more like a page from a printing press than the handiwork of a student at an evening school. He displayed the same meticulous attention to detail throughout his life. He had a passion for learning and from every situation and from every new encounter he sought to draw a lesson. He had a great belief in concentration of effort avoiding, where possible, all diversions.
As evidence of his devotion to the interests of his business we have the record of his wedding to Mary Ann Roberts. He married on Christmas day; but next morning was back at work at the normal time. "I could not spare the time for a honeymoon" said John " so long as there was work to be done".Mary Ann Roberts was the daughter of John Roberts and sister to Edward Roberts who was to play such an important part with John Taylor in the development of Dowson and Taylor& Co and later Mather and Platt Ltd.
John Taylor, the engineer, would accept nothing but the best, he was a ruthless critic and his yardstick was engineering perfection. Men came to know that every job which survived his criticism was right and that, furthermore, it would have his complete support and the driving power of his constructive mind.
Contemporary engineers recognised in John Taylor a man who brought a profound knowledge of engineering subjects to bear on the many problems connected with fire extinction and the wider activities of Mather & Platt Ltd after he joined that Company. His discerning eye was of the utmost value in the pioneer days of electrical machinery and centrifugal pump's. He took special pride in the development of the electrical side of the business and the value of his services to the electrical industry may be gauged from the fact that he served, for many years on the Council of the British Electrical and Allied Manufacturers’ Association, and was one of its Vice-Presidents up to his death. This was one of the very few “outside” activities of John Taylor, who had neither time nor inclination to take part in public life. He felt that his work for Mather & Platt Ltd was a full-tine job and. demanded his undivided attention. He made an exception during the world war of 1914-18, which provided an opportunity for those in authority to set the seal on John Taylor’s position as an acknowledged master in his sphere.
He was appointed Chairman of the Lancashire Anti-submarine Committee, a body appointed by the British Government of the day to investigate the possibilities of all measures which the ingenuity of engineers and scientists could devise to counter the menace of the German submarine. Although the work of the Committee was hidden behind the veil of war-time secrecy we may be sure that with John Taylor as Chairman, Mr. A. P. N. (later Sir Arthur) Fleming as Vice-Chairman and the late Lord Rutherford as Chief Technical Adviser, the local engineers and scientists who served in this body from 1917 to 1919 would not lack encouragement. John Taylor was also Chairman of the Board of Management of the Manchester and District Armaments Output Committee, an organisation to which the Ministry of Munitions delegated the work of co-ordinating the efforts of local engineering firms engaged on the production of munitions. When the Ministry of Reconstruction set up a number of Committees to investigate problems connected with industry, John Taylor was appointed a member of the Engineering Trades (Now Industries) Committee and Chairman of the Electrical Branch Committee of that body. In recognition of his work on those bodies Mr. Taylor was made a Companion of the Order of the British Empire but his work for Mather & Platt Ltd remains to be seen by all who visit the great engineering establishment he built up at Newton Heath.
As we have now introduced the principal characters who were concerned with the decision of 1898 to amalgamate Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd. with Mather & Platt to form a new public limited Company called Mather & Platt Limited. The new public company was floated on the stock exchange on 25th January 1899 with the object of purchasing for shares and cash the two business of Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd and Mather & Platt, with the old firms going into voluntary liquidation. At the time of the amalgamation the turnover and profits of both of the firms were about equal. It is fitting that we should at this point include an extract from the Chairman’s address at the first meeting of the directors of the new company. A minute of the Board meeting held on 25th January 1899, reads: -
"Each firm had been successful in the past and there was every reason to expect that in the future they, as a united firm, would continue to prosper, but the Chairman reminded the Board that the union of the two firms must be looked upon very much like a marriage; They took each other “for better or worse”, “for richer or poorer” and, as in marriage, the future very much depended upon the mutual consideration, forbearance and regard of all members of the Company towards one another. Each one must look to the future with the intention of doing his best to maintain the traditions of the past….”
The capital was fixed at £775,000 - 37,500 preference shares of £10 each and 40,000 ordinary shares of £10 each. The preference shares were entitled to a cumulative dividend. of 5%, and upon a distribution of assets to have the capital paid up on them, plus a premium of 10 shillings a share, repaid in priority to the ordinary shares. 37,500 of the ordinary shares and 10,800 of the preference shares were issued as fully paid in part consideration for the sale of the business. The remaining 2,500 ordinary shares were reserved, to meet applications from certain employees of the Company. Of the preference shares 5,000 were reserved for issue as and when required for further extensions of the business, and the balance of 21,700 5% cumulative preference shares was offered for subscription.
In drawing up these plans it was overlooked until almost the last moment that the debenture issue of 1892 was “irredeemable”. Fortunately, the two debenture holders did not hold out for their ‘pound of flesh’, but loyally accepted an allotment of preference shares in exchange for their debentures.
It was a propitious time to launch the new company. Prices were rising, business activity was high, prospects were good and the curve of limited company registration was rising fast. The issue was eleven times over-applied for, and the company soon got away to a good start.
The year 1899, the first of the new limited company, was a record one for cotton, which made bigger profits than in the previous twenty years, and for engineering, which could not secure raw material supplies as fast as they were wanted. The unemployment figures of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers in that year were down to 1.8%
The launching of the Company and the first move to Park Works in 1901 marked as big an epoch in the history of the firm as did the drawing up of the articles of a partnership in 1852. It is worthwhile taking a more careful stock of’ the position of the enterprise at the beginning of a new phase of its history and at the beginning of a new century. Technically it had moved far from the roller making enterprise of the first Mathers: physically it had increased greatly in size from the Salford Iron Works plant of 1845. From a financial point of view it was a safe enterprise, far safer than most of the companies floated during the cheap-money atmosphere of 1894-6.
The physical assets of the new company, before the acquisition of the Newton Heath property, consisted of three and a half acres of freehold land within half a mile of the Manchester Royal Exchange, and other leasehold properties, fixtures, machinery and stock, together worth considerably more than the preference capital. Other assets included ample working capital; the goodwill associated with one old established successful family business and the younger company of Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd, as well as a set of patents sufficient to make any competitor feel envious. The annual average combined profits of the two firms in the middle nineties were sufficient to pay the dividend on the new issue of preference capital more than three times over (1). The hard work of “Cast Iron Colin” and his associates and successors was now paying good dividends, and the accumulation of capital through laborious personal savings in the middle years of the century had provided a successful basis for the appeal to the capital market.
William Mather was Chairman of the new Company and there were four managing directors John Platt, Edward Hopkinson, John Taylor and John Wormald. The other directors were Colin Mather, son of “Cast Iron Colin", John Milligan, Hardman A. Earle, J. J. Holden, W. Ernest Mather and. Alfred Willett.
The inclusion of Sir William’s son, Ernest Mather, who had just left Cambridge, showed that although the company had become a public one, the family tradition was to continue. It was to remain in the twentieth century as a distinctive element in the further growth of the firm. Of the present Board of Directors, six have direct family connections with their predecessors and. the other three are very long serving’ members of the Company.
(1) Chartered Accountants’ Statements, 30 November and 21 December 1898. See Manchester Guardian. 21 January 1899.
- The Growth of The Company
With the setting up of the new Company referred to at the close of the previous chapter the managing directors realised that the enterprise had outgrown the limits of the Salford Iron Works site. They saw clearly that the future of the business lay in its concentration and development on a scale beyond anything hitherto attempted.
Such concentration and development entailed changes in organisation as well as changes in location, but the two sets of considerations went together. Even new brooms can best sweep clean on new premises. The three reasons for the move from Salford Iron Works to Newton Heath were first, to acquire satisfactory railway siding facilities; second, to find open spaces in which to be able to expand; and third, to provide scope for centralised and efficient management, control and production. The first of these reasons could in itself be regarded as a self-sufficient cause for removing the works. There were no railway siding facilities at the Salford Iron Works and consequently everything had to be carted through the streets, a state of affairs that placed a limit on business expansion. John Taylor and John Wormald caught a glimpse of an attractive site at Newton Heath through a railway carriage window, and the vision was gradually turned into reality
To see major changes in to life of a firm in terms of such anecdotes is both to over-dramatise and to over-simplify the logic of cause and effect. In point of fact there was urgent need for expansion and for the re--siting of parts of the company’s enterprise, particularly the fire engineering business previously conducted by Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd. at Blackfriars: hence the merit of Newton Heath which was an undeveloped site, capable of gradual development. Before seeing the open space on which Park Works now stands Taylor inspected and half approved a site in Great Clowes Street, Broughton, but he felt that "the policy of the firm should be one of greater vision than this”. By contrast the scheme to acquire the extensive site at Newton Heath seemed too ambitious to some critics but they were proved wrong almost from the start.
The third reason for a change the quest for a home offering scope for more efficient control of production - also made imperative the search for premises, where materials could be more easily handled and where workers could be effectively supervised. The growing use of jigs and automatic tools demanded systematic arrangement of machines to produce large quantities at low cost. Salford Iron Works with its buildings at varying angles to one another, differences in floor levels, rough floors and heavy galleries was an unsuitable place for development in production technique or departmental sub-division. Newton Heath was a big enough site to allow for the arrangement of workshops in such a way that unnecessary waste of time and effort could be eliminated.
It was in 1900 that the fifty-acre plot of nearly level ground at Newton Heath was secured by the Company. It had direct access to the Lancashire and Yorkshire and The London and North-Western Railways, was on the bank of the Rochdale Canal, and was well served by main roads. Although the Boer War was in progress, building operations started at once. An administrative building two storeys in height was constructed, with the general office and drawing office open from end to end, the supervisory staff alone being provided with separate rooms. The building itself was of unusual construction being based on the design of an American firm which specialised in what they termed ‘slow burning’ buildings - solid wood built into an outer 'skin’ of brick. It is said that this remarkable structure is as good today as it was when first erected. At the same time the adjoining machine shop was erected.
John Taylor’s energy and imagination made it all possible. Whilst visiting the Paris Exhibition of 1900, he negotiated and bought for the company the workshop, 380 feet long and 130 feet wide, and was the machinery hall for the exhibition. It incorporated all the latest ideas of a modern engineering factory building. He arranged for the building to be dismantled under the supervision of Edwin Buckley, using their own Dowson and Taylor engineers, and brought direct to Manchester along the Manchester Ship Canal. It was re-erected together with a smaller amount of steelwork fabricated in Manchester, at Newton Heath, where, as Bays Number 1 to 4, it formed a nucleus around which the present works have been built. The first department to transfer to the new home Fire Equipment moved over a single weekend. Such was the driving power and organising genius of John Taylor that after the employees ceased productive work at Blackfriars at twelve o’clock on Saturday, the machinery was dismantled and, transported to Park Works; the millwrights worked through the weekend and production started at Newton Heath at the normal time on Monday morning. This would have been a feat of considerable magnitude in the second half of the twentieth century when powerful cranes, mobile handling and lifting tackle, supported by a fleet of mechanical transport vehicles would have been employed on the transfer but it was a triumph of organisation fifty years earlier when much of the plant would be moved twice by manual labour and horse drawn lorries were employed to provide all the necessary transport.
In accordance with an ordered scheme of development additions to the first building were made in 1903, 1905, 1909 and 1910. It was in 1909 that it was finally decided to make provision for the gradual removal of all remaining departments from the old works in Salford, and the construction of two new machine shops, each 379 feet long and 40 foot wide, enabled the Electrical Department to find a more congenial home. A year later, still following Taylor’s original plan, seven more shops, each 379 feet long, were constructed. In 1913 a building which now houses the Brass Foundry, the Forge and the Tank Shop was completed and the work of providing a new wing of four bays totalling 161 foot wide was put in hand and brought the number of bays to seventeen just prior to the 1914 war. There were further extensions in 1920, when fourteen of the bays were lengthened. In 1926 a building to accommodate the General Engineering Drawing Offices was erected and in 1939 and 1940 other shops were erected to provide new accommodation for the Tool Room and the Steel Rolling Shutter department.
Among special buildings added at Park Works were the Staff Canteen (1917), the Research Iaboratory (1919), the Girls’ Canteen (1938) and the Iron Foundry (1938); while the Sports Ground at the front of the Works was not completed until 1950.
The record of industrial production and general activities at Park Works is told in other chapters: looking at the story of the works in relation to the development of the Company, it is clear that without a new site Mather & Platt would have ceased both to expand and to adapt itself to the economic conditions of the twentieth century. It is of interest to note that the most significant developments had taken place before 1914. By that time Park Works had taken on its modern shape and had employed new methods of production, which were not generally accepted until the First World War period. At Newton Heath there was plenty of space for new development, and the firm was even able to hand over four of its bays, 14, 15, 16 and 17, completed just before the War, to the manufacturers of Avro Aeroplanes, Messrs. A.V.Roe and Company, one of Britain’s early firms in the Aeronautical industry who were producing aircraft at a factory on an adjacent site.
The basis of the firm's internal organisation was the separation of the enterprise into distinct departments, for each of which a Director was responsible. Already before 1900 the accounts of the different departments were segregated and treated separately and as far as possible employees were attached to definite departments.
At Park Works the departments could be built up and housed in more clearly defined areas than at Salford. The Fire Department moved in 1901, the Electrical Department in 1905-1909, and the Pump Department in 1911. The General Machinery Department was the oldest part of the firm, but did not move to Park Works until 1913. The gradual movement avoided serious problems of dislocation, and the sites were well prepared before any department was transferred to its new home. Once established at Park Works, the departments could operate distinctly and efficiently, with co-ordination but without overlapping, under the supervision of one Works Manager for the whole productive enterprise.(1) It took some time for modern specialised office services to develop, and some of the common services, like research, pattern making, costing and later on publicity, were developed to serve the whole concern without interfering with the individuality of each department.
Businessmen who have grown up in an era of modern office equipment may be interested to -know that although there was a telephone switchboard in 1901 there were few typewriters, and juniors on the office staff were still copying letters with the aid of damp rags. Invoices and Orders were all written out by hand.
The 1914—18 War left its mark on the development of the Company and the demand for engineering products for the armed forces superseded peace time production. In August 1915 Park Works was declared a controlled establishment under the Munitions of War Act, and there was a steady switch over to war production. Large quantities of shell casing and fuses were turned out and a howitzer re-lining department was established. Main propelling motors for submarines, gear boxes and hull plates for tanks, generators for searchlight duties and a multitude of other munitions of war were all produced at Park Works, the total output of munitions of one kind and another making an impressive war effort.
(1) Edwin William Buckley, who began his career at Dowson and Taylor’s, became first Works Manager at Newton Heath. His predecessors at Salford were Grundy, Thorp, Hewitt, Sidebottom and Chorlton.
With the war over the task of adjusting the Company’s activities to a newly emerging world was in the hands of experienced directors. Sir William Mather had retired as chairman in 1916 at the age of seventy eight nearly sixty years from the time when he completed his apprenticeship.The other directors had invited Loris E. Mather, Sir William’s son, to take the chair from then on.
The directors at this new stage in the history of the Company were John Platt, Edward Hopkinson, John Taylor, John Wormald, James Robinson, Edward Roberts and Loris Mather. They faced the post-war period with confidence, knowing that for some time at least they would be fully occupied completing outstanding orders for all types of machinery and that the firm had an experienced staff of sales and service engineers capable of dealing with the problems of prospective clients in distant markets. They knew too that the firm retained its essential traditions, for as James Robinson, the Director in charge of the General Machinery Department, told a Sales Conference in 1920, “Success is not only of one kind; it does not only relate to monetary success, to big turnovers and making big profits, to build up a great company. Employing large numbers of men, finding work for them and living for their families, gathering round us a fine staff such as we have here tonight and which is only a part of a still greater one, that in itself is surely a success as great as any that we have achieved and one of which we are just as proud”.
The inter-war years were marked by a depression which hit basic trades like cotton particularly hard and at times the new industries, like those devoted to the production of electrical goods, were unable to compensate entirely for the loss of export markets by the older industries. The twenty years between 1919 and 1939 were not, however, a period of stagnation and decline. The productivity of labour rose substantially and the rate of technical development was considerable.
As Park Works developed, the older ties with Salford were gradually broken and production in the old works ceased entirely after the heavy Iron Foundry was transferred to a new building at Park Works in 1938.
The old works had been a home of great character and tradition; its rambling bays and uneven floors still showed where a cottage had been absorbed or a neighbouring street roofed over. Its grimy walls and great wooden cranes epitomised the hard work and individual skill, which had carried the roller makers forward to become engineers with an international reputation. When the last moulders left the old Iron Works in Salford, they carried to their new modern Foundry at Park Works the skill that had helped to make the company’s products famous.
It was not without pangs therefore, that the ownership of Salford Iron Works passed from Mather & Platt Ltd to Threlfall’s Brewery, “popular” neighbours in more senses than one during the nineteenth century. It is a legend of the old days that many Mather & Platt employees had their own methods of securing supplies of beer through a convenient hole in the wall, which separated the two buildings. From Threlfalls part of the works subsequently passed to a well-known firm of motor car spring manufacturers. A few of the nineteenth century landmarks, including the weighing-in machine still survive.
The only production link between Mather & Platt Ltd and Salford, which still persists, is the Plate Metal Works, known as the Boiler Yard, which has had an interesting history. Originally owned by one John Platt a man not related to the Platt of the Mather & Platt partnership, but who occasionally did, some work for the firm — the Boiler yard, passed into the hands of the firm in 1870, when the same Platt was installed as foreman, in charge of about twenty-five men. Its one bay was extended in 1906, when the adjoining works of Edmondson and. Co., General Engineers, were absorbed and used as a machine shop and plate shop.
The concentration of effort at Park Works made for a closer and more uniform control of the whole of the firm’s activities, although each department continued to trade as a separate unit.
In spite of the efficiency of its new organisation Mather & Platt Ltd, in common with other companies which produced machinery for export, passed through an anxious period in the early 1920’s when would be customers lacked the money with which to buy British machinery. In addition, the Russian market which had been developed so surely for three-quarters of a century, was temporarily closed as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution.
The fall of money wages throughout many industries in the latter part of 1921, however, led to a reduction in selling prices and this in some measure helped to promote a steady flow of orders from overseas buyers. “Such benefit”, it was claimed, “together with economies in the management, assist us in securing work and in keeping most of our men employed.”(1) Piecework payments were adopted more generally and. output per man increased sharply.
Mather & Platt Ltd. refused to follow the line advocated by some employers of increasing the length of the working day. “As a firm who have worked the present hours successfully for nearly thirty years, we look in other directions for this improvement. We have satisfied ourselves by paying special attention to our internal arrangements that the 47 or 48 hour week is an economical proposition in our particular business whatever may be the case in other trades.”(2) Output continued to increase, with the same hours, in 1923 and 1924.
(1) Proceedings at the Twenty—fourth Annual General Meeting , 27th February, 1922.
(2) Proceedings at the Twenty—fifth Annual General Meeting, 27th February, 1923.
There was a revival in some home markets in the mid twenties, particularly for electrical engineering products, while trade was re-established with Russia in 1925 and continued successfully for several years. In 1927 there were again signs of gloom, partly as a result of the Coal Strike and partly as a result of depression in the textile industries. For Mather & Platt Ltd. 1929 was a relatively good year, even bright compared with the experience of many firms (1) but 1930, 1931, 1932 and 1933 were made difficult as a result of world depression. Throughout these years the Company continuing to believe in the export trade, maintained its full sales staff overseas, although this represented a heavy overhead charge. It turned also to the production of an entirely new line of business; food processing machinery. Such signs of initiative did more than keep the firm alive. In a period of depression they kept it mentally active and alert. Only in 1931 and 1932 and 1933 was the whole range of business depressed, when viewed in terms of countries, industries and departments as a whole. It was natural that a firm producing such a wide range of heavy plant and machinery should faithfully reflect the ups and downs of general industrial fluctuations. Trade had improved again by 1937 and remained at a satisfactory level until the outbreak of the Second World. War in 1939.
The Second World War, like that of 1914-18, led to the firm being listed as a Government controlled enterprise. Its activities were varied. A portion of Park Works was laid out as a gun factory and the many new and unfamiliar products manufactured included special capstans for boom defence vessels, gun mountings for the Admiralty, Bofors predictors and rocket projectors, cordite rolling mills and machines for proofing the fabric of barrage balloons. There were few engineering firms in the country, which could have rivalled this record of diversified production. At the same time, there was a steady demand for standard peacetime products, often adapted to new uses. Many of the products of apparently routine work, familiar in days of peace, were earmarked for secret destinations and purposes. Thus we find that Mather & Platt high-pressure turbine pumps and motors were used for the "Pluto" scheme to pump oil through pipes under the English Channel to the Continent. Similar installations, totalling about 25,000 h.p. were parts of a system of underground pipelines from the principal British oil ports connecting to “Pluto” and to numerous airfields and bases scattered over the Kingdom. Made up into mobile units, Mather & Platt pumps were used by the Services in all theatres of war. At sea low-voltage generators produced by the firm were used for the excitation of the coils for degaussing the ships to meet the menace of the magnetic mine, and motor-alternators were produced as part of radar and wireless equipment. Even a new and pre-eminently peace time development like the food machinery department was employed to meet service needs, producing canning equipment for cooking and packing service rations, "dehydration" plant, grain drying equipment and milk sterilisers.
Some of the equipment and machinery was sent under contracts with the Ministry of Supply to the Soviet Union, thereby maintaining a link, which went back long before the days of war and revolution.
(1) One shareholder described Mather & Platt at the Thirty—second Annual Meeting in February 1930 as “a star in the firmament”. Another pointed out that it is very uncommon to have a balance sheet like this representing 1929 in Lancashire.
The impact of war on the employees of the Company had different consequences in 1914-18 and in 1939-45. In 1914 several of the firms employees who were resident in enemy territory were interned in enemy countries while after a factory recruitment meeting there was an immediate rush of Park Works workers to join the armed forces. By contrast the gradual and compulsory call up scheme and the system of reserved occupations which operated from the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 prevented a chaotic rush from industry, with the result that the firm retained most of its employees throughout the first year of the fighting. Women were drawn into the firm in larger numbers than ever before and as the Chairman commented in 1942, “While many of these have had little training for the work on which they are now engaged, we are well satisfied with the way they tackle their jobs, and the energy and cheerfulness which they display.”(1)
Finally, whereas in 1914 recent additions to the Park Works buildings were handed over to Avro for the manufacture of aeroplanes, in 1939 all available plant including the recent extensions were urgently required for the firm's own needs. Indeed, by the end of the War in 1945, the workshops were seriously congested, and the packed order book led to a search for new premises for the third time in the firm’s history.
After negotiations with the Ministry of Supply, a ten year lease of the Royal Ordnance Factory at Radcliffe about ten miles North of Park Works, was arranged, thus providing the firm with an additional manufacturing space of about 30% of the area of Park Works, and accommodation for 800 to 1,000 additional workers.
Although the post war years were to involve many problems of re-conversion in an awkward and unsettled period of economic history, the firm was expanding and again looking to the future.
(1) Proceedings at the Forty-Fourth Annual General Meeting, 24th February 1942.
PARK WORKS PERSONALITIES
How far are people who live in any particular period of time qualified to write its history and to view events in correct perspective? There are many who give a stout denial to the possibility of such people dealing fairly with events in which they have played a part and they hold the view that the only reliable historian is he who views at a distance. That may be a good and sufficient reason for not dealing at great length with the events of today, but it would be no justification for failing to take advantage of the intimate knowledge of the period in which we are interested which is possessed by many who are still alive and can speak with authority of the achievements of the first half century after Mather & Platt became a limited company. The union with Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd., brought together a band of men, who shared the common resolve to build up for Mather & Platt Ltd a reputation which would be unsurpassed
In this story of the growth of the Company in the twentieth century several outstanding personalities demand our attention. For forty years, Sir William Mather had been the driving force behind the business. When the move to Park Works started, he felt he had reached the age to hand over much of the responsibility to younger men. Such men were trained and ready for their new responsibilities.
Mather had shown great foresight in obtaining the rights for the “Grinnell” Automatic Sprinkler; he had seen the future for the Electric Motor when he linked the designs of Thomas Edison and John.Hopkinson to produce the Edison-Hopkinson Dynamo, and he had visualised the possibilities of the Centrifugal Pump when developing the Mather-Reynolds Turbine Pump, which is the father of all modern turbine pumps. Those three developments not only linked up with his well established textile machinery business for all of them were required by the textile trade but they opened up new markets at home and overseas in new and expanding industries.
While the Fire Engineering business was being well organised and energetically developed by Dowson, Taylor & Co, the expansion of the electrical and pump businesses was less spectacular and even the Textile Machinery Department was not responding as quickly as it might have done to the new markets which were opening up, and which were eager for these products. Mather was spending many months each year travelling abroad and building up an overseas business so as to be able to participate in the industrial development of other countries, as well as that of Britain. At home his duties as a Member of Parliament and public man kept him occupied and he was unable to devote as much of his own time to the organisation of the expanding business as it deserved. He was naturally on the lookout for a man of outstanding organising ability to bring his schemes to fruition.
As Chairman of Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd. William Mather well knew the ability of its Directors and he must have noted how quickly they adapted themselves and their organisation to the Fire Protection market which they had opened up for themselves. He must have felt that, if Taylor and Wormald could bring these same qualities to the assistance of Mather and Platt, the great organisation could be created which was necessary to manufacture and sell his machinery in the waiting markets.
To Taylor and Wormald, the wider horizons which were now opening up, offered greater scope for their abilities, as the merger of Dowson,Taylor & Co. Ltd and Mather and Platt partnership meant they were in control of a Company just twice the size of their own and took them into new fields of activity. It was not long before their energy and vitality was to set the pattern for the great expansion and drive for efficiency, entailing the move to new premises. .
John Taylor, one of the managing directors of the new company, was the strong man of his generation. He has been called the original architect of the Park Works project. He supervised the layout and building of the new shops and later controlled the manufacture and sale of an ever-growing range of products.
As the leading figure in the development of Park Works John Taylor laboured indefatigably for many years in the task of consolidation and expansion. It has been said that he knew the position of every drain and water pipe in the vast premises, which grew up, during his regime to meet the demand for the products of Mather & Platt Ltd.
It was indeed the fusion of Mather & Platt with Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd which afforded John Taylor that wide scope for his great organising ability which would not have been open to him in the restricted field of the sprinkler business. In the larger organisation he was able to employ all his talents, first in the development of the electrical business this being the first of the Mather & Platt specialities to be transferred from Salford to Park Works. Then in establishing the centrifugal pump department on a firm footing when that section of the business was transferred to Park Works and later in making provision for the manufacture of a wide range of Textile Finishing machinery in the new home.
Each individual department was henceforward to stand on its own feet; its design, production and sales policy being the direct responsibility of a director in charge with John Taylor himself exercising a controlling influence over all sections. One obvious advantage of this plan was that each director could concentrate on the specific needs of the users of the plant he offered. He thus became a specialist in his own field and while a general engineering background enabled him to understand all phases of the Company’s business, he could be relied upon to give expert advice to any prospective client who was disposed to make use of the specialised knowledge acquired in one particular branch of engineering.
In putting this plan into execution John Taylor gathered round him a number of capable lieutenants to whose work reference will be made as we study progress in the departments for which they were responsible.
While John Taylor was devoting his great energy to the general development of Park Works and its products his colleague John. Wormald, now working from headquarters in London, was engaged in increasing the demand for the company’s products, especially in territories overseas. As in the case of John Taylor the early business interest of John Wormald had centred around automatic sprinklers and the reduction of fire losses but he proved equally at home in the wider sphere of engineering in which he moved in the new formed Company of Mather & Platt Ltd.
John Wormald was ideally suited for the task entrusted to him. He was a man of great initiative and imagination: a man of personality able to deal confidently with men interested in ‘Big Business’. He was essentially a super salesman who thought on the grand scale, which fitted in well with the manufacturing policy of John Taylor, who held that everything offered by the company must be the best and that success would be achieved by catering for the needs of buyers who appreciated the advantages to be gained by doing business with producers whose first aim was quality. Having established himself in the trading centre of the world John Wormald succeeded in spreading the fame of Mather & Platt Ltd. to all quarters of the globe and in leaving a lasting impression on the sales policy of the company.
He was held in high esteem among the London businessmen of his day and his selection to serve on a wartime committee appointed by the Government of Mr. Lloyd George to control the distribution of non-ferrous metals indicated that his business ability was recognised in high places. He was subsequently knighted in recognition of services rendered to the Government during the 1914-18-war period.
Sir John Wormald resigned his position as a Director of Mather and Platt Ltd in 1924 but there are still many in the employ of the company who pay eloquent testimony to the value of the training and encouragement received at his hands.
Another of the outstanding personalities of this era was an engineer who enjoyed the distinction of being the first of three Salford Iron Works youths who, having joined the firm as ordinary apprentices, without the influence of family connections or financial backing, were selected for promotion and proved themselves capable of administering the affairs of a trading department at Park Works with such marked efficiency that they were, in turn, rewarded with a seat on the board of directors of Mather & Platt Ltd.
James Robinson the son of a Clifton schoolmaster was educated at Manchester Grammar School, that nursery of distinguished and virile men. When young James decided on an Engineering career his father secured an introduction to Mr. William Mather at Salford. In later years James was very fond of quoting from his recollections of the interview; — Mr. Mather to’ Mr. Robinson: “So your boy has been educated at the Manchester Grammar School; I suppose he is a genius,” “No” replied Robinson Senior, “Just an ordinary boy”. “Oh. that’s a good job”, said Mr. Mather, “We’ve a lot of the other sort already!” That was in 1884. Eighteen years later in August 1902 we find Sir William Mather, M.P., in the Chair at the Annual General Meeting of his Company and James Robinson elected to the Board of Directors. Good progress for an ordinary boy!
Although as an engineer he was destined to devote his energies to the world of textiles, James Robinson was wont to make a smiling boast that as an apprentice he worked on the Mather & Platt electric light installation at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, said to be the first theatre to produce its own electric light, where the current was generated by an Edison-Hopkinson Generator driven by a horizontal steam engine.
While still a young man James Robinson decided to specialise on the textile engineering side of the firm’s activities and he became a great ambassador for the British Textile Engineering. He has been aptly described as ‘practical engineer, salesman, technician and advisor all in one’.
The reason is not far to seek. Having decided to specialise on the needs of the Textile Industry, James Robinson devoted himself with typical thoroughness to every detail of its requirements. He studied every minute detail of each individual process until he could be described as a walking encyclopaedia on the textile finishing trade. He set out to know all there was to be known and he achieved his purpose to an unusual degree. As a result, whenever there was a prospect of finishing machinery being required James Robinson was capable of visiting the scene, studying all local conditions, noting the nature and quantity of fabric to be produced and giving expert advice on the plant necessary to achieve the desired results. He would then follow every detail from drawing board, foundry, machine shops, erection and testbed to satisfy himself that the customer would get exactly what was needed.
The reputation of James Robinson was not confined to the British Isles. He travelled in the Far East, China and Japan in l902, He visited India in 1906; Brazil in 1895 and in 1912 (a revolutionary year), He made several visits to the United States and Canada. The Continent of Europe was familiar ground to him, Every year over a long period he visited Russia where he was held in high regard both for his character and his knowledge. A Paper he prepared for the Textile Institute of Great Britain was published in a book form and in the Russian language was regarded as the standard handbook on Textile Finishing.
It is part of the job of an ambassador to create an impression of dignified integrity. James Robinson did this to a remarkable degree and wherever he travelled he made friends. His capacity for listening to the troubles of other men made him a confidant as well as a business acquaintance. His charm of manner, his enthusiasm for engineering achievement, his forward looking mind, created comradeship in industry just as surely with men in foreign lands as they did with customers at home. After the lapse of many years he could name every mill he had visited in distant lands. What is more, he remembered the name of every man with whom he had discussed business.
To appreciate what it meant to be an Ambassador of trade one has only to read the diary of this man. We find every incident of any importance recorded in minute detail, A long day in business * followed by an evening devoted ostensibly to social events but in reality frequently spent in cultivating the acquaintance of people who mattered in the business community, sitting up late or rising in the small hour’s of morning to make written reports of one day before starting out to keep appointments of the next; always looking for any possible connection which might lead to a new application of the products of the firm — not only his own particular department but for other branches of the company.
It was not just by accident that James Robinson built up big business in South America and other countries to which the export of Textile Machinery assumed considerable proportions. He was ever alive to an opening capable of convincing the client that he was the man to advise and that Mather & Platt Ltd, were the people to give technical advice; to design plant for any desired output and finally to undertake the manufacture and erection of all the necessary machinery.
James Robinson continued to direct the policy of the General Machinery Department at Park Works until the time of his death in 1945. He served the Company with great distinction for over 60 years and as a workman in the erecting shop at Park Works said at the time of his death, “He was a very loveable man; I never heard anyone say an unkind word about him”.
For some years before his death James Robinson had been assisted in the administration of the General Machinery Department by Roy C. Mather, a grandson of “Cast Iron Colin”.
After leaving Uppingham School Roy Mather spent over three years in Germany studying engineering and the long summer vacations were spent mainly in textile works in Alsace with a view to the acquisition of knowledge regarding the processes of bleaching, dyeing, printing and finishing. After leaving Germany he followed the usual procedure of passing through the various departments of the firm in the course of his training and naturally decided to specialise on textile finishing machinery in the development of which his forefathers had played a distinguished part.
Towards the end of his apprenticeship he spent some time erecting textile machinery on the Continent of Europe and later made a visit to Russia with Mr. James Robinson. On his return he was transferred to Paris where he spent the next three years travelling extensively in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy in the interests of the textile finishing machinery section of the business.
In 1913-14 he visited the U.S.A. and Canada on his way to Japan and China where a fruitful harvest was reaped in later years from this ‘tilling of the soil”, In September 1914 his work with the firm was interrupted by the first world war during which he saw active service with the Manchester Regiment. He returned to Park Works on demobilisation but he still maintains a close interest in his old regiment and at the time of writing is president of the 19th Manchester’s Old Comrades Association.
Between the two world wars Roy Mather travelled extensively on the Continent of Europe on the business of the company, in fact it may be said that he has visited, at one time or another, every country in Europe.
At the outbreak of the second world war the manufacture of textile machinery was prohibited, except under licence and Roy Mather was given the job of co-ordinating the work entailed in the manufacture of the various new armaments and munitions which were turned out in considerable quantities by the firm, an appropriate task for one who had “practical experience of being in the field in the early days of the 1914 war with a very serious lack of the necessary equipment’
On the death of James Robinson responsibility for the design, production and sale of textile machinery and other products of the General Machinery Department was left in the hands of Roy Mather. He was elected to the Board of Directors in 1942. Occupying the position of Senior Director at the time of writing is Herbert Taylor, another man who was trained up under the eye of John Taylor and was for many years engaged in the management of the Electrical Department after its transfer to Park Works.
Herbert Taylor joined Mather & Platt as an apprentice in 1890, He was not in any way related to John Taylor under whom he was destined to serve for many years but to quote words used by Sir William Mather when presenting him with a prize at the Queen Street Institute round about 1895, he was “A worthy son of a worthy Sire” because his father, George Taylor, as Sir William said “is a very fine character who has served Mather & Platt for many years”. After spending rather more than the first two years of his apprenticeship in the drawing office and fitting shops of the General Machinery Department at Salford Iron Works, Herbert Taylor was transferred to the Electrical department which then was still in its infancy, the remainder of his apprenticeship was spent in the Electrical manufacturing shops, on outside contracts in the British Isles and abroad and ended in the Drawing Office.
Mention is made elsewhere of the work of Dr. John Hopkinson and his early development of the Edison Hopkinson dynamo but while Dr. John Hopkinson had a profound influence on the scientific work carried out in the pioneer days of electric machines and there is ample evidence that he was very active in the early days of experimental work - it would seem that for the greater part of his life be was lost to Industry because he was primarily an academic man. He met a tragic death at a relatively early age as a result of a climbing accident in Switzerland. His brother Edward was for some years the Manager of the original electrical department at Salford Iron Work but he never held a full time position at Park Works and he was not responsible for the work of the Electrical Department after the transfer to the new home, although he retained a seat on the Board of Directors until 1922. For some time after the Electrical department was moved to Park Works John Taylor himself with the assistance of his able lieutenant Fred Dowson accepted responsibility for moulding the business in his own way. He had made himself familiar with the essential facts concerning the department while still at Salford and decided to make certain changes before starting operations at Park Works. Among other things he had made up his mind to model the Commercial work on lines which had proved successful in his old company, relying for the execution of his plans on young men of sound technical ability who had received their engineering training in The Salford Works. One of these young men was Herbert Taylor who worked under the direction of Fred Dowson until he was appointed Commercial Manager of the Electrical Department in l911. He was given full charge of the Department in 1914 and was made a special director in 1918 acting in this capacity until he was given a seat on the board in 1927.
Herbert Taylor was responsible for the management of the Electrical Department for nearly forty years and it would seem that he has already established a record for long service, which will remain unbroken. He is the only person still in the employ of the Company who was with the firm when Sir William Mather introduced the 48hr week at Salford in 1893, and he can recall many of the great events in the company's history for more than sixty two years. While James Robinson and Herbert Taylor were consolidating the work of the Textile Machinery and Electrical Department, as separate units, a third man was meeting with great success in his efforts to bring about a considerable expansion in the output of centrifugal pumps. He was the third Mather & Platt apprentice of this generation to prove his ability as an engineer as well as his capacity for organisation and as a result, to be rewarded with a seat on the Board of Directors.
T.Y. Sherwell - the third of eleven sons of a Civil Engineer, served his apprenticeship at Salford Iron Works 1902 to 1904 but whereas his colleagues James Robinson and Herbert Taylor remained in the service of the firm in England after completing their apprenticeship young Sherwell was sent to take up a position with the Company’s Canadian agents Messrs. Drummond, McCall & Co. Montreal and later joined the Canada Foundry Co. Toronto who manufactured pumps to Mather & Platt designs, He remained in Canada gaining valuable ‘field’ experience until 1915 when John Taylor invited him to return to the service of Mather & Platt Ltd. and take charge of the design, production and sale of Centrifugal pumps in a separate department for which he was to he responsible. Thus we find T.Y.Sherwell returning to Park Works to place his services at the disposal of the Company with which he received his early training. He was made a Special Director in 1918 and was given a seat on the board in 1927. Under his guidance and with the assistance of a very capable staff the Pump Department made great strides and has enhanced the high reputation of the Company which now ranks with the world’s best known makers of Centrifugal pumps.
We have seen how John Taylor exercised a guiding hand over the fortunes of all the Departments of the new company for many years after the removal to Park Works. The consistent growth of the Textile, Electrical and Pump departments was eloquent testimony to his wise management. A steady rise in output with a uniform profit was accompanied by ever increasing goodwill and confidence between producer and clientèle. But while John Taylor found time to take a great interest in the general Engineering side of the business he remained a leader in the realm of sprinkler protection and retained a paternal interest in the progress of his own Fire Engineering Department.
The fact that he was able to devote so much of his time and energy to the work of other branches of the Company’s business was due to the fact that when he brought the Fire Engineering business to Park Works the administration was in the hands of men on whom be could rely. One such man was Fred Dowson a younger brother of Ralph, John Taylor’s original partner, who, as already mentioned had died while on a business trip to India.
Fred Dowson was a born organiser. He joined Dowson, Taylor & Co. in 1893 and after service as an outside representative and a Branch Manager he was transferred to Manchester to take charge of the Commercial administration of the Home Section of the Fire Engineering Department. Under the guidance of’ Mr. John Taylor he assumed similar responsibility for the several commercial departments of Mather & Platt Ltd in their early years at Park Works, as and when the various sections were brought to the new home. He had a flair far assessing values in commercial enterprise and for separating the essential points from a mass of detail. For the first twenty-five years at Park Works he exercised a great influence on the business life of the company and many men who became senior officials in the concern received their early training at his hands. In recognition of his outstanding ability Fred Dowson was elected to the Board of Directors in 1924 and retained his seat until his death in 1930.
One of the important duties of his later years was to assist in the commercial training of J. Noel Taylor, the only son of his Old chief, who was destined to take charge of the Fire Engineering Division and to carry on the work started by his illustrious father.
Young Taylor took up full time duties with the Company in September 1925 on completion of his studies at Cambridge. He was no stranger at Park Works for he had served a vacation apprenticeship during his years at the university. During this apprenticeship which was continued after leaving Cambridge, he spent some time in the different sections of the Company’s business including a period of special training in the Works Manager’s office under Mr. Arthur Roberts and in the Executive Department of the Fire Engineering Division under Mr. Edward Roberts. In. l926 he accompanied Mr. John Taylor on a round—the—world tour visiting many of the Company’s branch offices and customers situated North of the Equator. This tour ended with a four months sojourn in U.S.A. to study American business methods. On the death of Mr. Dowson in 1930 Mr. Noel Taylor took charge of the Fire Engineering division. He remains in that capacity and has been a member of the Board since 1927.
Another stalwart of the Dowson Taylor & Co. regime who was destined to play an important part in the history of the first fifty years of the new Company was Edward Roberts who for many years carried out the duties of technical director in the Fire Engineering Department.
Edward Roberts was the son of John Roberts an Engineer of’ Church Bank, Bolton. His father originally had a millwright’s business but later devoted his attention to the manufacture of wringing machines. Edward was educated at Bolton Grammar School and was proud of his association with this old established foundation. But he placed the education of experience above academic qualifications and thus was representative of the old hard headed Lancashire school who concentrated upon plenty of work and unremitting devotion to duty. In 1881 be became an Indentured Apprentice of Charles Loxton Jackson of Jackson and Brother, of Bolton, and later as a draughtsman with John and Edward Wood of Victoria Foundry, Bolton, he gained experience, which was to prove of immense value in his subsequent career.
After he had completed his apprenticeship he joined John Taylor in the newly established Fire Engineering business of Dowson & Taylor. He was with Dowson & Taylor when they produced the Simplex Automatic sprinkler and when arrangements were made for them to take over the development of the “Grinnell” Sprinkler in this country. To Edward Roberts was assigned the task of organising the Drawing Office work in connection with early Sprinkler Installations. He soon realised that systematic measuring up was essential to the effective erection of a Sprinkler Installation, no less than to its ultimate performance in case of fire, and he proceeded to establish the work of surveying on a sound basis. As the Sprinkler work developed he played an important part in everything appertaining to the erection of the plant. Thus it came about that Edward Roberts probably knew more about the technical side of sprinkler work than any other man associated with the automatic sprinkler business. He had a remarkable memory for the intricacies of some thousands of “Grinnell” installations and could recall a tremendous amount of technical detail about particular features of many important sprinklered buildings, both in Great Britain and on the Continent of Europe.
When Mather & Platt Ltd. secured their first sprinkler business in new territory, Edward Roberts made it his personal responsibility to see the installation through, often making the first survey himself supervising every detail and later visiting the country concerned to make a final inspection; remaining on the site to see that every detail of the installation conformed to the Grinnell standard. This duty took him to many parts of the world and in the course of his life he established an international reputation as one of the foremost technical authorities on Automatic Sprinklers.
By virtue of his early engineering training and active technical association with the “Simplex” and early “Grinnell” Installations, Edward Roberts might be described as a pioneer if not actually the first man who could rightly be termed a Fire Protection Engineer. He was a Director of Mather & Platt Ltd. from 1916 until his death in December 1944.
His son, Arthur Roberts, joined the Board of Directors of the company in 1929 and. remains to carry on the family tradition. Like his father, Arthur Roberts was a pupil of Bolton Grammar School and after receiving his early engineering training at home and becoming an Engineering Honours graduate of Manchester University he spent a considerable time studying on the Continent of Europe and serving a year’s apprenticeship with Escher Wyss & Co in Switzerland before the first World War in which he served in. the Royal Engineers.
On his return to civil life Mr. Roberts came back to Park Works as assistant to Edwin Buckley - an engineer of the Dowson Taylor regime who enjoyed a great reputation as Works Manager at Park Works. When Mr. Buckley died in 1923 Arthur Roberts was appointed to succeed him as Works Manager, he remains responsible for the Works Management and has been a member of the Board since 1929. At the time of writing he is President of the Manchester and District Engineering Employers Federation.
It is appropriate that this story of some of the personalities who have controlled the trading departments of Mather & Platt Ltd. and thereby made outstanding contributions to the success of the Company during the present century, or have strengthened ties with the past by carrying responsibilities similar to those of their ancestors, should close with reference to the youngest branch of the business. This is the Food Machinery Department, which now has headquarters at the Radcliffe Works and is under the control of William L. Mather, grandson of Sir William Mather and elder son of the present Chairman of the Company.
Young William received his early education at Oundle, a school famed for its engineering associations and spent a year before going to Cambridge, as an apprentice at Park Works. After taking his degree at Cambridge he returned to Park Works to complete his workshop training. He also spent some months of this training in the U.S.A. and France. This was followed by periods at the Paris, London and Calcutta Offices.
When he had been in Calcutta 10 months war was declared in September 1939 and William, who for some years had been a territorial officer in the Cheshire Yeomanry was called up for service with his regiment. He returned to Park Works after the war and was a member of the commercial staff of the Pump Department under Mr. T. Y. Sherwell.
Shortly after the transfer of the Food Machinery Department to the Radcliffe Works Mr. Mather was placed in charge of this section of the company’s business and has been responsible for many postwar developments to meet the increasing demands of a growing industry. Mr. W.L. Mather was appointed a director of the Company in 1947.
- Technical Invention and Business Enterprise
When Disraeli's hero, Coningsby, visited Manchester, part of his education consisted in learning for the first time about machines, “those mysterious forms full of existence without life, that perform with facility, and in an instant, what man can fulfil only with difficulty and in days”.
After visiting the spinning mills and. the weaving sheds, he turned to the making of machines themselves. “The mystery of mysteries is to view machines making machines; a spectacle that fills the mind, with curious, and. even awful speculation".(1) A hundred years later most of the mystery appears to have gone, and. economists talk learnedly about the relationship between the demand for machines and the demand for finished goods, while technologists continue to mechanise processes, which were previously dependent upon human labour. Yet even to an observer brought up in the atmosphere of a machine age, there is still an element of “mystery of mysteries” about some of the giant machines in workshops such as those of Mather & Platt Ltd.
Machines constructed by the Company fall into certain definite categories, corresponding to the several trading departments of’ the modern business. The General Machinery Department is primarily concerned with the design, manufacture and installation of textile finishing machinery but, in addition, is responsible for the production of certain special plant for the chemical and other industries; the Pump Department concentrates in the supply of a wide range of centrifugal pumps applicable to the great majority of modern pumping duties; the main interest of the Electrical Department is the production of the larger sizes of A.C. and D.C. motors and generators: the products of the Fire Engineering Division are manifold, covering specialities for extinguishing and restricting the spread of fire: and. the Food. Machinery Department provides complete lines of machinery for the canning of vegetables, fruit, fish, meat and milk. Certain common features emerge in the story of each of’ the departments — the scientific background of new invention, the technical basis of design, the change from hand made to more mechanised methods of production, and finally the relationship between technical progress and business initiative. But before these general problems can be discussed, it is essential to trace the main lines of development separately. The relative economic importance of the different products has shifted in different periods of the history of the firm, just as have the opportunities of technical progress.
(1)Disraeli, 'Coningsby', Book IV, Chapter II
CHAPTER 5 - Technical Invention and Business Enterprise
Part 1 - GENERAL MACHINERY
Textile Finishing Machinery.
The textile finishing machinery side of the business of Mather & Platt is the oldest part of the firm. Rapid expansion of the Lancashire cotton industry in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century led to an extension of’ the cloth bleaching and colouring trades which had grown up in the river valleys near to plentiful supplies of water. Yarn and fabrics coming from the spinner and weaver were in a rough unfinished condition- full of impurities, harsh to handle, grey in colour and unattractive to the eye. It was the business of the after—loom trades to eliminate these drawbacks and improve the fabrics by bleaching or dyeing and by printing and finishing (laundering) them. Salford Ironworks, a foundry and general engineering work’s already in 1795 "of considerable capacity and noted for improved steam engines", was centrally placed to serve the scattered bleaching and finishing firms. Probably its foundry bias accounts for its emphasis on finishing and the relative lack of interest in the design of’ the lighter mechanisms demanded by spinners and weavers.
In studying the industrial revolution, historians have perhaps paid too much attention to the primary processes of the cotton industry, spinning and weaving, and neglected the many chances in the finishing side of the industry in the nineteenth century. Salford Iron Works played an important part in this second line of development.
Bleaching had become a chemical proposition after Tennents exploitation of the use of chlorine as hypochlorite (bleaching powder) about 1799. Lancashire soon followed Scotland and by mid-century Mather & Platt at Salford were largely occupied in providing machinery for all bleaching processes and doing much to develop the technology of the central process of “kiering” or scouring.
The bleaching kier is a large cylindrical vessel in which grey cotton —loose yarn or cloth — is boiled with alkaline liquor. The two main technical problems involved in kiering were those of heating and of securing an efficient circulation of scouring liquor inside the kier, In the early years of the industrial revolution, kiers were heated. by direct furnaces; later on steam from a central boiler installation was substituted; and in 1853 Colin Mather patented a device which employed the injector principle in the heating and circulation of the liquor by steam. Finally in 1885 the Mather kier was invented, and patented by William Mather. It treated the yarn or fabric in waggons, within a horizontal cylindrical vessel, and utilised a sluice valve door, which allowed for the change of the contents of the kier in a few minutes instead of several hours.
By means of a centrifugal pump the circulation was maintained more efficiently than before and the heating in the later models was provided by a multi-tubular heater, which prevented the weakening of the liquor by the condensation of steam and made for economy in the use of chemicals.
These improvements marked a big advance on the previous system, and Mather kiers have been supplied to more than 300 of the principle bleaching, printing and dyeing works in various parts of the world, and are still in steady demand.
Kiering was the central process of bleaching but improvements were also made in other techniques, such as “singeing” and printing. Cotton fabrics are “singed” before scouring in order to burn off fibre ends projecting from the surface of the fabric. Mather & Platt produced both plate-singeing and gas-singeing machines. In singeing techniques the firm was a pioneer, manufacturing internally heated revolving roller machines, plate machines with oil firing and traversing motion for the cloth, and gas singeing machines with exhaust suction chambers drawing the flame round the threads of the cloth.
In the case of textile printing, the basic invention had been made by a Scotsman, Thomas Bell, who in 1783 patented a continuously running engraved roller printing machine for calicoes, which could take the place of the earlier and extremely laborious method of printing by hand with engraved wooden blocks. This machine made possible the production of the most accurate work at relatively great speed, and at a labour cost with which handwork could never have competed.
This important machine was introduced into Lancashire in 1785 and although displacement of hand block printing was slow, and not nearly complete a century after Boll’s patent, the demand for the new machine increased rapidly. The invention was aptly timed, for the rollers were easily driven first by water and then by steam. The advantages of its use were obvious, for one roller machine could produce as much as a hundred block printers.(1) England led the Continent in the development of the printing machine and Bell’ s wooden framed prototype gave way to a more durable roller printing machine with cast iron sides, central ‘bowl” and radially placed printing rollers - which has altered little in its main characteristics to this day.
William and. Colin Mather were very early makers of these printing machines. An ancient three-colour machine was sold by auction in 1950 for demolition with a proviso against further use in production! It bore the name “W. & C. Mather, Manchester” and so must have been made before the Mather and. Platt partnership was formed in 1852.
A study of the surviving early order books of the partnership, which go back to 1866, shows the importance and wide range of finishing machinery amongst the firm’s products in the middle years of the nineteenth century.
In 1866 no less than 13 printing machines, 18 shearing machines used for providing a cloth surface free from thread and fibre ends measuring and lapping machines, and 13 drying machines were sold. In addition there were sales of calenders for smoothing and flattening the surface of fabrics; raising machines for changing the smooth surface of fabrics to a degree of “nap” or hairiness, which made them soft to handle and. warm to use; dyeing, damping, folding, padding, rolling, piece—end sewing (2), stretching, drying, and. wool—burring machines; squeezers, steaming cottages and mangles. In that year, 1866, only two kiers were sold, but in 1886, after the introduction of the Mather Kier, 25 were entered in the order book.
(1) J. Wheeler, Manchester; its Political, Commercial and Social History, Ancient and Modern (1836), p.169.
(2) Sewing machines were not of course domestic sewing machines but factory machines for joining fabrics end to end.
In the 1840’s competition in the textile finishing machinery industry was extremely keen, and this led the firm to follow three lines of action — first, to try to reduce processing costs by inventions such as the Mather Kier; second, to seek markets overseas; and third to take up new lines of manufacture.
There was much inventiveness in the firm in those days, particularly on the part of Colin Mather, one of the liveliest engineering minds of his age. He was versatile, practical and imaginative, and his schemes provided the technical basis for the success of the Mather & Platt partnership. Just as William Mather, his nephew, later looked to Germany for ideas on technical education, so Colin searched Europe for ideas concerning new methods in the finishing trade. In 1852 we find him sharing a patent for ”certain improvements in -printing, damping, softening, opening and. spreading woven fabrics” with Ernest Rolffs, “of Cologne, in the kingdom of Prussia, gentleman”(1). Later on he sent one of his sons John Harry Mather to Mulhouse in Alsace, which was then the great centre of learning for the chemistry of dyestuffs, to study and qualify in the use of textile processing machinery. In order to expand an engineering business in the so-called golden age of Victorian industry, it was necessary to have a shrewd eye for openings, particularly when home competition was acute.
The discovery of overseas markets was the obvious way to meet the keen competition, which resulted from a fluctuating home demand. Down to 1843 the export of many types of textile machines was prohibited by law, but during the 1850’s and 1860’s Great Britain was able to act as a central source of supplies for foreign manufacturers. Representatives of Mather & Platt, particularly “Cast Iron Colin” and the young William Mather, paid prolonged visits to countries far and near, to study the requirements of prospective customers, to give them the benefit of technical knowledge and to undertake the equipment of complete works designed to suit the particular country and the tastes of its business men. Careful use was made of a detailed knowledge of local conditions, fuel and power supplies, and transport methods. Hence we find that Mather & Platt helped to carry the industrial revolution to overseas countries; in some countries, like Russia, blazing the industrial trail.
The story of the quest for Russian trade is an interesting one and is best told at this point. Colin Mather had visited Russia as early as 1850 — his passport of that date still exists — and he was sufficiently familiar with that country to take with him on one of several subsequent journeys his oldest daughter Martha. In 1859, when the English textile machinery industry was in a comparatively depressed condition the long life of the equipment already supplied meaning that there was no replacement demand, and the lack of important new inventions meaning that there was little technical obsolescence — William Mather met William Thornton, founder of the greatest woollen and cloth mills in Russia. Thornton stressed the possibilities of industrial expansion there, and a year later Mather set out for Russia. In the meantime he had entered into correspondence with the firm of Knoops in Moscow, which later became agent for Mather & Platt in the chief manufacturing districts of Russia.
(1) 11 March 1852, Patent No. 14,022, see The Manchester Courier, 13 March 1852. Rolffs’ family owned a printworks.
William Mather’s first visit was so successful that regular visits were made in the following six years. From letters and diaries we glean an interesting picture of Mather’s travels through the wastes and how he takes in the beauties of the country without turning his eye from glimpses of business openings. For instance, in a letter to his wife in 1867, he described how “last night we met an immense wolf right in our path, as large as a donkey". He goes on “I am staying with an English manager here at a large cotton mill and print works. It is most probable we shall have the contract to build a complete new works here”. (1)
Scattered about the diaries, between long descriptions of natural scenery, are desultory jottings of the dimensions of mill machinery. Occasionally other industrial projects, such as coal mining and railway building are described. At times he helped those responsible for the schemes to obtain financial backing. One of the biggest enterprises with which he was associated was the construction of a calico printing works at Schlusselburg in 1866. “England is so full of competition, so overdone in everything”, Mather wrote, “that all the energy one spends upon it brings no adequate return, while here it will bring great results.”(2)
The opening up of intimate connections with Russia endowed Mather & Platt with a distinct personality among English firms; it also guaranteed useful markets during the period of depressed foreign trade after 1873. Routine orders continued to come in, such as a typical one for a pair of kiers in 1876: — “Same as last sent to 34 mill — Welded Rings and double riveted to Belts — To be sent via Reval, thro’ freight to Moscow. Consigned. to Geo. Malmras — Reval & invoiced direct to A.W.R. in Moscow.”(3) The perusal of such cryptic entries opens a window on to a world in which Russia was still dependent on the west for its basic industrialisation.
During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, there was a quest for even more distant markets. Largely as a result of the efforts of Colin Mather, son of “Cast Iron Colin” considerable quantities of machinery were shipped to the U.S.A. until the heavy McKinley tariff of 1890, succeeded in keeping out British finishing machines.
It was then that one of Mather & Platt's technical experts, who had been working in the U.S.A. for some time decided to settle down there and in due course became the head of the United States Finishing Machinery Company. Other North American markets were not neglected. In 1883/4, for instance, the first Canadian calico printworks was built in Magog and equipped with machinery supplied by Mather & Platt. Mexican trade was developed during the same period when the only transport for travellers and for machinery alike was on muleback over the mountains. To meet these conditions machinery had to be designed specially and despatched in sections small enough to be carried by this primitive means. After Mexico had been explored, successful efforts were made to develop textile-finishing works throughout Brazil and India, both of which eventually became large importers of Mather & Platt machinery. In India a resident staff of experienced textile engineers gave technical service to machinery users and so established for the firm an enviable position in that market. Later still orders were secured from Japan and China and by l914 the firm had provided equipment for bleaching, dyeing, printing and finishing in every country in the world where cotton fabrics were produced.
(1) William Mather to Mrs. Mather, 2 March 1867.
(2) William Mather to Mrs. Mather, 24 March 1869
(3)1876 Order book
The expansion of markets was merely one side of the extension of the activities of the concern during the nineteenth century. The development of new lines of manufacture was of equal importance. From the eighteenth century onwards one of the central problems of technical progress was the harnessing of power, and when the Sherratts (Mathers predecessors) were at Salford Iron Works they produced steam engines for many industries. W.& C.Mather and later Mather & Platt continued this line of manufacture, producing not only large engines for driving whole factories and subsequently for generating electric power (one of their early orders in this field being the installation of a row of nine engines, each of 1,000 horsepower, with generators for the electrolytic alkali industry) but also engines of smaller types suitable for driving individual machines, Condensers and air pumps were also made and patented pistons and piston rings of an improved design were introduced at an early date. Steam engine manufacture continued, with a notable reputation for reliability until — largely as a result of the firm’s own pioneer work in the electrical field — engines for direct driving of machines were superseded by electric motors.
The story of electrical engineering must be told in detail later, for it led the firm to branch out into many new lines of development, but the use of electrical power had important repercussions on the development of textile machinery and the firm became specialists in the provision of electric drives for all classes of textile machinery. Apart from developing new uses for electric power, Mather & Platt contributed to other improvements in the textile industries. There was a general tendency in the closing years of the nineteenth century to shift the firms production from single machines and small items like mandrels, pulleys, spur and bevel wheels, (the “universal provider” services of a textile town) to complete ranges and whole installations suitable for world markets. Since 1880 some of the large textile machines have been greatly developed and improved in design to fit the needs of an electrified and increasingly standardised age. Improvements in machine tools, many introduced by Manchester men like Roberts and Whitworth, led to a greater accuracy and reliability in the performance of machines which were no longer made entirely by hand, and thus encouraged a radical transformation of industrial methods in general.
Mather & Platt contributed to this process, before and after 1914. For instance, in addition to improving the design and technique of finishing machinery the firm patented in 1907 an automatic warp—stop motion, a device that, as the name implies — automatically stopped a loom upon the breaking of a warp thread. In days of depression in the cotton industry, it was important that operatives should be enabled to attend a greater number of looms, and such devices contributed to the “more looms per weaver” arrangements. As well as saving labour, they improved the quality of the cloth by minimising the risk of broken threads and by making good work less dependent on the attention of the individual weaver (1). The Mather & Platt motion was simple, cheap, easy to attach to existing looms and in an improved form is still in operation.
(1) Proceedings at the Thirty Fifth Annual General Meeting 28 February 1933.
Another auxiliary for textile manufacture of which Mather & Platt were early producers was the “humidifier”; a device for producing in dry weather, and in hot countries, the moist atmospheric conditions which had rendered the Lancashire climate particularly suitable for cotton spinning and weaving. The Mather & Platt “Vortex” humidifier is still a valuable accessory in many weaving sheds. In the finishing trades there were important new developments, particularly as a result of changes in the chemical industry, and Mather & Platt not only continued to improve processing machinery, but also became general contracting engineers during the first World War for the erection and equipment of the great chemical factory for colours and war materials of British Dyestuffs Corporation (now I.C.I.) at Huddersfield. After the War, one of the early plants for manufacture of rayon, that of Nuera at St. Helens, was largely equipped with plant manufactured by Mather & Platt Ltd.
In processing machinery itself there have been important developments in recent years. Processes which have stood out as being of special interest are electrolytic production of hypochlorite; stentering and mercerising; improvements in printing machinery; steaming after printing.
In warm climates bleaching- powder (calcium hypochlorite, since Tennent, essential in cotton bleaching is not stable, and when exported to the tropics often loses a large part of its strength in transit. Mather & Platt met this difficulty by introducing their electrolyser and perfected a process based on the production of sodium hypochlorite (an equally effective and in some ways preferable bleaching agent) by electrolysis of a solution of common salt (sodium chloride). Mather & Platt Electrolysers make available in any part of the world from readily obtainable material (common salt) and at moderate cost, the excellent bleaching agent sodium hypochlorite.
These Electrolysers have also other uses outside the textile industry. In the worst days of the first World War medical officers in the Near East demanded large supplies of a powerful disinfectant, and it was suggested by Dr. Dakin that hypochlorite might be obtainable from seawater. This project was presented to Mather & Platt Ltd and with the utmost urgency Electrolysers adapted for this purpose were produced and installed in the hospital ship “Aquitania”. “Dakin's solution”, as it was known, proved of immense value and greatly reduced the loss of’ life in the Near-East campaigns. Similar Electrolysers now form part of the equipment of many liners.
Turning from bleaching to the processes of drying and finishing we find that Mather & Platt were responsible for great improvements. As early as 1875 Colin Mather patented the spiral bucket for removing condensed water from drying- cylinders while in the last quarter of the nineteenth century striking improvements were made in stentering and mercerising. Wet processing of textile fabrics necessitates a drying operation and in order to effect this with evenness, regularity of width and control of shrinkage, it was an early custom to fix the cloth by its selvedges on rows of pins projecting from adjustable rails in a warm drying room.
The procedure was called “tentening”. For quicker production these rails were replaced by moving chains carrying pins on their links, which constituted a tentening machine or stenter. Spring clips instead of pins were next used, but both required skilled hand labour and limited the speed of the machine, and real progress remained slow until 1888 when Mather & Platt patented their “automatic self-feeding clip stenter” on to which the cloth could be fed without hand labour. The clip automatically gripped the edge of the fabric and tightened its hold as tension increased. This device saved much labour and allowed a greater running speed. The clip stenter was generally adopted throughout the cotton trade, but pin stenters continue in use in the silk and wool industries.
For rayons, some of which are fragile when wet, and liable to permanent marking by clips, and for fabrics which must be permitted to shrink during drying, the pin stenter has again become the favoured machine. Mather and Platt resumed manufacture of the pin stenter in 1937 adopting a Continental patent for “overfeeding”, i.e. feeding to the chain somewhat more than its own length of fabric, so as to permit shrinkage during drying with full development of the crepe or other characteristic figure of the fabric. Both types of stenter — clip and pin, are of the greatest importance in the textile finishing trades, and both are manufactured in quantity by Mather & Platt.
An important special application of the automatic clip stenter is in the process known as mercerising. It was in the middle of the nineteenth century that John Mercer, a calico printer of Accrington, investigated the action of strong caustic soda on cotton and obtained a permanent alteration of the cotton fibre, with the resultant shrinking of the yarn or cloth producing a distinctive type of finished fabric. Mercer took out a patent in 1850 and showed some crimped material produced by caustic shrinkage at the Great Exhibition of 1851. It provoked little interest, however, and the process had no commercial success even after Lowe in 1889 took out a patent for mercerising under tension, by which cotton could be given a permanent lustre.
Characteristically, it was the Germans who re-discovered and exploited the process in 1895, when Thomas and Prevost of Krefeld secured new German patents for the manufacture of the lustrous and richly dyeable product originated by Lowe. Great interest in “mercerising”, as this cotton lustering process came to be called, arose in the late nineties and many proposals were made and patents registered for mechanisms to effect the necessary stretching of the caustic saturated cloth and its washing whilst stretched.
Mather & Platt Ltd as leading makers of clip stenters, immediately adapted this machine for use with caustic soda and acquired Warr’s patent for counter-current washing during passage over the chain. The “chain merceriser”, first produced by the firm in 1898, proved most successful and has outlived all other types.
The roller-printing machine continues to be a key item in the equipment of the textile processing trades. Although still embodying the fundamental principles of Bell’s invention and the general design so happily evolved by the early pioneer makers, the printing machine and its auxiliaries have been ceaselessly improved and adapted for particular purposes. In these modifications a prominent part has been taken throughout by Mather & Platt who have manufactured more machines for printing textiles than any other firm in the world.
Machines have been supplied to print anything from one-colour up to as many as twenty-four colours and to print materials of all widths and of every texture from gauze to linoleum. Specialities have included high-speed single colour machines for the fastest production, duplex machines for the simultaneous printing of the same pattern on both sides of the cloth, and intermittent printing machines for the production of saris and other unit garments such as sarongs and kang’as whose patterns terminate in cross borders, so that printing must ‘be done alternately by different sets of rollers.
Auxiliaries of the printing machines include machines for drying after printing, and blanket washing machines to enable the travelling blanket which passes with the fabric through the printing machine to be washed, dried, cooled and returned continuously. The latter type of machine was produced as early as 1865 but has since been greatly improved. It was first used in England and was adopted only much later ‘by Continental and American printworks.
Progress in the use of synthetic dyes, started by William Perkin’s discovery in the mid-nineteenth century, of the first “Aniline” dyes, produced a new applied chemistry for the dyeing and printing trades. It inaugurated “the glorious era of a formerly unknown union of science and industry”(1), and demanded a continual adaptation of textile machinery, particularly that designed for the processes subsequent to printing. There were, in particular, great improvements in the most interesting and important of these processes, that known as “steaming”, carried out for fixing the printed colour upon the textile fabric.
From the earliest days of calico printing, fixation of many colours depended upon “ageing” - long exposure to moist air — for which large hanging rooms and much time and labour were required. In 1879 Mather & Platt introduced their “Rapid Ager”, an enclosed metal steaming chamber with rollers for continuous running. It revolutionised the processing of prints and long outlived the types of colour (mordents and vegetable colourings) for which it was first devised. Indeed it has been of the greatest importance throughout the synthetic dyestuffs period. In the literature of printing in all languages it is referred too familiarly as the ‘Matherplatt”, and several languages have verb forms derived from it such as ‘Matherplattieren” (German) and “Plattning” (Swedish) which meant “Steaming in a Matherplatt”. In English the older expression of “ageing” has survived. The “ager” has been closely associated with all processes, employing short period steaming, from aniline black onwards. It was the obvious and for many years the only machine readily adaptable for steaming the important 'vat' dyestuffs and for discharge prints employing hydrosulphite reducing agents.
During the later nineteenth century some then very important classes of printing colours - the alizarines, chrome mordant and ‘basic types required a much longer steaming time than the “Matherplatt” afforded. For those the “Festoon” continuous steamer was invented. In this machine the prints, hung over poles, travelled slowly along a very large steam filled chamber.
(1) see J. G.. Crowther, British Scientists of the Nineteenth Century
This replaced the inconvenient “Cottage” batch steamer and became standard equipment of large printworks in many countries. In the early twentieth century it was re-designed to suit the conditions required for the very important “vat” colours and it is today the most advanced form of print steaming equipment and still chiefly a Mather & Platt production.
Dyeing, washing and soaping machinery in endless variety for all wet processes; mangles, drying machines, calendars of all types and bowls for calenders in iron, steel, brass, paper, cotton and jute, have all been the subjects of scientific study and technical improvements
An early calico printer, making or losing his fortune in Manchester in the pioneer days of the eighteenth century industrial revolution, would be amazed to see how complicated and scientific the modern textile industry has become. Many different sciences have become the handmaids of’ the industry, and many major advances of recent years have been the result not of individual invention but of deliberate scientific research.
Yet, however much technical conditions change, business initiative still remains the lever of’ the economic system, and during the difficult years of the depression which followed 1929, Mather & Platt profited from the fact that they were producing many different types of general machinery and were not tied to the textiles industry alone.
The early 1930’s were years, which required perseverance and enterprise among textile machinery manufacturers, and there was a stimulus to improve once the corner had been turned. New departures were made in the production of machinery for the processing of rayon and for carpet—making. Wider markets were found. overseas in face of keen foreign competition. Permanent representation was maintained in India by engineering staffs at offices in Calcutta and Bombay, as well as in Brazil, Egypt and several countries on the continent of Europe.
There is little doubt that both from a technical and a business point of view the expansion of Mather & Platt as a firm concerned with the production of machinery for many industries has been a wise and farsighted development. Board of Trade statistics indicate that in 1938, out of 512 firms wholly engaged in the production of textile machinery 450—470 were “small firms, chiefly engaged in making accessories or in general jobbing work”, (1) in other words they had advanced little from the economic structure of the mid-Victorian world.
Mather & Platt had been able to improve its textile machinery business by increasing the scope of its production in other lines as well. By watching the broad horizons of technical change, it had seized its opportunities to grow into a well-balanced engineering enterprise. To realise the nature of its achievement the other branches of its activities will now be examined in turn.
(1)See P.E.R.., The Textile Machinery Industry Planning, No. 12 July 1946.
CHAPTER 5 - Technical Invention and Business Enterprise
Part 2 - PUMP DEPARTMENT
The story of pumps, even more than the story of textile machinery, illustrates the dependence of industry on progress in scientific research. Many of the famous mechanical engineers of the eighteenth century were pump-makers, and although it is usually not possible to trace a direct line of descent from the first pump-making engineers to the great modern engineering firms, (1) Mather & Platt is something of an exception. Before William and Colin Mather took over the management of Salford Iron Works, their predecessors were makers of hydraulic machinery, including pumps for various purposes.
Mather and Platt soon interested themselves in centrifugal pumps “Arrived. at the works 6.a.m.”, wrote William Mather in his Diary in 1858, “took round of shop, after which made experiments with centrifugal pump, rigged up on shop boiler with suction pipe inserted into a tub of water in fire hole, delivery pipe to wooden box bolted to the top to receive water”. (2) In 1866 there were orders for only a few pumps, practically all reciprocating, but the way had been prepared for subsequent expansion, and in the years ahead the supply of centrifugal pumps was to become a profitable side of the firms business.
As early as 1857 the firm manufactured double-acting reciprocating pumps driven by steam engines for lifting water from boreholes. In the following twenty years various types of pumps were made, such as horizontal three-throw ram pumps, rotary pumps and centrifugal pumps for providing water supplies and for use with textile machinery.
The most important invention, however, did not come until 1875 — Professor Osborne-Reynolds’ turbine pump made for the engineering laboratory of the Owens College. (3) Before that time pumps of the centrifugal type but of low efficiency were used for raising water at low heads. Reynolds produced a turbine pump of the series type, fitted with guide vanes, and a separate cell for each impeller. In his specification he stated that the novelty of his invention “in the case of obtaining motive power ... consists in repeating the action again and again causing the fluid to traverse one or more additional sets of moving passages alternating with fixed passages.
(1) J.H Clapham, An Economic History of Modern Britain, Vol.1 (1939) p.. 154
(2) Diary, 5 August 1858.
(3) See E. Hopkinson and A. E. L. Chorlton, The Osborne-Reynolds Pump and its Evolution, a paper read to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 1912.
In both cases, that is, in obtaining motive power and in raising and forcing fluids, instead of alternate sets of fixed and moving passages, all the passages may be in motion, but in that case the alternate sets of passages must move in opposite directions. It is not necessary that the several sets of moving passages should be connected with or move round the same axis or shaft.”(1)
Reynolds's invention was the product of laboratory research (2) and demonstrated his remarkable combination of gifts as an engineer and a mathematical physicist, but before his pump was actually produced by Mather & Platt there was a considerable time lag. The theory of the pump preceded its commercial exploitation, and even after the firm began to produce Osborne-Reynolds pumps, theoretical and commercial considerations some times diverged. The “best efficiency”, as worked out by laboratory engineers, did not always imply the most suitable commercial design, and from the point of view of industrial development, it was always true that “against the requirements for the best theoretical conversion of kinetic energy must be matched. the allowable limits of dimensions conformable with commercial possibilities”. (3)
In 1893 Mather & Platt exploited the Mather-Reynolds pump as a commercial proposition, and developed a series of sizes for dealing with “duties” varying from 100 to 1600 gallons a minute against heads up to 180 feet. Some of these early pumps had a very long life. After the end of the first World War one of them, of the vertical spindle type, was still at work in an artesian well in Russia, 100 foot deep, and from the time of its installation had only once been brought to the surface for examination, (4) Despite the efficiency of these early examples of pump craftsmanship in the 1890’s, there was an attractive competitive design on the continental market designed by Messrs. Sulzer Brothers of Winterthur Switzerland. This firm supplied centrifugal type pumps of multi-stage design to a mining company in Spain about 1896.
In 1900 Mather & Platt entered into an agreement with its Swiss rival that both firms would manufacture the same type of multi-stage turbine pump, embodying the several improvements worked out by Sulzers. The casing of the pump was constructed in one piece, with intermediate pieces, guide vanes and impellers put in from one end. The impellers were arranged back to back to reduce the amount of end-thrust set up in the pump. The new design was an attractive one and a sharing of markets seemed a feasible commercial proposition, but Sulzers had at their disposal in Switzerland the high-speed electric motors which enabled the pumps coupled to them to be supplied at low cost. In 1904 the arrangement between the two firms to produce the same type of pump came to an end by mutual consent.
(1) 0. Reynolds, Improvements in Turbines and Centrifugal Pumps - (Pat.Spec. No.724. 1395), Scientific papers, Vol.11, p.141.
(2) See R.W.Bailey, The Contribution of Manchester Researches to Mechanical Science, a paper read to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 25 .June 1929. There was a good deal of English and French scientific writing on pumps, culminating in the papers of Dr. Unwin in the Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers, 1877-78. Practical applications of accepted principles were developed by Appold, 1848-51, Professor James Thomson,1852-58 R.C.Parsons, 1877 and Dr.Stanton
(3) A. E.- L. Chorlton,Notes on the Construction of Turbine Pumps, a paper read to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 18 May 1917.
(4) Our Journal, October 1920.
Mather & Platt then continued to develop the high-lift turbine pump based on the original Osborne-Reynolds design with all the eyes of the impellers facing the same way. This high-lift turbine pump became the main product of the Pump Department and present day pumps retain the feature. Under the capable supervision of Alan E. L.Chorlton, lasting improvements were made to the middle-body and during several years of experiment various designs were tried for balancing the endthrust. In 1904 a hand-adjusted needle valve was employed to produce the required balancing pressure. A mechanically operated needle valve actuated by the axial movement of the pump spindle was invented two years later, and finally a small disc valve was incorporated with the balance piston which eliminated the use of the needle valve altogether. An automatic disc-balancing device was introduced in 1912 and finally, three years later, the single disc balance valve was introduced in which the proportioning of the diameter enabled the hydraulic thrust to be balanced automatically. At the same time the shaft was extended at the free end and carried in an external bearing, which made for increased reliability.
Before 1911 centrifugal pumps were manufactured in a department known as “Engine Pump and Water Purification”. In addition to centrifugal pumps this department undertook the manufacture of reciprocating borehole pumps; open vertical marine slow-speed type and small enclosed high speed steam engines; surface and jet condensers; filters for water supplies, water softening, purification and sewage treatment plant, but when the department was transferred to Park Works in 1911, the modern Pump Department was formed and the manufacture of these products was gradually discontinued. There were various reasons, technical and economic, for the dropping of the old lines of production. Markets were changing and engineering was becoming more specialised making it apparent to those in charge of the fortunes of the company that concentration on centrifugal pumps would make for great technical improvement in design.
In 1911 the Pump Department was concentrating on three designs, the high-lift multi-stage turbine pump, suitable for municipal water supply, hydraulic pressure, colliery drainage, and boiler feed; the high-lift single-stage turbine pump for general service; and the low-lift turbine pump, for condenser circulation and sewage and other services operating on low heads. The low-lift turbine pump was superseded in 1911 by the Monovane pump, which was of the single-stage type, having only one guide vane, and which gave higher efficiency for those low lift duties. Each pump was manufactured individually and designed to suit the condition, with the result that the cost of production was very high. In spite of this many important contracts were secured and the satisfactory performance of pumps supplied did much to establish the name of Mather & Platt as pump makers.
The type of job carried out by the firm in this period before 1914 is best illustrated from two tasks actually accomplished. In 1908 it installed for the Montreal Water and Power Company a three-stage high-lift turbine pump, direct coupled to an alternating current motor. The normal “duty” of the pump was 10,500 gallons of water per minute against a total head of 405 feet, the speed of the set being 465 r.p.m. This pump, which weighed 65 tons, was the largest built at that time, having branches of 24” bore. In 1912 the Birchenwood. Colliery Company was supplied with two high-lift turbine pumps, direct-coupled to alternating current motors of 850 b.h.p. for a “duty” of 1800 gallons per minute against a total head of 950 feet when running at a speed of 970 r.p.m. These pumps were the largest sets of this type working underground at the time of installation.
The scale of operations in the Pump Department was relatively small in 1914. There was still plenty of scope for new ideas. Many of the existing designs needed substantial revision, new fields of practical application had to be explored, more efficient systems of production were required, and more orders from outside were necessary if the department was to expand. After 1915, the economic and technical sides of the pump business both began to show marked improvement, and the firm now boasts one of the largest centrifugal pump businesses in the world.
It was realised at the beginning of this period of transition that of the designs then available the diffuser type pump was the only one which would be suitable in a world which was fast learning the advantages of the centrifugal pump. The obvious advantages of the horizontally split casing design were appreciated and experience with this type had been obtained in the manufacture and performance of a multi-stage split-casing turbine pump built for boiler feeding in 1909. The difficulties of construction were such that for high-pressure work a pump of the cell, type was preferred, but the advantages of the split-casing design for low-pressure units were not overlooked.
When new designs were considered the split casing was adopted for moderate heads and several ranges of pumps were developed for low-lifts and medium-lifts. These technical names were cumbersome in use and it was decided to start the ‘vane’ series of descriptions. The products of Mather & Platt’s Pump Department became known throughout the world by the names PLUR0VANE, MEDIVANE, L0N0VANE and S0L0VANE.
A survey of probable demand was made. Ranges of pumps for all duties were developed in a manner, which allowed for standardisation, with the advantage of interchangeability. Many of the smaller sizes were then and are now produced in quantity and in “batches” carried in stock. The soundness of this policy was soon established; consequently it has been followed and extended to larger sizes and other types of pumps now manufactured by the company.
This standardisation meant re-organisation of the production department, the introduction of modem machine tools, and a system of working to jigs and close tolerances; but it did not imply any change in the quality of services offered. As in other departments the firm continued to pride itself on the production of individual designs for individual orders.
There has been a considerable technical development in the design of pumps since 1915.(1) The multi-stage pump replaced the reciprocating pump for mine drainage, for engineers were quick to realise its possibilities and to gain confidence in its reliability. It now holds a practically unequalled position in high pressure pumping, and since the introduction of the “Stable Characteristic Boiler Feed Pump” it has been applied to works like power stations, where it previously could not have been used. Only in the case of unusually high boiler pressure does the reciprocating pump become a serious competitor of the centrifugal type. (2) In the oil industry too, where reciprocating pumps would have been used almost automatically forty years ago, the place of the centrifugal pump is assured.
In 1925 Mather & Platt Ltd. started negotiations with a leading continental firm, which manufactured a combined single-shaft steam turbo-pump. Steam turbine driven feed pumps had been made as early as 1904, but this was the first time that a range of such unity had been contemplated. Owing to the increase in boiler pressure and capacities, however, the combined arrangement soon became unsuitable and it was decided to produce a range of turbines, which would incorporate, as far as possible, the advantages of the larger turbines used for the main turbo-alternator sets, and to couple these directly to duplicates of pumps installed for electric driving. This policy has been justified and turbines up to 1600 b.h.p. have been supplied for driving boiler feed pumps.
Technical progress in pump making since 1915 has been accompanied by commercial expansion. Indeed the increasing demand for pumps to meet changed market requirements has provided a challenge to technical progress. Just as improvements in pumping were necessary before the early eighteenth century coal industry could develop and expand, so in the twentieth century “industrial development”, based on oil and electricity, pumping has played an important part. Oil technology demands high-powered pumping stations along the pipelines, and since 1919 Mather & Platt Ltd. have supplied Plurovane pumps for the main pipelines of the major Oil Companies. The pipe lines which connected strategic points in the United Kingdom during the Second World War and the famous “Pluto” (pipe line under the ocean) project were also installed with Plurovane pumps.
(1) R. Pennington, Centrifugal and Other Non-Positive Pumps, a Centenary Lecture of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 7 June 1947.
(2) See. W. J. Peirce, The Development of the Centrifugal Pump, a Paper read. to the Paper Makers’ Association, January 1948.
These pumps were widely adopted in the chemical industry and for mine drainage. Before the First World War pumps were installed in South Africa, for instance, for the mines and power stations, essential to the economic development of the country. Pumps of the axial flow type were also supplied to Egypt for land drainage. Overseas orders concerned with the economic development of foreign countries were of special importance in the 1930s. Indeed conditions in the market for pumps reflect the inducement to invest not only of businessmen, but also of the managers of public utilities and of projectors of large-scale national enterprises. In the middle ‘twenties the depression in the colliery districts, where the firm normally received a considerable amount of business, was counterbalanced by an expansion of municipal undertakings. (1)
In the ‘thirties the demand from abroad rose with the recovery from the Great Depression of 1931. A staff of fully trained engineers, with a detailed knowledge of foreign conditions, enabled the firm to make the best use of its opportunities in the export market. The slogan “satisfaction or your money back” adopted by the Pump department was in 1915 to demonstrate the company’s insistence not only on quality, but also on service.
(1) Proceedings at the Twenty Eighth Annual General Meeting.26 February 1926.
CHAPTER 5 - Technical Invention and Business Enterprise
Part 3 - Electrical Machinery
In the year 1831 Michael Faraday invented the electric dynamo an invention which proved to be the foundation stone of the electrical industry. It was left to the engineers to produce a practicable as distinct from a laboratory model, but progress was slow.
At the Great Exhibition of 1851 the only effective electrical exhibit was a child’s toy, although the Jury of Experts set up by the Royal Commission was “far from despairing” of the successful application of electricity to mechanical motion. It was in the thirty years after 1851 that engineers on the continent and in the U.S.A. succeeded in building a number of crude dynamos and it became apparent that the production of electricity from mechanical power was a workable proposition. There seems no doubt that during this period William Mather, who had visited the Exhibition as a boy, foresaw the possibility that the exploitation of this invention could, with advantage, be undertaken by his firm.
At the Paris Electrical Exhibition of 1881, the first major electrical exhibition, which attracted scientists from all parts of the world, a number of dynamos were exhibited. One in particular, the machine built by Thomas A. Edison, stirred up great interest and was regarded by many as the most advanced development of Faraday’s invention. In the following year William Mather made an arrangement with Edison to manufacture his dynamo in this country.
Salford Iron Works was an ideal cradle for this new child because, on account of the wide variety of high grade engineering products that had been developed and perfected there during many years, the mechanical “know how” already existed. Furthermore, steam engines suitable for driving dynamos were already in production, and there was wide scope for the application of electric motors to the many machines, which were regularly being built there for the textile and other industries. John Hopkinson, then thirty three years old, who had interested himself in the technical aspects of dynamos, was engaged to advise on the manufacture of Edison’s machine, and the combination of his ability to design and the ability of Mather & Platt to manufacture a sound machine soon resulted in the production of an improved dynamo, the Edison-Hopkinson machine, so well known and respected in those pioneering days. To support Hopkinson in his work, his brother Edward was engaged to serve Mather & Platt as manager of the new Electrical Department.
When the manufacture of electrical machinery began at Park Works it was generally believed that the main use of electricity would be for lighting, and at that time William Siemens in fact, although prophesying the sure victory of electricity, thought of it only as” the light of luxury” and not as a source of power. (1)
(1) J.H. Clapham, An Economic History of Modern Britain VoLII (l932),p.108.
There seems to be no doubt that Mather & Platt thought otherwise, for although they built many of the early dynamos for electric lighting duty, they were very early makers of electric motors to supply power for the industries for which they were already building machinery and for other purposes where the new electric motor could be applied with advantage. When a factory inspector wrote in 1901 “In the age of steam this country led the way, whereas in the age of electricity we seem to follow America and other countries”, he was under estimating the important pioneer work in the development of electrical machinery that had already been performed by Mather & Platt.
Very few dynamos were built by the firm to Edison’s original design, which was not efficient. Hopkinson very early introduced modifications which rendered possible a marked improvement in the efficiency of converting mechanical power to electric power. The outstanding modification was an alteration to the shape and proportions of the magnetic circuit, the change being worked out experimentally by means of laboratory models of different types of magnet systems, and these models are preserved in the Science Museum at South Kensington. The first working machine of the new design gave on test more than double the output of the Edison machine of the same weight (1). Edison’s original design became obsolete and the improved Edison-Hopkinson machine became a standard which was manufactured until the late ‘nineties. A radical departure from Edison's arrangement of the magnet system was introduced in 1884 when the “Manchester” type machine was introduced, and proved most satisfactory for the smaller dynamos and motors. The “Manchester” type of magnet system provided an important stepping stone to the development of the later multi-polar magnet systems which have remained in use up to the present time. The first experimental multi-polar machine was constructed in 1890, and there were great improvements in design in 1896.
The first dynamos built by Mather & Platt and other early constructors produced direct current, and all early electric light and power installations made use of this form of electric energy. Alternating current, in which form almost all electric energy is now generated and distributed, was to come later, particularly after power stations had begun to grow in size and engine speeds continued to rise.
By stepping into the electrical industry so early, Mather & Platt was able to recruit many large scale customers. The first order recorded for an Edison-Hopkinson machine was in June 1883, (2) and the model was characteristically despatched to an exhibition in November 1884 the first order for a “Manchester type” dynamo came from a sugar works in Moscow. (3) Other interesting orders of the early period came from the “Manchester Guardian" office; the old Theatre Royal in Manchester; the Manchester Corporation Electricity department; the City and South London Railway, the first electrical underground railway to be built; (4) and. the Royal Navy, for two motors for one of the earliest submarines.
The Bessbrook and Newry Tramway in 1884 provides an interesting example of work of a pioneer nature. This was the first, albeit small electric traction system in the world to be operated entirely from water power, and it is interesting to know that this tramway remained in use until 1948, the original dynamos and motors remaining in service for the 64 years of this tramway’s life. One of the two original tramcars supplied to this railway is now preserved at Park Works. (5)
(1) J. Grieg, John Hopkinson in Engineering, 13 and 20 December 1950.
(2) EL. 24/1883
(3) EL. 160/1884:
(4) For details, see The Electrical Review, 22 December 1950, and an interesting letter by a correspondent, 12 January 1951. There was a contemporary article in The Railway World., August 1893.
(5) See E. Hopkinson, Electric Tramways Bessbrook and Newry in The Bessbrook Electric Tramway in The Railway World. June 1893.
Another early example of commercial enterprise, of a more diverting nature, was the sale of dynamos to travelling showman visiting country fairs. It was the practice, when this line of business commenced in the early years of the present century, to arrange for the purchaser to come to the works to see the dynamo running on load and to make payment at the same time. On one of those occasions considerable amusement was caused when the purchaser, who was a buxom woman, hoisted up her skirts when the account was presented to her and produced about £70 in gold sovereigns from a capacious pocket suspended from her waist.
Technical development was closely associated with business enterprise. In the year 1886 an experimental single-phase alternator was constructed by Mather & Platt and shortly afterwards single-phase alternators, built to the designs of the Hopkinson brothers, were supplied to provide energy for Lighting systems. In 1891 the Frankfurt Electrical Exhibition demonstrated the use of 3-phase current for transmission and seven years later the first 3-phase alternators were built by the firm together with induction motors for power installations on the alternating current system. An early installation (1904) of this nature supplied by the firm was appropriately enough for a cotton mill in Burnley and the complete success of this early example of all-electric drive in this industry placed Mather & Platt Ltd in the forefront when later electrification schemes were being considered at home and abroad.
The application of electric driving to mills was a slow process. The Factory Inspectors reported the Burnley pioneer experiment with interest, (1) and although Mather & Platt were supplying electric driving for mills in Spain, as late as 1918 reporters noted that "electric power is very little used in Lancashire for driving textile machinery”. (2)
The addition of alternators and induction motors to the products of the Electrical Department of the Company established a complete range of prototype machines and subsequent developments were confined to steady evolution of existing types. It was between 1906 and 1914 that standard lines were evolved, particularly after the move of the Electrical Department to Park Works in 1909, During the same period there were economic changes in the balance of production. Just as the firm ceased to produce water purification machinery for large-scale municipal contracts, so it also stopped producing on a large scale for municipal electrical plant. The supply of electrical machinery for industrial processes has always been the logical field for the products of this Company’s Electrical Department and, consequently, when other manufacturers in this country entered the field to supply electrical machinery Mather & Platt tended to confine their energies to meeting the ever increasing demand for machinery for factories whilst the new comers catered more for the public supply and the tramway and railway systems.
From the 1890’s onwards the firm had specialised in the provision of industrial electrical machinery. Certain types of factories were particularly suited to electrification because of the layout of the plant. For example, in heavy chemical works, where the ground area occupied is large in relation to the power requirements, a demand for driving power occurs at a large number of relatively widely separated points, and a common prime mover with mechanical transmission of power is impracticable. Before the advent of electric power, such factories derived power from a multiplicity of small, inefficient steam engines, but when electric power was available a central generating station producing electricity efficiently and feeding a large number of small motors spread over the factory site simplified production. Textile and similar factories where it was possible to arrange mechanical drives from a single prime mover were originally less responsive to proposals to electrify.
The mining industry offered a steady outlet for the firm’s electrical products. An early application of electricity in mines was to the pumping of water for mine drainage by motor driven centrifugal pumps. In addition to supplying these, the firm was a pioneer also in producing machines for electric coal cutting in collieries.
(1) At La Auroro Mill in Malaga, power consumption was reduced by 40% and the steadier drive in the spinning mill increased yarn production by 20% owing to the avoidance of yarn breakages. It was pointed out by technical computators that "an increased output, amounting to only 2% is sufficient to wipe out entirely the coal bill of a mill"
(2) Two machines described as A.C. motors, were supplied in 1896 (EL.932/96) and in 1897 (EL.160/97), but their make is not clear, and it is probable that they were not built by Mather & Platt.
A second field of enterprise in which the firm played an important part was the Electro-chemical industry. William Mather was himself directly interested in the Castner-Kellner Alkali Company, which he helped to found in 1895 and of which he was first chairman. This Company manufactured caustic soda and chlorine electrolytically on the basis of Castner’s inventions in the U.S.A. and Kellner's in Vienna.
For a time after 1905 Mather & Platt held manufacturing rights for the Zoelly impulse type steam turbine, but after a year or two the exploitation of turbo-generators was left to other firms. After the introduction of geared turbines in 1910, Mather & Platt supplied many direct current generators and alternators for them, and progress in this department of the firm has been maintained. The manufacture of the largest turbo alternators for direct coupling to steam turbines has not been undertaken.
The days before 1914 were the pioneer age of electrical development in this country: after 1918 the “routine” phase of development began, and electrical power was accepted as an essential agent in industrial production. Although in 1918, after the end of the War, there were still many complaints of Britain's late and slow start in the large-scale manufacture of all types of electrical equipment, except cables, (1) the way ahead both technically and economically had been marked out in the decade before 1914. At the Census of Production of 1907, electrical engineering accounted for 14% of the whole national engineering output by value a product already worth one fifth of the whole product of the woollen and worsted mills. In 1913 total exports of electrical machinery and goods, nearly half of them cables, were almost as valuable as those of the whole of the established textile machinery industry. A firm like Mather & Platt was fortunate in being identified with both old and new.
During the period after 1918, although the firm was producing standard ranges of products, it did not emulate some of its competitors by concentrating the whole of its effort on the production of standardised machines designed to meet the average needs of users. The mass produced standardised electric motor can be an excellent article, low in cost and suitable for meeting in a usually efficient manner the ordinary requirements of many industries. It cannot, however, be applied satisfactorily to the individual drive of a wide variety of machines employed by heavy industry.
It is the practice of Mather & Platt Ltd. to make a detailed study of the requirements of the machinery that; for example, a motor is required to drive, together with an investigation into the environment of a plant as it may affect the operation of the motor. A motor is then designed with electrical and mechanical characteristics judged to be best suited to the particular operating conditions, i.e. it is “tailor made” to suit the job it has to do, Concentration on such jobs has ensured continuity of custom with close ties binding the firm and its client, It has also resulted in the Company catering almost exclusively for the heavier industries where working conditions for machinery are onerous and where reliability and continuity of operation are more important to a customer than initial cost. Examples of the industries regularly served with the products of the Electrical Department are the heavy chemical industry, the iron and steel industry, the mining industry, the paper industry, the textile industry and the oil industry. By largely restricting itself to these fields, the firm has tended, in the development of its products since 1918, to steer an individual course rather than to follow prevailing fashion in the electrical engineering industry. By so doing it has continued to act as a pioneer in many fields.
(l) Report .on the Electrical Trades After the War, Cd.9093, 1918, p.9. The cable section of the industry was, of course,. the oldest.
For example, for some time the company has concentrated on the production of an induction motor specially designed for direct-on starting. Machines of this character were devised by Mather & Platt Ltd. soon after the first world war for use with high-speed centrifugal pumps and successful operation in this sphere resulted in the extension of the direct-on-starting principle with the consequent elimination of elaborate switchgear to many industrial drives. By virtue of its simplicity and economy the system is becoming exceedingly popular and machines now available are suitable for practically all duties.
One of these is closely related to the needs of the Mining and other industries in which explosive atmospheres might be encountered and where the increase in the use of electricity created a demand for large flameproof motors. During recent years considerable attention has been paid to the development of a complete range of flameproof motors to meet the needs of the colliery engineer and industrialists in situations where inflammable gases or explosive mixtures of dust and air are present. New technical improvements in manufacture are introduced to take advantage of the properties of new material placed on the market, an example being the growing use of glass fibre insulation's for motors and generators; and the application of a variable voltage grid controlled mercury-arc rectifier and direct-current motor to secure a wide range of speed on a motor when the supply of electricity is by alternating current. These improvements show the continuing trend of innovation in the electrical engineering industry, and the Electrical Department of Mather & Platt Ltd., continues to keep pace with the growth of the use of electric power itself.
CHAPTER 5 - Technical Invention and Business Enterprise
Part 4 - Fire Engineering
The story of the fire engineering department of Mather & Platt Ltd is somewhat different from the record of the other departments, for in taking up this line of production the firm was following a distinctive course of its own. In its early stages the Automatic Sprinkler story recorded in brief as part of our earlier chronological survey reads more like a romance than a chapter in economic of technical history, although there was little romance in the menace of fire which threatened the Lancashire Cotton mills in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The mills had interiors constructed largely of wood; gas lighting was usually employed; large quantities of oil were used for the lubrication of machinery; and cotton fluff itself was highly inflammable. This combination of circumstances made for serious conflagrations, the frequency of which became alarming. Indeed Mather & Platt had its own fire in 1852, the first year of the partnership; a blaze which had to be put out by men using buckets of water, (1) but neither buckets of water nor other hand appliances could cope with the fire situation in the spinning industry and fire losses were of such magnitude that Insurance Companies were reluctant to cover premises in the cotton trade.
As far back as 1788 Carey an Englishman had experimented with a heat-operated device for discharging water through a system of pipes to extinguish a fire. In 1809 Congreve invented another perforated pipe system and three years later, a valve sealed by a fusible solder, whilst in 1864 Major Stewart Harrison of the 1st Engineer (London) Volunteers, gave to the world the first Automatic Sprinkler Head, his design being as a matter of fact superior to many that followed it. As so often happens, however, it was not to the country of its birth that this epoch-making invention owed its practical development, but to America, where in 1874 Henry S. Parmelee, a piano manufacturer of New England placed an automatic sprinkler on the market, and finally Frederick Grinnell, another American, the head of the Providence Gas, Steam and Water Pipe Company, patented the first reliable and. commercially successful automatic sprinkler head in 1882.
The Automatic Sprinkler and Fire Alarm System the success of which was assured after the invention of the “Grinnell” head is a device for extinguishing a fire in its early stages by the use of water and, simultaneously, sounding an alarm to summon such human aid as may be required to turn off the water after the sprinkler equipment has performed its task of extinguishing the fire. It accomplishes its first purpose the extinction of the fire by discharging water, in proportion to the nature and extent of an outbreak, directly on to the conflagration. This is brought about automatically immediately the fire causes a rise in temperature sufficient to operate the sensitive controls (known as sprinkler heads) and before the conflagration has time to get out of hand. The second function of the system, that of sounding the alarm, is equally positive, as the ringing of the alarm gong is caused by the action of water flowing through the pipes leading to the open sprinklers.
(1) The Manchester Courier 26 June 1852.
Under normal conditions the discharge of water from the sprinklers is sufficient to effect complete extinction of the fire, but if, by reason of the presence of some obstruction which provides an “umbrella” for the fire and prevents the discharge from falling direct on to the seat of the outbreak, the fire is not completely extinguished, the shower of water from the sprinkler is sufficient to hold the blaze in check. Under these conditions sprinklers prevent the spread of fire pending the arrival of the fire brigade.
We have seen earlier how 1883 was the key year in the history of the Fire Engineering Department. Two important events took place. First, as has been mentioned earlier, William Mather visited the United States of America to investigate American methods of technical education and in the course of his travels met Frederick Grinnell, who had just patented his new "Grinnell" automatic sprinkler head. Grinnell was so amazed and delighted that an Englishman should give his time and pay his own expenses to travel in search of knowledge for the benefit of his country, without a hope of personal reward, that he offered William Mather the sole selling rights for the “Grinnell” sprinkler for the whole of the world excepting the territories of the United States of America and Canada. The offer was accepted and Mather & Platt thus had their first ‘baptism’ in the business of fire engineering. Second, two young men, Ralph Dowson and John Taylor, who two years earlier had witnessed a demonstration by George F. Parmelee of the automatic sprinkler head invented by his brother Henry in the market square at Bolton, started their partnership in the fire Engineering business. We have already seen how these young men who had worked together for the Chemical Fire Engineering Company of Bolton, had, in the early days of their partnership, designed and placed on the market the first two-gallon “Simplex” Soda-Acid Fire Extinguisher substantially the same in basic principle as hand appliances in use today.
Within twelve months they patented and installed their own “Simplex” automatic sprinkler, which was abandoned when they made an arrangement with William Mather to market the Grinnell system. John Taylor soon realised that the success of the Fire Engineering business did not depend upon the fundamental soundness of the automatic sprinkler idea or the superiority of the Grinnell head. He recognised that while the sprinkler might ultimately become established by reason of its intrinsic value as a fire-fighting device its general adoption would be a slow process unless he could break down the reluctance of mill owners to spend money on protecting their premises.
Many owners of Cotton mills, regarded in the early days as most likely customers for automatic sprinklers by reason of colossal fire losses in their industry, were not unduly perturbed by numerous disasters in their midst. Even though outbreaks of fire were assuming alarming proportions were not the owners “covered by insurance”? They paid an annual premium for Insurance against loss by fire, regarding it, though heavy, as a fixed charge against their profits and feeling a measure of financial security because one mill burned down could be replaced by another out of the proceeds of insurance. Fortunately there were some officials in the Insurance world who appreciated the value of sprinklers when viewed from the financial angle.
One of the most enthusiastic of this small band was John Wormald who, like John Taylor and Ralph Dowson had witnessed the early Parmelee demonstration at Bolton. He ultimately joined the business of Dowson & Taylor and became one of the world’s greatest Salesmen for Automatic Sprinklers but not before he had played a considerable part in convincing Fire Insurance Companies that the way to increase profits was to encourage the installation of automatic sprinklers by allowing a rebate on insurance premiums in respect of every building protected in accordance with accepted standards.
John Wormald had been a surveyor for the Mutual Fire Insurance Corporation of Bolton, the first insurance company officially to acknowledge that the automatic sprinkler was the answer to the fire losses in cotton mills. Acting on behalf of his company John Wormald produced the first set of rules governing the manner in which automatic sprinklers should be installed in order to qualify for the relief on fire insurance premiums which the company was prepared to allow. In his record of this event John Wormald wrote: “On October 22nd, 1885, I copyrighted and published, the first code of Sprinkler Rules that had been given to the world, and these were based on the data and experience provided, by the previous three years of experiment and practice. So saturated was my mind with the subject in all its detail that I well remember composing the whole pamphlet on a Sunday afternoon without having to refer to any notes. I did not expect that these regulations would find general acceptance, but as a matter of fact not only were they adopted by the British Tariff Companies, but in America they paid us the compliment of taking them as the groundwork of their own Rules subsequently published”.
The established rules of the British Fire Offices Committee now universally accepted as the standard to which all sprinkler installations must comply stand, in all basic principles, exactly as drafted by John Wormald in collaboration with John Taylor. In his book entitled. “The Story of the Introduction to England of the Automatic Sprinkler”, writing of the days when he was on the staff of the Mutual Fire Insurance Corporation and before he joined the Dowson Taylor organisation, John Wormald makes the following reference to the work of John Taylor:-“As was to be expected, the advent of the Automatic Sprinkler attracted the attention of Fire Engineers who had hitherto been engaged in the manufacture of non-automatic appliances, and in the succeeding years there appeared on the British market numerous types of new sprinklers, each claiming to be an improvement upon Mr. Grinnell’s invention”. Of the many devices submitted for examination three British Sprinklers were deemed, of sufficient merit to justify their endorsement, viz. the “Simplex” (Dowson & Taylor, Bolton), the “Witter” (Witter & Son, Bolton), and the “Titan” (J.H. Lynde and George Mills, Radcliffe).
The “Simplex” was a sealed or non-valve device of the Parmelee type, though much more sensitive in its operation, and had the great advantage of being placed on the market in conjunction with the well known Variable Pressure Alarm Valve invented by Mr. John Taylor. This valve is operated by the flow of the water, and is constructed so as to prevent false alarms being given by any variations of pressure in the main supply pipes.
When the water pressure has achieved an equilibrium above and below the Valve, the clack, which is of differential area, drops by its own weight upon a seating on which is grooved an annular chamber with an outlet pipe to a small water motor, to the spindle of which are attached revolving hammers that strike a loud-sounding gong. In practice the opening of a Sprinkler Head reduced the pressure above the Valve, which is lifted by the upward flow from the main supplies, and so long as this continues, water passes to the motor and the gong sounds a continuous alarm. In the clack of the valve there is a small compensating valve which takes up any violent fluctuation of pressure without lifting the Valve itself, thus obviating false alarms”.
“Next to Mr. Grinnell‘s invention this ingenious Valve of Mr. Taylor’s remains the most important advance in the development and practice of Automatic Fire Extinction. Previously there was nothing better than a rude and clumsy clockwork arrangement consisting of a cord wound round a drum with a weight attached which, when released, caused a hammer to strike a gong just as in an 8-day clock. When the weight reached the ground the alarm ceased. Mr. Taylor’s new Valve was speedily adopted by Mr Grinnell himself and applied all over America. It is still an integral part of every Sprinkler Installation.”
The patent rights covering John Taylor’s Alarm Valve were later granted to the ‘Grinnell’ Corporation in America, and his alarm valve continues in use to this day.
We thus have early signs of the engineering ability, which John Taylor brought to bear on many problems in the later history of Mather & Platt Ltd. The early sprinkler days were not, however, without their troubles. Ralph Dowson once staged a sprinkler demonstration in Calcutta. He built a wooden house and equipped it with sprinklers. The Mayor, with leading civil servants and businessmen were invited and attended the demonstration. Eventually a fire was lit in the house, which proceeded, to everyone’s alarm, to burn to the ground. The water supply was from a town’s main, which was blocked: it had pressure but no volume. This was an exceptional demonstration: most of the displays staged and they soon became famous, were startling and impressive in their effectiveness. We may be sure that the lessons of the incident in Calcutta were not lost on Dowson-Taylor or their friends in the Insurance world: they provided early proof of the wisdom of having secondary water supplies whenever possible.
The sprinkler system is not the sort of apparatus that demands constant technical changes. There have, however, been considerable improvements since 1900. The original “Grinnell” sprinkler head had as its operating element three metal parts soldered together. Excellent as the soldered sprinkler was, atmospheric corrosion could, in certain circumstances, be disastrous, and a search was made to find a sprinkler composed of operating parts which were immune to atmospheric corrosion, In 1902 a patent for glass bulb sprinklers was granted. Early development work was carried out with bulbs obtained from abroad, but from 1907 bulbs for further experimental work were produced in England. Experimental bulb sprinklers were installed in Park Works in 1913, and in 1920 development work was resumed by Mather & Platt technicians in the newly established Research Department. As a result a spherical bulb automatic sprinkler was invented, which was approved by the Insurance companies in 1922.
The Quartzoid bulb automatic sprinkler was approved three years later. The full story of the perfection of the quartzoid bulb sprinkler would contain many stories of frustration and countless disappointments as well as a mass of technical information outside the scope of this history but it is of interest to record that one of the band of enthusiastic workers who carried research on this problem to a successful conclusion was the son of one of the first employees of Dowson & Taylor. In an earlier chapter reference has been made to the technical ability of Edward Roberts as a sprinkler engineer, and it is fitting that Arthur Roberts, the son of this pioneer technician should follow in his father’s footsteps and play a noteworthy part in producing a new type of head which, by reason of its strength and resistance to corrosion, is now accepted as the sprinkler for all situations.
The order book for automatic sprinklers takes the reader into all parts of the world and into the premises of business firms whose names are household words. It is a far cry to the day when Cotton Mills of Lancashire were regarded as the limit of Sprinkler protection and Grinnell equipment is now to be found in every branch of industry and commerce, even to underground mine workings and to luxury liners like the “Queen Mary” and the “Queen Elizabeth”.
But sprinklers are not the only products of the Fire Engineering Department, which has expanded greatly since Dowson, Taylor & Co. Ltd, moved from Blackfriars Bridge to Park Works in 1902. The pioneering spirit continued to be John Taylor and he was ably assisted by Edward Roberts whose energies were concentrated on the technical work of the department.
Among the wide range of products of the Department are automatic electrically driven fire pumps, necessary adjuncts to many sprinkler installations. The development of these pumps brought into play three sides of the company's business, the pump department, the electrical department and the fire department. There were obvious advantages in maintaining such complementary lines of activity.
As part of the policy of curtailing loss by fire John Taylor and his colleagues in the Fire Engineering division turned their attention to the production of an efficient fire-resisting door. While striving to secure the universal adoption of sprinklers as a logical means of cutting fire loss by extinguishing each outbreak automatically they realised that there were bound to be many buildings in which sprinklers would not be installed. To minimise the fire loss in such buildings the provision of fire resisting doors, to seal off one part of a building in which fire occurred from other rooms to which the conflagration might spread through communicating doors, was a logical step.
Up to about 1890 most fire doors were constructed of iron, although every fire expert knew that such doors could not be satisfactory because the heat of the fire was radiated through them or caused them to warp and buckle, leaving gaps through which flames could pass. Further, such doors were liable to tear themselves from their fastenings and so allow the fire to pass; or, alternatively, and equally unfortunately, jammed and did not allow the firemen to gain access to the seat of a fire.
In 1890 Dowson & Taylor introduced from America an armoured fire door, constructed of pinewood boards of a given thickness nailed across each other in a special way, and finally sheathed in tinned steel plates, joined together according to a special process which allowed the plates to expand under the influence of heat and yet remain airtight. The idea of using a wooden door to resist the spread of fire met with as much ridicule as had Wilkinson’s idea of an iron boat a hundred years before. Today, however, the Armoured Fire Door stands proved by its performance in saving many buildings from destruction by fire and it is in universal use. Fire fighting experts recommend it, and architects specify it just as confidently as they specify brick for walls and glass for windows. In order to enable the company to meet a growing demand the manufacture of fire resisting doors was transferred in 1906 to a separate works at Preston.
The advance in technical knowledge subsequently resulted in the development of a Composite door, manufactured of steel and asbestos. This door is used where it is necessary to have a fire door, which harmonises with its surroundings. Although the composite door has good fire resisting qualities it cannot give the results proved by actual fire experience in the use of the armoured door.
A somewhat parallel line of manufacture has been the production, since 1925, of steel rolling shutters, Although the majority of steel rolling shutters supplied by Mather & Platt Ltd., are installed for the normal purpose of providing access to a building for which they have many obvious advantages over wooden doors. They have fire resisting qualities, which bring them within the orbit of the fire engineering department. Furthermore, when Rolling Shutters are required for the definite purpose of providing a fire-resisting curtain they can be made to close automatically in case of fire and to comply with the requirements of the Fire Offices Committee. The Company pioneered the installation of electrically operated shutters and is one of the largest producers of steel rolling shutters in the country. Tens of thousands of shutters have been manufactured and installed in all parts of the world and under all conditions; located from the equator to the Polar regions and varying in application from a loading bay in an engineering works to installation on board ship including the famous aircraft carrier the “Ark Royal’ which was equipped with twenty Mather & Platt shutters at the time of the notorious nightly broadcast “Where is the Ark Royal?" Wags ‘in the know’ at Park Works were saying “They must be deaf, there are enough steel rolling shutters on her to hear her rattling along anywhere between Shanghai and Peru”.
Another product of the Department closely identified with the early days in the sprinkler business is the cast iron storage tank, built from standardised cast iron plates. This was designed originally as an adjunct to a sprinkler installation at a time when most sprinkler systems were fed by gravity and the erection of an overhead tank in one piece would have presented considerable difficulty but it is now employed for many other industrial purposes.
In 1932 Mather & Platt Ltd. entered the field of Industrial heating when they commenced to manufacture the ‘Thermolier’ Unit Heater which John Taylor had seen used with great advantage in many modern American factories. His early model was based on the successful American design but it was later revised to conform to British Standards. Although British industrial conservatism formed a serious barrier to the initial acceptance of the Unit heater principle “Thermolier” heaters have now become firmly established.
The most far reaching twentieth century fire fighting development, however, with the possible exception of the quartzoid bulb Sprinkler, has been the invention of a new system of extinguishing fires involving oil and other inflammable liquids by the use of water. Changes in the nature of materials used in many industries and the increased use of lubricating oil and diesel oil in industry as a whole have brought with them additional fire risks unknown forty or fifty years ago. One means of localising oil fire and yet allowing it to burn without spreading or damaging surrounding plant until the source of ignition had been shut off, was discovered in 1931. The Protector Spray System employed an even distribution of a cooling element with the maximum conservation of water.
In the same year an entirely new system of protection for use against fires involving oils and oil products was devised by Mather & Platt Ltd at Park Works. The new system was given the trade name “Mulsifyre”, coined from the words “Emulsion” and “Fire”, the scientific idea behind the system being that water alone is used, applied in such a manner as to convert the surface of the burning liquid into a non-burning, oil-in-water emulsion. Fires are thus put out by fundamental means i.e. the temporary conversion of an inflammable liquid into a substance which cannot burn.
For many years the extinction of oil fires was one of the unsolved problems of the fire engineer. The almost universally accepted agent for suppressing fires, water was not only’ regarded, as useless but as positively dangerous when applied to oil fires by the methods known before the development of the ‘Mulsifyre’ system.
One positive step towards solving the problem of extinguishing oil fires was taken when foam was invented forty years ago. Foam does not burn and is lighter than oil, so that when flooded over the burning surface to a depth of several inches it brings about the extinction of fire by a smothering action. After the inert gas, carbon dioxide had become commercially available in liquidified form, contained under high pressure in strong steel cylinders; it afforded an additional method of smothering oil fires located in closed situations.
The staff of the Research Department of Mather & Platt Ltd, under the leadership of Dr. S.F. Barclay, made an entirely new approach to the subject, arising out of some years of study of emulsions and their formation. It is a fact well known to scientists that an oil-in-water emulsion is non-inflammable, for the reason that the oil is divided into minute globules separated from each other and covered by a film of water. To form such an emulsion, the surface of the oil must be violently agitated in order to bring about its disassociation into tiny globules.
Under the Mulsifyre system this is accomplished by bombarding the oil with water discharged under pressure through specially designed nozzles called “Projectors”.
Thus it will be seen that the “Mulsifyre” system goes to the root of the problem of oil fire extinction and because it deals with the cause, and not merely with the effect, emulsifying equipment is now accepted as a sure and reliable method of extinguishing all fires which involve inflammable liquids.
The process was first applied commercially in 1933 and since ‘that date hundreds of fixed “Mulsifyre” installations have been placed in commission. In application the Mulsifyre projectors are mounted on suitable pipe lines served with water at the necessary pressure; they may be located close to or at a considerable height above the oil surface, as circumstances may require. The equipment is normally brought into operation automatically in the event of an outbreak of fire, but manual control is provided to meet certain special conditions. The system has been patented in the principal countries of the world.
The chief applications of the Mulsifyre system have been in electricity power station and sub-stations. Many installations have been supplied to paint and varnish works, oil refineries and dry cleaning and waterproofing factories in many countries, including North and South America.
A well-equipped demonstration ground at Park Works, designed to display the capabilities of the Mulsifyre system under realistic conditions, has been visited by many thousands of people from all parts of the world. The dramatic extinction of large and intense oil fires, within two or three seconds of the water being turned on, never fails to make a lasting impression on the mind of the observer. Although the basic principles behind the Automatic Sprinkler and Alarm system - when applied to ordinary commercial fire hazards remain as they were when Dowson & Taylor erected their first installation nearly seventy years ago, there has been a steady advance in the design of the component parts of an installation. In addition, the application of the Sprinkler system has been modified to provide protection against fire in some special risks.
For example the Multiple Jet system provides an even distribution of water from several points simultaneously in order to control a fire which may break out in a situation where the presence of obstructions might prevent the discharge from one sprinkler from reaching the seat of a fire. Another variation of the Standard sprinkler system is the provision of external drenchers, designed to provide a curtain of water over the doors and. windows of a protected building so that flames are not able to pass from adjacent premises which may be on fire.
One of the most interesting of modern advances in fire fighting is a new technique which has been developed to cope with the danger of fire in modern aircraft hangars. The rapid growth in the use of large passenger and freight carrying aircraft in recent years has meant a corresponding increase in the demand for more and more hangar space. Modern aircraft hangars are of necessity spacious and lofty buildings. Like the aircraft they are intended, to house, they are expensive to build, and their cost and importance demands that every precaution should be taken to guard against destruction by fire.
This object is achieved, by the Automatic Duo-Control Deluge system developed by Mather & Platt Ltd. Under this system each large hangar is divided into a number of zones and in the event of fire, water is discharged automatically over the whole of an affected area through a series of open drencher heads. Standard “Grinnell” heads are employed only for the detection of fire and a supplementary detector system known by the trade name of “Fyretron" is also employed; hence the term duo-control. From this it will be seen that the Fire Engineering Department, continuing to put its trust in water as the most effective medium with which to attack a fire, is facing the challenge of the future as confidently as it faced the challenge of seventy years ago.
CHAPTER 5 - Technical Invention and Business Enterprise
Part 5 - Food Machinery
In 1930, the world wide trade depression had seriously affected British Industry and M & P had suffered with the rest. The Directors were, therefore, on the lookout for new lines to manufacture, which would help to keep the works, occupied, and bring more business to the Company.
At that time the Canning Industry in Great Britain was comparatively small and most of the equipment was being imported, largely from America. The Board of Trade were anxious to find British sources of manufacture for imported machinery, including Canning Machinery, and the few British Canners also wished to become less dependent upon imported Plant.
M & P Ltd. were approached by the Board of Trade, with the support of British Canners and, eventually, decided to go into this entirely new line of business, despite the fact that they would have to meet competition from established manufacturers from overseas. It seemed to be a sound long-term policy as the need to produce more food at home was generally recognised, and there appeared to be the beginnings of an agricultural revival. Furthermore, practically no other British firms were, at that time, making Canning Machinery and it was considered that a good start could be made with the Home Market.
The Canning Industry itself was not new. The earliest commercial experiments had taken place during the French Revolutionary Wars, about the time that the first Mather of this History settled in Salford. In 1804, Nicholas Appert invented a method of preserving food by sealing it hermetically in containers in a sterile condition and thereby won a prize of 12,000 Francs offered by Napoleon for improved methods of preserving food for the Army and Navy. However, it was an Englishman, Peter Durand, who first used tinplate steel containers for preserving food, obtaining a Patent in 1810 for a process of “preserving animal vegetable and other perishable foods by heat followed by hermetically sealing in vessels made of glass, pottery, tin or any metal or fit materials”. Some of the first metal vessels developed were known as tin cases, or canisters, and from this name the Americans have adopted the word. “Can”, and the British the word “Tin”. Tins of Australian mutton were on show at the Great Exhibition of 1851, and canned meat was used successfully for the first time by British troops in The Crimean War. The expression "Iron Rations” resulted.
However, the early development of the Canning Industry met continual checks due to an incomplete understanding of the scientific problems involved, and the lack of hygienic methods and equipment. Canned food was often regarded as being dangerous or unpleasant and the growth of the Industry was largely fostered by the demands made upon it in time of War.
Despite its early start in Europe the centre of the Canning Industry quickly moved to America, where the great variety of Fruits and Vegetables which were available, and the varied climate, lent themselves to an all-year round canning cycle.
The First World War did much to stimulate the growing Canning Industry and in the inter-war years, the civilian demand increased sharply. The wide variety and improved quality of Canned Food making it an accepted part of everyday diet, on both sides of the Atlantic, so that the worker of the 1920’s was able to have a much greater choice of food than the cotton operative of mid-Victorian Manchester. In 1924, a Special Commissioner who was sent to Canada and the United States, reported that the development of a large British industry was feasible, providing that modern machinery and methods were used.
Mather & Platt’s entry into the Food Machinery Industry, in 1930, was followed by a Canners Convention a year later, in Manchester, when the Firm was able to entertain delegates to Park Works to study the latest machines they had to offer.
The new Food Machinery Department was started first as a branch of the General Machinery or Textile Department, though it drew its small staff from both it and from the Pump Department. The start was only a small one; the new line of production was difficult to develop, particularly during those depression years, the Americans had had much experience of designing Food Machinery, particularly automatic machinery, and it was felt that if further progress was to be made, that the Company would have to work closely with an American firm of experience.
In 1932, an Agreement was made with the Food Machinery Corporation of the United States, for the manufacture of some of their standard Canning Equipment. A general Selling Company was set up outside the United States and Canada, called “Food Machinery (M & P) Ltd”, to sell both American and British made machines, as was convenient.
The new Company faced a difficult period. The expansion of the Canning Industry during the First World War had been considerable and Canners’ investments in plant had often outstripped the growth of the markets for their products. Even by 1926, when the General Trade Depression had receded, the new Company did not come up to expectations, although it had served a useful purpose in opening up fresh markets in Britain and also overseas. However, it was mutually decided to close down the sales Company, Food Machinery (M & P) Ltd although the friendly relationship between the Food Machinery Corporation and. Mather & Platt Ltd continued. Visits and ideas were exchanged and certain American Patents were retained. Nevertheless, the business continued, to expand slowly and the Department was able to justify its existence.
When the Second World War broke out, the small Food Machinery Department turned to Government Contracts, and while making a certain amount of Dehydration Plant for the Ministry of Agriculture, its productive capacity was largely devoted to War Contracts, which had no relationship to Food Machinery.
It was not until the end of the War that the demand for British Made Food Machinery really increased. The great use which was made of Canned Food by all of the conflicting Nations, stimulated the civilian demand and made the general public expect to have Canned Food as part of their daily ration. At the same time, the demand for all other products of the Firm had correspondingly increased and to relieve the congestion at Park Works, a lease was taken of the Royal Ordnance Factory at Radcliffe. The whole of the Food Machinery Department, being the smallest and most compact Department in the Firm, was moved there. This Works was suitable for light engineering, and that part of the Factory which was not required for Food Machinery became an overflow for the other departments at Park Works.
The inevitable teething troubles which followed on from a move of this sort were made worse, by the general post war conditions. Irregular, or short, deliveries of raw materials and bought out parts, wide varieties in quality, and unexpected delays or shortages, created many new problems which had to be tackled, by comparatively inexperienced workpeople and staff, many of whom had but recently returned from the War. Nevertheless, the Department set about putting its house in order with enthusiasm and in its new home, expanded rapidly. Meanwhile, by the end of the War, the various patents and manufacturing agreements with the Food Machinery Corporation and its subsidiaries had run out and consideration had to be given to future policy.
Before the War, a useful trade had been carried on in Europe. This was done partially by export, and partially by local manufacture. In France, Brittany was the main centre of vegetable and fish canning and in this area S.A. Mather & Platt had made arrangements with a local firm at Quimper, Establissements Jean Louarn, to manufacture any Food Machinery which, for various reasons could not be imported. Similarly, in Belgium, an arrangement was made with the firm of Edouard Lecluyse in Antwerp, and Food Machinery of Mather & Platt design was manufactured in both Factories for sale in Europe.
During the War, when all trade with Europe ceased, the French Company had to fall back on its own resources and in order to continue the Food Machinery business, made arrangements to finance Jean Louarn so as to expand his Works and manufacture machines which had previously been imported from England, and others which were developed in France during the course of the War. This initiative on the part of the French Staff not only kept the business alive, but resulted in a healthy expansion after the war was over.
In Belgium, during the German Occupation, matters took a different turn. A German Firm of Food Machinery Manufacturers, Karges-Hammer A.G., came to an Agreement with Edouard Lecluyse whereby they took over and expanded his business, building a new Factory which provided machinery to can German Army Rations. They acquired technical information and drawings, which had been the property of Mather & Platt Ltd and were also able to continue certain development work which was being undertaken in the Belgian Factory.
At the end of the War, this Factory was sequestrated by the Belgian Custodian of Enemy Property, and offered for sale. A series of negotiations then took place amongst interested parties, principally the Food Machinery Corporation of America, the Sobemi Company (Can Manufacturing Concern) of Belgium, and Mather & Platt Ltd. These negotiations naturally linked up with future manufacturing policy between the Food Machinery Corporation and Mather & Platt Ltd., and the renewal, or otherwise, of their association. Final proposals were that a new International Company should be formed called the “International Machinery Corporation” operating from the Lecluyse/Karges-Hammer Factory at Antwerp, and jointly owned by the interested parties. In addition, it was suggested that Mather & Platt’s Canning Department should be incorporated in the new Company and some form of rationalised production arranged between the new Antwerp Factory and the new Factory at Radcliffe.
These proposals were not acceptable to Mather & Platt Ltd, since it was felt that complete control of the Radcliffe Factory should be retained within the general framework of the Company. Accordingly, no new arrangements were made with the Food Machinery Corporation and the I.M.C. was formed, in conjunction with the Sobemi Co., and a number of leading can making companies but without Mather & Platt Ltd. This new Company, and also the Food Machinery Corporation, thus came into direct competition with the British firm.
Most of the Food Machinery Department’s early machines were of American design or based upon American designs and during the War, the Americans had done much research and development work which resulted in new and up to date models. In Great Britain, all efforts had had to be concentrated on the War, and development work on Food Machinery had not been permitted.
The end of the War, and the non-continuance of the American agreements thus threw a heavy load, on the drawing office and design staff, and much development and experimental work had to be taken on at Radcliffe, and in the expanded and jointly owned French Company at Quimper. During the next five busy years, nearly every machine was re-designed or replaced, and a number of new machines and processes were evolved. One of the most outstanding of these was the patented new Fish Canning Line developed by the French Company which, in addition to providing an improved quality, reduced the time required for extracting the organic moisture from the fish, from some twelve hours to about fifteen minutes.
Research and development work was intensified, in close co-operation, as previously, with the University of Bristol Fruit and Vegetable Preservation Research Station at Campden. One machine evolved as a direct result of this co-operation was the Stero-Washer which, working on the contraflow principle, was able to reduce the bacteriological infection of peas about eightfold.
Perhaps the most interesting and. revolutionary machine developed by the Department was the Non-Agitating Automatic Continuous Pressure Cooker. This machine was originally developed and patented in 1933, in conjunction with Campden and was designed to take advantage of the short time, high temperature cooking theory, which the Research Station had advanced. All vegetable packs are sterilised by being held at a high temperature for a given time - the higher the temperature, the shorter the time. It was found that peas which required sterilising in the ordinary retorts for 30 minutes at 2400F in the new Cooker only required 11 minutes at 260 0F. This shorter time not only produced a better looking and more economical pack, but also resulted in a higher nutritive value. Continual advances were made in the design of these Cookers and by 1951 they were capable of running continuously at speeds of 200 cans per minute and more, and even handling aluminium cans. These machines being about the only satisfactory non-agitating automatic Pressure Cookers found a wide market both at home and overseas.
The range of Food Machinery manufactured by Mather & Platt Ltd, included not only machines for Canning, but also machines for general food purposes such as Root Vegetable and other Washers, Food Pumps, Grain Dryers and Glass Jar Dryers, Peelers for all types of fruit and vegetables, Graders by size, weight or specific gravity, many forms of Cutters, Choppers, Dicers and Slicers, Filling and Inspection Tables and Conveyers which handle a great variety of items.
The M & P designed Pea Viner, embodying several new features, and having a higher throughput than competitive models, found ready markets, several hundreds being sold at home and overseas.
A Mather & Platt Canning Line is fully automatic, and processing times and temperatures can be controlled by the operation of instruments alone. A good example is the Pea Line. The Pea Vine is reaped in the field and loaded automatically onto a Trailer. It is then tipped alongside the Viner into which it is fed. with pitch forks. The shelled peas are delivered from one side of the Viner at the rate of about 30 cwts per hour and the waste vine is carried away on a Conveyor to be made into silage. The peas are then elevated into the Winnower, which cleans them, gravitate through a Washer and are pumped to the Grader and again to the next process of Blanching. Here the intercellular gases are driven out, surface infections are removed and the peas are thoroughly cleaned. They are then cooled and washed again, passing over a Picking Table where they are visually inspected for the removal of sub-standard peas. They are then washed again, pass through a machine to remove splits and skins, elevated to a Hopper, from which they gravitate to the Filler and then into the can together with a measured quantity of brine. The filled cans then pass through an Exhauster system which, by heating the can and its contents, drives off the air and ensures a good vacuum in the can after the next process of seaming on the lids. The closed cans then travel through an automatic Pressure Cooker and Cooler from where they roll away to be labelled and cased, or stored. Similar lines are made for handling other Vegetables, Fruits and Fish while specialised machines can be incorporated in the Lines to adapt them for Soup, Milk or Meat.
Throughout the whole of this process, no part of the pea or pea vine need be touched by hand, and the peas are usually in labelled cans, graded according to size, and cooked within four hours of the pea vine being reaped. An automatic line of this description can handle two hundred cans a minute with very little labour, and under complete and automatic process control. This chain of processes would amaze a housewife, and surprise an early pioneer like Appert. It is an excellent example of a revolution in the consumer industry, which has revealed yet again the close connection between technical invention and business enterprise.
CHAPTER 5 - Technical Invention and Business Enterprise
Part 6 - Research and Development
The direct employment of scientifically trained personnel on technical research is an innovation of no long standing in many branches of industry but it has been established for many years in engineering. In all its branches, modern engineering has stemmed from the scientist and is sustained by the technician. This may not always be apparent. For example, there are no outward signs of the researches of the scientific worker in the small jobbing iron foundry but, nevertheless, he is active behind the scenes in controlling the production of the pig irons, the coke, the grinding abrasives, the oils, the core compounds, and other raw materials. The scientific man is little in evidence in the machine shops: nevertheless, modern production rests largely on the achievements of the metallurgist. The mere mention of one item alone, high-speed steel, brings home to us what we owe to decades of laboratory workers and to the present day technicians: without it, and its associate tungsten carbide, production would fall to a small fraction of its present value.
The firm of Mather & Platt Ltd has long been in the forefront in the quality of its various manufactures but, more than this, it has an outstanding pioneering record - the fruits of the efforts of virile business men and capable engineers who have been ever ready to take advantage of what science has had to offer through the years. Some of the scientists who collaborated with the Company, notably Osborne Reynolds in the creation of the turbine pump and John Hopkinson in the evolution of electrical machinery, are world famous: others could be named of little less distinction.
The manufactures of the Company cover an extraordinarily wide range. They include some standard lines which lend themselves to repetition production but by far the greater part of the output consists of special machines to serve specific purposes — each machine being designed to meet some precise requirement. It is not always realised that the more industry turns to mass production, the greater is the demand for high-output machines of special - even of unique - design. It is to meet this important and ever growing demand that the Company devotes a big percentage of its total efforts. The furtherance of such a policy demands as a primary essential the employment of scientific personnel in a high degree.
Machinery for the bleaching, dyeing and finishing of textile fabrics covers a big field and calls for exact knowledge of the intricate chemical and physical processes involved. In recent years the problems confronting this industry have broadened materially following the invention of new synthetic fibres: each of these has its own characteristics and limitations which have to be closely studied by technicians devising the appropriate equipment for processing it. The anti-crease resin finishes have brought their special requirements, as have also the delicate crepe materials in vogue at the present time. Special machines are at present being made to enable manufacturers to meet the public demand for pre-shrunk fabrics. Dyeing, which a
few years ago had settled down to a somewhat standard procedure, is now being revolutionised by methods calling for plant of an entirely new type. The design of appliances for drying cloth is constantly being modified to meet the need for still greater speeds of drying, employing the higher steam pressures now available in modern works.
There is similarly constant evolution in the centrifugal pump department, notably in ‘the production of feed pumps for the present-day boilers, with pressures up to 3000 lb. per square inch, and of pumps to deal at high pressures and high temperatures with the corrosive fluids encountered in the modern oil refinery. New materials have been developed by the Company for use in pumps dealing with the corrosive and abrasive liquors and waters of chemical works and mines.
The maintenance of the fire engineering department in its leading position in the realms of fire fighting rests on the constant activities of technical men in devising new features and ensuring high quality in established products. Mention could be made specifically of the inventions of the Quartzoid Bulb sprinkler, the Mulsifyre System for extinguishing oil fires and ‘Fyretron equipment employed in the protection of aircraft hangars - all pioneered by members of the research staff at Park Works. It is an inherent feature of inventions of the kind in question that trained technicians play an indispensable part in planning their practical applications.
A similar story could be told of the Food Machinery department which has to make a wide variety of machines for the processing of the various foodstuffs handled by the present day Canner.
Designers have to be constantly at work on the task of devising new features and in taking advantage of what the advances in metallurgy and physics have to offer.
In the production of electrical machinery progress would be impossible without the highly trained designers to lay down the proportions of the magnetic circuit as well as the details and insulation of the complicated windings. The essential materials used for the purpose, the silicon steel for the laminations, the magnet steel, the high-conductivity electrolytic copper, the insulating varnishes etc, are all the outcome of a wealth of scientific labour. Behind all this lies the fundamental discoveries and inventiveness of laboratory geniuses from Michael Faraday downwards - each contributing his quota to the evolution of the present day appliances which the user of today is so apt to take for granted without pausing to reflect how they were derived. Much of the electrical machinery produced by the Company is used for purposes for which conventional machines are not suitable; calling for specific design to meet individual requirements.
The Works staff also has to include its quota of the scientific all trained, to deal with the many matters that arise in connection with tool design, heat treatment and so forth. The varied and specialised nature of the work carried out in each of the principal sections of the Company’s business over a period of years resulted in the gradual building up of an effective staff of well trained and experienced technicians to serve design and manufacture and qualified to discuss technical issues with prospective purchasers. The Directors, nevertheless, decided in 1919 to supplement the already extensive scientific resources of the Company by the establishment of a Central research department. This department has well appointed chemical, metallurgical and electrical laboratories and equipment necessary for carrying out hydraulic and other engineering investigations. The scientists in this department are provided with a wide range of machines and instruments for the physical testing of materials — metals and textiles. In addition, the department is particularly well equipped for dealing with fire-protection problems, its special apparatus for ‘this purpose including fire test-sheds, extensive equipment for oil fire tests and facilities for carrying out large scale tests with the other fire-fighting appliances which are included in the Company’s specialities.
The policy of the Company is to mobilise all its resources in research and development, working as a team to produce the best results. Some development can be done only in the appropriate design departments, followed by trials in the Works or on the pump or electrical test beds: in other forms, the advances may be of the type test initiated and proved in the research department. In the case of some cloth finishing and canning machinery, developments projected in the design departments can be tried out only under full scale working conditions at the customer’s premises so calling for his collaboration. The same is true of the pumping plant supplied, for work in oil refineries and on the oilfields.
The energetic prosecution of this comprehensive research and development policy involves considerable expense but the cost has proved to be well justified through the years in maintaining the varied products of Mather & Platt Ltd. at such a level that they set the standard of excellence in many of the open markets of the world.
CHAPTER 5 - Technical Invention and Business Enterprise
Part 7 - Invention and Enterprise
Surveying the whole story of Mather & Platt Ltd it is possible to draw certain conclusions concerning the economic success of the Company in relation to its technical development. Economic success depended on close knowledge of existing market needs and shrewd awareness of new market opportunities. Technical development, as we have seen, depended on scientific co-operation and internal organisation. As market needs and market opportunities changed, the Company was quick to adapt itself, and. technical development never lagged far behind business necessities.
There was obviously scope in the early nineteenth century for a business firm in Manchester which would not only manufacture machines for an expanding industry, but would also install and repair them as occasion might demand. Until 1850 in an industry like calico printing the number of firms was large and their machine capital limited. Maintenance and servicing were as important as the provision of new equipment. In the latter half of the century, however, the number of firms was reduced and capital concentration, rather than an increase in the number of firms, marked the new form of economic expansion.
During this second period in the history of the textiles industry Mather & Platt Ltd. began to specialise on the provision of finishing apparatus. The emphasis on machinery for washing, steaming, dyeing and finishing cotton, linen and woollen fabrics can be seen in the patents taken out by Colin and William Mather from 1850 to 1881. Twelve out of sixteen were concerned with washing, bleaching and dyeing, (2) three with printing, (3) and only one with weaving (4). None of the inventions protected by these patents was labour saving in its essentials. All were cost reducing through improved technical performance, or concerned with new processes like the fixing of colours upon the fibres of fabrics. With the exception of improvements in automatic warp—stop motion devices, the firm was not intimately connected with weaving but focussed its attention on the many branches of the finishing industry.
(1) See G. Turnbull, A History of the Calico Printing Industry of Great Britain (1951)
(2) 2 November 1850, No. 13,31O, William and Colin Mather in conjunction with Ferdinand Kasclowsky; 11 March 1852, No. l4;022, Colin Mather in conjunction withEnnest Rolffs; 29 April 1853, No. 1045, Colin Mather; 30 May 1870, No. 1575, Colin Mather; 9 February 1875, No. 479, William Mather in conjunction with H.F.A. Cordillot; 21 January 1876, No. 250, William Mather; 28 December 1878, No. 5308, William Mather in conjunction with J. J. Sachs; 23 October 1879, No. 4323, William Mather; 10 February 1881, No. 590, William Mather; 26 May 1881, No. 2310, William Mather; 17 September 1881, No. 4015, William Mather.
(3) 6 February 1864, No. 319, Colin Mather; 18 March 1876, No. 1174, William Mather; 14 January 1881, No. 193, William Mather (a communication from Shaeffer,Lalance and Co.)
(4) 7 April, 1853, No. 838, Colin Mather.
Safe within the confines of that specialised territory and producing machinery for finishing cotton “as good as any in the world”; (1) Mather & Platt Ltd. could afford to let other firms tackle different sectors of textile machinery design and production.
If the fortunes of’ Mather & Platt Ltd. had been tied to textiles, and increasing specialisation had been the only theme in the Company’s history, the possibilities of business expansion would have depended on finding new markets or acquiring new patents. Both of’ these possibilities were indeed realised and the work of the General Machinery department was extended to include the manufacture of equipment for industries other than textiles but the period of real expansion began when centrifugal pump, electrical machinery and, later, fire-fighting equipment were added to the lines of production.
The timing of the development of these other lines of production followed and in some ways anticipated national economic trends, but the continued success of the increasingly diversified enterprise depended upon business sense as much as upon technical superiority. Part of the success lay in the willingness of the Directors of the Company to stop producing certain unprofitable lines of output and to resist developing inventions which, although marketable as well as technically efficient, would have disturbed the balance of the enterprise. Among the casualties have been two complete department's -the Gas Engine Department and the Water Purification Department - as well as certain electrical products like electric traction plant, electric conveyers and turbines. Even before these activities were dropped, the manufacture of steam engines and of the Mather & Platt patented piston had been abandoned.
The case of gas engines provides a good example of the factors involved in the deliberate abandonment of a particular line of production. The theoretical advantages of large gas engines as prime movers were widely canvassed from 1881 onwards, when Dowson introduced a self-contained gas engine plant, incorporating first a pressure and later a suction-gas producer. Mather & Platt Ltd. took up the manufacture of large gas engines about 1900, after they had become popular in Germany. The Korting type engine was manufactured as the result of an agreement with German producers, and was capable of developing more than 700 brake horsepower in a single cylinder (2). Later on two cylinder types were developed, which did much to counteract prevailing criticisms of gas engines, particularly as compared with steam turbines; first that they were not fully reliable and second that the cost of installation was far too high. (3) The firm ceased producing gas engines because the department concerned with their manufacture and installation consistently lost money.
(1) Report of the Machinery Sub—Committee of the Cotton Working Party, Report,p.80.
(2) Mather & Platt Ltd., Single Cylinder Two Cycle Gas Engines (September 1902).
(3) A.E.Chorlton, A New Type of Large Gas Engine, a Paper read to the Iron and Steel Institute at Leeds, 2 October 1912. For the wide horizons of Chorlton’s interests see The Application of the Gas Engine to Ship propulsion, a Paper read before the Liverpool Engineering Society, 8 January 1913.
In the inter-war years this decision was more than justified by the gradual disappearance of the gas engine from industry largely owing to the increasing popularity of oil engines, using cheap fuel oil and running far more efficiently than their earlier prototypes.
The abandonment of gas engines was not the only example of an apparent opportunity being deliberately discarded. Far more important historically was the decision not to produce motor cars. The temptation to pass from large internal combustion gas-engines to engines’ for motor cars must have been a real one in the 1900’s, but John Taylor, who was responsible for the decision to drop gas engines as a whole, firmly resisted the challenge. His reasons, that the demand for motor cars would be dependent on fashion, whereas Mather & Platt Ltd should produce for performance and output rather than for appearance, were justified by the subsequent history both of the firm and of the automobile industry as a whole. To produce motor cars would have upset the whole balance of the enterprise. As it was the British motor car industry developed in a different part of England and was dominated either by new firms, drawing upon older firms for accessories and parts, or by concerns, which found that old lines of production had ceased to pay. By the 1890’s the diversified enterprise of Mather & Platt Ltd. was in a flourishing condition and the Company was contemplating the extension of facilities for producing existing lines on a new site rather than the taking up of new specialities.
A full economic study of the inter-relationship of inventions, patent law, profit expectations, industrial fluctuation and the degree of competition would involve a far fuller set of statistics than is available in the case of most firms. Indeed it is easier to proceed in those fascinating fields of enquiry by means of models than by means of real examples. Certain broad conclusions emerge however from the story of Mather & Platt Ltd. Business initiative, whether in an entrepreneurial age like the nineteenth century or a managerial age like the twentieth, depended both upon technical insight and an eye for openings; the development of new lines of output depended not only upon the technical and economic possibilities they seemed to afford, but also on the profitability of existing lines of production; terms of borrowing, the rate of interest, or the state of the capital market had little effect on the emerging strategy of the firm; the acquisition of patents, sometimes from foreign sources, carved out the shape of productive enterprise for years to come; and finally the flexible policy which enabled the directors to drop unprofitable lines was as important as the ingenuity which made them take up new ones. The willingness to discard risks as well as to accept them made for the success of the Company. It resulted in a diversified modern structure, which ran counter to the many tendencies in British engineering, which were making for combination, integration and specialisation.
Its success and its transformation from a family business into a large scale modern undertaking was based on its willingness of its directors to allow each department to follow its own course, while securing the benefits of unified control.
- Education for Industry
"The Late Victorian Age”, G.M.Young has written, “became an age of technical instruction. The men who understood their time best, now put their benevolence less into charity than into education, and especially scientific education, or research,”(1)
Sir William Mather was a philanthropist in the widest possible sense of the word, but he gave educational problems priority. He was interested in the theory of education as well as in the practical evolution of educational institutions, and in encouraging technical instruction at the Salford Iron Works; he was expressing a philosophy as well as pursuing a business need.
It was not only individual pioneers who saw the need for an educated population on the speedy provision of elementary education”, Forster warned the: House of Commons in 1870, “depends our industrial prosperity, the safe working of our constitutional system. and our national power". (2) From 1870 onwards, a body of enlightened and far-sighted men of different walks of life faced the implications of this challenge, and although religious issues cut across national necessities, the framework of a system was set up as a result of large scale exercises in national legislation, and persistent efforts of individual pioneers. The towns too, bustling centres of industrial populations played their part. Karl Froebel, the educational pioneer, in contra-distinction to many social critics called towns like Manchester and Liverpool “the best and worthiest representatives of modern civilisation and culture in the world.”(3)
Certainly Manchester and Salford ware among the first towns to adopt the Elementary Education Act of 1870, which set up Board Schools where other educational facilities were lacking. The first School Board for Manchester was elected on the 24th November, and that for Salford on the 30th November 1870. The policy of the two Boards was framed on similar lines and except for one short period of three years, they shared the same Chairman. They had plenty of work to do, for although Manchester had been traditionally interested in education, and. a great deal of voluntary organisation had bean evolved in 1870, while there was 58,557 children for whom public elementary school accommodation was needed. there was only 45,209 places available.(4) William Mather became one of the first members of the Salford School Board and was a keen worker in the exciting pioneer days of the new educational system.
(1) G. M. Young, Potrait of an Age (1936), p.165
(2) Quoted ibid., p. 115.
(3) Karl Froebel to William Mather, 10 May 1847.
(4) C. H. Wyatt and 0. Duthie, Elementary education in Manchester and. Salford. in Handbook and Guide to Manchester (1907)
The first services offered by the new schools were circumscribed by the prevailing concept of elementary education and the over-riding need to fight illiteracy by teaching the three “R’s” as a form of’ educational discipline. Business men like the Mathers were interested from the start in other forms of education, particularly in technical education which seemed as essential to the maintenance of industrial prosperity as did the three “R’s” to the safeguarding of the constitutional system. The production of high-class machinery needed special skill and training, and a literacy test could at best be considered a prelude to the acquisition of specialised knowledge.
The first agencies of technical instruction were the mechanics institutes, which grew up in most of’ the new industrial centres between 1823 and 1850. We find that one of the subscribers to the new ‘building of the Salford Mechanics’ Institute in 1852 was the firm of Mather and Platt. William Wilkinson Platt and Colin Mather were both active in the committee of the organisation, and Colin was a Vice-President. (1) Unfortunately the Institutes ceased to satisfy the technical interests of artisans who lacked basic elementary education, and in many towns passed into the hands of’ the middle classes. It was clear that without a national system of education, the acquisition of’ specialised knowledge on the part of the working man demanded. considerable individual effort and a good deal of self-sacrifice. The artisan, who taught himself the rudiments of reading, writing and science, could take legitimate pride in his own individual advancement, in raising himself, if only a little, from the masses of the uneducated and the unskilled. If he could persuade a few others to follow the same course, he could sometimes transform individual self-help into corporate self-help.
(1) The Manchester Guardian, 10 July 1852; 21 July 1852; 22 August 1852.
In the late 60s there was an interesting local venture of this type inside the Salford Iron Works, when William Mather started a Mutual Improvement Society for the apprentices. The Minute Book of the society is still in existence, and both the rules and. the descriptions of meetings reflect the social values of the times. “The object of this Society”, Rule 1 states “shall be to assist its Members in ‘becoming steady, well— informed and intelligent workmen; which object shall be pursued by means of Lectures, Readings, Classes, and Entertainments also by a free use to its Members of a Library of Books”. Each member had to be between 12 and 21 years of age, and had to promise neither to smoke nor to partake of intoxicating liquors until reaching the age of 21 furthermore “each member on joining the society shall agree to avoid swearing and the use of all bad. language”. There was a committee of 7, an arrangement for weekly meetings, and a weekly subscription of one penny. The first meeting, held in November 1866, discussed the “cultivation of the mind." and the speaker told in much the same style as Samuel Smiles, of George Stephenson, “how he rose from a poor collier boy to the greatest engineer that ever lived.”(1) At the second meeting, there was more stress on self-help. The Minute Book tells us tantalisingly “how the streets of London are paved with gold; the way to get there by attention to business and good workmanship”. (2)
Just over 20 apprentices attended the meetings of the Society and although the had a considerable share in formulating their own programme, they obviously felt that it did not satisfy their practical interests sufficiently. Although they scrapped the penny readings in order to concentrate “on the more scientific side of the business”(3), the Society was short-lived and had disappeared by 1870. The Smiles era in the development of education was already drawing to a close and it is interesting to note that there were complaints at the same time that the Mechanics Institutes was becoming too “literary”. While there was a malaise in England about technical institutions, shrewd observers were ‘beginning to look overseas for new ideas concerning technical and indeed general education. The dream of a national technical educational system which some of the Commissioners of the Exhibition of 1851 had indulged in, began to captivate a new generation which was less afraid of centralisation than its fathers had been. In place of the patchwork of uncoordinated enterprises, men like Lyon Playfair wanted to see a “good system of industrial education for the masters and managers of factories and workshops” as well as for their employees.
When at the Paris Exhibition of 1867 British products frequently seemed to ‘be outclassed by those of other countries - a complete contrast with the Exhibition of 1851 - it was generally believed that the fundamental cause was the disparity between educational systems.
(1) The Apprentices Improvement Society, Minute Book, 16 November 1866. For the cult of Stephenson as the prototype of the engineer, the hero of his ago, see Samuel Smiles Lives of the Engineers: The Locomotive George and Robert Stephenson (1862).. Stephenson was “a standing example of manly character”. He was ”diligent and observant while at work, and sober and studious when the day’s work was over”. (p.31) 3150 working men subscribed 2 shillings each to a statue of Stephenson in the Great Hall at Euston Station. C. H. Fay, Huskinson and His Age (1951). p.58.
(2) Minute Book, 23 November i866. The meeting went on to learn about ‘Sir Joseph Paxton, the designer of the Crystal Palace, London,’ who rose from a gardner to a national hero.”
(3) Minute Book, Report of the Annual Meeting 1868-9.
William Mather, as an enthusiastic traveller, had had special opportunities for investigation and comparing different forms of educational institutions. It was German institutions, which stood out among the rest. His early education in Germany left a deep impression on him and he claimed that it was there “where he received the best part of his education.”(1) At the early age of 18, strongly influenced by German models, be wrote that “it is seen plainly that there must be a good and pure system of National Education — every child in existence ought to be able to receive an education which if taken advantage of would be the means of raising him to a higher position both moral and physical”(2). Later on in life he told the Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes that he was “almost cradled in Germany; and that it was through his early life in Germany that he derived his devotion for education”. (3)
The Education Act of 1870 marked the beginning of a national system of education in England, but Mather went on to supplement the public elementary education it afforded by providing technical education for apprentices in the Salford Iron Works along more formal lines than that attempted earlier ‘by the Mutual Improvement Society. Mr. Thomas Jonas, who entered the service of Mather and Platt in the drawing office in 1872, was asked in 1873 to form evening classes in applied arithmetic at Mather’s Queen Street Institute which was also used for working mens social and religious activities. The educational scheme was so successful that it became known as the Salford Ironworks Evening School of Science and covered, practical geometry and machine drawing, and later on steam and the steam engine, building construction and drawing, and mechanical engineering and tools.
As the number of subjects taught and the number of students increased, more teachers were engaged (all of them employees of the firm) and the pupils began to compete for the certificates issued from 1859 onwards by the Science and Art Department at South Kensington and later on, by the City and Guilds of London Institute, founded in 1880, and the Lancashire and Cheshire Union of Institutes. “Salford Iron Works Certificates” were also awarded by the firm and prizes were given as rewards for punctuality, systematic industry, and smartness both in the classes and in the workshops. Those pupils who devised an improvement to any part of a machine made at the Works or to any tool used in the Works were also offered a special prize of £5.
(1) The Sprinkler Bulletin, September 1908. Other Northern business men like Sir Swire Smith, who wrote The Real German Rivalry, were equally impressed by the notional system of education in that country.
(2) Essay on Education (1856), reprinted in L. E. Nather, op.cit., pp. 296—7.
(3) Report of the Annual Meeting of the Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes, September, 1914.
In these ways it was hoped to encourage not only a higher general level of technical education, but also outstanding ability among the gifted few. The early register and. records of the school give some idea of its evolution. It had a committee, which according to the rules of the Science and Art Department of the Committee of the Council of Education, had to include responsible local figures Benjamin Armitage, M.P, and Robert Leake, M.P, were both members. Later on, foremen were included from the various departments - engine-fitting pattern making, turning; millwright; boiler making; brass finishing; and smithy - to make sure those special trades were taught. The bright boys were recruited mainly from the Salford area, and, between 1874 and 1884, no less than 578 certificates were gained by students sitting for externally conducted examinations. In all, about 1,200 boys passed through the School between 1873 and 1903. The prizes they chose to receive were mainly technical books like Horner’s Principles of Fitting or Cracknell’s Practical Mathematics, but at least one boy chose The Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Merry Wives of Windsor. (1)
Between 1902 and. 1916, when the firm was pre-occupied with the task of transferring its premises from Salford to Newton Heath, few educational records were kept, and it appears that the major responsibility for educating young apprentices was handed over to outside institutions, at this time being set up by the municipalities.
It is at this point that it is necessary to go back in time to trace Sir William Mather's personal interest in technical education as a whole. After the appointment of a Royal Commission on Technical Education in 1881, fourteen years after the Paris Exhibition had shocked enlightened opinion; William Mather accepted an invitation to act as special commissioner to make investigations into educational methods in the United States and Russia. In 1883 he toured the United States and Canada at his own expense, and produced a report on scientific and technical training there, which related the growth of the education system to “the advancement and improvement of the industrial population.” Six years later he played an important part in securing the passage of the Technical Instruction Act of 1889, which allowed local councils to levy a penny rate for work in technical education. He had just been returned to Parliament for the second time and although he “shared in the general disapproval of the Bill” he was” determined to do something for technical education” and thought that with all its weaknesses the government’s measure “might be made into a fairly good start in legislation on the subject, with alterations and amendments of a drastic character”(3).
Alterations and amendments were made, and the Bill did go through, not without trouble; Mather hoped that it would fore-shadow “a more rational and natural method of instruction in elementary schools”, a more efficient system of secondary training, and other and more complete measures for extending the scope of technical instruction.
(1) Records of the School, 1900—1901
(2) L. E. Mather, op. cit., p. 111.
(3) W. Mather, The Bearing of the Technical Instruction Act on Educational and Industrial Progress, An Address to the Manchester Branch of the National Education Association, 18 November, 1889.
Manchester was the second city in the kingdom to adopt the Technical Instruction Act and to levy the penny rate allowed and within three years of the passing of the Act, the foundation stone of a Royal Technical Institute in Salford had been laid, with the aim of providing “systematic instruction in those branches of knowledge which have a direct bearing upon the leading industries of the district”. (1)
A vital part of the scheme was the provision of thorough secondary education as a necessary first phase. This was the main objective also of the Education Bill of 1902, which Mather supported as a great and comprehensive measure. He was more interested in its long term effects than in the atmosphere of religious rivalry which characterised its passing and (when political feeling was most bitter) he went so far as to propose to the President of the Board of Education, the Duke of Devonshire, that it should be discussed “outside party lines”. (2) His own approach was revealed, in the important amendment to the Bill which he proposed and had carried, making it compulsory, instead of optional on the part of the local education authority, to apply grants to educational services other than elementary. As a result of his initiative the Government accepted after the word “elementary” the phrase “including the training of teachers and the general co-ordination of all forms of education”.
In the year of the passing of the new Education Act, a landmark in English Education, the School of Technology was opened in Manchester by Arthur Balfour the Prime Minister. The site was provided by the trustees of Joseph Whitworth, one of the great pioneers of English production engineering, who had left his large fortune to be used for the promotion of industrial and artistic training. Mather was intimately associated both with the use of Whitworth’s benefaction and with the Royal Jubilee Exhibition at Old Trafford in 1879 which set out to secure additional gifts for the same purpose. After 1902 the municipality took over from existing voluntary bodies, and in opening the large new school Balfour said that the building was perhaps "the greatest fruit of this kind of municipal enterprise in this country ... Nobody can go over this building, observe its equipment, study even in the most cursory manner the care which has been devoted to it, without feeling that the Corporation of this great City have set a great example worthy of the place they hold in Lancashire, worthy of the place they hold in Great Britain”.(3)
(1) 0. Duthie Technical Education in the Borough of Salford in Handbook to Manchester (1907)
(2) The Duke of Devonshire did not find this suggestion practical. He wrote to Mather that “the whole difficulty of the question seems to lie in the party and. religious issues with which it is connected and any advice on council of those who look upon it from the educational side, will not have the smallest effect on those who care more about the other issue than the thing itself”. (30 December 1901). Mather was thinking of a non-party committee on education on the some lines as the War Office Organisation Committee of which he had been a member.
(3) J. H. Reynolds, Technical Education and. Art Instruction in the City of Manchester in Handbook to Manchester (1907)
Already before 1902 selected apprentices had gone on from the Queen Street Institute to the Manchester Technical School and between 1905 and 1916 all apprentices from the works of Mather & Platt Ltd. went to the new city institutions for their training. The First World War created new problems, particularly in 1916 when there was an urgent necessity for training apprentices quickly and efficiently. As a result day classes for apprentices were started at Park Works, with instructors drawn from the office and works staffs. The results were encouraging. So much so that Loris Emerson Mather, the new Chairman of the Company, drew up a plan for a new Works School thus anticipating the Fisher Education Act of’ 1918.
Herbert Fisher the war time President of the Board of Education, in a letter addressed to Sir William Mather acknowledged the lead given, saying “You have been one of the pioneers of true industrial education in this country and if I should be fortunate enough to succeed in doing something effectual to raise the level of education in the country it will be largely due to the load which you and a small handful of intelligent men of business have given to the more thoughtful and energetic part of the business community."(1)
In 1918 when the Manchester Education Committee agreed to take over the Park Works School its official title became the Mather &Platt Ltd. Works Day Continuation School. The agreement reached between the Local Education Authority and the Company was a happy example of co-operation between education and industry. It certainly set the pattern for the Butler Act of later years. Roughly, the arrangement was this: the Company undertook to provide and maintain suitable school premises and pay their apprentices whilst in attendance, and the Local Education Authority for its part assumed the responsibility of providing a trained teaching staff, the necessary school furniture and stationery. The arrangement worked admirably. At first, when numbers were small, the post of Headmaster was combined with that of Apprentice Supervisor to the Company, and the first two Head-masters and two large airy classrooms were added at the end of the research building at Park Works while the too-crowded curriculum of early years was steadily whittled down until it conformed to the Pro-Senior and Senior Mechanical Engineering Courses of the Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes, except that provision was made for additional English studies and for two periods per week in a well equipped gymnasium built in 1921.
(1) Herbert Fisher to Sir William Mather, 4 April, 1917.
The Chairman of the Company took a keen interest in these developments and he displayed an equal interest in the outdoor activities of the School. He gave the fullest support to the organisation of cricket and football teams, which played on land adjoining the works until the development of a new housing estate and the erection of a new foundry swallowed up the ground on which football was played; but his greatest enthusiasm was reserved for Scouting, and this was understandable. Himself a Gilwell-trained Scouter, and holding the highest Scout award, the Silver Wolf, for exceptional services rendered to the Movement in the early days of its formation (he was for many years District Commissioner of the Manchester Boy Scouts Association), Loris Mather believed in nothing so ardently as in the character-building potentialities of real Scouting. He saw that the Scout Law was equally the Law of Good Workmanship, the paramount need of the age for young people, and he was eager to bring its quickening influence to bear on their industrial lives. As has been well said:
“Scouting solves the antinomy of work and play, of labour and leisure, at the stage where such antinomies are apt to be most pernicious - in the life of the young. Playing the man is substituted for playing the fool, and mutual loyalty promoted by common participation in that splendid game. The ideal of services translated- from the moral generality into a skilful occupation, is present throughout, and wisdom is taught by working contact with elemental things. Dark days, wet weather, obstructions, difficulties, and contradictions are freely encountered, the manful confronting of them being an essential part of the game. The sportsmanlike spirit, under a businesslike discipline, has here been brought into the service of a moral ideal, and the spirit of youth rejoices in the combination.”
Mr. Mather’s faith in Scouting has been shared by enthusiastic members of the Works School Staff and ever since 1919, when the 2/16th M/C (Park Works) Troop was formed. the link with Scouting has remained unbroken.
It is difficult to estimate the effect which Mr. Mather's friendly association with his own apprentices through Scouting has had on human relations generally at Park Works. It must have been considerable. Here was one answer, at least, to those who deplored the rise of Joint Stock companies and the consequent decline of the old paternalism. The charge of soullessness could scarcely apply when, as in this case a leader of industry met his young charges on the equal footing of Scouting, inspecting them, living with them under canvas, and providing ideal campsites in the clearings of a wooded estate in Cheshire. To a few privileged observers it was possible frequently to see the Chairman of a vast industrial enterprise sitting on a log in the open, with a plate on his knees, enduring with a smile and with the brave appearance of relish, the trials of camp cooking watery stew or charred bacon. Inevitably such a scene recalled the words of T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) à propos the Arabs: —
“They taught me that no man could be their leader except he ate the ranks’ food - wore their clothes - lived level with them - and yet appeared better in himself.”
It was not the least of “Squire Mather’s gifts of tact and understanding with boys that he could mix with them on terms of the utmost frankness and freedom, yet never forfeit their proper respect.
The appointment of a new Head master in 1936 coincided with a rapid increase in the number of apprentices requiring further education and led to a new outbreak of activity in the Works School. A large new mechanical drawing room was added, shower baths were installed in the existing gymnasium and among other staff changes, a full time college-trained physical training instructor was appointed to the School staff for the first time. This latter innovation was to prove especially valuable during the subsequent war years when the spare time activities of youths, and “Keep Fit” movements generally, became a matter of governmental concern. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 acted as a spur, rather than a brake, to the School. Although the War dislocated many peace-time activities, so that evening classes were cancelled because of the “blitz” and the new drawing classroom was requisitioned for A.R.P. lectures and later on for the manufacture of radar equipment, other class rooms were improvised in underground shelters and considerable progress was made in various directions. Distinguished visitors came to the works. Pep talks were given to apprentices by staff officers and leaders of foreign resistance movements, and education in its wider sense was never neglected.
It appears paradoxical at first sight that the mass wars of our twentieth century “age of violence” have seen marked advantages in public health. In 1941, a year of tension, an interesting physical training test was carried out by the firm at the suggestion of the Board of Education and with the assistance of the Manchester Education Committee. A three months’ test was made with two groups of boys of 16 years of age, the one being given physical training for six hours a week whilst boys in the other group remained at work. The firm believed that the experiment, which showed the value of healthy physique, pointed the way “to more co-operation between education and industry after the war for the benefit of the rising generation”. (1) Another feature initiated by the Chairman in association with Colonel H. B. Campbell of Edinburgh University was the development of a series of “Dexterity Exercises” designed to reduce accidents in work caused by the clumsy handling of awkward and bulky objects, and suitable for inclusion in normal physical training programmes. Altogether this was a period of no small creative activity.
Nor did this surge of new ideas cease with the end of the war. In 1947, valuable extensions were made to the existing school promises. These included the provision of a large Lecture Hall with cinema equipment. The new facilities thus provided made possible not only the organisation of the girls’ classes, for the education and training of young girls employed at Park Works, but also a series of Adult Training Courses along the recognised lines of Training within Industry.
There should be mentioned here another training scheme which falls between the Trade Apprentice Works School and the Adult Training Courses, namely, the training scheme for Special Apprentices.
(I) Proceeding at the forty-fourth Annual General Meeting-, 24 February 1942.
Early in this century one or two young men were accepted from the public schools and universities for a period of workshop training varying from three to five years according to age. In those early days it was common for the parents of a young man to have to pay a fee before he was accepted into what was known as a “premium apprenticeship”. A small weekly wage was then paid on a similar scale to the Trade Apprentice. Sir William Mather did not approve of the 'premium' system and University students and other young men who were accepted for special apprenticeship received the weekly wage without any financial obligation. This system of a special apprenticeship has since those days increased in importance and. today some fifty young men drawn from grammar schools, public schools, technical colleges and universities - some of them from overseas - are given facilities for a varied and practical training at Park Works. In order to encourage them to continue their theoretical training, some of them spend one day a week - without loss of pay at local technical schools and at the Technical Colleges of Manchester and Salford.
If it is conceded that a balanced training should embrace vocational, cultural, and social activities, then the Company of Mather & Platt Ltd. has every reason to be satisfied with the arrangements it has made for the welfare of its young employees since the year 1873 when the aforementioned Salford Ironworks Evening School of Science - the forerunner of the present Works School - was founded. In good times and in bad, the fullest opportunities for self-development have been provided, for in addition to the Company’s own training schemes steady support has been given to such character-forming institutions as the Outward Bound Sea and Mountain Schools and the residential courses at Cheshunt College, Cambridge.
This unique eighty years record in Further Education is not solely a family tradition, strong as this is in the Mather family, or of current educational ideals. It must be grounded also on the firm belief shared by all who are affected by it, and in whatsoever capacity, that the possession of a Works School is eminently worth while. As a former Head-master of the school has said:-
“From the point of view of the teacher, a post in the Works School has this advantage, that he can measure the effect of his work as reflected in the careers of boys when they leave school. From the employer's point of view, such a school provides an easy means of recognising conspicuous ability early. For the boy, it provides variety during the working week: it keeps him subject to a wholesome influence at an impressionable stage of his working career, and it enables him to measure his powers and progress against those of his fellows. It affords too, an excellent medium whereby experts and specialists in the works can come along and demonstrate to the boys vivid and up to date applications of the general principles learnt in school”.
Attendance at the School is made a condition of employment, and pupils come from many surrounding districts, no longer only from the immediate vicinity of the works. The School has been running long enough to establish a sound tradition and to be accepted by all, officials and apprentices alike, as a necessary and valuable part of the works organisation. If the head of a department has any vacancies he is able to turn to the School for possible candidates, and since each boy has a card with his school record on one side and his works record on the other, there is an efficient scheme of registration. The Supervisor of Apprentices arranges future transfers.
Perhaps no stronger claim can be made for the Mather & Platt Works School than that it enjoys the confidence and support of the Works superintendents and foremen who, under the sympathetic direction of the Works’ Manager, and other members of the Board give it their constant backing and support.
In addition to benefactions and personal service, gifts of tools and appliances have been made to numerous universities and technical colleges in different parts of the world.
Apart from gifts of equipment made to Manchester Institutions and some prominent ones in other parts of the United Kingdom, support has been given further afield. One of the most interesting gifts was made in 1902 when Sir William Mather presented to the Gordon College at Khartoum, “a first rate manual-training school, with all appliances for wood and metal working”. In a letter to Lord Cromer, Sir William Mather stated his characteristic philosophy of education and of the place of manual training in it. “In dealing with real things and actual processes, and in using tools, machines and materials responsive to their will and applied to purposes which they can see and appreciate, they unconsciously acquire habits of observation, carefulness, precision, and logical thought, and a sense of reality, proportion, form and strength”. This was "practical education" and this was what Sir William wanted the boys of the Sudan to learn.
A century ago it was the Great Exhibition which first focussed attention on the need for technical education on a national scale, and gave rise to the colony of useful institutions in South Kensington, which has survived in increasing glory to this day. The links with 1851 still persist in the educational side of the firm's work. Sir William Mather, who went to the Exhibition as a small boy, went on to become a member of the governing body of the Imperial College of Science and Technology, South Kensington, appointed by the Royal Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851 to manage the surplus fund left over from a successful season of festival. A hundred years later, the School provided a large and enthusiastic contingent on the occasion of the firm’s visit to a second great exhibition, the Festival of Britain of 1951. The world has changed much during the century following the first Great Exhibition, and not the least sign of the change is that whereas in 1851 ‘Young’ William went to the Exhibition alone, in 1951 all the employees of the firm had the opportunity of going to London as guests of the Company. Exactly half way between the two dates, Sir William pointed the way to the future when he said, “In education, happily, after all, only the democracy rules. There is no rank; the only question is that the ability all possess shall be used to the uttermost, and all shall work for one common end.”
(1) Sir William Mather. Address delivered in the Town Hall, Manchester, 28 September, 1901.
NB - In later years the sheer pressure of numbers, coupled with the need to have a trained engineer to control the practical training of the apprentices in the workshops, led to the separation of the two functions, and since 1931, the head-ship of the Works School has been a purely educational appointment.
- Workshop Relations
The Welfare of the Worker
In his last address to the shareholders as Chairman of the Company, Sir William Mather expressed, the hope that “our Company will maintain a high place among the pioneer employers, who feel it to be their paramount duty to provide for the training and education of their young workers and the general welfare of their adult employees.”(1) By that time the welfare policy of the firm was securely established, but just as production techniques had changed between 1851 and 1917, so too had ideas of welfare.
Sir William himself saw clearly that welfare had to be related to the problems of a large concern working in a democratic age. The task sixty years before had been that of taking paternalist responsibility for workers in a small one-man business, operating in an age when many employers were content to believe in laissez-faire. Between 1851 and 1917 the three elements in the determination of working class welfare - the employers, the trade unions and the state - had all changed the character of their organisation, their functions and the objectives they set themselves.
The very word “welfare” itself was beginning to take on a new meaning. The story of Mather & Platt Ltd. fits into a wider national setting, which has still been incompletely sketched, by historians, and which indeed can only be sketched adequately when the histories of many different firms have been written.
William Mather's early days as an apprentice had taught him the dignity of work. They also made him seek the sympathy and friendship of working men. Before that Colin Mather had taken a rougher responsibility for his men and must have known most of them by their Christian names, but William went further. He tried to identify more closely the workers at Salford with the firm itself and the families that managed it. In 1877, for instance, the employees were taken to Belle Vue to celebrate the birth of his first son, Ernest. They and their wives were taken direct from the shop to the gardens and were given the responsibility of decorating the large tearoom. In January 1880, each employee received a card wishing him a happy New Year and enclosing a double week's wages as a reward for getting out machinery for a large order for Russia before the Russian tariff came into operation. “There never was such a ringing of the Old Year out as we had that year", reminisced one of the old employees. We had steel bars hung all over the shop, and the anvils had wood put under them to sound better, and boiler plates were sent down from the Boiler yard. Mr. Mather and his wife, Mr. J. Platt and his wife and their friends all came to hear the Old Year out and New Year in. We banged away with a will and they all enjoyed it.”(2)
(1) Proceedings at the Nineteenth Annual General Meeting February 1917.
(2) Our Journal, April 1925, Fifty Years with Mather and Platt. This gives the reminiscences of Mr. Peter Bramah and Mr. Leatherbarrow.
That scene so well described by these who took part in the rejoicing enables us to recapture the intimate atmosphere of the old Salford Iron Works. It had not been long since Colin Mather had driven down to the works each morning in his brougham. It is said that if on his way he passed his two sons he did not so much as look at them. They were apprentices and had to be treated, on the way to work and at work, as if they were in no way connected with him.
Mather & Platt was a family business, administered with as much care as if there had been closer ties than those of economic interest. The apprentices, for instance, had to go for one hour a week in the firm’s time to the Salford Baths to wash and to learn to swim. The lodge man gave each lad his ticket and a man was sent with the boys to see that they did not get drowned. At the works themselves two early engines which provided power for the plant were named after William Mather’s two daughters, Florence and Grace.
Paternalism was only the beginning of a welfare policy: it fitted into a Society where the state took no interest in welfare, where the trade unions lacked organised bargaining power, and where some employers were content to treat their employees as mere “hands”. It was the special greatness of Sir William that he saw that paternalism was not enough in a changing age. As Bishop Welden said at his funeral, “in the conduct of his business he was a pioneer of reform. He was one of those wise men, who foresaw that the relations of capital and labour could not remain in a democratic age as they had existed in the past”. Three of his ventures before 1914 stand out — the provision of canteen services; the move to shorter working hours in 1893; and the inauguration of a Workpeople’s Holiday Fund in 1910. If those ventures stand out, it is not because they were special or unusual, but because they were vivid examples of a general policy, put into effect constantly and without question by the firm. One present employee of the firm still remembers clearly a speech William Mather made during the Engineers’ dispute of 1897, which began “Fellow workers and labourers". It was the attitude that these words expressed which animated his practical ventures.
1. Canteen Services
Having taken steps in 1873 to forward the mental training of their workers, Mather & Platt turned in 1878 to problems of’ physical welfare. Canteen facilities were not in great demand at that time, for most of the employees lived near the Salford Iron Works and went home for dinner. In 1878, however, part of tile Queen Street Institute premises were placed at the disposal of those employees; for warming up food brought by those workers who were not able to got home for the midday meal.
Little more could be done or indeed was necessary to develop satisfactory canteen services at Salford, where space was limited, but big changes were possible at Park Works. In 1912, when most of the departments had moved to Newton Heath and many employees had considerable distances to travel between home and work, a works dining room designed to seat 1,400 men and women was opened and equipped to serve regular hot meals each day. A separate dining room for staff employees was added in 1917 and one for girl employees in 1936.
For those employees who remained at the Salford Iron Works, a hot meal service from the central kitchens at Park Works was organised in 1924, and food was sent in bulk four miles each day to the Queen Street Institute in heat retaining containers. The service was so popular at Salford Iron Works that men employed at the Boiler Yard soon demanded it.
By comparison with the early workshops at Salford Iron Works, general conditions of cleanliness at Park Works were greatly improved. A cloakroom was installed next to the canteen, with washing facilities and individual towels, so that every man could wash in warm water and have the sole use of a clean towel before taking his meal or going home after work. A locker room was also provided where a man could leave his outdoor clothes before going into the shops.
A sub-committee of the Works Committee set up during the First World War subsequently administered the dining rooms, kitchen and laundry. The charge for meals was expected to cover the cost of provisions, the labour concerned in the preparation of food and the replacement of breakage's while the cost of rent, light and heat was borne by the Company.
2. The Forty-eight Hour Week
In the middle years of the nineteenth century life as lived by the mass of Manchester’s workpeople was grim and hard. The walls of economic necessity were as high as the walls of’ the workshops themselves. Individual men rose from the mass to proclaim the values of self-help, character and duty, but for those who did not rise there was often little in life save dependence upon the machine. The hours of’ work were reduced, in large measure as a result of trade union pressure, from more than ten hours a day before 1831 to a 57 - 58½ hour normal working week for Manchester engineers between 1850 and 1870. In 1871 and 1872 the nine hour working day was established, and in 1890 the Amalgamated Society of Engineers supported by other craft unions was pressing for legislative action to secure an eight hour working day “as an adjunct to the voluntary efforts of the working men and women of the United Kingdom”. (1) Although the agitation was carried on somewhat sporadically, in 1894 the Government agreed to introduce the 48-hour week in Government Factories and dockyards. Even the it was not until after the London engineering societies had taken the initiative in 1896 that there was a general demand for an eight-hour day. Serious consequences were to follow the pressing of the claim in 1897.
Long before that time William Mather had taken the initiative on his own without pressure of any kind being applied. In 1893, before the government had decided to introduce the shorter working week in their engineering establishments he took a characteristically bold step. He had come to the conclusion that the long working week of 53½ hours did not allow the workers that time for leisure and recreation, which he held necessary to their well being. Furthermore, and this appeared to him to be decisive - it seemed likely that shorter working hours would not only benefit the workers but also, by abolishing fatigue, would involve no loss of output.
(1) L.S.E., Monthly report, November 1890.
Up to that time the working day had begun at 6.a.m. and with half an hour’s break from 8.a.m. to 8.30a.m. for breakfast and an hour's break from 12.30 to l.30 p.m. for dinner had continued until 5.30p.m. (1) Some industrialists questioned the value of the hours between 6.0a.m. and 8.0a.m. and doubted whether they were economically as well as socially desirable. In 1893 William Mather told the trade unions that he would like to try a year’s experimental working of a 48-hour week. This was a pioneer step, supported by only a handful of other employers who included Hadfields the Steelmakers of Sheffield, the Thames Iron Works, London and the Scotia Engine Works, Sunderland, owned by William Allan M.P. The experiment by Mather & Platt, was, however, deemed to be successful and the 48-hour week became a permanent feature of employment at Salford Iron Works. Yet although it was found, as had been assumed, that output was increased, few employers were prepared at that time to recognise the advantages of shorter working hours. For a long time indeed the firm, of Mather & Platt was boycotted by employers organisations, the most important of which, the Employers’ Federation of Engineering Associations, was set up in 1896. Even John Morley, with whom William Mather was corresponding, was sceptical about the effects of the scheme on the payment of overtime and on the position of other industries more subject to foreign competition. (2)
The shrewd judgement behind Mather & Platt s introduction of the 48-hour week was revealed four years later during the Engineers’ Dispute of 1897. It was an extremely bitter dispute, with the employers banded together in newly organised employers’ associations, attempting to make the most of reviving trade, and the workers, rallied by an Eight hour Committee, seeking to cling to existing industrial practices and to shorten the length of the working day throughout the whole of the industry. During the struggle, which was fully reported in the press at the time William Mather tried hard to bring both sides together. He explained that he could be heard by both sides “at least with toleration” because he was in a “neutral position. “I have never been a member of any employers federation, nor have I had a difference with our workpeople.” It was essential to end the dispute, because it was undermining Britain’s competitive position as an engineering country. “Our existence as a great engineering industry is, through this deplorable and truly fratricidal war, in imminent danger of collapse and ruin, from which it would take years to recover.
(1) On Mondays work began at Mather & Platt at 8.30 and on Saturday work stopped at 12. There still was a traditional Holiday for apprentices on Shrove Tuesday.
(2) John Morley to William Mather. 1st September 1892.
The consequences of a long-continued, struggle, ending at last only through the exhaustion and not the submission of either side, would be infinitely more serious than those which would fellow any other trade dispute in this country. For instance, a protracted stoppage from like causes in the coal, iron or cotton trades though for the time calamitous would not mean the extinction of those industries .... but our machine-making engineering and shop-building productions can be replaced by those of America, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland and even Russia with great rapidity.” (1)
Sir William proposed that the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and the Employers’ Federation should meet and discuss the question of coming to a mutual understanding, based on the acceptance of a 48 hour week and an agreement about the use of machine tools. He thought that such a compromise would ensure the safeguarding of the joint interests of employers and workers. The Manchester Guardian took up the point in an editorial: - “could the British engineering industry be what it is without the organising and directory power of the British employer, or without the readiness and energy which he can command in his workmen"? (2)
William Mather invited Colonel Dyer, a managing director of Armstrong Whitworth and president of the Employers’ Federation to visit him at his home and made the proposal that the 48 hour week should be granted provided that the unions ceased “interfering with the functions of’ management and restricted output”. The proposal was rejected by the Federation, and the dispute went on until the funds of the Union were exhausted. This was exactly what William Mather had tried to avoid. “A complete defeat of the Employers Federation in the present struggle would not give the workmen any permanent advantage. Their victory would only be the next worst thing to utter defeat. On the other hand were the Amalgamated Society of Engineers defeated and, in consequence were it to resort to the legislature to enforce a 48 hour week, no Act of Parliament could be granted by the wit of man to meet the complex conditions of’ the engineering industry.”
At this stage Mather turned to the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, and secured their co-operation in the summoning of a conference which brought the dispute to an end. He accomplished what Ritchie, the President of the Board of Trade, had thought impossible, and although the Union at the conference was compelled to withdraw its demand for an eight-hour day, it was by no means completely defeated. Between 1898 and 1902 all the engineering unions were able to replenish their funds, and persuade the employers to accept “a system of collective bargaining even more systematic and national than before prevailed.”(3) Although many engineering firms were still working to a 54 or 54½ hour week when war broke out in 1914. (4)
(1) William Mather to the Manchester Guardian, 15 September 1897. This letter is so important that it is printed in full in the Appendix.
(2) Manchester Guardian, 16th September 1897.
(3) S. and B. Webb, history of Trade Unionism. (1902 edn.), p.xix.
(4) J.H, Chapman ,An Economic History of Modern Britain (1938), p.477
Mather & Platt emerged unscathed from the dispute. Work continued throughout the whole of the tension period. Indeed, during the trouble, some valuable recruits were added to the staff of the firm including one popular foreman, Jack Leigh, a man who had previously worked at Whitworths’, and who stayed with Mather & Platt Ltd. until 1926. His first job was to turn the shafting from the new Klondyke building at the Salford Iron Works, which the firm was beginning to build while ‘the general dispute was still in progress. (1)
Throughout and after the dispute Mather & Platt remained on good terms with the trade unions. Indeed a clause in Mather’s suggested settlement of the 1897 dispute was that “on a settlement being arrived at, the Employers Federation shall undertake to do nothing for the purpose of impairing the trade union.” There were in the Salford workshops representatives of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, the Steam Engine Makers, the United Pattern Makers Association and the Foundrymen’s Union, and industrial relations were smooth and unruffled. William Mather preferred a trade unionist to a non-trade unionist as a workman because be knew the sort of person with whom he was dealing, and he was able to instil a sense of mutual responsibility. It was natural that he was able to remain on good terms with the local and national representatives of’ the Trade Unions for the whole of his business career.
The payment of wages by the firm followed the standard district rates, systemised from 1878 onwards by the District Committees of the Union. Most wages were time-rates until the 1880’s and 1890's. In 1886 only 5% of the men and youth employed in the engineering and boilermaking industries were paid on a piecework system. By 1914, some 46% of the fitters, 37% of the turners and nearly 50% of the machinemen in Federated shops were working under some system of payment by results. (2) Mather & Platt introduced piecework in most sections of the firm before 1890: a booking-in system was adopted, and every hour worked was booked against the appropriate job number. A piece of whitewashed board was used, with lines and figures ruled in black lead. This was a very simple procedure, especially when compared with the current practice of giving a man a clock card for every job done and of operating a central punch card system to tabulate results by mechanical means. Although the introduction of piecework and of premium bonus systems led to industrial disputes in some firms, it created no serious difficulties in either the Salford Iron Works or the new shops at Park Works. During the early years following the First World War, hours of work were reduced and higher wages were secured by agreements between unions and employers.
(1) Our Journal, April 1526.
(2) Report of an Enquiry by the Board of Trade into Earnings and Hours, 1906, Cd. 5814 (1911), J.W.F. Rowe, Wages in Theory and Practice (1928), Appendix 11.
There was a marked freedom from disputes during the inter-war years, when the piece-rate system was more generally applied. The 48-hour week gave way to the 47-hour week and for the first time in September 1920 the Overtime and Night Shift Agreement fixed overtime rates for the whole country. Shortly after the end of the Second World War a five-day working week of 44 hours was generally adopted throughout the engineering industry.
3. The Holiday Fund
Although Sir William Mather recognised the place of trade unions in modern industry and was anxious to co-operate with them, he saw that there was still a place for individualist action by an enlightened employer. He was anxious that his eldest son, Ernest, who joined the firm in 1899, should follow in his footsteps and was delighted with the welcome given his son by the employees of the firm. At celebrations held at Belle Vue they presented Ernest with an illuminated address, offering him congratulations on his success at Cambridge, his coming of age and his association with the firm, and expressing the ”earnest hope and desire ... that you may carry into its management the broad views both with regard to business policy and to the dealings and relationships with the workmen that have always characterised your father, and made his name a household word”. (1) Unfortunately, Ernest Mather died as the result of an accident while riding shortly after becoming a director of the company and in 1910 Sir William endowed a Workpeople's Holiday Fund in his memory.
Sir William hoped that grants from this fund would make real holidays possible for the workpeople of the Company. In a letter to Mr.L.B.Mather, posted on the notice boards in the Salford and Park Works, he wrote that he had been considering for some time how; he could best show his “continued interest in the welfare of our workpeople. For seventeen years we have given our workpeople the benefit of shortened hours of labour, establishing the forty-eight hour week. Recently we have established an annual holiday of a week, when the works are closed, and are making arrangements for assisting certain of the unskilled workmen and their families to enjoy this holiday. It has occurred to me that the annual holiday may be more thoroughly enjoyed, as a means of healthy recreation out of town, if a Fund existed, the income of which could be distributed amongst the workpeople at both Salford and Park Works, to help them to meet the expenses, in so far as the income of the Fund will permit."(2)
Sir William inaugurated this fund, which was designed to make it easier for "wife and family to share in a husband’s recreation during the summer holiday”, by placing 10,000 one pound fully paid ordinary shares of the Company in trust, over which Mr.L.B.Mather and two co-trustees, Alfred Willett and Edwin Buckly, exercised control. The setting up of this Fund, just at a time when working class holidays by the sea were beginning to be popular, was an enlightened and generous gesture, which long anticipated statutory holidays with pay.
(1) The employees of Mather and Platt to William Ernest Mather.
(2) Sir William Mather to Mr L E Mather, 1 March, 1910.
The holiday Fund grew. In 1920 a further 7,500 shares were added to it, providing at that time an annual distribution to workers of nearly £3,000. When, after 1937 the industry had adopted the policy of normally granting a full week’s pay to employees about to take their holidays, the Ernest Mather Fund used to make special payments which varied with length of service to the firm. The distribution was, and still is, regulated by the Trustees (1) after discussion with the Works Committee. In 1949 the Directors decided to make an annual payment to the Fund out of profits and in the following year made a 50% bonus issue to the Fund while in 1951 a special Jubilee grant was paid.
4. The Works Committee
One of’ the most important changes in the approach to industrial relations, distinguishing the twentieth from the nineteenth century, has been the growth of works committees consisting of representatives of both labour and management.
Although before 1914 there were in existence in some firms works committees of various types - recreative, social and welfare committees; profit-sharing or co-partnership committees; or industrial committees (1) -it was the First World War which gave an impetus to their formation, and it was then that Mather & Platt Ltd. had its first general works council.
In March 1917 the interim report of the Whitley Committee on the Relations between Employers and Employed recommended the organisation of general industrial councils and of works committees at shop level, and in a further supplementary report in October 1917 the proposal was elaborated. “We regard the successful development and utilisation of Works Committees in any business”, the signatories stated, “as of equal importance with its commercial and scientific efficiency, and we think that in every case one of the partners or directors or some other responsible representative of the management would be well advised to devote a substantial part of his time and thought to the good working and development of such a committee". (2)
Sir William Mather welcomed these proposals but believed that initiation should come from the firms themselves. “I would begin with the shops”, he wrote in a letter to his son, “and work back to general council; the great thing is to promote co-operation in individual shops (I mean separate firms) to raise the status of employees from servants to patrons of a sort”. (3) He quickly put his ideas into practice and in the same month that the Whitley Committee published its report a Works Committee was set up by Mather & Platt Ltd.
(1) See G.D.K. Cole, Workshop Organisation (1923).
(2) Ministry of Reconstruction, sub-committee on Relations between Employers and Employed, Interim,Report, Cd. 8606 (11 March 1917): Supplementary Report on Works Committees Cd. 9001 (October 1917). See further Ministry of Labour, Works Committees, Report on an Inquiry, Industrial Reports, No.2. (1918),
(3) An undated letter from Sir William to Mr.L.E.Mather
The idea was not a new one, for already there had been a Shop stewards’ Committee in existence for some time. (1) The trade union stewards, whose workshop position was enhanced by the restrictions on general trade union activities, appointed from their own number a convenor, who had power to call meeting’s of all the stewards in the shop. By contrast with such a committee, which represented the interests of labour only, the Works Committee of Mather & Platt Ltd was an organisation designed to increase the participation of workers in welfare and workshop activities, where both management and labour could exert responsible initiative. The first Chairmen of the Park Works Committee was E.W.Buckley, the Works Manager, who was on excellent terms with the trade unions and who had always tried to treat workmen as “partners and friends”. (2)
The other members included two managers, the Welfare Officer, three foremen, and two charge hands on the management side, and four shop stewards, two girl workers, one labourer and one other worker on the labour side. Subsequently voting for the labour places on the Committee was arranged by ballot in the shops, twelve representatives being chosen from the various bays, the smithy, the pattern room and the millwrights. (3) The management retained its eight members, the foreman being elected by their fellow foremen.
Much of the early work of The Committee was concerned, as was natural and desirable, with domestic topics of the moment, which are of little historical interest. As a result of these early discussions improvements were made in the dining room and lavatories; the payment of workers was switched to Friday night to give wives more time for shopping (4) and arrangements made by other firms for housing bicycles were investigated. (5) There were two occasions however when more permanently interesting topics were discussed. The first was at the opening meeting, when it was decided to inaugurate a Suggestions Scheme; the second was a general review of the atmosphere and conditions of the firm in January 1918.
The Suggestions Scheme was designed to give every employee the opportunity of bringing forward his ideas for the prevention of accidents, the better organisation of a section of’ the works and improvements in machinery design or operations.
(1) L.E.Mather to Sir ‘William Mather, 9 June 1917.
(2) Edwin Buckley to Sir William Mather, 7 August, 1916. “I thank you for the words that ‘you rely on my sympathy with the employees', because it has been my one claim to treat them as partners and friends, as you say. In fact, it is not infrequently that the men, when they have made a request, preface the remarks that they feel I am one of them, and not only their ‘boss’ “. Buckley went on to urge that the full co-operation of the trade unions should be sought in all schemes to secure good relations between capital and labour.
(3) The ballot idea was mooted on the Works Committee as early as December 1917. Minutes of the First Works Committee.
(4) First Report of the Works Committee, 1917.
(5) Minutes, 22 October 1917.
The procedure as it was subsequently developed was for employees to write out suggestions, preferably upon printed forms which could be procured from the Secretary of the Company or from a box in the canteen. These forms which, on completion, were placed in a box carried, the name of the employee on a detachable counterfoil which was treated as secret by the secretary so that the members of the Suggestion Committee did not know the name of the man who had made the suggestion.
There was considerable discussion and division of opinion about both the procedure and the principle of the Suggestions Scheme, and during the first year the number of’ suggestions actually fell off, partly because of delay in answering them, partly because of a report that the names of men who had made suggestions were published. (1)
The Committee persisted in the project and stressed that “in large Works like these, there must be a very great amount of latent ability that still remains untapped”. It went on to hope that “there may flow through the channel of the Suggestions Scheme, not only good ideas for improvement, but a series of patentable inventions.”
The scheme eventually got under way and an average of about 100 suggestions annually were received during the next ten years. Many of the suggestions were valueless or impracticable, but some of’ them were acceptable and worth remuneration. The original Suggestions Committee consisted of the Director of Research, the Works Manager, a departmental head, a representative of the Works Office, and a representative of the workmen appointed by the Works Committee. The present Committee (1952) is on similar lines but a member of the Board (apart from Works Manager) and an additional representative chosen by the workmen have been added. From the point of view of the Company the sponsors believed that the value of the scheme lay “not only in the actual suggestions accepted, but in the alert interest in his work, which had undoubtedly been taken by every employee who offers a suggestion through the scheme.”(2)
Some thousands of useful suggestions have been submitted through the scheme, which continues to operate with considerable success. A review of the 'atmosphere and conditions of employment with Mather & Platt Ltd. in January 1918 was carried out informally by the Works Committee of the period when problems of absenteeism, rate-fixing and the movement of employees from the service of the company to other firms were discussed. In October 1917 official leaving certificates, which had restricted the movement of certain classes of munitions workers, were abolished by the Government and a number of men (in consequence) had either been discharged or had left on their own accord. The following figures for the fourteen weeks from 15 October 1917 to 22 January 1918 were studied by the Committee and proved that nothing was wrong with the morale of what had become a large wartime establishment.(3)
Discharged - 71 (5.7%)
Skilled - 30 - (2.4%)
Unskilled - 41 - (3.3%)
Left Voluntarily - 57 (4.6%)
Skilled - 35 - (2.8%)
Unskilled - 22 - (1.8%)
The ventilation of common problems in the Works Committee at that date was recognised as being a very useful device.
(1) Minutes, 25 March, 1918
(2) In the Interests of the Workers (1925)
(3) Minutes January 1918.
In 1919 a special sub-committee of the Works Committee concerned itself with a problem specifically concerned with production methods. It examined the question of shop tools, and presented a complete report dealing with cutting and radius tools templates, mandrills, drill stores, and the tool issue system. At the same time the whole Committee made a recommendation to the management advocating that more detail should be shown in working drawings. (1) Those extensions of the boundaries of interest of the Committee were followed by an important constitutional change in its position.
The York Agreement of May 1919 drawn up by certain skilled engineering trade unions and the employers federation recommended that “a Works Committee may be set up in each establishment, consisting of not more then seven representatives of the management and not more than seven shop stewards, who should be representative of the various classes of workpeople employed in the establishment”. Mather & Platt Ltd. were the first Company to put the York Agreement into operation. (1) The old Committee was dissolved at the end of 1919, and a new Committee came into being with shop steward representation. In order that the new Committee's activities should not be interrupted by frequent elections, and in order that the workers should have the opportunity of selecting candidates for membership, the management asked that a new election of shop stewards should be held. This was carried out; fifteen shop stewards being elected seven of who were chosen by their fellow stewards to be the workers’ representatives on the Works Committee. (2) In 1920 the problem of choosing shop stewards was simplified by the creation of the Amalgamated. Engineering Union, consisting of the old A.S.E., the Steam Engine Makers Society, the Amalgamated Society of General Toolmakers, the United Machine Workers’ Association and various other smaller unions. (3) The amalgamation movement, which had long been in the air, had at last produced effective results.
The change in the status of the Committee and its official recognition as part of a national framework enabled the members of the Committee to debate freely and frankly topics which committees of previous years had not been competent to discuss with authority. It is true that in the early months of 1919, before the change, the Committee was extending its range of interests, but from 1920 onwards it concerned itself with more controversial issues, including questions relating to employment and piece-rates. At the beginning of 1920 the Committee devoted considerable time to the question of output from engineering workshops and the possibility of increasing the ”man-hours” worked. The Committee was kept in touch with the condition of affairs regarding the employment, engagement and dismissal of employees, and with the working of the Piecework Bonus Scheme, seen in relation to alternative schemes operated in other factories.
(1) Works Committee, Report of’ Proceedings during 1919.
(2) Works Committee, Report of Proceedings during 1920.
(3) The United Pattern Makers’ Association and the Electrical Trades Union did not join.
It also had one or two long discussions on possible ways of widening its own influence. “Various duties and responsibilities which could be undertaken by a Works Committee were discussed although it was generally decided that it was not possible, under present conditions, to go much further. (1)
The Works Committee soon established its position within the firm in relation both to management and to labour. Fortnightly meetings were held, followed the day afterwards by meetings of a committee of the foremen and by the Shop Stewards Committee to take any necessary action upon points raised by the Works Committee. (2) As the years have gone by, the machinery of consultation which either broke down or was never properly tried by some firms, has proved itself efficient and useful, and has been further developed since the Second World War to make bitter disputes between capital and labour unlikely. The existing chain of procedure for avoiding disputes would have surprised most early nineteenth century employers and workmen alike. (3) It has been sufficiently well contrived to eliminate almost all labour troubles in the firm.
5. Workers and the Firm
Despite its increasing size Park Works has still retained many of the qualities of a smaller establishment and the atmosphere is still one of partnership. Workshop personalities stand out and are well known throughout the firm; voluntary bodies representing all sections of the works fill in gaps in the various employees organisations and sponsor direct participation in schemes for social welfare; and shareholders have been ever-ready to support schemes for improving the well-being of the workers of their Company.
From the Shareholders side the Employees’ Benefit Fund, launched in 1908, was designed to assist the needy among former employees and employees suffering from sickness or family misfortune. It has been and is augmented from time to time by grants made at Annual General Meetings of the Company. From the workers’ side the Mutual Help Fund, inaugurated in 1916, is a fund supported by quarterly contributions collected by workers representatives from their own comrades, and donations from various sources. It is administered by a committee of four, three of whom are elected by the shop stewards, and is intended to provide means for making grants to sick employees and others who may be in need of assistance as a result of some misfortune. The amount of the disbursements from this fund are published annually in the works magazine “Our Journal’, but the details of all grants made are treated as confidential. Some of the initiative towards new schemes of direct participation in workshop activities has come from the Works Committee.
(1) Works Committee, Report of’ Proceedings during 1920.
(2) After the York agreement of 1919 a separate Committee was formed for the Iron Foundry and later a women’s Works Committee (see pp.XXX).
(3) It is printed in Appendix 11.
The Savings Association, for instance, was created during the depression in 1930 to “encourage the employees of Mather & Platt to accumulate a sum of money which can be used towards providing an increased income for their old age, or something worth striving for, through the medium of National Savings Certificates, or State security, the Members’ Savings being supplemented by Savings Certificates presented by the Company.(1) Membership is voluntary, and only three conditions are laid down- workers must not be on the salaried staff, must be at least 18 years old, and must have been continuously employed for six months by the Company. A grant of National Savings Certificates, in proportion to those saved by the employee, is added by the Company, the proportion rising with increasing years of service, until an employee with over 35 years continuous employment with the Company receives one certificate for every one purchased with his own savings. The maximum subscription allowed by H.M. Treasury is four shillings a week by the member.
Other projects launched under the auspices of the Works Committee include the hire of overalls and schemes for the purchase, at cost price, of tools and safety boots the last two on the basis of weekly contributions. Privileges obtained by negotiation include the services of a men’s hairdresser, who visits the Works each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Leave of absence without pay is granted to any male employee who desires to take advantage of this service. A proportion of the charge made is placed to the credit of the Mutual Help Fund.
The Works Committee was instrumental in arranging with the Manchester Corporation Transport Department for a service of special works buses; a great convenience to employees living a considerable distance away. Employees have also been granted the right to ballot for the date of the annual works holiday. There were ten “Premium Time” days for recognised holidays observed in the Manchester district, two of which, Christmas Day and Good Friday are paid “Double Time” if worked and eight other days which are mutually agreed by the Works Committee, paid for at “Day Time Rate and Half” for all hours worked.
The success of the main Works Committee led to the setting up of a similar institution at Salford Foundry, later transferred to Park Works, the Iron Foundry Committee, and to the organisation of a Women’s Committee, consisting of representatives of the women workers and management both of which meet fortnightly. Among the special privileges accorded to women workers, who have now penetrated many departments of the factory, is the daily fifteen-minute break, with pay, at 10.0a.m. and 4.0p.m. when women are allowed to go into the Dining Room and obtain tea free of charge.
In addition to the above-mentioned bodies, two Apprentices Associations co-ordinate the Social activities of Trade and Special Apprentices and a committee composed of representatives of management and apprentices meets monthly to discuss problems of particular interest to apprentices.
(1)Extract from the Rules of the Mather & Platt Ltd. (Works) National Savings Provident Association.
6. The Prevention of Accidents
Another problem in a large modern factory, the prevention of accidents, has received constant attention in the various works of the Company, since Mather & Platt Ltd. joined The British Industrial ‘Safety First’ Association in 1922. The Factories Act of 1901 marked the beginning of official safety regulations in factories in this country. Shortly afterwards a Safety First Association was formed and this, like many other good ideas, spread to the United States where the need was even greater than in the United Kingdom.
It was not until 1918 however, that accident prevention in factories was to be encouraged by the formation of an Industrial ‘Safety First’ Association. Four years later a Manchester and District Branch came into existence as the result of a meeting, held at Park Works under the chairmanship of Mr. L.E.Mather and attended by representatives of Engineering, Chemical Iron and Steel, Sawmill and Mining Trades. From the start a close and friendly connection was formed with the Factory Department of the Home Office. H.M. Inspectors have continued to take an active interest in the work of this voluntary Association. The name of the Association was later changed to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and under its new title it combines with efforts to increase industrial safety, public safety on the roads, in schools and in the homes. Many supplementary Factory Acts passed between the years 1901 and 1929 included new provisions for the safety and well being of industrial workers. Simultaneously the Works Committees at Newton Heath and Salford had played an important part in investigating accidents in the machine shops and foundries and in 1938 a Works Safety Committee was formed. This Committee included representatives of management and workers under the chairmanship of a Shop Superintendent.
Evidence of the value of attention given to accident prevention in the Company's Works is shown by the records. Since 1925 when lost-time accidents involved 2.39% of employees in the works, the casualty list has fallen steadily to 0.4% the figure at the time of writing; thus indicating a marked reduction in the number of productive man hours lost from this cause.
One of the regular features of the work of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in the Manchester district has been the staging of Annual Ambulance Competitions. Since the formation of the Society the Manchester competitions have always been held on the premises of Mather & Platt Ltd.
The Second World War gave an impetus to two new features in industrial relations. In the first place, it encouraged the setting up of new organisations designed to increase output, and, following a national lead, Mather & Platt Ltd. established Departmental Joint Production Consultative and Advisory Committees, to meet monthly. There are six committees representing the various production departments at Park Works — General Machinery, Fire Engineering, Electrical, Pump, Iron Foundry with Pattern Shop and Roller Shutter Shop and a seventh at Radcliffe for the Food Machinery department.
About three times a year the Central Meeting of the members of the Departmental Joint Production Consultative and Advisory Committees, drawn from the members of the six committees at Park Works, is held to review the general situation and the work of the departmental committees. Another object of the Committee is to influence conceptions of welfare, stressing the need for relaxation at the same time as and parallel to the need for increased production, and underlining the desire for all workers to feel that they are part of the concerns in which they spend their working hours.
It is in line with these trends that a Social Club was set up by Mather & Platt Ltd. in March 1947 “to promote and co-ordinate all the social activities of employees”. Extensive new sports fields were provided by the Company, which both gave a “green belt” appearance to Park Works, and provided adequate facilities for healthy open-air recreation. The subscription to the Club is 2d. per week - ld. for those under 18 - and the amenities provided include mid-day concerts by members of the choir, Silver Band and Concert Party; monthly dances; football, cricket, bowls and badminton. Those are the delights of a new age, only the revived ‘Silver Band’ recalling the forgotten days of Victorian England.
But it is not only the manual workers who have shared in the welfare activities of the firm. The Staff Holiday Club, an inheritance from the Salford Iron Works, is an early example of a welfare organisation going back to the beginning of the century. Originally run by and for the Textile Department staff, it came to Park Works and was there expanded to embrace all the staff. Officials of the club, which is now run by a voluntary Committee, collect weekly subscriptions from the members as savings towards the annual holidays, interest being added by the Company. In 1950 the Club numbered just over 600 members, and the repayments amounted to £7,800.
A contributory scheme to secure pensions for members of the Male Staff was inaugurated in 1919 and a supplementary Pension Scheme, launched in 1947 to take into consideration the rising cost of living was introduced to provide new benefits for the senior officials of the Company. A scheme to provide female members of the staff with pensions at the age of 60 was introduced in 1948.
In 1952 the Directors decided to increase the benefits payable under the Staff Contributory Pension Scheme and also to convert that Scheme to non-contributory. At the same time the Directors made arrangements for the existing Works Savings Scheme to be succeeded by an Assurance Scheme for all male hourly paid workpeople between the ages of 25 and 60 years who have completed three years continuous service with the Company. Both Schemes provide for retirement benefits at the age of 65 and also a payment to employee's dependants in the event of death occurring before that age.
"You have joined, a firm with a fine reputation” begins the little booklet Information for Employees, which tells newcomers about service, amenities and conditions of employment at Park Works. The object of such productions of the Company in an age when individuals often appear to be less important than groups is to make each employee take a personal sense of pride in belonging to an old and established business and to know something of the whole picture into which he will fit.
When “Our Journal” made its appearance in October 1919 the Editor expressed the view that to many workers everything “outside their own department is a closed book”. If this is still the case with some workers, it is certainly not the fault of the Company. Although its products are diverse and its technical processes often distinct, Mather & Platt Ltd. is conscious of the unity of its enterprise and is anxious to communicate the sense of unity to all employees. What the first workers knew because they all knew each other and the representatives of the family which employed them, must now be communicated in twentieth century terms by twentieth century means to several thousand employees at home and abroad. As times change so ideas and methods will continue to change, but the road which has already and still is being trod is one of which the founders would have been legitimately proud.
- Changing Horizons
This book set out to tell a story, the story of a Lancashire enterprise and its transformation into a great general engineering undertaking. From small beginnings in the early nineteenth century it has become an international concern. In the course of its evolution it has acquired a distinctive character and a special reputation. The big mass producing firms of the world, with their household names, are well known to the general public. Mather & Platt Ltd has always been the servant of industry, providing quietly and efficiently the machinery without which the country’s primary and secondary industries could not function. As the industrial structure of the country has changed, there has been a steady evolution of the Company’s range of products.
The first Mather, making his rollers and simple accessories for the local bleach crofts, was in the middle of his own market. His technique was simple, but it was careful and competent. He would have been surprised to see the workshops of 1952, the crowded foreign order book and the modern office organisation. The concern has not grown suddenly in giant leaps: it has rather expanded steadily to meet the requirements of a changing world. Perhaps the crucial decisions were taken in the l870’s and 1880’s in a period that is sometimes described as a period of “great depression” in British industry. It was then that the partners and directors took strategic decisions that enabled the concern to play an important part in the shaping of the new technology of oil and electricity. But the 1870’s and 1880’s was only the beginning. It was the move to Newton Heath, a gradual move, which made possible large-scale production in the various departments of the firm.
A mass production policy was never adopted although advantage was taken of new Engineering techniques. In deciding to concentrate on production for individual orders rather than on standardised output the Company was remaining true to the business principles of the first Mathers. In deciding what new lines of production to undertake an element of risk has always been present.
Technical invention has opened up new productive possibilities but commercial success has depended upon sound judgement as much as upon science. The Company has had to decide not only what new lines of production to manufacture but also what existing lines of production to abandon. Historians and economists have sometimes drawn a distinction between “old” and “new” industries, the first set of industries representing Britain’s industrial past, and the second pointing the way to the future.
Those who have controlled the destinies of Mather & Platt Ltd have never been content with such simple distinction. They supplied a variety of needs for many trades and in turning to the manufacture of electrical engineering or fire engineering products they did not abandon but rather expanded the production of textiles and general machinery. The company’s quickness in seizing opportunities enabled it to see the technical and commercial possibilities in well established as well as in infant industries. It has thus been able to expand in many different phases of English economic history. Indeed it was out of the great depression of 1931 that the latest of the departments, the Food Machinery Department, was born.
The conditions of the world since 1945 have been difficult, but beneath the uncertainties and. conflicts of the times there are stirring many new forces, which will shape the pattern of a new industrial future. In the textiles industries the increasing range of synthetic fibres and the discovery of the new uses to which they can be put are changing not only technology but also economic organisation. The textile industries are being linked up more closely with the chemicals industries: the scale of plant is growing and. the type of machinery required is changing. In the fire engineering industry new methods are constantly being evolved to deal with complex fires that would have baffled the more fatalistic industrialists of the early nineteenth century. In food processing, discoveries in bacteriology and the nutritional sciences are making more scientific food conservation a practical possibility. Finally, overshadowing all these forces of change is the great enigma of the technology of the future and the exploitation of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.
It may be that the technical changes of the next century will surpass in magnitude and significance the technical changes of the last hundred years. As a producer of essential machines Mather & Platt Ltd must always watch the changing horizons. It can never rest satisfied with the technical equipment of today. Not all the inventions of the future will be of direct interest to it for one of the secrets of its success as an enterprise has been its unwillingness to be dazzled by tempting prospects in lines of production unrelated to its existing structure. But it must scan the sky and judge at which point on the horizon there is a new opportunity to be seized.