THE HISTORY OF BEDEWELL WORKS
(See also History of Baker Perkins Ltd).
Immediately after WW2, Baker Perkins began to step up production to meet the demands of their customers for replacements for their machinery and for new automatic plant that would relieve the shortage of skilled labour. Rather than depend on sub-contracting, as had been the case after WW1, it was decided to open a factory which would be complimentary to Westwood Works.
In the latter half of 1945, Baker Perkins, in conjunction with the Board of Trade, explored factories in South Wales, Tyneside and Clydeside. As the railway had been a paramount factor when F.C. Ihlee decided to make the move from Regent Square, London to Peterborough in 1903, this also influenced Baker Perkins in choosing Hebburn-on-Tyne as the location for this new factory. It was known as Bedewell because of the area's association with the Venerable Bede.
Bede's Well once had a high reputation as a bath for the recovery of sick children and was also a spot where people celebrated Midsummer Eve with dancing, music and bonfires. It dates back to the days of the Venerable Bede who lived in the famous monastery at Jarrow from 685 to 735 AD. In those days, Jarrow was famous for its learning and the Venerable Bede – "the father of English learning" - was probably its best known inhabitant.
Bedewell Works at the end of WW2 looked far from ready to make complicated machinery for the industries served by Baker Perkins Ltd. It was equipped with special machine tools, annealing and tempering travelling ovens, hydraulic presses and the like to produce 500lb armour piercing bombs. It had been built for the Ministry of Supply and Aircraft Production and was managed by Jarrow Metals Industries Ltd.
The Board of Trade had leased a portion of Bedewell to a metal box company so Baker Perkins then decided to accept the offer of space in Vickers works on the Scotswood Road at Newcastle. On the morning that the contract was to be signed, the company heard from the Board of Trade that it could lease Bedewell subject to one of the six bays being leased to the metal box company, pending the building of a new factory for them on the Jarrow trading estate. So early in 1946 Baker Perkins acquired Bedewell on rent, with the advantages of a self-contained location and the possibility of further extension on 11 acres of adjacent land, owned by the Carr Ellison Trust.
When Baker Perkins took over there was a huge pond just behind the factory entrance. Filling it in was a problem, but at the time thousands of old houses were being knocked down in a Jarrow renewal programme. The local authorities were invited to tip their rubble in the Baker Perkins pond. Cyril Panter recalls that "Half of Jarrow disappeared into the water before it was full."
Mr Paul W. Baker, son of W. King Baker, was given the task of getting the factory into operation. He was an experienced engineer. After having taken a university degree in chemical engineering he had served in the works at Willesden, in 1921 had spent six months at Peterborough and in 1929 was appointed superintendent of the plate-shop at Saginaw. He was director and works manager of Bedewell for ten years from 1946 and his first task was to clear the factory, a task for which a Baker Perkins tender was accepted. A dozen men retained by Jarrow Metals for maintenance joined the company together with Cyril Ballinger as assistant works manager and accountant Cyril Panter, who moved up from Peterborough.
Cyril Panter had just left the Forces and was feeling a bit unsettled. He was working on the ledgers at Westwood when he saw a job at Bedewell advertised on the Company notice board. Another Peterborough man who jumped at the chance of moving north was Alec Leaman. Offered a job as a 'section father' at Bedewell and despite knowing nothing about Tyneside, he too became an adopted 'Geordie'. Both men found that they got on extremely well with the 'natives' but communication was a real problem. It took some time for the newcomers to understand the accent - Cyril Ballinger, a Cockney had a particular problem - but the tremendous spirit that existed in the new factory, with most of the new recruits coming straight out of the forces and having to pick up the threads of civilian life, created a 'family' atmosphere in a very short time.
The factory was in poor decorative condition and had to be painted, floors re-laid, roof repaired, heating units installed and lighting increased. After a lot of teething troubles – the re-training of the sheet-metal workers and boiler-makers of Tyneside, many of whom had previously worked in the shipyards, in the techniques needed in handling our light metal products and to cope with the precision work of Baker Perkins, the transfer of surplus machinery and men from Westwood and the setting up of a small drawing office - the new factory came into full production. All this gave rise to the superior comment which was reputed to have come from someone at Westwood Works: “Here we work to the nearest thousandth of an inch in the machine shop and the nearest eighth of an inch in the plate shop – at Bedewell they just work to the nearest ship”.
The first production job, a laundry press made under licence from the Prosperity Company of Syracuse, New York,, was completed in the autumn of 1946. Other equipment manufactured in the early days included aircraft cannon bodies and anti-aircraft cannon for aircraft carriers, followed by bakery machinery - drawplate ovens, peel ovens, dividers, moulders kneaders and provers. The whole factory was taken over in 1948 and the freehold purchased along with the adjacent 11 acres that later became the sports field. For a time, the drawing office was located in separate offices in Newcastle but by mid-1949 it was moved onto the Bedewell site.
Taffy Hughes took over from Paul W. Baker as works manager in 1959 and performed this task until his retirement in December 1980, after 46 years with the Company. Taffy was born in the valleys of Wales in 1920 and joined Baker Perkins in 1934, serving his time as a sheet metal worker. Called up into the Royal Artillery during WW2, he was captured and spent three and a half years as a POW of the Japanese. "The Welsh Geordie - as he later referred to himself, had been works manager at Westwood before his move to Bedewell and was elected to the board of directors of Baker Perkins Ltd in 1975.
Laundry presses were a regular line until William Jack & Sons joined the group as Baker Perkins Jaxons in 1961, when production was moved to Glasgow. Ironers for the laundry trade, although sold by Jaxons, continued to be made at Bedewell (see also Baker Perkins in the Laundry Business). The factory gradually built up the production of a large range of Baker Perkins equipment for the food industry and heavier plate shop equipment had to be installed to cope. To augment the supply of castings, St.Peter's Foundry in Newcastle was purchased. Bedewell also carried out general engineering work – conveyors for a rubber thawing plant in Russia, tyre making presses, weigh bridges, steel works equipment, salt filters, shot blast machines, autoclaves and dry cleaners. In the 1950s, BW5 wrapping machines for Forgrove were also produced.
Baker Perkins acquired the chemical machinery company, Steele & Cowlishaw of Hanley, Stoke on Trent, in May 1958 at a time when S & C were themselves buying Yates Plant Ltd., manufacturers of welding equipment and welding manipulators. A very large order was obtained for twelve heat exchangers for the North Wales nuclear power station at Trawsfynydd and these were built at Bedewell. A few other orders followed but this market dried up and the Yates company was engaged in general engineering for a time at Bedewell before being gradually merged into the general engineering side of Baker Perkins Ltd.
In the late 1950s the confectionery part of the Chocolate & Confectionery section of the drawing office at Peterborough was split away from the chocolate side and moved to Bedewell, where it joined with members of the candy forming machine section from Forgrove of Leeds. After about three years, due to personnel leaving, the confectionery side was moved back to Peterborough and the C & C section was reformed. See also Baker Perkins in the Chocolate & Confectionery Business.
Bedewell, like Westwood, had its own purpose-built Apprentice School. It was opened in 1959 by the Earl of Halesbury, then president of the Institution of Production Engineers. At the time of opening, the school was just for fitting and machining, but later a metal work section was added. Terry McConway recalled that the opening ceremony was rather confusing. He had joined the company straight from school only two days before and had very little idea of what was going on. He remembered that all of the apprentices had to stand by their machines and wait for a signal from the apprentice supervisor, Tom Honeyman, and then switch their machines on simultaneously.
The Kingston-on-Thames premises of Baker Perkins Granbull Ltd, producers of plastic bottle blowing and filling machinery that had been acquired in 1960, were closed and the production transferred to Bedewell. In 1965, Baker Perkins Granbull was merged in Baker Perkins Chemical Machinery as the plastics division of that company. The remaining useable inventory of this venture were sold in 1967 following a history of sizeable losses (See also Baker Perkins in the Chemical Business).
In 1963, production began of the foundry division's Ribbon-Flo mixers and this continued until the division was sold in Autumn 1984. 1963 also saw some 300 employees declared redundant as an effect of the most difficult trading year for Baker Perkins Ltd. since the War. From 1964, Bedewell made control panels for all the group's companies, the department employing 42 people (excluding drawing office staff).
The move to making control panels at Bedewell necessitated the setting up of a new facility – the photo-stencilling department. Here, nameplates of all types, including descriptive panels to fit over machine controls – most of which might previously have been engraved in metal - were made by a photographic process. Control panel fascias were usually made from acrylic materials but aluminium and stainless steel were also used on occasion.
In a process similar to printing a photographic negative, an actual-size master copy of everything that was to appear on the final plate – lettering, diagrams, etc - was used to produce an etched image in the acrylic material that, after painting from the rear of the image, created a colourful, clear and attractive finish to each control panel. In later years, a similar process was used for the in-house production printed circuit boards.
The factory was soon bursting at the seams and production was even started in the open air. Alec Leaman – who moved from the spares department at Peterborough to become 'Section Father' at Bedewell (See also Departments at Westwood Works) – recalled that people got paid extra for working outside in bad weather.
A new bay, the factory's largest at 100 feet wide by 270 feet long and 43 feet high, was added in 1970, bringing total floor space up to 246,000 sq. ft. A further 90,000 sq. ft. of floor space, plus a stockyard and office accommodation, was acquired in 1976 from the Tube Investments factory next door. This factory was in a very run down condition, requiring stripping down to the bare ribs and completely re-cladding and insulating.
A £160,000 Wiedemann Turret Press – operating at ten times the speed of existing equipment –was installed in the same year. The factory extension also allowed space for a new medical centre to be built. In 1978 a new automatic shearing machine (Optishear) was installed. This was linked to a computer in the USA. The cutting requirements for Bedewell were fed into the computer, together with details of the sheet steel the company had in stock. The computer then worked out the most efficient way of cutting the steel, the information being fed back in the form of punched tape. Like the Wiedemann turret punch, the Optishear was capable of very high speeds and the two machines transformed Bedewell's production capability.
The accent was on fabrication rather than machining work with all types of ovens for the bakery, biscuit and confectionery markets, provers, coolers for bread, pies and cakes and pneumatic handling plant being produced. The factory operated largely as a huge extension to Westwood Works, employing over 600 people. The two factories were, in a number of ways, inter-dependent in respect of manufacturing capacity and facilities. If either was short of work then arrangements would be made for the transfer of suitable products to sustain their respective workloads. This could entail the subcontracting of parts for machining or assembly or the full production of complete machines.
Interdependence necessitated good communications and, in the 1960's, with train journeys of five hours and road journeys of seven hours, it is not surprising that Baker Perkins' own company aircraft was often used between Peterborough and Bedewell (See also The Company Aeroplane).
This association was also highly dependent on an efficient freight transport service between the two factories. As freight traffic on the railways gave way to road transport, the Company began to use outside road transport contractors for this work. This carried on for a number of years but studies suggested it would be more cost effective if the Company purchased its own Low Loader type lorries.
Brian Harris, then production manager of Bedewell, was instrumental in introducing this and in about 1972 the Board of Directors authorized the purchase of three 6-wheel, 32 ton ERF articulated Lorries. With these the Company continued to provide this essential trunk service whilst at the same time maintaining a more direct control of the service between Peterborough and Bedewell. Administration at Peterborough was the responsibility of Gordon Liquorish, Senior Foreman of the Despatch Department and Fred Watkins, Transport Foreman.
It was a night time service and operated every night of the working week, Monday to Friday inclusive. The lorries would leave Peterborough and Bedewell at appropriate times in order for them to meet at the "half way" point. The meeting place was Wentbridge Services on the A1 at Doncaster. The vehicles would park on their respective side of the road, the Peterborough lorry heading north and the Bedewell lorry heading south. The drivers would, after a cup of tea, swap over and make the journey home (See also Transport Services).
1979 saw the first long-service presentation at Bedewell. The awards were presented by John Peake, deputy managing director of BP Holdings to 72 people with 30 years or more of continuous service.
By the early 80's, the success of the Baker Perkins printing presses brought about the need for a considerable expansion in production capacity over and above that possible at Westwood Works. Although the Bedewell factory had traditionally specialised in products requiring a high level of fabrication work, it was suggested that the factory should start to produce certain printing products. Despite some early nervousness, within 18 months, printing equipment was being produced with complete confidence with half the workforce for the new assembly shop coming from within the company and the remainder recruited from outside.
On Taffy Hughes' retirement in December 1980, Brian Harris took over as works manager, working from Peterborough.
With the splitting of Baker Perkins Ltd into 3 separate companies in 1985 and the formation of Baker Perkins Bakery Ltd, a new bakery spares department was built at Bedewell. Situated alongside the manufacturing plant, the spares department was linked by computer to bakery head office in Peterborough. The department offered 24 hours spares coverage for 364 days of the year and, from when the order was received, spares were despatched to the customer within 24 hours throughout the UK, 36 hours in Europe and 49 hours to locations in Africa.
Following the merger with APV in 1987, the responsibility for exploiting the new Group's escalator know-how was centred on Peterborough. Design, engineering, marketing and sales were carried out at Westwood Works with manufacturing and testing at Bedewell. By 1992 orders for 23 escalators for London Underground had been processed.
Bedewell had a flourishing Sports & Social Club up and running soon after the factory was converted to producing Baker Perkins products. Its first home was a pavilion acquired by John Pidcock from a Polish displaced persons camp in Scotland. This can be seen in the front - centre of the 1967 aerial view of the factory above..
Over time, a fishing club, a darts section, dinner/dances and leek and flower shows were organised and became a regular part of BSWC's activities. Soccer and cricket matches were held against other Baker Perkins company teams. Perhaps a little surprisingly, from the mid 1950s, employees were able to play croquet during the lunch break.
One early development, as at Westwood Works (see HERE), was the creation of a Quoits Section.
The Bedewell site was closed in 1999.
"Former factory destroyed in fire
A former Tyneside factory has been destroyed in a fire.
More than 40 firefighters were involved in the incident at the Baker Perkins factory on the Bedewell Industrial Estate, in Hebburn, South Tyneside. The fire started in an office at around 1900 GMT on Thursday and spread to the roof. The entire building and its contents were destroyed. The premises were being used for storage by various firms. The cause of the fire is being investigated.
Firefighters had to punch holes in the roof of the building, which was made of metal panels, for ventilation. They also had to cut metal shutter doors to gain access to the building. It took four hours to bring the fire under control. "
As will be seen, the above account was taken from a BBC News bulletin. We have heard from Billy Bell, a maintenance electrician at Bedewell form 1970 to 1999, who states:
"I have been looking at the history of Bedewell works and at the end of it there is mention of a fire in 2004 which gives the impression of the works being destroyed by the fire . It was in fact a stoving oven in a paint shop which took fire which only damaged a part of the roof. The Bedewell factory is still intact, split into factory units. The old tube works buildings however were demolished about eight months ago." Billy Bell - 24/12/2009.
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