HISTORY OF JOSEPH BAKER & SONS LTD

(See also The Origins of the Founders).

INDEX:

The Beginnings in London

Joseph Baker & Sons became established in England with the move of Joseph Baker and his family from Canada in 1878 to join his eldest son in London, New inventions were added to the product line and soon, George, Joseph’s third son, who had inherited his father’s engineering genius, began to add his own ideas. Successful experiments were made with powered large-scale sifting and mixing machinery and they found that England offered an almost unlimited field for such equipment. J. Allen Baker visited many bake houses and was horrified by what he witnessed: "Night baking with intolerably long hours, the workers sleeping in their kneading-troughs, the kneading done with bare feet, no proper ventilation or sanitary arrangements, cockroaches, mice and sometimes even rats in untold numbers".

He saw these things as being as dangerous to the public as they were to the workers and resolved to improve conditions by introducing machinery into the confectionery and baking industry. He found the owners and employers very willing to adopt improvements but, quite soon, the difficulty began to be in production.

In 1879, a small factory with less than a dozen men was opened in Tabernacle Walk, Finsbury. The business continued to prosper and, in 1881, they were compelled to take on more people and move to larger premises at 58 City Road. The works’ main entrance was in Bell Yard, off Featherstone Street. Further growth necessitated the development of additional premises on the opposite side of City Road, in Craven Street. (See also Before Westwood).

The Start of a Global Marketing Strategy

Their first really large expansion, however, took place after the London International Exhibition of Flour Mill Machinery at the Agricultural Hall, Islington in 1881. Here they had a considerable exhibit of flour sifters and mixers and of biscuit-making equipment of various kinds. This exhibition marked the beginning of mechanical baking in the United Kingdom and from this time the business of Joseph Baker & Sons expanded more and more rapidly.

The Health Exhibition in South Kensington followed where they had four model bakeries in actual operation, incorporating more than a hundred of their machines. Large exhibits were sent to other exhibitions of a similar kind wherever in the world they were held – Edinburgh and Amsterdam in 1886, Adelaide, South Australia in 1887 and Barcelona in 1888. 1889 saw the most remarkable exhibition of its kind in Paris where they had their own Boulangerie Anglaise, with machinery for bread, biscuits, pastry and confectionery. For Joseph Baker & Sons, these exhibitions were the most effective form of advertising and on some occasions the exhibits actually paid their way from the sale of products made during the exhibition.

Besides exhibiting full size machinery – "the most complete exhibit of modern bread, cake and biscuit making machinery, and continuous baking ovens, in the world" – they also showed, in a large glass case, a miniature bakery with ancillary plant, "working with the precision of a watch". This model was later put on view in the entrance hall at 58 City Road.

(For more details see Trade Exhibitions)

In 1889, machinery was exhibited in Melbourne with such success that an office was opened there – the start of a long association of the company with Australasia. (See also History of Baker Perkins in Australasia)

The Move to Willesden

The company had by now acquired an international standing and repute and its foreign trade grew rapidly. As a consequence, it soon outgrew the City Road premises and in 1890 a move was made to a large, newly built engineering works in Hythe Road, Willesden, where it remained for the next 43 years. A series of photographs of the Willesden factory can be found in Before Westwood.

It is interesting to note what were considered to be the keys to their growing success;

"They took out more patents; they made their products more readily adaptable to the requirements of the trade; they missed no opportunity of coming into touch with those who were likely to welcome their machines; they gradually, though with infinite difficulty, accumulated the capital they required".

Death of the Founder

The business suffered a great blow in January 1892 with the death of its founder, Joseph Baker. He had, characteristically, insisted on attending a special meeting of the Society of Friends, despite the worst of weather and caught a chill, followed by that year’s virulent influenza.

"His simple personal ways, his self-sacrificing industry in everything he took in hand, his transparent integrity in business as in all other matters, his affectionate interest in the lives and welfare of his men, above all, his unfailing gentleness in every relationship with his fellow-men – these qualities had set an example and a standard which were an inspiration to every member of the firm".

His place was, indeed, hard to fill. His eldest son, J. Allen Baker took over the running of the firm and soon found himself under considerable pressure. He was, however, ably supported by his three brothers: William King Baker, the closest to J. Allen in age - who looked after the accounts; George Samuel Baker, the third brother – who inherited the inventiveness of his father and took care of the technical side of the business; and the youngest brother, Philip Barton Baker – with a natural bent for travel, who won customers in many parts of the world.

Joseph Allen Baker William King Baker George Samuel Baker Philip Barton Baker

Augustus Muir states: "These four brothers had each his own contribution to make to the growth of the firm. After death had deprived them of the wise and benevolent leadership of their father, they continued to work closely together, as if he were still among them, putting in his quiet word to calm a fraternal dispute - for, indeed, there were disputes in plenty. But however hotly they differed in private as they hammered out some important decision; to the outside world they presented a united front."

The Deed of Partnership signed, on the death of their father, by which Joseph Allen Baker, William King Baker, George Samuel Baker agreed to take Philip Barton Baker into partnership with them in the business - Joseph Baker & Sons.

BANK 376 and HARLESDEN 3

Page from the 1897 London Telephone Directory

Always at the fore-front of the application of new technology, it comes as no surprise that Joseph Baker & Sons were quick to get onto the new fangled telephone system that had first been introduced in London in 1879 (see P17 of the 1897/98 Directory above and here, for more details of the growth of the telephone system). BANK 376 served its City Road address and the Harlesden number would reach the Willesden factory.

Expanding Sales

One of the key export salesmen at this time was Robert Bruce Hay who blazed the trail for Baker Perkins in South America. He has been described as the most colourful personality the Group has ever employed. During his first period of employment at Joseph Baker & Sons his exploits were legendary as he would sell anything to make an honest cent. He caused Willesden to build a crematorium in Brazil that never worked; he sold two river steamers, startling the directors at home, but the vessels were duly delivered; he arranged the lighting of a town; he crossed the Andes by mule and organised a hotel in Santiago as a hospital in a yellow fever epidemic.

As far as the crematorium is concerned, it is possible that the Company relied too heavily on their core food processing technology as it is said that Westwood was perturbed to receive a cable from Robert Bruce Hay simply stating - "Bodies bake won't burn instructions please".

Claude Dumbleton said of him – "I don’t think personalities of Robert Hay’s type would fit very well into our business today – he was a complete individualist who would not work in a team and, I imagine, a very, very expensive operator". Robert Hay was a director of the company from 1910 to 1912 but left to become a director of Carson’s Chocolates before returning to Willesden later as Commercial Manager. He had rooted a Baker Perkins presence in South America which exists to the present day. (See also History of Baker Perkins in Brazil.)

Although the company’s foreign trade had increased significantly, curiously enough, very little had been achieved in the USA. It had been found necessary to concentrate on the United Kingdom and Europe, the Canadian and American connections having been wound up. However, the announcement that a World’s Fair would be held in Chicago in 1893 prompted thoughts of finding another market in the Middle West. It was resolved to send a large exhibit to Chicago, regardless of cost.

The Joseph Baker & Sons stand at the 1893 Chicago Exhibition

This was an ambitious enterprise and J. Allen Baker considered himself as the proper person to carry it through. He therefore left his younger brothers for more than a year to carry on at home alone. The Fair proved a great success with very good day-to-day financial returns. Its success with local businessmen was greater still and business continually increased, not only in the USA but in other, so far, untouched countries as well. It could be said that, from the date of the Chicago Fair, the company’s business was established on a solid long-lasting, international basis.

To add credence to the above, the following appeared in the Daily Mail of 3rd December 1902:

"ENGLAND HELPS HER OWN"

"In these days of well-heralded foreign trade successes it is refreshing to have to chronicle British commercial triumphs in one direction. In biscuit-making, as is well known, England stands unrivalled. Reading, now a great industrial centre, has been built upon biscuits, and one house alone in this trade makes a profit of about a third of a million a year. In an allied engineering industry we are equally to the front. The making of ovens for biscuit and cake manufacturers is a trade by itself, and we have the cream of the world’s business in it.

One English house alone – Joseph Baker and Sons, of Willesden – has established so large an export trade, with the United States, despite the handicap of a forty-five per cent, duty, that it has now opened manufacturing for its American branch in Chicago, and contemplates immediately starting another American house. The reasons of success here have been plain. In the first place, the firm has among its members an inventive genius. Secondly, it has systematically encouraged its men to think out improvements, and has made it worth their while to do so. This house has secured its place not by driving, but by establishing cordial relations between employers and employed. It boasts that it has never had a strike, and it was among the first, if not actually the first, to establish an eight-hour day. This, however, has since been modified to a fifty-hour week".

Business Philosophy

It is an essential part of telling the story of Baker Perkins to allow descriptions of its basic ethos and management style to surface regularly throughout the narrative to show that this was no accident but a fundamental part of the basic philosophy of the company. A biography of J.Allen Baker states:

"With their roots in their Quaker beliefs, the business methods of Joseph Baker and his sons were sometimes seen as unusual, but they succeeded in their own peculiar way. They refused to attract clients by the method of "treating" and their refusal brought them not failure but respect. They treated their workers with consideration and through all the worst periods of industrial trouble they rarely had a strike. In all their work they practised rigid economy in personal and overhead expense; thus in the early years they always took a sandwich lunch to save the cost of restaurant meals. The harmony and confidence between Joseph Baker and his sons was often spoken of by others as a factor in their success. They were fortunate to have around them a splendid office staff – Allen Baker had a gift for choosing capable and energetic men – and it was a staff that shared their ideas about the business and the responsibilities it involved. But above all the other causes, the progress of the firm was due to the determination of Allen Baker to make it the kind of success that he believed that it could and ought to be. Beyond the desire for reasonable comfort and education for his growing family, he now had in it a deeper purpose. His machines were to help to end the shameful conditions in which hundreds of thousands of his fellow men had worked; they were to raise the standard of public sanitation in food production; they were to lower the cost of living for the poor".

The Bakers were justifiably immensely proud of the change that they had been able to bring about in the food industry and this is best summed up by taking, somewhat out of chronological context, the preface to the 1915 edition of the company’s sales catalogue:

"AMONGST THE GREAT CHANGES OF THE PAST FIFTY YEARS THERE ARE FEW, IF ANY, WHICH WERE MORE NEEDED OR HAVE BEEN MORE MARKED THAN THOSE CONNECTED WITH THE PREPARATION AND PRODUCTION OF ARTICLES OF FOOD, OF WHICH OUR DAILY BREAD IS STILL THE CHIEF.

IT IS BETWEEN FORTY AND FIFTY YEARS SINCE THE FOUNDER OF THIS FIRM BEGAN TO DIRECT HIS THOUGHTS AND INVENTIVE GENIUS TOWARDS THE SOLUTION OF SOME OF THE PROBLEMS WHICH HAD TO BE FACED IN PROVIDING FOR THE ACCURATE, CLEAN AND AUTOMATIC CARRYING OUT OF THE VARIOUS PROCESSES IN THE MAKING OF BREAD, MANY OF WHICH HAD THROUGHOUT THE WORLD’S HISTORY BEEN LABORIOUS AND PROSTRATING, AND, IN MANY CASES, INJURIOUS TO THE HEALTH OF THOSE EMPLOYED THEREIN.

THESE CONDITIONS HAD THEIR LONG CONTINUANCE, PERHAPS, BECAUSE OF THE UNUSUAL CHARACTER OF THE DIFFICULTIES TO BE OVERCOME, THE MATERIALS IN THE PROCESS OF BREAD MAKING POSSESSING SOMETHING OF THE NATURE OF LIFE THROUGH THE ACTION OF THE YEAST, WITH ALL THE VARYING CONDITIONS AND RAPID CHANGES INCIDENTAL THERETO.

THE ILLUSTRATED TIMES OF 31ST JANUARY, 1863, IN DRAWING PUBLIC ATTENTION TO THE UNSATISFACTORY STATE OF THE TRADE AT THE TIME, WROTE:

"IT IS NOT A LITTLE STRANGE THAT, IN THE MIDST OF INVENTIONS AND IMPROVEMENTS WHICH HAVE AFFECTED ALMOST THE WHOLE COURSE OF OUR DAILY LIVES, THERE SHOULD TILL LATELY HAVE BEEN SCARCELY ANY CHANGE IN THE ART AND PRACTICE OF MAKING THE BREAD UPON WHICH OUR EXISTENCE MAY BE SAID IN A GREAT MEASURE TO DEPEND.

THE REPORT MADE BY MR. TREMENHEERE TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE IN REFERENCE TO THE CONDITION OF THE JOURNEYMAN BAKERS, INVOLVED OTHER QUESTIONS BESIDES THOSE OF SEVERE LABOUR AND SUFFERINGS OF THE JOURNEYMAN BAKERS THEMSELVES."

PROGRESS FOR A TIME WAS SLOW AND PARTIAL, BUT RECEIVED A DISTINCT IMPETUS AFTER THE FAMOUS HEALTH EXHIBITION OF 1884, WHEN THIS FIRM HAD ITS MODELS AND A LARGE NUMBER OF ITS MACHINES SHOWN IN THE VARIOUS EXHIBITS OF THE BAKERIES BUILDING WHICH WAS PLACED BESIDE THE THEN PRINCE OF WALES’ (KING EDWARD VII) PAVILION. AND IT WAS FROM A GREAT GATHERING OF THE PRINCIPAL BAKERS OF THE UNITED KINGDOM AND IRELAND, ON THE INVITATION OF THE EXHIBITING BAKERY ENGINEERS, THAT THE FIRST UNITED FORWARD STEP WAS TAKEN, AND SHORTLY AFTER THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION WAS FORMED.

IN VIEW OF THE VARYING CONDITIONS IN DIFFERENT LOCALITIES AND THE SPECIAL FEATURES OF THE TRADE, NO ONE CAN DENY THAT A CHANGE, WONDERFUL IN CHARACTER AND COMPLETENESS, HAS BEEN WROUGHT. THE GENERAL ADOPTION OF MODERN PLANT MAKING POSSIBLE SANITARY AND ECONOMICAL METHODS HAS, HOWEVER, ONLY BECOME AN ABSOLUTE NECESSITY WITHIN A COMPARATIVELY SHORT PERIOD, ALTHOUGH FOR SOME TIME CERTAIN MACHINES AND PLANT FOR PARTIALLY CARRYING OUT THE WORK MECHANICALLY HAVE BEEN IN USE.

THE FIRST COMPLETELY AUTOMATIC CARRYING OUT OF THE WHOLE OF THE PROCESSES WAS DEVELOPED BY THIS COMPANY THROUGH ITS CANADIAN BUSINESS, BUT WAS RAPIDLY EXTENDED TO THE GREAT BAKERIES OF THE UNITED STATES AND AUSTRALASIA, AND HAS NOW TAKEN A FIRM HOLD HERE AT HOME IN THE UNITED KINGDOM.

ILLUSTRATIONS AND DESCRIPTIONS OF THE INSTALLATIONS WILL BEST CONVEY A CORRECT APPRECIATION OF HOW IMPORTANT AND COMPLETE THE DEVELOPMENTS HAVE BEEN, WHICH ARE NOW INEVITABLY CHANGING THE MAKING OF THE BREAD INTO THE SAME HYGIENIC AND ACCURATE SYSTEM OF FACTORY PRODUCTION THAT AT AN EARLIER DATE TOOK PLACE IN CONNECTION WITH THE MANUFACTURE AND PRODUCTION OF BISCUITS.

IT IS DIFFICULT TO GIVE WRITTEN DESCRIPTIONS WHICH CAN ADEQUATELY CONVEY THE FACTS. IT MAY, HOWEVER, BE SAID THAT IN NO BUSINESS PRESENTING SO MANY FORMIDABLE DIFFICULTIES, HAS THERE BEEN MORE COMPLETE SUCCESS OR THE PRODUCTION OF MORE INGENIOUS, PRACTICAL AND ABSOLUTELY AUTOMATIC PLANT THAN THAT NOW MADE BY THIS COMPANY FOR THE MANUFACTURE OF BREAD."

The Baker Management Culture at Willesden

A "family" atmosphere prevailed from the start. All of the Baker family lived near to the works and were involved in all of the social activities of the workpeople. The welfare of the employees was of deep concern to the Bakers – they had celebrated Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1887 by shortening the working day by one hour with no reduction in pay, and had persuaded employees to contribute to the later National Health Insurance and Unemployment stamp schemes (4d. weekly for the Health stamp and 2½d. for the Unemployment stamp) by increasing wages by 6d. a week.

There was little regimentation and a rather loose organisation on the shop floor but the workers were eager to give of their best and craftsmanship was of the highest order. Perhaps the relaxed atmosphere and the lack of a precise costing system had an effect on profits but "it would have been hard to find a happier team of workmen in England".

(NOTE: Reference to The Westwood Works Culture will indicate that this very enlightened management style emanated not only from the Baker family but was endorsed and developed by F.C. Ihlee of Werner Pfleiderer & Perkins after the 1919 merger).

Broadening the Product Line

The company was quick to see opportunities to improve production methods in many parts of the food industry but often entered the market by selling other companies’ products before developing its own designs. An increasingly wide range of equipment for the chocolate, biscuit and other food industries was developed at or merchanted from Willesden and they soon became the source of any equipment which the shopkeeper, biscuit maker or confectioner could possibly need. Some idea of the breadth of product range being offered by Joseph Baker & Sons at the time can be obtained from the Index to their 1915 Sales Catalogue shown below:

Mention is made in The Origins of the Founders that Jacob Perkins and Joseph Baker could never have met. It is worthy of note that in the eighteen-eighties, Joseph Baker & Sons were agents for the Perkins steam ovens. This would suggest that the first meeting between members of the Baker and Perkins families might have been between Loftus Perkins, just before he died in 1891, and Joseph Baker, just before he died in 1892.

In the context of comparing Baker and Perkins product lines, among the thousands of products shown in the Joseph Baker & Sons catalogue of the late 1890s, there appears an illustration of a 250 IHP Compound Horizontal Coupled Steam Engine. There is nothing in the illustration or elsewhere in the catalogue to suggest the maker. The same publication shows a complete range of "Improved Otto Cycle Gas and Oil Engines". Each of these bears a "Joseph Baker & Sons, London" nameplate but no evidence has yet been found that any of these engines were actually made at Willesden. It is more likely that they constitute an early example of "OEM" marketing.

 

Steam and Oil Engines sold by Joseph Baker & Sons in the late 1890s.

Joseph Baker & Sons became a Limited Liability Company in 1902 with an authorised capital of £200,000 in £5 shares. These were retained by the four Baker brothers who formed the board and16,000 six per cent Cumulative Preference shares were offered to the public.

With incorporation came the need for the company to produce an Annual Report to its shareholders. In the early days, the Annual Report was a fairly brief 4-page document with only a very few paragraphs describing the company's performance in a "Report of the Directors" on the first page, followed by two pages of the Balance Sheet and Profit and Loss Account. The final page gave details of the date and venue of the AGM. This possibly reflected the minimum level of information required by law. There was little change in the format or content of the Annual Report over the next 15 years.

NOTE: A complete set of Annual Reports exists for Joseph Baker & Sons from the year of incorporation, through the merger with Perkins Engineers in 1920, the name change to Baker Perkins in 1923 and until the first years of the APV era. An analysis of both the form and content of these will be found in The Annual Report. A year by year digest of the highlights of each year’s trading, the key developments and the growth in profits will be found in The Directors’ Statements.

A Flirtation with the Transport Business

“Stevens-Duryea” Car

It is not surprising that, like other members of what was to become the Baker Perkins Group, Joseph Baker & Sons Ltd should have taken an interest in the motor car (see also Rose Brothers and Job Day) It is understood that, in around 1902, the company held an agency for the American “Stevens-Duryea”. The illustration shows a 7 HP model with J.S. Baker in the driving seat and A.R. Baker as passenger.

It is understood that this was not the company’s only flirtation with motor transport. In around 1910, it was decided to give up delivering machines to the docks by horse and cart and go in for the new motor lorry. George Baker, however, refused to buy one as “we are engineers” and he commissioned W.F. Prescott, the chief draughtsman, to design and build one. The engine was a flat twin of about 2000cc with copper water jackets and a 3-speed and reverse epicyclic gearbox. The lorry ran until about 1920.

Entering the Chocolate & Confectionery Business

(See also History of Baker Perkins in the C+C Business)

It was in the early days at Willesden that Bakers first entered the field of chocolate making machinery, not at first of their own design but later producing machinery capable of manufacturing a ton of chocolate per day. Another key product was the "drop" biscuit machine, capable of producing a whole range of biscuit shapes by simple changing of the dies, and needing only empty trays to be loaded, full trays removed and the dough box refilled periodically – for its time a sophisticated piece of automation. A "hard and soft dough biscuit gauging and cutting machine," described as the most compact and complete of its kind, and a cutting and stamping machine for American crackers was also part of the product line.

The Birth of the Wafer Oven

The third Baker son, George Samuel Baker, proved to be a very able inventor, developing an automatic baking machine for sugar wafers. A continuous circuit of plates carried the wafer batter through the gas-heated baking chamber within five minutes and, since it "reduced labour costs by five-sixths, gas by two-thirds and needed only half of one horse-power to drive it", Bakers claimed that "no baker without this machine could compete against rivals who had installed it." George Samuel’s basic design remained essentially unchanged for the next sixty years, sales of wafer ovens being a feature of Baker Perkins’ business long after WW2. George Baker became Chief Engineer at Willesden and designed automatic bread plants of which a later director said "The only advantage the modern counterparts have is the use of electrical and pneumatic techniques for synchronisation and transfers".

Although the work produced at Willesden was surprisingly varied, the directors were always on the look-out for new ideas. It was during this period that a number of key innovations and their inventors were taken into the "family". A.W. Copland, with lifelong experience of the biscuit industry in the USA, had invented a depositor "which made biscuits of two colours, of two doughs or a piece filled with jam" and this became an important part of the Baker Perkins product line, being produced throughout the life of the company. Copland also brought with him the "Simplex" depositor which could handle the lightest of doughs and which also remained in production for many years. A few years later, Philip Baker introduced another American, T.L. Green, and his "continuous cutting machine, wire cut machine and sheeter". These too were taken up and successfully sold.

Other introductions included the development, at the request of Macfarlane (later Macfarlane Lang), of direct gas-firing for the travelling-chain biscuit oven in collaboration with the gas equipment specialists, Keith Blackman; the Baker-Carr automatic biscuit icing and sandwiching machine in collaboration with Carrs of Carlisle and, on the sugar confectionery side of the business, Edward Metcalfe Shaw’s "Eureka" sugar boiling device, later (in 1908), developed into a double vacuum version, became the cornerstone of sweet manufacturing.

The First Travelling Bread Oven

Also in 1908 an even more significant event occurred. The first travelling oven for bread was produced in response to an order from Harrison Brothers of Montreal.

(NOTE: THE TERM "TRAVELLING OVEN" IS USED HERE TO DESCRIBE A BAKING OVEN THROUGH WHICH THE PRODUCT IS CARRIED ON A CONTINUOUSLY MOVING CONVEYOR BELT AS OPPOSED TO THE "STATIONARY" OVENS THAT WERE IN COMMON USE AT THE TIME. THESE OVENS SHOULD NOT BE CONFUSED WITH THE "PORTABLE" OVENS, CARRIED ON ROAD WHEELS, THAT WERE INTRODUCED IN THE LATE 1800’S AND USED TO BAKE BREAD FOR THE ARMED FORCES IN BOTH WORLD WARS (SEE WESTWOOD WORKS IN WW1 AND WESTWOOD WORKS IN WW2).

Baker Perkins had produced travelling ovens for biscuit production but this was the first time one had been used to bake bread. It caused an instant sensation with American bakers.

George Samuel Baker achieved another significant success when, in 1912, the Ward Baking Company of Chicago ordered a travelling oven and a pre-oven unit to make a fully automatic bread plant. George Baker and his son, Ralph, put all their energies into designing and manufacturing this plant and then supervised its installation in Chicago. The expected teething troubles required several months to get over but, despite the Ward directors’ misgivings, George and Ralph’s determination, together with a triumph of persuasion by Joseph Allen Baker, led to the Ward directors ordering two more plants before the original installation was in full working order. Claude Dumbleton, a pupil of George Baker and later a director of Baker Perkins pointed out that: "Electrical and pneumatic techniques for synchronisation and transfers are the only advantages which modern counterparts have over George Baker’s original design."

The years prior to WW1 were characterised by an increase in business. Sales had grown steadily until 1912 when profits reached a record £24,729 – despite some set-backs in the business environment. Investment in production facilities continued and by 1913 the much improved buildings and plant were estimated to be worth £120,000. Sales had risen by around 50% to £160,000 and, despite the investment in plant and tools, manufacturing capacity could not keep pace with orders, hitting profits significantly. Increases in the cost of materials and wages also had an effect. The company now employed 350.

Pre-War Business Growth

Growth following the move to Willesden was very rapid. From 1891, when total sales stood at £46,000 and the number of men employed was about 150, the firm grew by 1900 to employ 350 with sales of £110,000. At this time, the output of the Company was:

  • 36% - Chocolate, Sweet and Jam Machinery.
  • 27% - Biscuit Machinery and ovens.
  • 13% - Bakery Supplies; Bread Tins; Shop Fittings; etc.
  • 9% - Bread Machinery and Ovens.
  • 9% - General Machinery.
  • 6% - Sundries, inc. engines, shafting and repairs.

Expansion continued up to the beginning of WW1 with a particularly rapid increase in the Bakery Machinery and Oven business. By 1913, total sales were £160,000 consisting of:

  • 31% - Chocolate, Sweet and Jam machinery.
  • 30% - Biscuit Machinery and Ovens.
  • 21% - Bakery Machinery and Ovens.
  • *% - General Machinery.
  • 6% - Sundries, inc. Engines, shafting and repairs.
  • 3% - Bakery supplies and Shop Fittings.

This latter activity was discontinued shortly after.

Negotiations for a Merger Begin

It was in about 1913 that the first discussions took place with Werner, Pfleiderer & Perkins Ltd of Peterborough regarding the possibility of a merger between the two companies. An account of these talks and the events leading up to the union can be found in History of Joseph Baker Sons & Perkins.

The World War 1 years

(See also Westwood Works in WW1)

1914: Mr Allen R. Baker (4th from right) with the Ambulance Service at Ypres

Inevitably, the idea of Willesden being involved in munitions manufacture did not sit comfortably with the Quaker principles of the four Baker brothers but these feelings conflicted with their strong feeling of patriotism. In 1914, the younger generation – J. Allen Baker’s eldest son, Allan Richard Baker, and his youngest brother, Philip John Baker, determined to aid those who suffered in the conflict, organised the Friend’s Ambulance Unit based at the Quaker Centre at Jordans in Buckinghamshire. Sixty Quakers were trained in the tasks required of an ambulance unit on active service at the front and were sent to Dunkirk, Woesten, Poeringhe and Ypres.A year later, the first British Ambulance Unit for Italy was formed and within six weeks of laying plans, a convoy of ambulances were on the way to the front where the Italians were fighting the Austrians.

A third brother, Joseph Samuel, held different views and joined the Leinster Regiment – much against his father’s will – rose to the rank of major and was severely wounded. - shot through the knee - but went back to the front after some months’ convalescence, with the rank of Major and the job of inspecting bakeries for the troops. Joe Baker never fully recovered from his wound – arthritis set in and his disability increased year by year.

Despite the dislocation of business owing to the war and the decrease of output caused by 100 employees joining the forces, the year’s trading in 1914 was satisfactory. A lease and right of purchase was obtained for five acres of land belonging to the London and North Western Railway adjoining the Willesden Works.

The British Government was slow in organising industry on to a war footing and it was not until April 1916 that the firm was taken over as a Controlled Establishment under the Munitions Act. All normal work gave way to the machining of six-inch shell forgings – between 1,500 and 2,000 per week (more than half of the company's machine tools being converted for this task) - the manufacture of cordite mixers, tank links and gun parts. Later in the war, aeroplane machinery and margarine machinery were also produced.

All this required considerable change and further investment. Machine tools were converted and special equipment designed towards the cost of which the Ministry of Munitions advanced £30,000. George Baker designed special lathes and, because over 200 regular employees were by then serving in the Armed Forces or doing other forms of war work, women were quickly trained to bore shell cases. Of the three full time shifts running at the time, a large proportion of the work-force were London women. Although this was considered revolutionary by many, shocking by some, without the aid of women in the factories the War might have dragged on for much longer than four years.

Women Employees at Willesden in 1918.

Soon after the outbreak of hostilities, the directors at Willesden had tried to persuade the War Office that using equipment for the mechanical preparation of dough and baking loaves to feed the troops on active service was practical and would, by replacing the old field ovens, free up more men for active service. The story of this, and the subsequent collaboration with Werner, Pfleiderer & Perkins, can be found in Westwood Works in WW1 and History of Joseph Baker Sons & Perkins. (See also pages 64 to 65 of "The History of Baker Perkins" by Augustus Muir.)

1916 was also the year that the company suffered a major blow with the death, at the age of 51, of the man in charge of the commercial direction of the firm, Philip Barton Baker. The youngest of the four Baker brothers, Philip Barton Baker had the task of holding the balance between his siblings, smoothing out many a difficult situation. He was described by a colleague as "a man of outstanding character, gentle but at the same time very firm, a man who knew his mind".

The Company's Annual Reports for the last half of WW1 indicate that, despite the difficult circumstances created by shortages of materials and manpower, its financial performance was quite satisfactory:

December 1917 A/R – “Your Directors are of the opinion that the year’s results are satisfactory considering the constant rise in wages, many of them retrospective, and the difficulties in obtaining regular supplies of necessary material. The results are also affected by the considerable sums which have been written off for plant especially installed for Government work”.

December 1918 A/R – J.Allen Baker died.

The signing of the Armistice in November last foreshadowed the completion of the Company’s Government work. The results as shown in the accounts for the year are, in the opinion of your directors, satisfactory. Provision has been made for depreciation, and a larger sum than usual has been carried forward, with a view to meeting any contingent liability to excess profits duty. Since the Armistice the work of renovating and remodelling of plant has been carried out as rapidly as possible and, in spite of the difficulties of the time, your Directors anticipate that the Works will shortly be in full production of the Company’s specialities”.

December 1919 A/R – “Many difficulties have had to be overcome, chief among which are restitution of plant for peace time activities at Willesden, liquidation of War Contracts, difficulty in obtaining material and thirteen weeks of moulders’ strike. The relatively favourable result obtained nevertheless is largely due to the availability of good foundry facilities at Peterborough and the absence of the need for any serious reconditioning of plant at those Works”.

The Death of Joseph Allen Baker

The end of the war also saw the death of the Chairman, Joseph Allen Baker. He had a very full life attaining not only a significant reputation in the engineering world but, as a lifelong worker for world peace, the stature of a truly international figure. He was returned as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Finsbury in 1905 "in the most decisive victory for either side in the history of the constituency". The result was received in the constituency - "with an enthusiasm impossible to describe". However even this did not touch him as much as the welcome from his employees at Willesden as , when he arrived on the scene - "all the men in the various shops used their tools to hammer out a clamorous chorus of sound, the ringing blows of the blacksmiths on their anvils sounding high above the rest." The sum total of his achievements in public life would take more space than is available here so we will have to be content with a quote from Augustus Muir’s "History of Baker Perkins":

"Joseph Allen Baker was indeed an example of Kipling’s man who "walked with kings nor lost the common touch’. Throughout all his life he possessed the deep affection of his work-people, and would cheerfully name them wherever they met. One of them wrote: "Top hat on the back of his head, tails of his frock coat flying, he would rush up the road after a morning’s work, and catch a tram for Wood Lane, where he would board a tube train for Westminster’. It was suggested that his public work must have deprived the firm of much of his attention; but none knew better than his colleagues on the board that it was of high value to the company to have as its chairman a man who, in business, combined vision with unassailable integrity and was at the same time a statesman and reformer of world renown".

He was succeeded as Chairman by his eldest son, Allan R. Baker. The signing of the Armistice in November foreshadowed the completion of the Company’s Government work, renovating and remodelling of plant was carried out rapidly and the factory was soon in full production of the Company’s specialities.

Following the war, the need to keep up the pace of new design and invention was clear. Space was at a premium and Hinman Baker, the son of W. King Baker, had been carrying out some experiments on the action of yeast in bread in half of what had been the draughtsmen’s lavatory. He found a combination of chemicals that improved the process and thus became the founder, first manufacturer and salesman of what became British Arkady Co. Ltd. The operation moved to the well known factory in Manchester but the firm retained a financial interest in it until 1953 when its holding was sold to the Ward Baking Company of America (see History of British Arkady).

The area used for these experiments was later taken over by a gifted young scientist, G.D. Wilson, who was given the task of setting up an Experimental Department at Willesden.

The Merger of Joseph Baker & Sons and Perkins Engineers

1919 was a period of joint working with Perkins Engineers Ltd, prior to amalgamation. Many difficulties had to be overcome including the restitution of plant for peacetime activities at Willesden and the liquidation of war contracts. Just seven weeks after the war ended, the boards and staffs of the two companies were in close co-operation, the two businesses effectively running side by side and pooling profits. However it was nearly another year before Baker and Perkins were trading as one company

There were also inevitable difficulties in obtaining raw materials, this not being helped by a thirteen weeks strike by moulders which affected both companies.

In September 1919, the moulders and the ironfounders found themselves engaged in a national strike for what was called a ‘living wage’. As the strike set in and attitudes hardened and the men decided to continue with their stance by an overwhelming vote. Much hardship was experienced by the iron workers and their families but, faced with an unrelenting force of employers and acute starvation as winter progressed, the ironfounders had to return to work in January 1920, unfortunately with nothing gained, but importantly with nothing lost.

The stoppage was particularly distressing as it was a national dispute, not an internal disagreement, Allen R. Baker being at pains to inform his shareholders that relations with workers and staff at all the company’s locations were very good. Concern was exacerbated because the Baker directors had hoped that the merger with Perkins would provide them with an efficient foundry resource but it turned out that this was a department with which F.C. Ihlee had never been satisfied. In the event, according to the 1919 Annual Report - "the relatively favourable financial result for the year was attributed to the availability of the foundry facilities at Westwood Works and the absence of any need for serious re-conditioning at Peterborough".

The Acquisition of Saginaw

(See also The History of Saginaw)

Another momentous event occurred in 1919. A letter was received at Peterborough from an ex-employee, George Hicks, giving the news that the newly built factory of Werner & Pfleiderer in Hess Street, Saginaw, USA was about to be sold. Ihlee rang Allan R. Baker who quickly determined that E.H. Gilpin should go to Saginaw with Ihlee, using their judgment as to its value and buying the factory if at all possible. As Atlantic passages were impossible to book at short notice, the two men managed to get across to the French coast where they boarded a small steamer carrying the first American troops to be sent home after the Armistice. After lengthy negotiations, and with Elmer Baker acting as their advisor, Gilpin and Ihlee acquired the factory and equipment for $351,000.

Post-war Life at Willesden

John Prescott (who did not work for Baker Perkins), remembers his grandfather - William Edward Prescott and his father - Frederick William Prescott - discussing their experiences of life at Joseph Baker & Sons, Willesden and later at Peterborough. William was born in 1875 and worked in Dover as an apprentice fitter until 1897. Brief spells at the Post Office and Rowntrees, York followed and it is believed that he joined Willesden as an “engineer’s draughtsman” in 1900/01. By the end of WW1, William had been promoted to Chief Draughtsman and, as such, welcomed Stanley Gibbs to the Company in 1924. Stanley remembers him as - “a short sturdy little man who seemed to be very busy and always anxious to hurry on”. A caricature of William can be seen here. Click here to see Stanley Gibbs’s highly detailed memoir of his time at Willesden which provides a very clear picture of life in the Willesden Drawing Office in the years between WW1 and the “Great Trek to Peterborough". A collection of photographs both from inside and outside the factory, can be found in Before Westwood.

In around 1910, William was involved in a flirtation with the automotive industry, producing from scratch, on instruction from George Baker, a motor lorry to replace the horse and cart used to deliver machinery to the docks. See here.

William Prescott was followed into the company in 1910 by his son, Frederick William Prescott. Frederick served in WW1, returning to the company in 1919 to work in the drawing office and works. By 1921 he was located at the small export office in Kingsway, London, being appointed as a Bakery sales representative in 1922. William made the “Great Trek” to Peterborough in 1933, retiring in 1942 and Frederick,after spending around two years in Australia for the Company, returned to England in early 1927, settling first in Kenton and then in Pinner, retiring in 1961.

Another long-serving Baker Perkins employee met William Prescott at his interview with the company after leaving the Army at the end of the War but seems to have made a less than favourable impression as John Prescott recalls - "My grandfather told me of a chap, who, as he was going out after his interview, was heard to mutter “…………. A land fit for heroes!” William, who had pretty sharp hearing, called him back and said that he did not like that talk" and – “You’re on trial; if you are any good you’ll stay”. The “chap” was Claude Dumbleton who proved to be “some good”, stayed and progressed to become a director of Baker Perkins and the powerhouse behind the development of the world famous Baker Perkins Apprenticeship Scheme .

Claude Dumbleton, later to become Technical Director of Baker Perkins from 1939 to 1963, joined Joseph Baker & Sons at Willesden in June 1919 after nearly five years in HM Forces, being one of “The fortunate ones the ‘Angel of Mons’ did favour”. He leaves us a fascinating insight into some of the characters with whom he worked. His first introduction to the company was via the front gate of the Hythe Road factory and through the "commissionaire" – "in the person of Bloxall, a man in a very old suit, a cloth cap and minus one arm. Bloxall had no great welcome for anyone and seemed to spend a major part of his time shooing stray dogs away from the gate with his empty sleeve".

Claude Dumbleton also gives us a very clear insight into the working conditions in the Drawing Office at Willesden - see here.

The head of the family business at the time was J. Allen Baker’s first son, Allan Richard Baker – "an outstanding man". George S. Baker (Joseph Baker’s third son) was Chief Engineer – "and a very capable one at that", with Ralph Baker (George S. Baker’s son) "virtually chief of designs under his father’s direction" and W.E. Prescott as chief draughtsman. Bill Checketts, the Pattern Shop foreman, "in common with many other foremen at Joseph Baker & Sons, considered draughtsmen the lowest form of life – they were never welcome in his shop". As mentioned earlier, George Wilson – "a gifted young scientist" – ran the first Experimental Department at Willesden.

Claude Dumbleton also tells us that one of the problems that he faced in one of his early tasks – producing a set of drawings for a biscuit cutting machine – was that the drawings of castings did not agree with the castings themselves. This was due to the patterns being frequently altered in the Pattern Shop by George Baker, with the alterations being recorded on a white-washed wall. Bill Checketts (see above) did all that he could to prevent draughtsmen having access to "The Wall"!

In charge of the Accounts Department was Joseph Baker’s second son, William King Baker. He had three sons in the company - Paul, Charles and Hinman (the founder of British Arkady).

In the Commercial Office, E.H. Gilpin was – "the outstanding man in the sales team". He was one of the main movers in the amalgamation of Joseph Baker & Sons and Perkins Engineers in 1920. H. Kirman was at one time Chairman of the Board of Management – "his energy was unbounded and his capacity for work quite unparalleled". Robert Hay as export salesman in South America has been mentioned earlier in this history. Joseph Schaller operated mainly on the Continent on chocolate and biscuit business.

Claude Dumbleton also mentions some "real Dickensian characters" – Plater Tommy Donald – "who used to attend his job in a greasy morning-coat, bowler hat, no collar or tie or socks – but he was a magnificent worker". Alf Stower, the machine Shop foreman – "wore a stiff upright collar, about 4", and a black tie, and did much labouring and worked like a horse". Bill Brown, the Cashier – "who always gave the impression when paying one’s wages on Fridays that it was his money and not Joseph Baker & Sons’ which was being dispensed". A. Cramb was Erecting Shop foreman and – "the principal enemy of draughtsmen but he ruled his shop with a rod of iron". The Carpenter foreman, S. Viant, entered Parliament as a Labour MP for Willesden and was later Postmaster General.

NOW SEE:

History of Saginaw.
History of Werner, Pfleiderer & Perkins.
History of Perkins Engineers.
History of Baker Perkins Ltd.
History of Baker Perkins Holdings.

To be Continued

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