HISTORY OF WILLIAM DOUGLAS & SONS, PUTNEY
Founded in 1888 by William Douglas and his sons, Tom, John and Loudon.
A contract with a Glasgow company provided them with the opportunity to apply shale oil techniques to the lowering the temperature of lard so that it could be controlled and packaged. Around the turn of the century, Douglas supplied anything and everything for the meat trade, issuing a 400-page encyclopaedia covering all aspects of meat production – machinery and equipment, meat processing, the chemistry of the pig, butcher’s clothing, swine fever, ingredients and recipes for national and local speciality meat products. The company’s industrial refrigeration business sprang from their supplying thermometers and cold stores in the 1920’s.
The company’s efforts in WW2 were of substantial value, Two cold stores were built for the Ministry of Food, each with a capacity of a quarter of a million cubic feet. A large number of ice-plants were made for the War Office, many of these twenty tons per day plants being sent out to the Middle and Far East.
After the cessation of hostilities, Douglas decided to enter the liquid handling market, with a system based on the Douglas Pump an exceptionally accurate measuring instrument. This was so successful, particularly in the food industry, that a separate Bulk Handling Division was formed.
William Douglas & Sons Ltd and Baker Perkins had been associated for some time both technically and commercially prior to the acquisition in 1959. Many Baker Perkins plants in biscuit and other food factories incorporated Douglas equipment for the automatic handling in bulk of the fats and liquids used in production. During 1961, Douglas merged with Alfred Porter & Co Ltd. (See Alfred Porter & Co Ltd.). Owned by a Mr. Crook, Alfred Porter had an agreement to sell the Trane Compressor - a high quality refrigerant compressor made in the USA. – for which William Douglas wanted exclusive marketing rights.
By 1962, the rate of growth was such that Douglas had outgrown its premises in Putney and Sunbury and plans were in place to re-locate to a new £350,000 factory in Basingstoke. (See Douglas Rownson, Basingstoke).
Before the move to Basingstoke, Wm. Douglas & Sons were producing:
Colin Joyce has provided his recollections of his time with William Douglas & Sons Ltd.
“In mid-1964, after 18 months at Gainsborough with Rose Brothers, I accepted the position of director and chief accountant at William Douglas at Putney. In accepting this post l was told that it was the intention to merge this company with Rownson Conveyors and to re-locate the merged businesses to a new factory being built in Basingstoke.
Tom Douglas, grandson of the founder, had been made managing director in 1959 on Baker Perkins acquiring the engineering part of the business (the spice and ingredient business not having been acquired) although his father, William, who drove a Bentley car, continued to frequent the Putney premises and give advice. The other directors were Lionel Collins, who was responsible for the Food Bulk Handling Division which included the Douglas pump business; Mervyn Meacock, a monocled ex-Alfred Porter man, who was not planning to move with the company to Basingstoke, and Ralph Stiles, ex-Peterborough. I cannot remember whether or not Dick Wilkinson and ? Totman, who were responsible for refrigeration and air-conditioning sales respectively were directors at that time or not. This suggests a formal structure that in fact was not in place. Lionel Collins had a very tight control of his division assisted by George Cook, his sales manager. However, perhaps dur to the relatively recent acquisition of Alfred Porter, the refrigeration and air-conditioning selling and design work seemed to be split between Meacock, Totman and Wilkinson with Ralph Stiles endeavouring to bring some co-ordination between them. In addition there was Jack Seabrook who was the expert on poultry tunnel freezing operating entirely on his own on a commission basis.
The Douglas works adjoined the Thames close to Putney Bridge; indeed only an ICT multi-storey office block stood between the Douglas entrance and Putney High Street. There was no canteen hence the closeness of the High Street with its pubs and cafes was convenient for lunch.
It was whilst I was with Douglas in Putney that London in 1965 suffered its last ‘pea-souper’ and the few days that it hung over the area were very unpleasant indeed.
Quite apart from the people already mentioned there were other employees I remember well who were among those who opted to move to Basingstoke. Foremost must be Aggie Burns, who was Tom Douglas’s secretary. She had been Tom’s father’s secretary for many years and had thus known Tom when he was a small boy in short trousers and her long service gave her a formidable power. Archie Scott, the Company Secretary, was a friendly man but as he seemed to spend most of the day ‘walking and talking’ he needed to stay late most nights in order to get through the work he should have done earlier. Dave Pearce was a driver and general handyman who nearly lived on the premises and in due course he was to secure a not dissimilar billet in Basingstoke."
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