BAKER PERKINS IN THE LAUNDRY BUSINESS
Baker Perkins' entry into the Laundry industry began with the acquisition, in 1923, of Aublet Harry whose factory was opposite Works in Westfield Road, Peterborough.
Messrs Aublet Harry & Company were established in London's East End in 1866 by Mr Robert Harry, helped by a friendly brewer, Andrew Tanqueray, as manufacturers of band saws, band knives and other machinery for the clothing trade. Their Head Office and Showrooms were at 53 – 55 Curtain Road, London E.C. The company became contractors to the Government and expanded the business by manufacturing electric motors, gas engines, pulleys & shafts, fret and boring machines etc.
The Peterborough Advertiser of 18th June 1904 announced that the Company was moving its works to Peterborough and had purchased a site on the Westwood Bridge Road (Westfield Road) opposite Messrs Werner, Pfleiderer & Perkins Limited, who were at that time building their new factory. Plans for the Aublet Harry's factory (size 120ft x 100ft) were passed in January 1905. James Hicks, a builder from Huntly Grove was eventually awarded the contract for brickwork, woodwork and floors at a negotiated price of £1,000, his original tender being for £1,500. 170,000 bricks were supplied by Mr Rowe's "Star Pressed Works". Building work commenced at the beginning of February 1905 and was completed by April. The factory was fitted out and manufacturing had started by November 1905. The Peterborough Corporation contracted to supply electricity for seven years, providing they used a minimum of £250 worth of electricity per year.
The company continued to prosper and by 1909 it was manufacturing laundry and clothing machinery, as well as being expert in the installation of electric lighting and power plants. In February 1913 the Company had to extend its factory at Westwood and in 1919 they bought up the laundry business from Messrs Summerscales of Keighley, Yorkshire and became agents for American Laundry machines. Unfortunately the First World War took its toll and the markets for their equipment stagnated.
In April 1924, Baker Perkins Limited (formerly Werner Pfleiderer & Perkins) bought the assets of Aublet Harry & Co Ltd, particularly for their laundry machinery. The old Aublet Harry factory stood empty until January 1928, when the Peterborough Co-operative Society bought the four and a half acre site for £6 -7 thousand as a garage for their road vehicles.
Baker Perkins Ltd.
Although the factory's equipment was rather out of date, among the assets acquired was the skill of Frank Dewhurst, Aublet Harry's designer, and a forceful sales manager in David Tanqueray. Backed by the resources of Baker Perkins, the ex-Aublet Harry designers embarked on a programme of innovation. One of the first machines to be designed after the takeover was the 120-inch four-roll ironing machine and many others followed including hydro-extractors, calendars and presses.
It was a good time for the company to enter the industry. Before WW1, the majority of domestic laundry had been done in the home but the war had changed aspirational levels and had created many new openings for those young women who had previously entered domestic service. There was a consequential increase in the number and size of laundry firms and, in commercial laundries, hand-washing and ironing was being replaced by machinery. Laundry equipment began to make profits and by 1934, Allan R. Baker was able to report that the company had established itself in the foremost ranks of the industry.
One of the key installations, which included five ironers, was at the laundry of James Hayes & Sons Ltd., London , part of the Lyons Group. This installation took place before WW2 and was added to by Baker Perkins Jaxons in the early sixties.
Attendance at the major trade exhibitions, both at home and overseas was an important part of the company's marketing activities, even before the war. The importance of the four yearly Laundry Exhibition held at Olympia, London can be gauged by the 1950 Exhibition Guide (see Documentation) which covers much more than what might be seen within the Exhibition venue.
Machinery developments by the whole industry were driven by this four-yearly cycle, as will also be seen later in the history of William Jack & Sons Ltd below. In 1930 Baker Perkins exhibited the first automatic control to govern the times of washes and rinses in washing machines, invented by Ivor G. Perrett. In the same year they introduced a shirt finishing press described as being " 30 years ahead of its time". In 1934 Baker Perkins took over an extra hall at the exhibition in which they erected a complete working laundry. At the next Exhibition, in 1938, they designed the labour saving Matchless washroom which, like so many other things, was ahead of its time as the shortage of labour experienced after WW2 did not then exist.
Laundry machinery continued to be manufactured at Westwood Works until 1946, when the Bedewell factory at Hebburn-on-Tyne was purchased (see The History of Bedewell) and laundry presses and ironers became a regular part of its output. Ironer production remained at Bedewell even after Baker Perkins' acquisition of William Jack & Sons, Glasgow was in 1961.
A large amount of laundry equipment was sold over the years in both Australia and New Zealand (see also History of Baker Perkins in Australasia). The Laundry Department of Baker Perkins Pty was begun in 1926 by H.W.H. Hale. Equipment was sold to both private laundries and hospitals, particularly in New Zealand - the Prosperity washing machines becoming the standard in New Zealand, being sold in considerable numbers long after England had given up selling then due to their high cost. At one stage, England was making them solely for the New Zealand market.
William Jack & Sons.
The founder of the company, William Jack, worked as chief designer for D. & J. Tullis of Clydebank, makers of laundry equipment. William decided that he had enough capital and know-how to manufacture and market laundry presses himself and, after leasing 5,500 square feet of factory space on the Hillington industrial estate, hr hired a man and a boy and set to work.
With two presses installed in laundries and another four built, war broke out and William's plans had to be put on hold until 1946. He managed to convince the authorities that he could be of some use to his country manufacturing war equipment and began to exist on sub-contract work. He made parts for Bailey bridges, rocket firing devices and helicopter parts – all useful experience against the day when he could begin making presses again.
Bill Williams started as a 16-year-old apprentice in 1940 and recalled –"In the early days, we only had two lathes, a drill, a saw and a mill. We had two separate orders, each for ¼ million bomb plugs, and in order to turn them out ingenious techniques and applications were applied to the lathes. Eventually, I was able to turn out 60 bomb plugs an hour, which was quite a rate considering the machines we had."
His perseverance was rewarded when, just after the war, a contract for 200 presses to be installed in H.M. ships and shore establishments was secured from the Admiralty. This was followed by an order for presses for the Royal Yacht Britannia. By this time, the company had 11,000 square feet of factory space and sales continued to rise. The number of employees rose as well.
With the help of his three sons, all of whom were university educated and interested in the business, he decided to concentrate on this line of production. He used the four yearly laundry exhibitions to introduce new models – the Synclastic Curved press in 1950 was followed by:
1954 – The 2LO shirt unit. They were inundated with orders which
lasted for years.
Their success was such that the issued capital of £14,000 did not reflect the real worth of the company and, in 1961, William agreed to sell 80% of the shares to Baker Perkins. The company was re-named Baker Perkins Jaxons Ltd. and from the start it " made a useful contribution to Group profits".
Before moving on to the history of Baker Perkins Jaxons, it is interesting to note that not all of the Jack family's efforts were put into the development of laundry machinery. William Jack (Junior) was, at one time, Scotland's leading sprinter and the joint holder of the Scottish national record for the 100 yards. His time was 9.8 seconds, set in the early 1950's. He competed in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki in the 100 metres, in which he reached the semi-finals, and the sprint relay. After the 1952 Olympics he retired from athletics and took up coaching. His wife was, as Moira Carmichael, the Scottish ladies 100 yards champion.
Baker Perkins Jaxons Ltd.
William Jack had handed over his executive responsibilities to his three sons and the Board of Management of the company - with William Jack (Junior) in charge of design, Richard Jack controlling sales and John Jack in charge of production and accountancy - was reconstituted with P.R. Edmunds as chairman.
It was clear even before the acquisition, that the modernisation and re-equipping of existing hospitals and the large hospital building programme planned for the next twenty years would provide a significant opportunity for the new company. BP Jaxons' first breakthrough came in August 1964 with a £156,000 order to equip a new 25,000 square feet laundry at Whitley Hospital, Coventry. This contract was completed in February 1966 and included the supply of two ironers, 15 rotary presses and a "Swiftlay" unit.
The "Swiftlay" unit, designed to press and fold coats at twice the speed of previous equipment, was introduced in 1965 and was based on the highly successful Jaxons cabinet shirt press. Produced to cope with a seemingly mundane task – the pressing of white overall coats – the "Swiftlay" was the answer to a common problem throughout the western world – the acute shortage of skilled, trained labour. Operatives could now produce finished coats at twice the speed – the "Swiftlay" took the skill out of the job. By 1968, sales of "swiftlays" had topped the 300 mark, including sales to the USA, Austria, Belgium and Germany, and a new development – the "Airlay" unit – was introduced. This used blown hot air to press the sleeves of coats, shirts, pyjama jackets, etc.
The Hillington Road factory had been considerably extended to cope with the expected level of orders for the new machines. At the same time, a new southern area office was opened in Harrow, Middlesex. BP Jaxons had previously occupied BP Export company's Stanhope Gate offices and the movement to Harrow allowed a stock of spare parts to be kept locally.
The acquisition presented the opportunity for Jaxons not only to act as a sales outlet for the ex-Baker Perkins range of laundry equipment but also to develop their own business internationally through the Baker Perkins world-wide sales network. Exports were however nothing new to Jaxons who had been supplying 20 Laymaker units a month to Germany in 1958. 1966 saw Baker Perkins (New Zealand) Ltd secure their largest ever, single order for laundry equipment – 20 rotary presses and three ironers for the Auckland Hospital Board. An agreement was signed in 1966 making Forgrove GmbH sole agents for the Baker Perkins Jaxons range of laundry equipment in Germany.
The USA was not only a key market but also the home of Jaxons' most serious competition. Despite this, Jaxons had installed 30 coat presses in the USA by 1968 and more were on order. In an effort to further increase Jaxons' share of the international market, Richard (Dick) Jack visited Russia in 1968 where he discovered that "Russian made equipment seemed roughly equivalent to machinery made in Germany or America, but not quite as sophisticated as our own".
They reached a milestone in July 1969 with the sale of the 500th "Swiftlay" unit. This total included exports to almost every European country and further afield to New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Fiji. In the same year, sales in the home market continued with a £60,000 contract for the Birmingham Regional Hospital Board.
Two new machines were announced in 1969. The first was a washing machine – the "Streamline" – with a capacity of 1,500 lbs of sheets and hand towels per hour. Effectively a long tube divided into seven sections, dirty washing was loaded from a conveyor into one end and, twenty-five minutes later, clean washing emerged from the other having gone through four wash stages and three rinses. Washing in the "Streamline was continuous whereas in conventional washers, water was drained away and the machines refilled several times before the operation was complete. The second machine was the "Autorack" which revolutionised the last stage of laundry work – racking and packing. Up to 1,200 articles could be packed per hour using only four operators. Another significant task at this time was the re-design of the original Baker Perkins Matchless Ironer that was still being made at Baker Perkins Ltd's Bedewell factory.
Orders for the "Streamline" washer reached 20 less than one year after its introduction with sales to customers in the USA, France, Holland and Germany. Also in 1970, Jaxons sold their first ironer in Japan – to process linen for the Japanese Railways. Another innovation appeared in the same year that recognised the rapidly increasing use of synthetics – nylon and polyester cotton – in making clothes and overall coats. The Rotablend was a development of the "Swiftlay" and could handle both synthetic and natural fabrics.
Ralph Batson – manager, group personnel services, Baker Perkins Holdings - was appointed a director and chairman of Baker Perkins Jaxons in early 1971.
A £half million contract from the Oxford Regional Hospital Board in 1974 was followed by one of over £100,000 for the North West Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board. A new mini version of the "Streamline" washer was introduced in 1975, aimed at food factories and allowed food machine operatives to hang their overall coat on a hanger at the front of the machine at the end of the shift and find a clean coat waiting for them in the morning.
BP Jaxons were consistently profitable, by 1973 achieving sales of £3.675m and a pre-tax profit of £300,000. However, in 1977, the hospital laundry market collapsed and the company made a significant loss. Against the background of the difficult business environment of the mid 70's and in line with Baker Perkins Holdings' policy of concentration on its core businesses and elimination of unprofitable activities, Baker Perkins Jaxons was sold to Neil and Spencer Ltd. in 1978. It was part of the disposal agreement that ironers should continue to be made at Baker Perkins' factory at Bedewell.
Despite the sale of Baker Perkins Jaxons, South Africa remained a significant laundry machinery market for Baker Perkins. In 1980 the Southern sub-group was formed to combine the Australasian sub-group and Baker Perkins South Africa (Pty) Ltd and in that year the South African company's laundry division experienced a very buoyant year and this continued into the following two years. On the 18th March 1983 an agreement was signed between Baker Perkins South Africa (Pty) and Laundraland (Pty) Ltd. under which it was agreed that the laundry and dry cleaning machinery and domestic appliance distribution business carried out by both companies would be merged in a new company to be known as Baker Perkins Laundraland (Pty) Ltd.
Following a series of losses the Baker Perkins directors decided to dispose of the group's investments in South Africa. In 1986, Baker Perkins Laundraland (Pty) Ltd, in which a 50% interest was held, and Baker Perkins South Africa (Pty) Ltd ceased to trade.
TO BE CONTINUED
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