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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Boulton and Paul

Boulton & Paul Limited 

Boulton & Paul - Image courtesy of Picture Norfolk
Boulton & Paul hanger at Mousehold

In 1797 William Moore, aged 33, of Warham, came to Norwich, and opened an Ironmonger's shop in Cockey Lane. A few years later he took into partnership John Hilling Barnard, naming the firm Moore & Barnard, ironmongers and stove grate manufacturers. Their shop lay on the corner of Little London Street, facing London Street, later the site of Garlands' store.

Civic Splendour

Moore took an active part in civic affairs and received the Freedom of the City on 24th February 1807. He was Sheriff in 1823, elected alderman for St. Stephen's ward on 12th April 1833, and became Mayor in 1835. He was sworn in on 16th June 1835, on the occasion of the last Guild Day held in Norwich before much of the civic splendour was swept away under the terms of the Municipal Reform Act. That evening he dined 800 guests in St. Andrew's Hall

When Moore died in 1839 John Hilling Barnard took his brother Dennis into partnership, but he soon retired and William Staples Boulton then joined him as a partner and the firm became known as Barnard & Boulton. By 1850 they had moved to the other side of London Street and in 1853 took as an apprentice a 12 year old boy by the name of J. J. Dawson Paul. John Hilling Barnard died in 1862 at his house on All Saints Green and on 1st January 1863; Boulton advertised that the firm would, in future, be carried on in his name only.

The Rose Lane factory

In 1865 a small factory was opened in Rose Lane and Dawson Paul was made Manager at a salary of £100 per year, with a house provided within the factory grounds - rent and rates free. The property had been leased by George Jay from the Girls' Hospital Trustees, in 1853, and transferred to Boulton in 1864. Three years later Bouton sold the ironmongery business to Messrs. Piper & Theobald (later Johnson, Burton & Theobald), and devoted all his energies to the manufacturing part of the concern in Rose Lane.

In his Comprehensive History of Norwich published in 1869 Bayne gives a description of the works: 'Mr. W S. Boulton, who occupies extensive premises in Rose Lane, is a manufacturer of agricultural and horticultural implements; also of strained wire fencing, iron hurdles, park gates, garden chairs, iron bedsteads, kitchen ranges, hot-water apparatus, etc. He produces every kind of railing, and palisading round Chapel Field, which is a great ornament as well as protection to the ground. He also supplies a great variety of useful machines, such as mincing and sausage machines, and almost all articles made of iron. '

Boulton continued buying up property - one site included Watt's foundry where the old prison treadmill had been built. He had married a local girl, Elizabeth Duffield in 1868, and they lived near the Rose Lane factory, where, it is said he rang a loud bell every morning at 6 a.m. to call the men to work. The year 1868 saw an important technological innovation with the installation of wire netting machines. They started with three machines producing 2ft, 3ft and 4ft wide netting respectively. The looms were constructed almost entirely of wood and were extremely difficult to use. They had to work day and night in order to keep up with the demand. A year later Dawson Paul was taken into partnership and the firm renamed Boulton & Paul.

Disaster and recovery

Natural and unnatural disasters preyed on the businesses of 19th century Norwich. Boulton & Paul's misfortune was a disastrous fire in August 1876 which started in the carpenters' shop. Though Colmans sent their Fire Brigade to help, it still destroyed the carpenters' shop and other parts of the works. They were insured against loss of plant and building but not for the consequential loss of business. The firm pulled through but Mr. Boulton never really recovered from the blow. He suffered badly from rheumatism and rarely left his house, leaving the running of the company to the younger man, and dying finally in 1879.

Dawson Paul was left with the huge task of running a business which employed 350 men, making a profit, and paying Mrs. Boulton for her share under the terms of his agreement with her late husband. Fortunately he had, by this time, obtained the confidence of his bankers, and with their help he prospered, making many changes and additions, and installing a galvanizing plant.

It is at this point that another Barnard enters the story. John Neville Barnard, son of a builder and not related to the original partners of the same name, had received his training at Howes & Son, engineers. He then joined the firm of Smithdale & Sons, engineers, who were the builders of the new engines employed for driving the machinery for the extension of Boulton & Paul's works, and which were fixed under his supervision in 1882. On completion of the work Barnard took on the superintendence of the engineering department at the Rose Lane Works.

At this time the works were rapidly developing, especially in the wire netting department, and Barnard designed and built fast running and more efficient wire netting machinery.

Dawson Paul was Sheriff of Norwich in 1885, and in December of that year he and his wife entertained the employees and their wives to dinner in St. Andrew's Hall. One feature of the evening was the first public appearance of the Rose Lane Works Band.

On 10th May 1890 another serious fire occurred, this time at the wharf, damage being estimated at between £4,000 and £5,000. Boulton & Paul became a Limited Company on 14th December 1897, with J.J. Dawson Paul as Governing Director and Henry ffiske, who had been made a partner four years' previously, Managing Director. The same year even more property was purchased in King Street and a smithy and fencing shops were erected. Whilst pulling down some cottages on the site it was discovered they had once been part of a city merchant's great hall. The timbers were used in the construction of their new offices in Rose Lane in 1899, a building we all know as The Tudor Hall. In another house a fine moulded ceiling was discovered and this was dismantled and placed in Mr. Paul's office. At an entrance to one of the passages leading to William Street was a carved Elizabethan door frame: if you walk down the side of Tudor Hall you will see it is still preserved in the east wall of the building.

Dawson Paul

Joseph John Dawson Paul, crowned his civic achievements by becoming Mayor in 1900, and it fell to him to proclaim the accession of King Edward VII in Norwich Market Place. He was Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk in 1906, a Director of the Norwich Union Life Office, a Trustee of The Bethel Hospital, and held many other offices and appointments. He had a son, Captain J. Dawson Paul, and three daughters.

By this time the firm had expanded its range of products and was well-known for the production of a wide variety of goods, including glasshouses, orangeries, vineries and palm-houses, which were exported all over the world. This was the age of the 'conservatory' and many of them cost thousands of pounds. They supplied 1,500ft. of piping for the Plantation Garden in Norwich, and provided both boiler and conservatory. Aviaries were made for Somerleyton Hall, and 'convenient' suburban residences were made in galvanised iron, together with fishing 'temples', boat-houses, portable iron studios and ornamental bridges.

Unbeknown to their fathers, it is said, young Dawson Paul and Geoffrey ffiske, designed a highly successful boat called the 'Dollydo', and fitted it out with one of the firm's marine engines. They were so successful in their first race that everyone else withdrew from racing for the remainder of the season. Thereafter the firm made a few motorboats, and a couple of twenty-one foot international class motor boats, the 'Fuji-Yarna' and the 'Vicuna' and in 1910 they built the sledges for Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic.

Adaptation for war

The First World War, which began with the cancellation of orders, and the speedy return home of employees who were abroad, soon provided opportunities, and Boulton & Paul became extremely busy fulfilling many contracts which included a Naval Hospital at Dover, huts and stables for 6,000 men and horses which had to be completed in ten weeks, a prisoner of-war camp in Jersey, hangars for the Royal Flying Corps, Naval and Military Installations, steel framed buildings in arsenals and dockyards, hospitals in France and warehouses in Mesopotamia. The Fencing Department turned their attention to making field kitchens and drum barrows for telegraph wire, and the Engine Department made electric lighting plant for mobile workshops, portable pumps for trenches and marine engines.

But the most momentous news came in 1915, when they were asked to make aeroplanes. William ffiske took charge of the woodworking and commercial side of the project, whilst Stanley Howes (of Howes & Sons, Engineers - who had also wanted to help the war effort) agreed to undertake the erection and assembly of the aircraft. Eventually some 2,000 people were employed on this work at the Rose Lane Works.

They needed somewhere for the final assembly and where the finished aircraft could take off, and eventually laid out an airfield on the old Cavalry Drill Ground on Mousehold Heath north of the city. By October, 1915, the first aeroplane was completed and awaiting its test. Production continued and rapidly outgrew the Rose Lane Works. Consequently, it was decided to transfer to a 14 acre site on the other side of the river, which became known as Riverside Works. The buildings were quickly erected and the transfer was made at Easter, 1916. They made 550 F .E.s, 1,550 Sopwith Camels, and later Snipes, a modification of the Camel. In all 2,530 military aircraft were completed.

In collaboration with other East Anglian firms they made shells, and a company, Norwich Components Limited was set up to manufacture fuses; it produced more than two million, and when the old warehouse in which it operated was burned to the ground in 1917, they took over the city's skating rink.

Wood-working and aircraft

At the end of the war the two older men stood down and control was vested in a Committee of Management made up of Captain Paul, William ffiske, Stanley Howes and Geoffrey ffiske. It was decided to concentrate all their efforts on the Riverside site and the Rose Lane site was sold to the Co-operative Wholesale Society for use as a shoe factory.

The wood-working department was, however, the most important, and the post-war demand was for wooden buildings - sports pavilions, clubhouses, parish halls, huts for holiday camps, poultry houses, etc. The first Club House for the Norwich Aero Club at Mousehold was a Boulton & Paul sectional building.

J.D.North, a young man already well-known as a designer in the aircraft industry, had joined the firm in 1917. He now felt the day of the wooden aircraft was over, and wanted to build in steel. The first metal aircraft was a light two-seater with a top speed of104 m.p.h. It was the first all metal aeroplane to be made in Britain and was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition in November 1919. They then made a standard twin-engined day bomber for the Royal Air Force called the Bolton, and others named the Bodmin and the Bugle. They also built 70 flying boat hulls for the Navy, and 7,835 propellers.

By 1926 North had designed the first example of a twin-engined, all metal biplane bomber named the Sidestrand, and this was taken into service by 101 Squadron of the Royal Air Force. This aeroplane was later superseded by The Overstrand, the main improvement being a pneumatically operated gun turret fitted in the nose.

But a very exciting project was on the drawing board. The Government wanted airships, and with North acting as consultant, the R101 was designed at the Royal Airship Works at Cardington but much of it built in Norwich. It was a task of immense technical difficulty. Construction was started at the Riverside Works and 27 miles of tubing, 11 miles of bracing cables, 65,000 nuts and bolts, made up the sections, all of which were manufactured at Norwich, and then sent to Cardington to be bolted together. So exact were the engineers measurements and the superb workmanship that not one piece had to be returned to Norwich for correction. And when that great airship was completed she flew over the city and the population turned out to cheer and wave as she passed overhead. Sadly, on a stormy night in October, 1930, she crashed at Beauvais, on her way to India. There had been some misgivings about her colossal size, but the official enquiry made it clear that the responsibility for the loss was not due to faults in the design or manufacture of the hull. Just four years later Boulton & Paul sold the aircraft division to North and it moved to Wolverhampton, although retaining the Boulton & Paul name.

In 1935 Captain Paul left the organisation and Richard Jewson, a Norwich timber merchant, took over the Chairmanship of the Company. Boulton & Paul continued to experiment and diversify; tea and coffee factories, a market in Manchester, the Gates at Gibraltar, Piers at Wallasey and New Brighton, and a hut for the Police outside Thorpe Station. Nothing too big, too small, or too difficult, was outside the scope of their ingenuity.

Working in steel

The constructional steel department was by now firmly established, having received an order in 1928 for pylons for the National Grid, taking up 25,000 tons of steel. They erected airport buildings, Dutch barns, theatres, cinemas, studios, and an ice-rink at Blackpool. They struggled through the depression of the 1930s, and became involved in the rearmament programme, making camps for the armed forces, and a box shop was set up for making all manner of boxes for military purposes - one million were made by May 1940. Component parts were also made for the Airspeed Oxford Trainer.

The steel-working capacity was doubled in 1937 and the department became one of the best equipped in the country. This department grew steadily in importance under the direction of Richard Taylor and was heavily involved in the 'shadow factory' building programme at the outbreak of the second world war. They made huge packing cases for bombs, later utilised as huts for airfield staff, the fuselage for Oxford trainers, noses for Horsa gliders, and wire netting track was laid over grass and sand to form runways. Factories and radio masts were constructed, 85,400 Morrison air-raid shelters, and frames for tank transporters (which featured on the beaches of Dunkirk). In total they produced something like 13 million pounds worth of goods during the war years. However, they did not escape unscathed. They were one of the firms earmarked for destruction by the German Air Force. Bombed on several occasions, many of their staff were killed or injured. Flames and destruction there may have been, but the employees carried on with their work, helped by A.R.P. and Fire Service personnel.

Expansion and takeover

Subsidiary companies had been acquired and after the war contributed to the group's increased capacity. The Midland Woodworking Company at Melton Mowbray was the largest, and in 1946 Mr.A.F.Clarke, their Managing Director, joined the board. Woodworking capabilities were increased, and the structural steel department had full order books including: A clothing factory at Merton, a Hawker factory at Slough, eight hundred tons of steel for a sugar beet factory at Cantley. Business was brisk, the employees worked hard, and the order books were full during the post-war boom years. They made furniture for the Ministry of Supply, and a batch of pedaloes - the prototype was tested in the Wensum by two somewhat 'weighty' gentlemen, Dick Taylor, by now Managing Director, and George Fish, Manager of the Woodworking Department. One notable contract was the supply of base huts for the Trans-Antarctic Expedition - the leader, Vivian Fuchs, paid a number of visits to the Riverside Works.

Alongside this, a limited amount of domestic joinery was produced, but overall very little profit was made. The Midland Woodworking Company, on the other hand, had reverted to standard joinery production and with the housing boom began to prosper.

In 1948 a South African Company, Anglo Transvaal Industries Limited, bought 500,100 ordinary shares - the controlling interest - in Boulton & Paul from Mr. J.H.Tresfon, by then Managing Director. Mr. Tresfon said there would be no change in the management or the policy of Boulton & Paul or its subsidiaries. The Company's interests had expanded rapidly in South Africa with the development of the Union. Mr. Tresfon joined the board of Anglo- Transvaal and became its Chairman and M.D., whilst continuing as Chairman and M.D. of Boulton & Paul, Norwich.

Inevitably, in 1956, the Company made the decision to abandon all other forms of woodworking and concentrate on standard joinery, and eventually the sales organisation of the two companies (Norwich & Melton Mowbray) were merged. But other forms of retrenchment were in hand. In 1957 it was announced that the sheet metal section, employing some 30 men, was to close. No further outside orders would be accepted. That same year an agreement was made that Boulton & Paul would take a financial interest in Anglian Building Products and its associated companies, Atlas Sand & Gravel, and Norwich Ready-Mixed Concrete, whose offices and works were at Lenwade. They specialised in reinforced and pre-cast concrete. Fortunately for Boulton & Paul they ended this association just prior to the Ronan Point disaster.

On 9th September 1959 they took over the old established business of C.Moreland, Hayne & Co. Ltd., constructional engineers, with works on the London docks, and in June, 1960, they also took over the Tusting Scaffolding Company. It was said the company would operate independently under its existing name at its address in Mile Cross Lane, and Mr. Osborne Tusting would remain Director, with Mr. R. Talbot, the Manager, also joining the board.

Lowestoft expansion

A major decision was made to set up a factory in Lowestoft, and in January,1961, work started on a new joinery factory, costing £920,000, on a somewhat water-logged site at Lowestoft. This was opened in 1962 for the receipt of timber and the machining of components for assembly at Norwich and Melton Mowbray.

The business was at this time expanding so rapidly that within a year or so the capacity at Lowestoft was increased by one third, and before long was working both night and day to cope with the demand. Looking back, it is thought by some members of the Boulton & Paul staff that this could have been the beginning of the end for the Norwich woodworking department. What was the point of sending component parts a mere 26 miles to a factory at Norwich, which was, in any event, badly placed for distribution purposes?

In the late 1960s the Essex Company of John Sadd was acquired, and flush door production was added to the range. John Sadd had a number of Builders' Merchants' outlets in Essex - these were to become the first of the current 50 or so Joinery Centres spread around the Country for the sale of standard joinery. (The John Sadd Merchanting Division of Boulton & Paul were sold to Jewson & Sons, the Norwich based timber and builders' merchants subsidiary of the International Timber Corporation in December, 1978).

Rundown

In September, 1968 the Eastern Daily Press reported: 'It was announced yesterday that British Electric Traction now hold between 50%/51 % of the issued voting capital of Boulton & Paul, one of the largest employers in the Norwich area, and thus controls the firm. The take-over is unlikely to affect the jobs of the 3,000 employees, more than half of them in the Norwich and Lowestoft works and subsidiaries. '  

This assertion was not borne out by subsequent events as press notices listed a catalogue of reductions:

1974: Two hundred workers made redundant, mostly in joinery shops, 60 in Lowestoft, 50 at Norwich, and others at Melton Mowbray and Maldon.

1976: A subsidiary company of Boulton & Paul making aluminium windows at Eversley Road, Norwich, closes down with loss of 250 jobs.

1980: Mr. Ray Chenhall, Group Managing Director, announces that half the joinery assembly depot was to be made redundant, due to poor demand for joinery products.

1981: More than 300 workers became redundant because of a fall in orders for structural steelwork. They included manual workers, clerical, technical and managerial posts.

1982: Fifty more jobs were lost in steel fabrication business, including erection workers and drawing office staff.

1983: B.& P. Lowestoft, the largest and most modern complex of its kind in Europe, with 416 employees, launched a major new range of advanced wood window designs. Managing Director: Bob Mackie. Bill Fox joined the Joinery Department in Norwich as Director and Financial Controller.

1984: The Joinery Department lost its printing, stationery and studio sections, with loss of 11 jobs. 1986: A new Managing Director, Mr. Alan Bowkett, replaced current M.D. Bob Mackie, and a new Chairman, Mr. John Allan, replaced Chairman Ray Chenhall.

It became obvious that far eastern fabricators were enjoying the benefits of subsidised pricing policies and major decisions had to be made. In July, 1986 the Steel construction department closed with loss of 139 jobs. Mr. Don Berwick, Group Personnel Director, said the situation had become so serious that only the most drastic action would give them a chance of turning the business round. The section had lost £3.2 million since 1978, and they had often accepted contracts at a 'break-even' price, or even a loss, just to keep in operation.

End of manufacturing in Norwich

In 1986, as well as taking into consideration the immense drop in private new house starts (only a third of those in the 1960s), it became obvious that the increased overheads of operating the Norwich site solely as a joinery production unit was uneconomic; but I am told it was the cost of transporting products over the appalling Norfolk road system that ultimately forced the closure of the joinery manufacturing lines in Norwich. The Eastern Evening News reported on 6th November 1986:'Boulton & Paul yesterday axed its last 240 manufacturing jobs in Norwich, ending a 150 year era in the city. Plans to close the joinery in March come only three months after the steel works on the Riverside site was closed, with the loss of 139 jobs. Joinery work is to be switched to Maldon or Melton Mowbray.'

Although manufacturing ceased in Norwich Boulton & Paul continued to have a presence in East Anglia at its Lowestoft factory and claimed to be the largest joinery manufacturer in Europe and the market leader in the supply of wood windows to the UK building industry (producing some 20,000 windows every week). They were also the fourth largest supplier of kitchens to the private new build market sector in this country, and a leading supplier of internal and external doors and stairs. In 1987 they returned record profits, return on capital employed showed a 25% improvement, and turnover was at record levels. They were, in fact, the most successful company within BET. This state of affaires was not to last - Boulton and Paul were acquired by the Rugby Group in 1997 before being sold on again two years later when the company was subsumed into Jeld Wen Inc a privately owned worldwide joinery manufacturer.

The Riverside site stood abandoned and decaying for several years following its closure in 1986 before being developed in the early 2000s as a major shopping, leisure and residential centre but with little reminder of its former manufacturing use. One of the few reminders of Boulton & Paul in Norwich in 2008 is Tudor Hall in Rose Lane, the former offices being converted into flats.

Joyce Gurney-Read

1987

Revised by Nick Williams April 2008

 

Image courtesy of Picture Norfolk.