Charles Bassett's Memories

Charles Bassett's recollections of his time at Manders. From ‘The Green Can’, November, 1922.

I entered the service of the firm at the end of June, 1876. I was not unacquainted with the high reputation enjoyed by them; as I had already spent 11 years with Messrs. Ironmonger and Son, Rope and Twine Manufacturers, Victoria Street, the retail premises being now occupied by Messrs. Hudson and Son. One of the articles manufactured was wagon covers, therefore a good deal of boiled oil was used; needless to say, this came from Messrs. Mander Brothers, as it was the best. Another incident I remember was that I had to come and take dimensions for a mat at the foot of the office stairs, and the late Mr. C. B. Mander was there to see that I did it correctly.

When I first started, my work was in the general office, this being the only one, as the Colour Department was then in its infancy. During 1878, however, the department, being a healthy child, and having a fond parent (the late Mr. Mander J. Smyth) began to grow vigorously, and I was chosen to assist Mr. Smyth in the clerical work, devoting a portion of my time to this duty.

What a small office we had in which to work! It was practically the same size as Jack Parry's office in the Warehouse at the present time. By the time the office furniture, etc., had found a resting place, and Mr. Smyth and myself were there too, it might truthfully be said that we were "full inside."

The Putting-Up Room in the Varnish Department, John Street Works. Left to right: Harry Forrester, O. Dutton, Harry Evans, A. Barnett, Jack Hughes (in charge), Edith Phillips, Beattie Davies, D. Sanders, Ethel Woolley, Annie Eason, and Lily Rogers. From 'The Green Can' September, 1922.

Passing of The Vine

This state of things, however, proved to a blessing in disguise. The panacea for overcrowding is emigration, and after a time we moved to the Vine Inn, on the other side of the road, these premises having been acquired by the firm to meet the growing need for more room. Here we had two rooms on the ground floor, Mr. Smyth's I suppose; having been the bar, and mine the bar parlour. The rooms overhead were used for putting up stains and tube colours, and the yard was our first cooperage.

During these earlier years the space now occupied by the cycle shed in John Street presented a very different appearance. It was here that our first colour-making plant was erected, and also in an out of the way corner all kegs were cleaned and painted. Many of us still remember Henry Smallwood, the chief of this department, a cheery man with one leg, who could do as much work as if he had the usual number.

The next important addition to the Colour Works was the taking over of St. Michael's Chapel and Clergy House from the authorities of St. Peter's Church. In front of the chapel another building had been erected, the ground floor of which being used for parochial work, the overhead rooms being the abode of the curates. I believe that some very large grinding stones in the Colour Works Yard very often disturbed the quiet hours of these gentlemen.

The Old Chapel

I well remember when the chapel floor was re-laid, seeing the immersion well, which was used at one period, when the building was used by the Baptists. There was also a stained glass window, which I think now adorns St. Peter's Institute. The pulpit was fixed against the wall, and was reached from the back of the wall through a doorway. The galleries were used for the storage of kegs. The growing needs of the Ink Department soon altered these conditions, and the basement was used for ink grinding and the upper floor for a putting-up warehouse. The ground floor of the room in front of the chapel was used as the Mess Room for several years, and the rooms above for the packing of stains and tube colours, while the old clergy house adjoining the "Seven Stars" was used as the Colour Works Office. In the year 1892 the growth of the Colour Works called loudly for more elbow room, and to meet this need several acres of land were acquired at Wednesfield, the position being an admirable one, the canal being on one side and the Midland Goods Station on the other. These works were first started as the "Wednesfield Colour Company", their chief customer being, of course, Mander Brothers. The employees at this period numbered about half a dozen, a

great contrast to the present pay roll of nearly 120. After a time the Wednesfield Colour Company was merged in its powerful rival Mander Brothers, to the mutual advantage of both.

The Ink Grinding Mills at Wednesfield Works. The four men on the right (left to right) are: Frank Rogers, William Smith, William Sutton, and Ernest Dillon. From 'The Green Can' September, 1922.

Opening Out at Wednesfield

As there was now plenty of room, some departments were transferred to Wednesfield, among these being the Keg Cleaning Department and the Cooperage, and others were started for the first time, one of them being the manufacture of Varnishes for Ink and Enamel making, commenced in a small way, but now a very important branch of the Colour Works. Needless to say, the Wednesfie1d Works of today covers a much larger area than originally, in order to provide for the necessities of Printing Inks, Water Paints, etc.

Another development commenced in the year 1899, when the Mander Hannay Lead Company was started, for manufacture of Dry White Lead by Professor Hannay's process, and for this purpose a site was purchased adjoining the Wednesfield Works. Of course buildings and plant had to be erected, and everything connected with the formation of a new business. I am sure no one can tell better than our friend Mr. G. G. Harness what this meant, as he, in conjunction with Mr. Hannay, had the chief responsibility for the erection of the plant, etc. This company continued until 1906, when the business changed hands. The clerical work was carried on in the Clergy House, the Colour Works Office having already migrated to the adjoining Mess Room. I put on record here that no one was more glad than myself at the demise of the Mander Hannay Lead Company, as I had more good thumping headaches during that period than at any time before or since.

The Water Paint Grinding Mill at Wednesfield. Left of the mills, left to right: A. Martin, W. Murphy, and J. Simmonds. At the mills left to right: G. Chester, G. Watkins, H. Lewis, W. Needham, S. Lloyd, B. Aris, and J. Gulley. To the right of the mills in the distance is Tom Lewis, and in the doorway is W. Kiteley. From 'The Green Can' November 1922.

Growth of Townwell

Bidding Wednesfield goodbye and good luck, the Colour Making Branch of the business claims our attention. It soon suffered from the same complaint as the other departments, namely, lack of room, and this was overcome by the purchase of the Factors Warehouse in Townwell Fold, on which the Townwell Works, as distinct from the School Street Works, now stands. In my early days this warehouse was the property of the old Wolverhampton firm of Tarratt, Sons and Company, and I frequently went there in the way of business. When this property was taken over and pulled down, one of the things which was saved was the large double-doored safe which now adorns the Colour Works General Office, and also a large office table which also does good service there. I remember also seeing one of their old order books dating back to 1815, and looking through it I found entries for June 7th and June 9th, but none for June 18th, which was the day when the battle of Waterloo was fought, which everyone knows happened on Sunday, June 18th, 1815, and therefore there were no entries in the book on that date.

Although the accommodation now allotted to the manufacture of Dry Colours was considerable, it was soon found to be insufficient, and in due time this resulted in the erection of the School Street Works, covering a much larger area, extending from Townwell Fold into School Street and Skinner Street. One of the buildings on this property was familiar to me in bygone days, being then in the occupation of Messrs. Ironmonger and Son as a Sacking and Guano Warehouse, and I believe that at a much earlier date it was the baths, and is now used as a stable for the horses. The activities of Townwell and School Street Works include a large and well equipped Laboratory, where experiments are carried on which constantly result in the production of new colours, thus enlarging the colour making output. Here also is the laundry for the washing of overalls, towels, etc. Collars are not included, so that the local laundries have no cause for fear!

The Soldering Department, Can Works, John Street. In the centre left to right: Gertie Lyons, Phyllis Jones, Ethel Davies, Daisy Beere, Milly Barnett, Jerry Taylor, and Lily Heath. In the foreground on the right is Mrs. Beard. From 'The Green Can' October 1922.

Specimen Work

The Specimen Department is another important branch of the business which finds a home here, about 16 employees being engaged in the laudable effort to persuade the public that the articles produced by Mander Brothers are the very best of their kind. At Townwell also, on Christmas Eve, through the kindness of the firm, a concert has been held for many years, resulting in much harmony both of speech and song.

Coming back to John Street, we note many changes, all for the better. The first motive power of the Colour Works was supplied by two large boilers situated nearly opposite the Varnish Works gateway. These were eventually taken away, when a gas making plant was installed at the bottom of John Street, in the yard adjoining the Mess Room. The steam engines were therefore supplanted by the gas engine, which in its turn had to give way to electricity. The flywheel of the gas engine took several men to pull over, sometimes to their discomfort, as they occasionally were "gassed."

Speaking of the John Street Mess Room, also occupied by Captain Atkins, it is interesting to note that at one time it was the General Post Office. "The Vine" premises and the row of small houses adjoining have long since been pulled down, making room for the large block of buildings known as the Tin Department.

Another change, or rather loss, was the retirement of the late Mr. Mander J. Smyth which took place in October, 1905. It was my privilege to be associated with Mr. Smyth for a rather longer period than any of my confreres, and I shall always remember him as the best of friends. Of all that this business owes to his personality, it would be impertinent for me to speak. His portrait adorns. the office staircase, and it is our pleasure to record that our manager bears his honoured name.

In 1912 the Clergy House shared the same fate as "The Vine" and in its place we see the present important addition to the Colour Works. With the passing of the Clergy House arose the necessity for a new abode for the Colour Works Office Staff, and this was effected by extensive alterations to Sharlock's house and other property, including "The Plough" which, like "The Vine" ceased to be a public house. The "Seven Stars" below, however, seem to be as fixed as the stars above.

Worthy Relics

In our new offices we still have something to remind us of the past, as Sir Charles had the fireplace removed to our new abode, and the Clergy House entrance door also occupies a similar position in the new offices. Speaking of office work, I remember that the late Mr. Mander J. Smyth was the first to introduce the typewriter for office use. The first machine we had was a most curious and inefficient one. I cannot recall its name, which is well, but I know there was a brass disc with notches all round, and a handle working from the centre, and which you dropped into these spaces (if you could) to make the words required. Needless to say it was quickly parted with.

The lady clerk was also a new departure inaugurated by Mr. Smyth, and instead of having one, as at first, we now have 19 of the gentler sex, largely an increase of recent years, during which a friendly rivalry would seem to exist between Mr. Mortiboy and Mr. Priest as to which of them should have the larger staff.

I wish to add that both have their offices at the very top of the building, although Mr. Mortiboy is a little nearer the roof of the two, having to mount another four or five extra steps, and one might almost expect to hear the exultant shout "Excelsior."

In conclusion, I can only say that the foregoing remarks show a steady and continuous growth, which I trust may be maintained in an even greater degree, in all departments of the business, and that the name of Mander Brothers may stand as high in the commercial world in the future as it has done in the past, and still does at the present time.


From 'The British Printer'.

From 'The British Printer'.

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