One of the casualties of the Covid crisis has been the grand exhibition that was planned to take place this month to mark exactly 175 years of colours making at Cresswell. The Colours Memories Group, which was organising the event, now say they’ll postpone until next year.
So, we thought we’d give you a little reminder of what’s happened on the Cresswell site over the past 175 years, using a timeline. Older folk will recognise some of the names and younger ones may get an idea of what a proud history it was.
Back through the years
Even before the most famous Blythe Colour Works was set up by the River Blithe in Cresswell (on the site of what is now the Blythe Business Park), there had been colours making going on here for over forty years. Colours for the pottery industry are made from various naturally-occurring rocks and minerals, and the making of colours from such materials was (and is) a specialist part of the pottery industry.
In the early days, the process of making such materials needed to be by a river which could then drive a waterwheel. In its turn, the power generated from the wheel could drive a grinding mill… in which the specially chosen mineral rocks could be ground down to a powder – ready for later use when added in pottery firings.
Cresswell was an ideal spot: being on the River Blithe; being 100 yards from Cresswell Railway Station (from where materials could travel on to the Potteries in Stoke); and on cheap land.
1850s: Cresswell Mill appears in the records, relating to a boring
for coal in 1856. Probably Cresswell Mill was both a flint and
bone mill as the scale of both operations and the processing would be similar.
1860s : Along Waterworks Lane (opposite the Izaak Walton), John Docksey (sometimes spelt Doxey) established a flint-grinding mill by 1861. He then went into colours-manufacturing too. You can still see the remains of some brickwork of an old mill on the spot (though that short length of the river has dried up now). John Docksey died in 1900 and he is buried alongside his wife if at St Mary’s Church in Cresswell.
For more about Cresswell’s mill-stream, click here.
1870 (September) : Historians’ date for the beginning of colour making at Cresswell
1880s : A partnership of two businessmen, Pigott and Scarratt, set up a ‘Blythe Colours’ works on the opposite side of the road from Docksey’s first mill. They named it after the river (which they spelt Blythe, not Blithe as it should be).
1908 (possibly 1910) : Fred Wildblood buys the Piggott & Scarratt business – the Wildblood family would be the main owners of Blythe Colours for the next fifty and more years
1914 : Within a few years of the Wildblood buy-out Blythe Colour Works was one of the most advanced and successful of its kind in Europe
1920 : Waterwheel abandoned as source of power – replaced by electricity
1926 : The company’s Sports Ground was opened. The land is still used for sport today, half by Blythe Cricket Club, half by Draycott Sports Centre
1936 : Blythe Colour Works Limited established as public company. All directors initially were Wildblood family members.
1936-37 : Local builder Harry Mountford (the father of the late Cresswell stalwart Neville Mountford) built a row of homes on the western side of Sandon Road, opposite the Colour Works (each home cost £325 in those days!). Blythe Colours bought the first four in the row: Arthur Bennett (works engineer) took the second house, and Oswald (Ozzie) Vavasour the third (Ozzie’s son Hugh became the sales director; Hugh and his wife Monique are buried at St Mary’s in Cresswell).
1938 : New office block built – which can still be seen on the business park today (at the side of the bowling green)
1943-44 : As part of the war effort, American military units specialising in chemical processing were permitted use of the company’s laboratories and laundry. The soldiers lived in huts on Camp Bolero (which is now Rookery Crescent). Click here for more on that story.
1955 : Laboratory Block and Showroom opened.
1963 : Johnson Matthey bought Blythe Colours.
1979 : A new canteen was built (now the Quick Quick Slow Dance Studio)
1992 : The ‘Blythe Colours’ name was discontinued; new name was ‘Johnson Matthey Colour and Print Division’.
1994 : Formation of Cookson Matthey Ceramics, a 50:50 joint venture between Johnson Matthey plc and Cookson Group plc. Some manufacturing moved from Cresswell to Meir. However, the Fusible Colour (enamel) Department remained at Cresswell until near to the final closure of the works.
2014 : Closure of the Johnson Matthey business at Cresswell.
2016 : The Cheadle History Group and a few Cresswell residents join forces to persuade Johnson Matthey to donate the Colour Works archive (of more than 700 items) to the local community – and are successful. The archive is now housed in Blythe Bridge Library, where it is accessible to researchers, who should contact Cheadle Discovery Group for details about access at firstname.lastname@example.org. (See full story of the archive by clicking here.)
Well, we hope you enjoyed this potted history, but – can you add any information? (Corrections are also welcome!). Please email us if you have anything to add.
For further information about the Blythe Colours Memories project, click to see hundreds of photographs from down the years, as well as a checklist of nearly everyone who worked here.
For further information about the Cheadle Discovery Group, a local history society which runs the Blythe Colours History project, please click here.
There is also a public Blythe Works Memories Facebook group for anyone interested in the old Colour Works.
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