When the ceramics & chemicals company Johnson Matthey decided to closed down its base in Cresswell last September, some of us wondered: what will happen to the historic archives?
And, now we know.
The Johnson Matthey business was better known to all of us as ‘Blythe Colours’, which created and maintained the factory that sat alongside the railway in Cresswell for over 100 years; and employed many thousands of local people during its lifespan. It had been very much a ‘paternalist’ sort of family-firm up until the takeover by Johnson Matthey in 1963; and we owe the present-day cricket club, tennis club and bowls green to the support of the old Colour Works.
So, when it was decided that even the last few employees remaining on the Blythe Business Park site would leave there, it became a worry…
What would happen to all those precious memories, such as the archive of photos of works-outings, copies of staff magazines and even promotional material?
In its own way, all that material is unique as a record of the past.
A couple of us on this website took it on ourselves to start a dialogue with the Human Resources Department of Johnson Matthey, and to plead that the archives be not only saved, but handed over (after suitable vetting of course…) to the people of Cresswell.
We are happy to say that Johnson Matthey were incredibly responsive to our pleas, and took them very seriously.
The big questions from JM were: what ‘responsible’ body would take legal possession of the material?; how would they ensure open and proper access to the material?; and where could it safely and permanently stored?
To be fair to JM, those are fair questions; and at one stage in the negotiations it did look like the only answer was that the archive might go to the Hanley Record Office.
But we wanted it to be closer to home…
Draycott Parish Council did not express interest, so things were looking a bit forlorn until… in stepped the Cheadle Historical Society – our saviours!
Mike Plant and Andrew Bull from the society had also spotted that the Colours archive must be full of material of great importance to local amateur historians, so they came up with the best solutions. What they proposed was that the archive would be taken on by them as a legal body, and stored at the Cheadle History & Discovery Centre (in Lulworth House, in Cheadle High Street).
Johnson Matthey mulled over that proposal for a couple more months… then said yes!
Eventually, (after six months of negotiations now…), twenty large cardboard boxes – full of documents, old photos, promotional material and even some ceramics – arrived at Lulworth House. When we unpacked it all, it was with a sense of relief that it had been saved – as this is the sort of stuff that often just goes into a skip…
So, what happens now?
Well, after the initial sorting, it’s hoped that a group of former Colours workers, many of whom still live in Cresswell, will be able to look through the material. A lot of it is just stored loose and not labelled, so their memories will be massively important in helping to identify what is going on in the papers and photos. Cresswell resident Barry Phillips, who is an amateur historian himself, will lead that effort.
After six months, it’s hoped the archive will be in a well-ordered state… and then there will begin preparations for a public exhibition, in Cheadle, to take place sometime next year (hopefully).
At this stage, ‘serious’ historians, especially those interested in local industry, will also be able to apply to the Discovery Centre for access to the material for in-depth studies.
And then – wouldn’t this be great? – it’s hoped to take some of the most interesting items and put on an exhibition here in Draycott & Cresswell, especially for local people.
So, a valuable piece of Cresswell’s past has been saved, and may give rise to even more memories and more facts about our community’s history as time goes by.
And there has to be a big thank you to Johnson Matthey.
Way back, in the Colours hey-day of the 1920s and 1930s, the firm prided itself on ‘looking after’ its workers, and made special efforts in that respect.
Well, the present-day heirs of the old firm can also congratulate themselves for their community spirit. Many large firms would have just said no to our pleas, either because they couldn’t be bothered to vet the material, or because they didn’t consider the local community important enough.
JM did though -and we have to thank them for that…
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