Tag Archives: Johnson Matthey

Blythe Colour Works archive – saved!

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.

Campaign

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.

Blythe Colours works magazine

Blythe Colours produced its own works magazines going back to the 1930s – some of which can be found in the firm’s archives.  (To see this photo in large-size, double-click on it – but remember to use the back-button to return to this page)

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!

Looking forward

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…

Blythe Colours archive arrives in Cheadle

Alan Wigley, Mike Plant and Andrew Bull unpack the Blythe Colours archive as it arrives at the Cheadle Discovery Centre

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.

Thank you

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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The end for Blythe Colours?

Blythe Colour Works, which has dominated the life of Cresswell for over a hundred years, could be on its last lap.
The works was famous for producing the different types of colourations needed in the pottery industry.

Johnson Matthey, the worldwide chemicals firm which acquired the works back in 1963, has announced that it sees little future for the Cresswell site (on Blythe Business Park).
Although our local base used to have a strong position within Johnson Matthey’s ‘precious metals’ division, the world scene appears to have changed. JM say there is now less demand now for decorative pottery – and that means less need for the kind of colours dealt with by Cresswell.

Blythe Colours offices

The proud 1930s office building on the business park at Cresswell still houses what’s left of Blythe Colours

It’s a far call from the days of the Second World War when the American Army created a base within 100 yards of the works site, just so that its personnel could walk over to use the expertise in chemicals that could be found there.
Even in the 1980s, it employed over 500 workers. Now, just around 60 remain and the ground-space covered by the firm has shrunk in thirty from twenty acres to just one.

There is a little hope though. Johnson Matthey has started a ‘consultation process’ with the workforce – and maybe someone will come up with a bright idea on how to continue… Let’s hope that something turns up.
The consultation process lasts until the end of this month.

History

Of course, it’s a fact that many, many people living in Draycott & Cresswell will have strong memories of the Colour Works, and also of the famous names associated with the works – names such as the Wildbloods and the Vavasours.

Blythe Colours branded cars

Before the war, Blythe Colours ran a fleet of its own branded cars.
(Courtesy of the Barry Phillips Photo Collection)

Cresswell’s own historian, Barry Phillips (a Colours man himself), already has a large collection of documents and photos relating to the one hundred years of the Colour Works history.
If you have memories, or photos and documents, that you would like to share, or to talk about, please get in touch with us at this website.

In the meantime… it’s fingers crossed…

Johnson Matthey exhibition / Tesco coming?

Do you remember Blythe Colour Works, the big factory in Cresswell?
Well, some people think that the company that owned the works, Johnson Matthey, simply upped and left this district when the works closed, leaving behind just the shell of the factory (which is now the site of Blythe Business Park of course).
Johnson Matthey did after all, sell off quite a bit of their nearby land, including the cricket ground – which is now owned outright by the cricket club – though, yes, they still own a deal of land in Cresswell.

But, in fact, Johnson Matthey didn’t leave completely – and still employ around 100 people in buildings on Blythe Business Park as part of their ‘precious metals’ division.
And they are doing very nicely thank you – the first three months of the 2012 financial year saw the company – which has interests all over the world – bring in a profit of £100million.  Which isn’t bad in these troubled times.

Exhibition

But what is just as interesting (we think!) is that Johnson Matthey is one of just forty UK companies being featured in a new exhibition at London’s Science Museum.
If you visit the exhibition (which runs until September 9th, 2012) you’ll be able to see hands-on demonstrations of how the company makes chemicals which function in industry – including ones that help reduce car-emissions.

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Tesco coming?

Talking of business, many of us use the Co-op store in Blythe Bridge as our nearest food-store.

So, it came as a bit of a surprise to learn that Tesco would like to move into Blythe Bridge. They are considering taking over the Duke Of Wellington Pub in the town-centre and turning it into a ‘Tesco Extra’ store.
Although nothing official has been announced, Fulford Parish councillors have already been expressing a little disquiet at the prospect.

If you’d like to know more, Tesco are inviting you to contact them. In the meantime, the Duke Of Wellington stays open, but who knows for how long?

Blythe Cricket Club (at Cresswell) needs us

How many teams do you think are active at Blythe Cricket Club, which is the club based here in Draycott? Two? Three?
Well, it’s a lot more than that: you can work upwards from ten at least!

And, this is a club with ambition – as this year, they intend to start making even more moves to improving and extending its facilities, and to working more with the surounding community – ie, you and me.

And it needs your help.

Progress

It is amazing how much the club has come on in the last few years, even after some bad knocks.
A couple of years ago, when the league they play in, the North Staffs & South Cheshire League, became an ‘open’ league (i.e., clubs could start to pay all their players if they wanted to), many of Blythe’s young players were immediately poached. The club simply wasn’t in a position to pay all its players.
And last year, the first team only just avoided relegation from Division One of the league.
It’s been tough.

Yet, the same period saw the club’s ground (which is in Cresswell, at the top of the bank near the the Izaak Walton pub) get more and more use.
At the far end, where there was once just a tip for pottery, a small cricket pitch for use by the under-11s teams has been installed; and even a football pitch, for Lads & Dads teams, has also been created.

The club now completely owns the ground, which they bought off Johnson Matthey (the owners of the old colour works) in 1995 for £30,000. The members used some grants they received as well as their own fund-raising to make some £70,000 of  improvements.

Blythe Cricket Club ground

The Blythe CC ground has spectacular views

Of course, there is lots still to be done:  the car-park, full of pot-holes, leaves a lot to be desired (!), and the pavilion is beginning to show its age.

Which is why, this year, there is a fresh drive to acquire lottery funding and really bring the whole site up to scratch.
Colin Dawson, the club’s president, is leading the charge: “The pavilion is really on its last legs. It’s over eighty years old, is just a single-skin building, so it can’t be used at all for six months of the year. It’s just too cold.
”But we want a new building, one that can be a year-round facility, a sort of community centre, where everyone can have get-togethers, or even just a quiet drink now and again.”

At the moment, members of the community are welcome to come along on the nights when the pavilion bar is open (see Things To Do in Draycott), but generally, that is only one or two nights a week at the moment.

Survey

So… how can the people of Draycott in the Moors and Cresswell help?

Colin explains: “To get funding, we need to carry out a survey of what people in this area would like and need. If there’s anyone with any ideas, we’d love to hear from them!

“Already we are talking to the parents of the children who come along to the coaching sessions on Friday evenings, but we want to hear from everyone, not just people interested in cricket.”

So – there’s the challenge.
Would you like to see the club create more opportunities for leisure in this area, both for youngsters and adults?  Would you like to see a new, year-round community-style building on the ground?
If you do, why not go over one Saturday afternoon and say hello? Or – email Blythe Cricket Club to say you’d like to help.

(By the way, if you want to know the exact number of teams active at the club, it’s thirteen – which includes the First and Second Teams, the ladies’ teams, and the young people’s teams).