This book tells the story of the growth of a great engineering enterprise and is published to mark the end of the third of three periods in the history of Mather & Platt Limited each of approximately fifty years.
It commemorates an era of great expansion, including the closing years of the nineteenth century when Mather & Platt Limited became a public limited company and the early years of the twentieth century when it was decided to build the works which is now the headquarters of the company at Newton Heath. The company had its origin in the early days of the nineteenth century when the first Mather in whom we are interested started a roller turning business in Salford. It had been in existence about fifty years when the partnership of William and Colin Mather changed the firm into Mather & Platt through the arrival on the scene of William Wilkinson Platt.
The origin of the firm; the change to the partnership of Mather & Platt and the formation of the public company by the union of Mather & Platt with the firm of Dowson, Taylor & Company Limited, are the most important landmarks in the story. A story of the growth of what started out as a small north-country millwrights works devoted mainly to the production of textile finishing machinery, into a large scale general engineering organisation with world wide ramifications.
This story is far more than a tale of technical progress or the conquest of new markets, for in the course of its long history the company has acquired a tradition and an international reputation, which can now be counted amongst the biggest of its assets. It is hoped that the history of Mather & Platt will prove to be of interest not only to the shareholders, directors and workers but to a much wider circle of readers because it throws light on both local and national history as a whole, particularly in the social and economic fields.
As Professor Richard Pares has recently written, Until we can quote histories of representative banks, steamship companies, jerry-builders, tea planters, wine merchants, servants, registries, coal miners and the like, we shall still be talking about the history of economic policy, not about economic history. A particularly bad mistake to make about a country like Great Britain, where the efforts of society have usually counted for so much and those of the rulers of society comparatively speaking, for so little. (1) He might have added to his list, cotton mills, bleaching dyeing and printing works as well as factories to make the machinery needed by these industries. It is an accepted fact that Lancashire cotton and Lancashire businessmen explain much in nineteenth century English history.
It is fitting that the first draft of this book was written (1953) during a year of national festival, when it was timely to recall the industry and enterprise which made possible the development and expansion of the British economy. Also that it should be published during the year made memorable by the Coronation of Her Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In telling the story, we have tried to set it against a national background as well as to select the facts of special interest and to discuss new techniques in terms of changing economic and social conditions.
Too often there has been a barrier of misunderstanding between technicians and historians. The technicians concentrating on know-how and the historians trying to concentrate on know-why. At the present time there is a general interest in history; the history of anything and everything from governments to factories, from statesmen to machines. In this study of Mather & Platt limited, we have tried to talk about both men and machines which have helped to shape the world in which we live, and have often had to stray from the confines of the factory into the larger workshop of the world. This is because it has been so completely re-fashioned during the period of which we write.
In telling this story it has proved impossible to mention, by name, more than a few of the employees of Mather & Platt Limited who have contributed to the success of the business. This is partly because it is often invidious to select certain names from among the rest since it is difficult to collect information about some worthy people who left their mark on the fortunes of the firm over fifty years ago or in the more remote periods of its history. Yet it was the efforts of these individuals who made this story possible, for economic progress was not achieved anonymously or automatically. The company has grown as a result of the loyalty and service of its directors, staff and workpeople, each of whom had their own story to tell.
We have to thank so many people for helping with the compilation of the material for this history, for telling their own stories and for placing invaluable information at our disposal. These people are so numerous that it would be invidious to mention them all by name. The Chairmen, the directors, the managers, the staff, the foremen and the workers, have all helped us to learn much of Mather & Platt Limited, not only as it was, but as it is in the middle of the twentieth century.
The Authors - Draft Dated 1958