Avro 504  - c. David Drew-Smythe 2002Mather & Platt at War

Park Works - The First World War, 1914-1918

The record of industrial production and general activities at Park Works is outlined elsewhere: looking at the story of the works in relation to the development of the company, it is clear that without a new site Mather & Platt would have ceased both to expand and to adapt itself to the economic conditions of the twentieth century.

It is of interest to note that the most significant developments had taken place before 1914. By that time Park Works had taken on the shape that was to be its future and had employed new methods of production, which were not generally accepted until the First World War period.

At Newton Heath there was plenty of space for new development and the firm was even able to hand over four of its bays, 14, 15, 16 and 17, completed just before the War, to the manufacturers of Avro Aeroplanes, Messrs. A.V. Roe and Company, one of Britain’s early firms in the Aeronautical industry who were producing aircraft at a factory on an adjacent site.Trenches 1916. Image adapted. Original c. John Dacre.

The 1914-18 War left its mark on the development of the company and the demand for engineering products for the armed forces superseded peace time production.

In August 1915 Park Works was declared a controlled establishment under the Munitions of War Act, and there was a steady switch over to war production.

Large quantities of shell casing and fuses were turned out and a howitzer re-lining department was established. Main propelling motors for submarines, gear boxes and hull plates for tanks, generators for searchlight duties and a multitude of other munitions of war were all produced at Park Works, the total output of munitions of one kind and another making an impressive war effort.

Executive members of Mather & Platt - if not serving in the armed forces - served in high ranking positions with responsibility to the various government departments of wartime Britain. Men like John Wormald and John Taylor did much to enable Britain's war-effort not only in the different theatres of war but also in Britain, 'keeping the home fires burning'. Both were honoured after the War for their contributions.

Where is this now?This War Memorial was unveiled by the Dean of Manchester in the presence of the majority of the Directors of the company, many city dignitaries and almost the entire workforce of Mather & Platt.

Extracted from the company Journal of 1921

It was a solemn and moving ceremony for all who attended. In fact, as the Dean declared, he himself had lost a brother on the borders of India during the conflict and so was moved to say how deeply he empathised with those in the crowd who were related to the honoured names on the memorial.

Although he had been called upon to unveil many memorials since his arrival in Manchester, it was the first occasion that he had unveiled a memorial placed on business premises. He was glad to see one placed at Park Works since the recording of the names of those at Mather & Platt who had given their lives "would be preaching a sermon every day ... a sermon which would go to the hearts of all" as they picked up the pieces of working life and enjoyed the dignity of a hard-won freedom.

In his speech, he drew attention to a minority feeling that had become prevalent in the country that the money used in erecting such memorials would be better spent in providing better conditions and opportunities for the living. He himself believed, however, that the memorials were justified because they served as fitting tributes to those who had made the ultimate sacrifice in order that the living might have those opportunities to bring about such better conditions.

After a dedicatory prayer, three buglers sounded the Last Post which was followed by the singing of the hymn, "O God our help in ages past". The Dean then pronounced the Benediction after which came a period of silence until the buglers sounded Reveille and the huge crowd which had witnessed the ceremony dispersed.

During the Great War, Mather & Platt was represented by men in all branches of the armed services and many women served as nurses and auxiliaries. The War Memorial bore the names of 175 men and that number made up some 14% of the 1230 men who joined up. Besides these, 251 men - near 20% - of those who joined up were wounded. The company took great care to get back as many as possible of the old employees who fought during the war. Those who were re-employed after demobilisation numbered 979, and over 800 were still in the works. Also taken on were 126 Mather & Platt men who had been disabled and also 120 disabled men who had not worked for the firm prior to the war. Thus, disabled men formed 8% of the total number of male employees after the war.

Image adapted from the private collection of John Dacre

Park Works - The Second World War, 1939-1945

The Second World War, like that of 1914-18, led to the firm being listed as a Government controlled enterprise. Its activities were varied. A portion of Park Works was laid out as a gun factory and the many new and unfamiliar products manufactured included special capstans for boom defence vessels, gun mountings for the Admiralty, Bofors predictors and rocket projectors, cordite rolling mills and machines for proofing the fabric of barrage balloons. There were few engineering firms in the country which could have rivalled this record of diversified production.

At the same time, there was a steady demand for standard peacetime products, often adapted to new uses. Many of the products of apparently routine work, familiar in days of peace, were earmarked for secret destinations and purposes. Thus we find that Mather & Platt high-pressure turbine pumps and motors were used for the "Pluto" scheme to pump oil through pipes under the English Channel to the Continent. Similar installations, totalling about 25,000 h.p. were parts of a system of underground pipelines from the principal British oil ports connecting to “Pluto” and to numerous airfields and bases scattered over the Britain. Made up into mobile units, Mather & Platt pumps were used by the Services in all theatres of war. Image adapted from original WW2 postcard ((Japanese). c. 2002 David Drew-SmytheAt sea, low-voltage generators produced by the firm were used for the excitation of the coils for degaussing the ships to meet the menace of the magnetic mine, and motor-alternators were produced as part of radar and wireless equipment. Even a new and pre-eminently peace time development like the food machinery department was employed to meet service needs, producing canning equipment for cooking and packing service rations, "dehydration" plant, grain drying equipment and milk sterilisers. Some of the equipment and machinery was sent under contracts with the Ministry of Supply to the Soviet Union, thereby maintaining a link, which went back long before the days of war and revolution.

The impact of war on the employees of the Company had different consequences in 1914-18 and in 1939-45. In 1914 several of the firm's employees who were resident in enemy territory were interned in enemy countries while after a factory recruitment meeting there was an immediate rush of Park Works workers to join the armed forces. By contrast, the gradual and compulsory call up scheme and the system of reserved occupations which operated from the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 prevented a chaotic rush from industry, with the result that the firm retained most of its employees throughout the first year of the fighting. Women were drawn into the firm in larger numbers than ever before. Loris Mather, the Chairman, commented in 1942, “While many of these have had little training for the work on which they are now engaged, we are well satisfied with the way they tackle their jobs, and the energy and cheerfulness which they display."

Finally, whereas in 1914 recent additions to the Park Works buildings were handed over to Avro for the manufacture of aeroplanes, in 1939 all available plant including some recent extensions were urgently required for the firm's own needs. Indeed, by the end of the War in 1945, the workshops were seriously congested and the packed order book led to a search for new premises for the third time in the firm’s history. After negotiations with the Ministry of Supply, a ten year lease of the Royal Ordnance Factory at Radcliffe about ten miles North of Park Works, was arranged, thus providing the firm with an additional manufacturing space of about 30% of the area of Park Works, and accommodation for 800 to 1,000 additional workers. Although the post war years were to involve many problems of re-conversion in an awkward and unsettled period of economic history, the firm was expanding and again looking to the future.

Former employee, Tommy Walsh (see "The People Write" via Features Menu) writing before the site was demolished in the 1990s remembers Park Works in 1940 when "I used to pass it on the bus. "Britain At Work" painted by L. S. LowryAs a young man I was intrigued by the camouflage painted on the walls. Even to this day you can make out the doors and windows that were painted on the buildings to confuse the enemy. It was years later when it struck me that if the enemy was aware that our factories were camouflaged as houses, then houses would become legitimate targets. If our government saw it this way, I don't suppose we will ever know. The other thing that made me think later was that it must have been very good paint to last nearly sixty years in all sorts of weather.

There is a painting of the main entrance of Mather & Platt in the War Museum in London; painted in about 1940, I think, by L. S. Lowry. It depicts the match-like figures going through the main gate of the factory and the painting also shows barrage balloons in the background."

Note
Laurence Stephen Lowry was born in Manchester in 1887. The theme of the industrial landscape first emerged in his work around 1915; at this time he had his first exhibition at Salford art gallery. He lived in Pendlebury in Salford for 39 years, and worked as a Rent Collector and Clerk for the Pall Mall Company Ltd. in Manchester. The landscapes Lowry chose to record were very familiar to him as his position as Rent Collector and Clerk ensured that he had first-hand experience of many of the areas around Manchester.