Walter Sargent and Co.
This Town Factory has been Transformed
How the war-time dislocation of industry can be turned to advantage in the reconstruction period has been illustrated by a Rushden firm of boot manufacturers, Messrs. Walter Sargent and Co., Ltd.
Forced to leave their factory so that a munitions firm could step in, they have spent eight months in transforming it prior to their return.
Before the war the position in which this company found itself was typical of many old established businesses.
Much progress had been made from time to time, but complete modernisation had never been possible.
During the war, in borrowed premises, output was reduced by 50 per cent.
To-day the pre-war factory is laid out and equipped on the latest principles. When the workers went back to it they could recognise nothing but the walls.
The background of the story is the founding of a business in 1870 by the late Mr. Walter Sargent (father of the present managing director), many years in a Crabb-street factory, and the purchase of the Glassbrook-road works from Messrs. James Hyde, Ltd., in 1932.
It was in September, 1941, that the firm bowed to the dictates of “concentration,” handed over its factory to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and set up as best it could in a smaller factory the Manton-road branch of John White, Ltd.
Even then the directors saw the bright side. They had, at any rate, a factory to themselves. They could preserve their individuality.
Production, however, was bound to fall. It fell because of the continual call-up of labour, and also because so much machinery and general equipment had to be stored away. A lot of leather was also stored out. Three or four premises, among them a public house, gave shelter to belongings for which there was no room in Manton-road.
After the fighting, it took seven months to persuade the Government that the Glassbrook-road factory where Dubiliers had made important munitions of war should be released to its old occupants.
Meanwhile the firm was deciding on a policy the bold one of stripping out the place and starting afresh to a plan which would utilise every modern idea.
The stored machinery was marked for reconditioning, and in July of last year the junior director, Coun. R. E. B. Sargent, A.F.C., fresh from war service as an R.A.F. pilot, began operations at Glassbrook-road in conjunction with planning and machinery experts.
It was a long task, but in the end the timing worked out well, for the general move-in coincided with the fortnight of the power stoppage.
Clickers and closers were first to resume work at Glassbrook-road, and the rest of the staff went in last week.
Instead of the line-shafting and oil engines of the old days, they found the factory running on the all-motor principle.
Over 25,000 square feet of ground space was a new concrete floor, with the electric cables buried in the concrete. The whole lay-out was different. Several new machines of the latest type had been introduced and some of the old ones disposed of.
The new machinery is in the lasting, making and finishing rooms, and these are the departments where the contrast with the old arrangements is greatest.
All the principal machines are served by individual motors, usually mounted on the machine itself. A few small machines in the rough-stuff room are grouped in line, and in the closing room there is one motor to a bench.
It has been possible to place almost every machine in the ideal position for lighting and the easy rotation of work, and great care has been expended on this feature.
The elimination of overhead pulleys and gadgets clears the way for maximum benefit from the north lighting and is so complete that the heating pipes have the roof to themselves.
Dust extraction is on the most thorough lines, and the general colour scheme of deep cream and green has a pleasant effect. The electric lighting will be re-organised during the summer.
The furnace is very interesting, with its system of automatic stoking, controlled by a “weatherstat,” which assesses air conditions outside the building and regulates the feeding of the boiler accordingly.
Further control by thermostats is provided for in each section of the factory.
A large centrally heated cloakroom is one of many arrangements for the convenience of the workers, and on an upper floor a well-equipped canteen has been opened this week and achieved instant popularity. Forty-five employees several of them in-town workers have already booked daily dinners there.
The adjoining room is for recreation, and schemes are in hand for putting it to full use.
The air raid shelter built on to the factory early in the war is now the bottom-stock store. The old engine house has been converted into a storeplace for lasts.
In all, the factory is planned for a daily production of 1,500 pairs of ladies’ and men’s Goodyear welted footwear.
Full production awaits full re-building of the labour force, but the staff is steadily increasing.
Only medium and high-class work is undertaken by Messrs. Sargent, who pride themselves upon their intimate contact with their customers, most of whom are of long standing.
From one customer they have never been without an order for 40 years. The entire output goes to wholesale and multiple firms.
In export trade the company finds a very promising market in China the shoe sizes here are small, and range chiefly from 4 to 8 and is also dealing with South America, Malta, Iceland, Kenya and the West Indies. As labour and supplies improve there should be much extension of the export section.
The secretary of the company is Mr. F. C. Knight, A.C.I.S., who served in the Royal Navy as a lieutenant during the war. One of the oldest employees is Mr. Lewis Johnson, the maintenance engineer, who has been with the firm 50 years.