Articles — page 2
Continued from the first 'Articles' page.
'Possil Pottery, Tennent, and Glasgow Trading & Transport Ltd.' cont.
1932 seems to have been a bad year for all the potteries. In a memorandum of 11 April 1932, it was reported that Possil Pottery had been offered to ICI, A.W. Buchan & Co,. Govancroft Pottery Co. Ltd., and Price, Powell of Bristol and none of them had been interested. (45) ICI, indeed, had pointed out that they already had a works at Stourbridge ‘which produces electrical ware of finer and more varied types than can be produced at Possil”. Buchan were reported to be working on such a small scale ‘that it is difficult to see how they can long continue while Govancroft have their own difficulties, so that we are encouraged to continue work at Possil, at any rate for another three to six months, in the hope that something will eventuate of advantage to us. Meanwhile the Pottery is being worked on the most economic lines. Sixty-seven kilns were fired. Profits were £1,248 and 5 per cent was paid as a dividend.
Things looked up a very little in 1933, principally due to the fact that the steam boiler and engine had been replaced by a hot water boiler for heating only. (46) Sixty-six kilns of ware were fired but profits, due to some manipulation of the books were down to £998 ‘in order to take advantage of refund of Income Tax paid last year, this being in the best interests of the Company and Messrs Tennent.’
Sales improved again in 1934 to a small extent but not enough to justify repairs to the buildings which seem to have been badly needed. (47) £500 was written off the value of the buildings which were now down to £1,000. Eighty-five kilns were fired; profits were £836 and 5 per cent dividend was again paid.
In 1935 trade improved slightly again. (48) The contract with ICI for acid jars was renewed on slightly better terms and trade in insulators and in jeroboams for the American whisky trade showed signs of improvement. The buildings were written down again, this time to £500 and again profits were adjusted in order to take advantage of Income Tax allowances for depreciation. Nevertheless profit for the Company was £1,042 and a 5 per cent dividend was again taken. Ninety-two kilns of ware had been fired in the year. In this year also Mr Alexander Russell Mc Fadyen who was already a Director of Tennent was invited to become a Director of Glasgow Trading & Transport Ltd. He was a solicitor who lived at 14 Newark Drive, Pollockshields (sic).
Pottery sales increased in 1936 by 24 per cent, with acid jars, insulators and whisky jeroboams all going well. (49) The management were proud to announce a contract to provide insulators for what they called the sister ship to the Queen Mary by which they meant the Queen Elizabeth. 180,000 insulators were to be provided at a cost of £500. The War Office and the Admiralty were giving Possil a share in the contract for jars, battery boxes, etc. The Pottery had a ground annual of £100.15s.1d. which in this year was purchased for £1000. One hundred and six kilns of ware were fired. The profit from the Pottery was £414 but overall the Company profit was £1,416
A curious note, dated 6 July 1936, is preserved although it was not minuted in the Board minutes. ‘As some of the Directors know. Mr Yeaman introduced certain designs of decorative nature which could be reproduced at times when other work was slack and keep some of the hands employed, and a certain amount of this sort of ware has been made and sold at covering prices, principally for use at bazaars, etc. Recently when Capt. J.P. Younger was at Wellpark he admired some of these Vases and a couple were given to him. Later Mrs. J.P. Younger (who is the daughter of Sir William Waterlow, the Architect) wrote asking whether she could purchase similar Vases, and a few were sold to her. It would appear that she and some friends are running some sort of an Arts & Crafts Shop in London, and she has drawn various designs which she wished reproduced. A certain amount of work was done for her without charge, as it was thought expedient to oblige in this matter, and she and her friends are now placing orders for small quantities of various designs for sale in their new business. Though this business is apparently for very small lines. It was thought better to encourage it, especially as the prices now charged give a pretty handsome profit on the individual articles. There is also, in connection with the London shop, a certain lack of information about their finances, but, as mentioned, the total amounts are not large.”
It was thought better to report this matter to the Directors, as, in the first place, some £10 was spent on experimental work for this lady and her friends, and this kind of business forms a decided departure from what has been done in the past’ (50)
This can be none other that the very rare POSSIL WARE which is known in one or two specimens of white stoneware, unglazed on the outside, in very art deco shapes. The reason for its rarity in Scotland would be that it was mostly sent for sale in London and was sold here only in bazaars. Whether Mr Yeaman personally designed the first pieces or not, Possil Ware has its importance as the only decorative ware produced in this period of Possil Pottery’s history.
In 1937 sales increased again and the annual ‘Pottery working’ is very optimistic. (51) Beer bottles were again down but whisky jars and acid jars for ICI were doing particularly well. The Pottery’s profit for the year was £727, the overall profit being £1,705, and again there was a 5 per cent dividend.
In 1938, 142 kilns of ware were fired so, as could only be expected, profits were the best since the Brewery stopped taking a large supply of bottles. (52) Profits for the Pottery were £1,125, although £344 was written off for the stock of bottles that the Brewery already had. For the Company the profit was £1,583, the usual dividend of 5 per cent being paid. There was a large turnover of goods and there were better prices due to a working arrangement with the English Stoneware Manufacturers’ Association ‘which has been able to maintain prices beyond out expectations.’ The Company had not joined the Association but they gave a donation equal to an ordinary member’s subscription, without binding themselves beyond a general undertaking to respect the prices arranged.
The insulators for the Queen Elizabeth had been delivered and a considerable quantity of half gallon jars for the War Office, to contain ‘Z’ mixture. The Admiralty had had jars for sulphuric acid and mercury and basketed jars for rum. In view of all this a sum of £500 was set aside for renewal of plant and air raid precautions. It was obvious to everyone at this time that a Second World War was inevitable.
A memorandum was prepared on 20 September 1939 on the effects of the War on the Pottery. (53) At Possil Pottery there is a considerable amount of Government work in hand, as well as regular business from I.C.I. Fortunately most of our men are not young and we shall probably be ale to continue operations for some time, providing the supplies of clay and other materials are available, and there does not seem any present indication of these being withheld. Prices are being adjusted upwards in conjunction with the associated firms.
The plan to form an air raid shelter has been the last to be considered. And tenders are now being obtained for this work. In the meantime reasonable protection is assured to the workers, about 50 in number, by sandbagging part of the warehouse. The arrangement for blacking out during the winter months are in hand.’
At the Board meeting of the same date the death of Mr J.A. Campbell, the Chairman, was announced and it was arranged that Mr J.A. Yeaman would act as Chairman and Managing Director at a fee of £150 per annum with Mr E.W. Kirk at the same salary as General Manager (54)
The reports for 1939 were all good, principally because for a large order for rum jars from the Ministry of Supply, presumably for use by the Royal Navy, but prices had gone up and, after the usual devaluing of stock there was a profit of £1,121 and a dividend of 5 per cent. (55) Orders from the Government were more than the Pottery could cope with, but they were trying also to keep up with orders from ICI. The air raid shelter was complete and everything would seem to be plain sailing. Much the same would apply to 1940, though profits were down for this year to £751. There are no reports preserved for this year so it is hard to see why, in view of diminished profits there is a raise in salary for Mr Wilson to £350 and bonuses of £50 for him and for Mr Young.
A memorandum dated February 1941, however, gives a very telling overall picture of the Pottery business. (56) Wages and expenses had risen ‘out of all proportion to the business done and prices obtained with the result that there is practically no profit.’ At the same time it is admitted that the money spent on air raid precautions could have been spread over several years, which would have improved results. Further on in the report more convincing reasons are given for wanting to shut the Pottery down, which is the trend of the whole memo. ‘While for the period of 20 years during which we have run this business it has probably been well justified by average results, it has given a much greater amount of worry and anxiety than these results justify, and we are now faced with the position that those in the Management are perhaps less able to tackle the increasing worries involved, and the fact that the throwers, who are becoming scarce and gradually dying out without being replaced to any material extent by younger men.’ This could be paraphrased as ‘the management can no longer be bothered and have failed to train any apprentice throwers or modernise.’ The recommendation was that the Pottery be sold in the near future and the Board, on 23 September 1941 resolved to sell the Pottery if a suitable buyer could be found.
But finding a suitable buyer was not so easy. The Pottery buildings were valued at £4,000 by Messrs Thomas Binnie & Hendry, although they were valued at only £100 in the books by this time and had in fact been allowed to fall into a considerable state of disrepair. In November 1941 representatives of Southhook Potteries Ltd. visited the premises but then showed no interest; Govancroft and Buchan had already refused an offer to buy. Even Price Powell whose Bristol works had been destroyed by enemy action intimated that they were not at all interested. This last refusal seems to have convinced the Board that there was no future in trying to sell the Pottery as a pottery and on 20 February 1942 we find that they had opened negotiations with Messrs A. & J. Main & Co. Ltd who wanted to buy the building and a small amount of plant. (57) Their first offer of £3,150, made on 18 April was refused but on 19 June 1942 an offer of £3,750 for the buildings, 2 boilers and the fixed piping was accepted. (58)
This offer was subject to certain conditions, the most important of which seemed to be that entry was to be effected by 20 September, and Glasgow Trading & Transport Ltd. had some difficulty with this. No new business had been accepted for some time and discussions had been going on with Govancroft about taking over any unexecuted orders. An order of 1,000 basketed jars from the Admiralty had been fired but not all basketed and this was to be done elsewhere.
On 18 September 1942 Mr Yeaman, Mr McFadyen and the Secretary signed and sealed a disposition of Possil Pottery and Assignation of ground annual to A, & J. Main & Co. Ltd and the Possil Pottery was no more. (59) The profit for the year had been £1,497 and a 2 per cent dividend was paid.
On January 1943 there is an intriguing reference to an Agency for stoneware with James Pearson Ltd. of Chesterfield and this is the last but one mention of Possil Pottery in the Minute Book of the Board of Directors of the Glasgow Trading and Transport Ltd. (60) The Company carried on purely as a holding company until the 1960s and was then wound up.
The last mention takes the form of a report which stresses that there was no future for the stoneware industry because almost everything which it manufactured was now made in a cheaper and better material. In a summary of the whole period of ownership given in an appendix (IV), the profit is reckoned as averaging £706 per annum overall if the saving to Messrs Tennent is discounted, but this factor increases the profit somewhat in the earlier years of the Pottery’s life to £1,700 per annum. It would seem from this that the busying of the Pottery had been a very profitable move but that the right moment had been chosen to sell.
I gratefully here acknowledge the help given to me by Mrs Alma Topen of the Scottish Brewery Archive in many ways and particularly for having created the graphs in Appendix 3. My thanks also to all the staff of the University of Glasgow Business Records Centre