Origins of Allweather Paints Manufacturing

Staff and Location


by Elizabeth (Betty) Wells

Mr Cardy has described the origins of the company and its growth from very small beginnings to a much larger, prosperous unit, which subsequently became Allweather-Evode.

I joined the company in 1949. At that time the manufacturing base was the old railway station at Swanley. This had been closed pre-war when the new railway station, now called Swanley Junction was erected.

The building was exactly as left in 1939 with various areas still bearing the appropriate legends of: Station Master's Office, Waiting Room, Toilets, Ticket Office. It was separated into the entry concourse sloping from the main road.

The first covered area housed the scales, raw materials and the grinding mill.

The mill was an ancient belt driven machine, which when operating would be clunking away. Periodically it would come to a shuddering halt due to the belt breaking. At that point, the foreman, Bert Puplett, would visit his friends in the maintenance department of the nearby 'Swan Paper Mill' and the belt was repaired, refixed and production continued. The machine was called 'Betsie'

The next area was the labelling area, stacking and subsequent movement out to the lorry loading. Only one lorry and driver.

Further into the building was the office used by Mr Heilbrun, on the opposite side a similar area given over to boiler and tea making facilities.

The last area was the laboratory, which was sparsely furnished with a basic balance, Bunsen burner, storage area for chemicals.

This building was between two railway lines with trains roaring past frequently, when the whole building shook.

The only heating was a fireplace in the erstwhile waiting room and this would often be backed up with coal that was garnered from the adjacent railway lines, having fallen of the coal tenders of the steam engines. Subsequently, someone realised that we were storing and using highly flammable materials. The Health and Safety officials would have had a field day.

The heating in the office and laboratory was supplied by electric bar heaters. As we were still being subjected to frequent power cuts, we were often left with no means to keep warm. We were often without the presence of Mr Heilbrun, who would be dealing with prospective customers from a technical point of view.

On such occasions when such production halted and it was bitterly cold. Bert Puplett would have us outside doing physical exercise or having a snowball fight. If Mr Heilbrun was there we would all be sent home!

The workforce was not very large. Bert Puplett was the works foreman (he subsequently became Works Director, many years later. Arthur Hughes, he subsequently became the works foreman at Gillingham. Doug Girard, the lorry driver eventually becoming in charge of transport. Doug unfortunately and quite young died of a brain tumour. He was sadly missed as he was a lovely man. There were various other operatives at Swanley, but as they didn't move to Gillingham, I cannot remember their names.

The laboratory staff consisted of myself and after a few years, a delightful young man named John Bax.

Mr Heilbrun acquired a secretary, Mrs Squires and another, Brenda Poole, neither of whom transferred to Gillingham.

The Medway towns, Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham were absolutely devastated by the closure of H.M Dockyard. The Dockyard employed thousands and almost every boy in the Medway towns had been apprenticed to some skill, in its day.

The opportunity was taken to offer factory space and facilities to companies plus housing accommodation to key workers, on the understanding that employment was given to people locally.

The company then moved to Gillingham with Bert, Arthur and Doug going as key workers, plus myself and John Bax. Myself and John continued to travel there by train.

The factory was quite basic in shape, being an oblong structure considerably larger than that of Swanley. New mills were installed with all the facilities of weighing, storage, etc. The office area was very much larger than before and the laboratory about six times larger.

Office staff were increased as well as factory and production personnel. In the laboratory we also increased with the addition of Barry Wood and Graham Robinson.

Subsequently a chief chemist was appointed following the death of Mr Heilbrun.

In my case I had somehow evolved into being almost full time Technical Service work and was absent from the laboratory for a lot of the time.

As all these things evolved, the laboratory became better equipped with very sophisticated research and testing equipment.

It was an absolute joy to work with the new laboratory staff and the place would resound with laughter.

John Bax and Barry Wood were masters at imitating the "Goon show" characters and we would be treated to a re-run by John and Barry of the previous night's episode.

The chief chemist drove a wonderful, lovingly treated E-type Jaguar, which gleamed-even under the bonnet! He also was adept at imitating Sir Laurence Olivier in his various Shakespearian roles. He, unfortunately left for personal reasons and we were sad to see him go.

In my case, my technical service duties increased to the extent that it became separate from the rest of the laboratory and I had my own office and secretary.

The first secretary I had was a refugee from the appalling conditions introduced by Idi Amin. She was very well educated and charming and was married to a delightful young man who was employed by the government. She left for family reasons and I was blessed with a wonderful, loyal, efficient lady called Heather Liddell-Young.

Over the years we became friends and still correspond to this day.

Production and personnel increased and enclosed photos will show various staff.

The laboratory staff increased by the addition of Stanley Werren and Derek Reed.

The Technical Service staff was blessed with the addition of Eddie Skitt who was very well skilled and adept at demonstrating to customers how to prepare surfaces and to apply the very sophisticated products we were now producing under the Aegis of Allweather-Evode. Eddie was an absolute joy to work with and had a wicked sense of humour, which left Heather and I collapsed with laughter. Eddie, after transferring to Sigma, retired to Australia where he was very happy. He eventually developed Parkinsons disease and I and Heather were sad to no longer hear from him.

I cannot give you any facts or figures re production output as this was not in my knowledge. When we passed the 1 million pound turnover we were all given a tankard suitably inscribed, which I still have.

The original Allweather and subsequently Allweather-Evode was a wonderful company to work for.

Everybody, irrespective of status, was treated with respect and dignity. Help, both practical and financial was readily given and personal traumas ---deaths in family or children ill, were dealt with sympathetically. In my case, the company, Allweather lent me the money to buy my first car, the loan being repaid at very favourable terms. People were also helped with loans to buy their own house, following the "right to buy" introduced by Mrs Thatcher.

We used to be treated to the most wonderful Christmas parties which in the beginning, prior to moving to Gillingham, consisted of all Swanley personnel going to the London office and meeting Mr Cardy and his staff plus sales personnel.

We would be treated to a lovely meal and a visit to a London theatre.

We also had a 25-year club, which again resulted in a celebratory meal in a hotel etc, plus an engraved Omega gold watch---- which I still have.

I was extremely happy and proud to have been a part of a company that grew to such success.

This success resulted in us being taken over by another company who transferred essential personnel to Buckingham, and in my case, Buckingham and Epsom.

The Gillingham factory was closed and staff made redundant.

Because I was so unhappy and not used to the chauvinistic treatment being shown, plus I determined it was time I stayed at home and looked after my long-suffering husband, John.

After much pestering I was finally allowed to take early retirement.

Because of the special products we produced and having found myself called upon to do technical service, I record separately some of the fantastic and enjoyable experiences I have had from 1949-1985, which I hope the reader enjoys as much as I did.