My name is Anthony Lyon. Most people at Colman’s knew me as Tony. I finished at Colman’s in 1984 as the superintendent in the printing department but I had a long career from 1947 until they closed in 84.
It was always expected when I left school that I would go to Colman’s. My family had very strong connections. My grandfather worked here. He also worked at Stoke Holy Cross Mill. He lived at Thorpe and walked from Thorpe to Stoke Holy Cross Mill every day, imagine that. A distance of some 15 miles there and 15 miles back. My father continued our family trend and went into the sawmill at Colman’s in the 1910s and he stayed there until the beginning of the first world war when he joined the Royal Flying Corps. From the Royal Flying Corps he learnt to fly and also to drive a car. The flying bit didn’t last very long as he told me but he continued to drive the army and RAF lorries. When he returned to Colman’s in 1918/1919 he eventually became the company chauffeur, a position he retained until he retired in 1968 after 51 years; so you see I have very strong family connections.
My father’s name was Harry and my grandfather’s name was Harry as well. Mr Starling, who was then manager of the print department, spoke to my father one day and asked him what I intended to do when I left school. As we’d always been friends: Starling and myself because he was interested in painting and became a member of the Royal Academy and he used to invite me into his house and show me his paintings as a young man. So, we became known to each other as a young man and an old man who were just friends until he found I was going to technical school and he told my dad there was a vacancy and he needed an apprentice at the printing department; he got Mr Wild who was then a personnel officer at Colman’s to send my father a letter.
‘Dear Mr Lyon, following our conversation it was agreed to offer your youngest son, Anthon Lyon, an apprenticeship in the printing department as a lithographer. Under the present conditions his apprenticeship will last seven years. It must be understood there is no guarantee of employment by the company when this apprenticeship expires. Will you please arrange for him to call to see me on Tuesday, 11th February, 1947 at 11 a.m. Yours faithfully (for Reckitt & Colman Ltd) Mr Wilde’.
I attended this and the moment I walked into the printing department to have a look round with a guide I knew this was the job that I wanted and I’ve never regretted for one minute taking up that apprenticeship which started 28th February 1947. I stayed there until the closure and I left on 1st April, a good day to leave, 1984. My manager at that time was as I said Mr Starling. Not only was he a watercolourist, he was a wonderful etcher and he became governor for the Norwich School of Art, exhibited in the Academy and there was a long article in the Eastern Counties newspapers when he retired.
I was fourteen and two months when I started my apprenticeship and the condition was when I left that I attend school for two days a week at nights to make up for the time that I was losing; other boys attended one day who were fifteen. I attended two days for seven years.
School leaving age then was fifteen and a few years after, it became sixteen. And the apprenticeship years were cut down to six; eventually they were cut down to five but that did not include any national service. National Service was two years missing from your life. I originally wanted to be an engineer but after Mr Starling had spoken to me inviting me I said I would like to try this job. He said ‘I don’t need you to try the job Tony, I want you to do the job’ so I became the first apprentice at World War Colman’s which lasted seven years, or should have lasted seven years but they cut it to six years ten months so I finished up on my 21st birthday because her Majesty’s Service said they required me to do my National Service. I joined the National Service and attended the School of Military Survey at Newbury which I loved and many printing machines were similar to what we had at Colman’s but nowhere near as big. I think I’d best call this my apprenticeship in map printing, after I’d passed my course I was posted to 13 survey in an air regiment in London where I stayed until I was demobbed in 1954.
I then left the service and came back to Colman’s. It had changed considerably in those two years. Money had been spent in the printing department and there were larger machines. Colman’s had acquired other companies. Not only were we doing work for Colman’s we were doing work for many outside interests: for the supermarkets. Although they weren’t supermarkets in those days they had their outlets, so we printed for Finefare, Safeway, Waitrose (which is part of John Lewis), some work for Marks and Spencer but we became too big for the Colman’s era and we had to extend again. We had by that time moved into the sawmill and taken over completely. A new range of machines was required and I worked as the offset lithographer on a two colour machine which we acquired from Crabtree Vickers. I was told at that time ‘don’t break it Tony’; that cost £12,000 which in those days was a lot of money and I well remember the first job I printed on this machine which I have a sheet of. It was for Farrows and it was for canned strawberries. Wonderful, wonderful sheets. My manager Mr Starling attended the first print section with several dignitaries from the works who watched the machine run and I well remember Mr Starling whispering in my ear ‘Anthony I could eat those strawberries’ and they did look excellent. Even today, 65 years after, I look at that sheet with pride and think yes you were only twenty-five but what a wonderful example of print that is for an in-house plant.
My goodness from that moment money became a little freer because we must remember Colman’s was a food and a manufacturing factory and a pharmaceutical company and there was lots more companies that Colman’s had acquired which probably a lot you people who will listen to this never knew belonged to the Colman’s outlet such as: Winsor Newton the paint people. They had a marvellous array of work to be printed and I often used to go to their office in London and take jobs which we had printed for them, enquire about future work. Things improved in the printing department tremendously and we thought Colman’s could never possibly do without a print department; alas I was wrong. Nevertheless, I will tell you further things starting in 1947 and how we progressed.
My hours of work were 8 – 12.50 and 2-5.40 which is 8 hours, 30 minutes a day, 42-hour week, a five day week. My wages: 25 shillings, increased to 32 shillings after six months’ service and when I was aged fifteen I received another raise to 42 shillings which stayed with me for one year and increased by increments in accordance with trade union rules for the Amalgamated Society of Lithographers who the company recognised as their negotiating team. The company always treated trade unions with great respect and at Colman’s they always went that extra mile and we were treated with great respect at all times: allowed times for meetings, to leave the company, to go on courses. They realised at that particular time that education didn’t finish when we came to Colman’s and they allowed us time to go on other courses if we so desired. We approached the personnel department and they would approve if they thought it was in our interest so I also done a course in accountancy which I thought would benefit me later on; I didn’t realised then how much that would benefit me.
Now to travel to work Colman’s had a most marvellous cycle shed which was full every day with hundreds and hundreds of bikes. Very few people had cars but as the years went by cars became more prevalent and bikes began to disappear.
At that time, I was living on Unthank Road, before I had lived outside the door. I now I had farther to come but I had bought a house up there, a terraced house; this is now called the Golden Triangle. This is nothing to do with Colman’s I don’t expect but I approached the personnel department when I was going to buy a house and they were most helpful and offered me advice, they offered me a solicitor and I took this advice. I had their solicitor and my viewing of the house, my paying my first deposit, I moved in within seven days for the princely sum of £968 which included a new bathroom and the house repointed. It was sold I know, two years ago for £96,000. I had ten very happy years there and then I moved to Thorpe by which time I had acquired a car, as had most other people, so my mode of transport was different. We were allowed to park on a car park made especially for the printing department with an entrance from Trowse and we had our own car park. We never realised how lucky we were.
In the printing department, we always had the very best machines and equipment. Most of it at that time had started to come from Germany and I visited Germany twice to look at machines. We always travelled first class when we travelled with the company and they gave us every assistance. When we returned, we were expected to write, I would call it an essay, on what we had seen, what were our thoughts and was this the machine that would suit our work at Colman’s. They never ever questioned what we said but we knew that if anything went wrong, if that proved not to be the machine that we wanted, we had no loophole. We had been given every opportunity to look at it, assess it; all they did was pay for it but we knew that if we bought this particular machine, the Heidelberg, they were always first class and we always had first class technicians come to Colman’s to operate these. No one who came into Colman’s as a tradesman in any department was less than 100% qualified.
We also had wonderful health facilities there. We had our own qualified people attended our sick bay which was situated below Carrow House where we had a nurse and an assistant. The chiropodist attended the company on a weekly basis to make sure our feet, which we were on for lots of hours, were well looked after. For this we paid 50p per week when he came, so that amounted over the year to probably £6 a year to have our feet looked after. Besides that, anyone who was ill and went to the sick department, sometimes they were sent home with full pay because they said the illness could have been related to their works. The company always played safe so we knew exactly where we stood.
We also had a wonderful canteen; without doubt the best industrial canteen that I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Bearing in mind I did travel with the company to Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland; all these countries had big factories but the standard Colman’s setup was never equalled in any of these places that I went to. You can see that Colman’s was at the forefront, not only of industrial work but industrial relations and they all looked after us very well.
We knew at some time we were going to have to retire and Colman’s had a pension scheme. There was no choice, at eighteen you had to join the company pension scheme and my goodness, I don’t think there’s any pensioners now who have ever regretted it. Because at Colman’s you didn’t dread retirement, you knew you were going to be looked after and if at times you found that things were getting a little bit tense you only had to visit the pension department and they would look after you; help you regarding funerals, housing, moving and anything that they thought older people would require. They were far ahead of the government in this respect.
The pension scheme was based on what you earnt and I think you paid one twenty fifth of your weekly wage which the company doubled the amount so they put in twice as much as you did. The company scheme has changed now. I am still myself within the company scheme. People who left after 1984 came into the Unilever scheme so the Colman pensioners are gradually becoming less and less but nevertheless we still have our meetings for the pensioners which are well attended but unfortunately, although well attended, one or two of us are gradually beginning to drop off due to our age and illness and unfortunately in the end we go to meet our maker.
The company also operated a social side much as many other companies did in Norwich. We played football, cricket, tennis, bowls, billiards, snooker, darts and we played with the people we worked with so our workmates became our playmates and we were always one big happy family; as were other companies in the city but not on the scale that we had at Colman’s. Many of these people I still see today and we often reminisce on what a wonderful company we worked for. Very, very few people ever criticise their working life at Colman’s.
I was asked did many families work there at Colman’s. In my family: my grandfather, my father, myself my two brothers and my sister all worked there. And my mother also worked there during the war in the mashed potato department which was government sponsored. This continued after the war but has now obviously disappeared; I don’t think much mashed potato is had in this country at the moment. It went under the name of POM; I don’t know what the words POM actually stood for, I know the last word was Ministry but I’m not sure what the others were. But even my mother enjoyed working there. My grandfather as I said worked here in the 1890s.
Now my job, I liked every aspect of my job though there was quite a bit of discipline and until I was 21 everybody who was a tradesman, to me was Mr. I was the boy! So, it was Mr Robins, Mr Gooch ‘yes Sir, no Sir’ but I enjoyed it and I didn’t expect anything else. As we were all workers within the department we clocked in and very few were late. Money was stopped off by the half hour so if you were two minutes late you lost half hours pay. Anyone caught in the cloak room before the bell went to leave off work was on reprimand by the supervisor. There weren’t very many people who went in the cloakroom that is for certain. Our supervisor was very strict. My job changed over the years. When I started in 1947 supervisors were appointed. To get my final position as print superintendent I had to spend two years at Norwich City College and obtain the Business Management Certificate which included writing a final essay which was turned into a book for inspection by the principal, the senior management of your company and people from your trade union. Remember I was then forty five and going back to school sitting at a desk was something different but nevertheless no one turned it down because they recognised the benefits.
Colman’s paid for everything. Supervisory work regarding holidays, changed considerably. We all had organised company holidays in 1947 until approximately the middle 50s when the company decided they could no longer afford to shut the works completely. So we worked 52 weeks of the year. This had to be shift work as well. This also entailed weekends and night work so you can see a supervisory job was not only technical but also became administrative. As we had first class tradesman we were very lucky; we knew the technical side was well looked after by the people who worked on the shop floor who, I will say, treated each other with great respect and we very rarely had a dispute. If we did we had to bring our man management skills into operation and very few disputes went beyond ten minutes on the shop floor. Before I finished my life at Colman’s there were fifty-six staff that worked in the printing department. When I started in 47 there were twenty six so the work staff doubled but supervisory staff stayed the same.
I have a list of people here who worked in the print department and approximately fifty pertent of those were ladies.
Now we had one big occasion, not long before we closed, 1978. When we celebrated within Colman’s print 100 years of printing. For this we had local dignitaries from all over the country. In fact, some came from other countries. Also, there’s photographs here which were taken on those days so you can have a small view within the print department. Now the biggest change that I experienced in my working life was how work turned from hand work to mechanical and mechanical to photographic. Film took over from the letter press and I doubt if there’s any machines anywhere now where men work a letter press machine. I doubt if there’s anywhere in Norwich where there’s a compositor alive who works. Remember this took 40 years to achieve; since then in the last 10 years it has significantly grown even again and photographic work is now out and digital has now took over. There’s lots and lots more progress to be made in the industry.
As for the biggest influence in my life, it was Mr Starling who I knew from the age of 6 till his death at 92. A wonderful man manager and the most wonderful artist.
When you first started as an apprentice you said the print department was about half the size of when you finished. What was your day as an apprentice like, what were you actually working on, what was being printed at Colman’s?
They had salvaged from the bombing in the 1940s an old machine called a flatbed litho machine. All the work was on stones which weighed 4 hundredweight, 5 hundredweight and they had to be cleaned and scrubbed all by hand with nitric acid, sand. It took approximately three or four hours.
It always took four men to lift it into a machine. Everything was done by hand and I was apprentice to the only other lithographer within the company: a Mr Frederick Gooch, who became the supervisor and we worked together all day. They were most enjoyable days. Every day was different. Every day was hand work and that is where I learnt to become possibly something of a watercolourist; as my manager of the time Mr Starling said: he looked at one of my paintings and he said ‘Anthony that’s possibly quite one of the best you’ve ever done but don’t give up being a printer!’
I don’t know a great deal about the lithographic process but you say flatbed so you had ink colours going across a flat printed surface?
Yes and then the paper came directly in contact with that surface. When you had an offset you had another cylinder with rubber that picked it up and that transferred it. Rubber is a kind surface and that’s softer and that’ll pick up more finer work so that machine stayed within the company until I done my National Service, that was kept there and occasionally a job was needed which that would suit and I would be called to say ‘can you do that job on there, Anthony?’
Nobody else knew how to use the old-style machine. They disappeared. That was the last one in Norwich, probably the last one in the country and the stones, there were hundreds and hundreds of them. Some were kept on because mustard labels repeated themselves but now and again the ingredients changed and you had to start from scratch because they put new ingredients on.
We got through an extraordinary amount of paper. Prior to my going there and prior to the Second World War, the paper mill yard, which is still known as Paper Mill Yard and which has now been converted into houses and flats, was where they made rice starch and the paper was made from the starch, became known as starch paper. Colman’s had at that time bought a company called Keen’s and they built a spice mill in Paper Mill Yard and done away with the paper making process so then all paper had to be purchased in but they would have never ever have been able to have kept up with the amount of paper we used. In an article in my book there which came from the Evening News we printed in 1978 approximately 9 hundred million labels so you could imagine the amount of paper that would have needed to be produced. Also, it was the quality of paper which had to go onto machines which were then becoming so sophisticated everything had to be exact, so the paper that we made down there would no longer have been any use in the full production like it was in the old starch production. On a machine you have a cylinder and paper is made with the grain, so the grain had to go round the cylinder not against the grain, if you went against the grain that was harder to bend and if you wanted speed you had to be with the grain so that would bend and be more pliable
We were printing in colour when I started. But inks changed over the years and linseed oil was the basic material in ink but with new chemicals and products coming on the market they ceased to rely on manufactured linseed oil and they had these products which were bought by the manufacturers who had more facilities than we did and all ink came in in tins and we had to buy our ink according to how much we used and we knew we used….yellow was the predominant colour in Colman’s that was used on all mustard labels and if that was a four colour process: yellow and blue, red and black were the inks we used. We finished buying less inks and having our own mixer who blended the inks to the colours we required so we didn’t have to carry big stocks of colours which were only going to be used occasionally. We did finish up having our own ink blender: Mr Rodney Brindle and everything was measured out and that was a job within our quality control. His first job every week was to look at our production board and see what we were going to produce that week, follow that though and see how much we were going to produce, from that how much he’d got to mix and all would be mixed, put in tins and each machine manager could then go to the shelf and take his requirements off of it. Possibly, when we had to print jobs which were in demand immediately there had to be a quick shuffle round in the process and things had to change because there were certain individuals who required, as the supermarkets do….Summertime more soft drinks are sold than what there are in the winter and they had to buy more…we needed more red for the Sainsbury’s, which were the Sainsbury’s colours: orange and red. We kept supplies of that on hand.
So, if there was a run on Robinsons squash or something you suddenly had to start printing more labels. Everything had to be exactly the same colour. There was no case of you sending labels out where the red was slightly faded because people would immediately think, that’s old stock; that’s been in the sun, so everything had to be exactly. When I was at City College, during my business studies course I had to write a book. I think the book is still actually in City College, in their library: ‘Quality Control within the Print Industry, Reckitt and Colman’s’. There was quite a lot of work put into that and that was followed to the letter after I produced it, everyone knew that was exactly the standard we’d set and we had to achieve it, or as near as we could.
Superintendents were responsible for quality control. I once asked another big printing company in Norwich which no longer exists how they went about quality control and I was told by someone that he controlled it ‘cos I’m the supervisor’. I said ‘well how does that work?’ and he told me ‘if they can’t do what I want I get rid of them!’.
It was more economic. for a print run to be done the other way round. One of our managers thought we could get more crash carton bottoms, which are cartons which are printed flat. They don’t have to be glued, they are all folded into each other so that cut out the process of gluing things and he said that would be better if it were done the other way because you could get more on a sheet. He was told if they were done the other way they wouldn’t hold the weight of the product, they would bend. He said ‘nevertheless I want you to show me’. So they were printed the other way and true to our word the next morning they folded them up and they didn’t hold the product. He said to the man who’d printed them ‘then we’d best go back to how you printed them’ and he said ‘yes, I think that would be best’. He said ‘that’s good we have now all learnt a lesson’ and we all stared at him quite amazed by that statement and someone said right quickly ‘what lesson have I learned?’ and he turned round very sharply and said to him ‘what you’ve learnt is you’ll do what I tell you even though you know that’s wrong!’.
There were accidents. I had an accident myself. The only time I was ever away from work. I put my hand in-between a roller. I was just trying to swot a piece of dust away, rather than that I got caught up and I put my hand in too far and my hand came out of the rollers. I’ve still got all the papers for that. I was taken to hospital, I was given a morphine injection and put into a cubicle and I can remember the nurses saying we must get this cat suit off this man which was my overall zipped from top to bottom and they was struggling to get this cat suit off. I’d had my morphine injection and I weren’t really in this world; I was in another world and I lay there with my hand hooked up; time didn’t mean anything. Then the morphine began to wear off and a nurse came into the cubicle and she shouted out ‘there’s a man in here!’. They’d completely forgot about me and I’d been there from three in the afternoon, this was nine o’clock at night and my hand was as big as a dinner plate; that was immense and my hand was stitched up: ninety-one stitches in it. The doctor said to me ‘you’ll have to stay in for a day or two’ and I said ‘no, I would like to go home’. He said ‘no, you can stay here’, I said ‘no, I want to go home’ and I gave him my father in law’s telephone number and he said ‘you can go home but you come back tomorrow morning’. I went home and I went back the next morning and he said to me ‘I’m going to give you all your shots at once young man, you’ll probably never ever use your hand, that hand, any more’. Six weeks later I was back at work. When they took all the dressings off I’d broken every stitch in my hand by continually moving it. So I’ve got one big hand, that one I can’t quite make a fist out of and I do suffer occasionally from arthritis in that one. It was all stitched all down here, fingers were all stitched and I kept doing that in my pocket to keep it moving.
In 1947 we made what were called hot lead process; all the type was made from lead and that was typecast. All the lead had then to be cleaned to put a nickel surface on it to make it hard. We were given a box of crystals which we put a teaspoonful in a jar, it was stirred up, each individual plate was dropped in and lifted out and hung to dry. The crystal tin never had any name on it. As we became bigger they decided we couldn’t make it in a tin, we had to make it in a big metal container which was situated in what was known as the Stereotyper’s Room and each individual plate was put in and hung on a little piece of metal, left overnight and taken out in the morning, washed in clean water and there was a surface of nickel on it. When health and safety became the big thing, they visited every department and they said ‘what is in that tin?’ and the fellow I was speaking to on the phone this morning said ‘they’re crystals’. He said ‘what are they?’ He said ‘don’t know’. They were cyanide and they were kept in this big drum, mixed with water, he said ‘well, that don’t matter’. He said ‘well what if anyone touch it?’ Well we’d been messing about with it for years; they said ‘that has got to have a lid on it’ so a wooden lid was put on top of the tank but if we couldn’t be bothered to take the lid off there’s a tap at the side what we opened up and just poured it out. Health and safety improved after that and they came down and they emptied everyone that was in the room out of it. ‘You can’t possibly work in a room what’s got cyanide crystals!’ and everyone had to go out while they took it out. We used to rub it down with wire brushes to keep it all clean and we said ‘how ever did we get away with it for all them years’. The war intervened in the progress of the health and safety and my goodness from that stage onwards health and safety was everything.
Cleanliness: people used to come, visitors used to be bought round from the big companies to see where the food was manufactured and they all marvelled how clean it was. Floors were always varnished. There were lines where you were allowed to bring fork lift trucks up but you never come over that line; initially you weaved in and out of the machines with anything: with sack barrows, with forklifts, no one intervened. Health and safety done a lot for the printing industry; not much of it was detrimental to it; that slowed a few things down. You weren’t allowed to breathe in fumes from the lead plates, you weren’t allowed to breathe any acid in. Every plate what was made was made with chemicals and little extractors had to be put in above the machine so that they was always extracting the fumes. The little anecdote to that is after I’d left Colman’s for six months, the company I worked for were then going to print some barley crystal cartons and I said to them ‘we don’t need to buy cutting and creasing forms they were left at Colman’s and I know where they are’ so we asked Colman’s if we could have them. They said ‘yes you can’ so I went down to Colman’s and was taken into the print department. I saw where everything had been stacked which I had to look through and find it and as I found it I felt a draught and I looked up and the fume extractor was still going round; that had been going for over six months. I met the young feller who looked after all that part of the works and I said to him ‘when the company finished Keith, and we came out that night, we had to make sure everything was turned off: electrics, that was the last thing we had to do in the company: make sure the electrics were turned off, no doors were locked and the keys were handed into security and then we’d finished. You never turned the fume extractor off!’ And he said to me ‘I won’t be in trouble, will I?’ When we still see each other, thirty years after I say ‘I’ve been down and turned your fume extractor off!’. He said ‘that lovely office you had, Tony’. I had a lovely office that was built on and we left all the doors open, all electrics turned off; within a week the gypsies was in there. They came over what was called the Deal Ground at Trowse. They found the doors were open and they started to live in there and they smashed every toilet, every sink. They ripped all our desks out and they stole everything; that’s when they decided they’d flatten it.
They could flatten it now and build there later on. When I go to church to Trowse on a Sunday now and again I’ve been down there and thought: that’s where I spent thirty-seven years and there’s a big pile of rubble and I thought what a waste.
The decision was taken to outsource printing, and the whole department was closed down.
They said that everybody…anybody could get redundancy; them who wanted to stay who were not tradespeople, they were assistants on the machines; if they want to they could apply for a job on another department but most of them said, No, redundancy was so good, they were going to take it. One young girl said to me I’m so glad Mr Lyon, I’m leaving, I said ‘are you?’, she said ‘yeah I haven’t told anyone but I’m expecting’ so if she’d have stayed she would have just have had to leave.
She’d been there several years, she was going to receive her redundancy payment and they were very, very generous the company were.
A lot better than the statutory. That went with the years of service and because I’d started in 1947 which was way above most of the others, when we got our bonus every year I got extra and that was called….known as loading money for the years’ service you’d been, so people who had the same job on the company as me never got my bonus though they might have been there twenty years. That’s wrong as I saw it but I am not going to turn down another seventeen years’ payment, I got it every year. I been here all them years, they think I’m entitled to it, what good is that to do if they stop me having it. You aren’t going to get any more by it but there was always a little grudge that you get better paid than other people but if they had left Colman’s and gone outside no one would have paid them the money they were on at Colman’s; that was always above union rate.
Colman’s have always been associated with mustard and as mustard was manufactured in and sent to thirty or forty different countries, labels were printed in various languages. We had the French mustard in the French language but the mustard range increased and they made Savora which was a condiment and from Savora they went to mint and from mint they went to horseradish and horseradish they went to apple sauce. So you can see they gradually broke away from the mustard and started manufacturing more food products: OK Sauce. I would imagine when I left in 1984 seventy percent of the work we printed was for supermarkets and own-labels: Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Asda, Marks and Spencer’s and other companies that we acquired and pharmaceuticals: Lemsip, Disprin, Dettol, Sanpic, all Winsor and Newton products, all our art works, books, papers, much more: starch and blue, Brasso and household products gradually began to diminish and I understand now these are only manufactured at Hull. Also the baby food range increased, not only did we make Robinsons baby food, we made Boots’ baby food and a mass of sauces, sauce mixes which you can see today on the shelves and if you look carefully at them you’ll see all the bottles are the same height, the same width, carry the same amount of product inside. Possibly because they’re all done on the same manufacturing line so the supermarkets are made at Colman’s and the prices are different in each product but that is the name of the game today, everything is getting standardised.
The wines…we did 170 different wine labels, not 170 different wines but we did for example a Charbonnier Label where we did a 2 litre, 1 litre, half litre and they were all done in various strengths: dry, medium, sweet, demi-sec wines so you have one wine and maybe 15 different types of labels. One, which was known as Bulls Blood, which I have never drank, had 80,000 labels a week. Never, ever saw, or ever drank any of these wines. But Coleman’s (sic) eventually became swallowed up. We also had a Moussec department which was an offshoot of what the ladies drank, called Babycham. Which was a lovely drink and possibly one of the hardest jobs we ever had to print being so small and the paper so thin to wrap round a small bottle.
There was also a bonded warehouse within Colman’s where the wine came up by the river, was pumped out and that was taken to the bonded warehouse because that was due for government tax and very few people were allowed to go there into the bonded warehouse.
Well because of where we lived, and my father went everywhere on the works, was always in a chauffeur’s uniform….because our name is Lyon, our nickname was Tiger and my father was known as Old Tiger and my brother who worked in the engineers was known as Young Tiger and when I started they were stumped so they called me Leo, so we had a family connection and possibly the directors never knew our first names and because they knew my father, and being the type of people they were if they passed you they would say ‘Hello Young Lyons’, except Mr Starling, my departmental manager, who always insisted on calling me Anthony; he always insisted on the full name and quite often that didn’t go down very well with people on the shop floor because he would say ‘good morning Anthony’ and everyone knew me as Tony.
He would call the foreman Archibald not Archie but I had to call everybody Mr. I remember saying to my dad one day ‘….played billiards last night with Alfred Waterson’ and he said ‘Mr Waterson to you’. I said ‘yeah, Mr Waterson’, he said ‘that’s better’. Never let me get away with anything!.
After I retired I ran my own print business and I did quite a bit of work for Colman’s then, but I had to be escorted onto the works and escorted off the works, even though I’d got those years of service behind me: a new breed had taken over the works and no one was allowed to walk in and out of the company.
For Colman’s I printed a lot of health and safety work. Within the years’ health and safety became more critical, especially after we joined the EU. We had contractors who would come into the company and they’d paint, do various things; if the Colman’s tradespeople weren’t in the position to do it they would employ outside sources. When the new regime took over and they asked me to print the health and safety for outside companies I was given an A3 sheet of paper ( two pages of A4). When I left, the people who ran the company used the company ladders, company bits and pieces. I remember it so vividly, I looked at the sheet that I’d got to print and it said at the top: name, time of starting, time of finishing, days you worked, hours you worked, materials you brought, did you use your own ladders, did you use your own brushes, were you escorted at all times.
Someone had to fill one of these in before they could come and put a new window in, or glass in a window, or paint a window; there was so much legislation that they had to follow because of any injuries that took place. These were never expected when we used our own people and they had to be done in duplicate and triplicate: one for the company, one for the visiting company and I can tell you I was amazed that they employ people just to sit and fill in these forms but they had, I suppose, served their time and the rest of the works, where they worked was used for manufacturing purposes but when I look at the works as I drive past now I see how much of it has been turned into property development. Old mills which were nothing but sheds have now been turned into luxury flats. The security men who were always on the gate, no one was allowed in without coming through security, and the security force was probably forty or fifty people. They were part-time fireman as well, which they did fire drills, they lived in company houses and they knew everybody. If any stranger come on the works, they would know, you don’t belong round here, come in and sign the book, who are you going to see? But that got so today you can’t get in the gate, you’re not even allowed in the gate, a lorry driver take his lorry and he report and he stay until his lorry’s loaded. My son in law does drive for one of the local companies, leave the lorry there, we load it, you sheet it up then if anything fall off that’s your fault. We just put the stuff on but things have obviously changed a lot, they no longer have their own transport section, that was part of my wife’s job at the end: to acquire people to come in, pick the stuff up. They would say there was goods ready, you would drive in, they would load up, she would then invoice that company; that was the job she finished up doing.
I met my wife in the print department, that was a lot of years ago.
I always reminisce about Colman’s and I actually forget that I spent four years as a works director for Mansfield’s packaging and print. I will just tell you the standard that was at Colman’s. When Colman’s closed there was a big splurge in the paper and in the works magazine. That was in the Eastern Evening News: ‘Colman’s to Close’ and I had been told two days before that was going to happen, and I had also been told that there was a job for me that had all been arranged within the company. I was no longer a print man, I was a manager and as such I didn’t need to get involved with technical work. There were managers’ jobs within the company and one of them they’d allocated out to me. They asked me what did I think and I said ‘and who am I going to work with?’ and they told me ‘you’ll be paid exactly the same as you’re being paid now but there’ll be no further advancement for you because your background is print’. What they meant is they’d put me somewhere out of the way, give me a job, keep me on. I said ‘you’ve done all the right things except one, you never asked me if I wanted to do it’; they said ‘we never thought you’d refuse!’. I said ‘I don’t want to do that, I want to remain in print’ and they said ‘well, can you remain in print?’ and I said ‘I’ll have no problem getting a job, I’m sure’
I went to work for as a works director at Mansfields’ packaging and print, where I stayed for four years. I came back to Colman’s three weeks later to look at our machines what we’d got left and value them for Mansfield’s to buy, so we bought a lot of the stuff from them.
People who work at Colman’s are called Carrovians. When we closed a lot of people who had left started (and I’ve still got a bow tie) a Club and we met at Elm Hill. Mr Peter Mertons who was the Legal Director, who also left to pursue another career, started the Carrovian Club and a lot of us old people all joined it but as people die that faded away.
Tony Lyon (b. 1932) interviewed by WISEArchive on Thursday 12th January 2017 in East Tuddenham.