Lune Mills, Lancaster. 1950-1967.
Talk by A.T. Adam, Member.
At the Durrington Community Centre, 8th January, 1992.
The speaker said his talk would cover the period in his career from 1950-67 when he was employed by Jas. Williamson Ltd., at Lune Mills, Lancaster. He joined the Company as their Electrical Engineer and after 18 months took over as Power Engineer. After 5 years in this position he was appointed Works Engineer responsible for the activities of a total of 600 staff and personnel.
Lune Mills was a factory covering 115 acres on the side of the River Lune, in addition there were two Cotton Mills at the back of the City. Visitors to Lancaster usually commented on the pungent smell which came from the mills where large quantities of linseed oil were used in the manufacture of linoleum.
It is claimed that the discovery of linoleum was largely due to a local house decorator, James Williamson, who in 1844 watched sailors on the quayside at Lancaster Port, coating sailcloth with paints, which they used for table or floor coverings. As a result of this he decided to set. up a business to make coverings on a commercial basis.
He prospered and set up a factory on the old shipyard site, which became by 1960 a factory of 115 acres with over 64 acres of buildings.
His son who became Lord Ashton carried on the business and when he died in 1930 he had laid the foundations of a successful business and made large contributions towards making the City of Lancaster prosperous. He was followed by his grandson, the Earl Peel who ran the Company until 1967
Early table and floor coverings were made by coating cotton cloth with a mixture of chalk and linseed oil, which was later painted, but about 1862 the beginnings of linoleum as we now know it came on to the scene.
The speaker said his talk would cover the engineering input into the products made while he was at Lune Mills but he would talk about the Power Plant first.
At the end of the war, 1945/6, the Government called on industry
to give priority to fuel savings in its drive to restore the Country to normality. The then Chief Engineer Alston anticipated the need to meet bigger calls for steam, water and electricity and in 1945 was given the go-ahead to prepare plans to put Lune Mills ahead of the field in terms of fuel related costs.
Prior to 1945, power requirements were covered by 72 Lancashire boilers spread around the site and the Cotton Mills, a direct electricity supply from Lancaster City power station and a steam driven Direct Current power house which was almost a museum piece.
Consultants Kennedy and Donkin were employed to design a scheme for a modern Power Station and a steam and electricity distribution scheme covering the whole factory.
A graph was shown to indicate the typical steam and electricity demands involved, they, showed an imbalance in the timing of the demands which would have made it difficult to achieve efficient plant utilization.
To overcome this Kennedy & Donkin put forward a scheme involving the following plant:
4 – 30,000 lb/hour 600 p.s.i 720 deg F superheat Water tube boilers by Mitchell Engineering. .
In 1954/5 the plant was increased by:-
1 – 40,000 lb/hour boiler to the same specification.
2 – 3 M.W. Back Pressure Turbo Generators, exhausting at 100 p.s.i. built by Bellis and Morcom,
2 – 600 kw Condensing Turbo Generators, also by Bellis & Morcom.
1 – Heat Storage vessel used – for feed water. It was 70 ft. high by 12 ft. diameter and weighed 100 tons. It held 200 tons of water..
The heat storage vessel had a big influence on the economic, running of the plant and it was shown on the graph how the Control – Engineer could put heat in and take it out of the vessel to help to balance the- steam and electricity demand.
The Control Engineer could avoid overloading the boilers and also limit electricity maximum demands by using a Ripple Relay system. This could be used to shed or re-instate load by sending out a harmonic? signal on the mains which operated tuned relays on valves and switches.
Steam from the station was taken round the site in 14″ ring mains on high gantries and as part of the drive- for efficiency the condensate was collected at 12 tanks and then pumped in a 6″ main back to the station.
All these, features, together with training and an efficiency linked bonus scheme helped to achieve regular boiler efficiences of 82% and an overall station efficiency approaching 80%. The target of coal savings were achieved – 28,000 tons/annum, together with a marked reduction in labour and electricity charges.
Although the scheme is now almost 50 years old it does illustrate that energy savings are well worth pursuing to-day.
The electricity supply to the factory was a 6 kv ring main carried on the steam gantry to 7 substations each with Reyrolle H.V. switchgear, Yorkshire transformers and Crompton Parkinson 415 volt switchgear.
Lune Mills and the two cotton mills employed over 3,000 production workers and the Engineering Dept, had a little over 600 staff and personnel. At first sight this looks to be a high ratio of engineering tp production but we were required to provide 24 hour cover on a 6 & 7 day rota. The other factor was that in that era every tradesman had his mate.
In addition to maintaining the plant and building fabric there was also a continuous need to design and build plant for production. Apart from the heavy specialised plants which were purchased, the majority of the other equipment was built at Lune Mills.
Running a job like this was very interesting and satisfying, especially the wide variety of projects undertaken, not the least were the dealings with the 19 Unions involved.
Now a little about the products:-
Was a felt based floorcovering which had very high sales throughout the world in the 1950/earl.y 50s. Its high colour patterns were very popular in the near and middle East.
Basically it was a grey felt paper, impregnated with molten bitumen, very much like roofing felt. After sealing, it was printed with usually carpet or geometric patterns creating a relatively cheap and attractive floor covering. However it would have no place in a modern home.
Using a flow chart the speaker explained the making of felt paper and the plant involved.
The printing was carried out on crude but effective machines which had 12 ft. wide by 20 ft. diameter drums surrounded by up to 22 colour printing sets.
The printing rollers were either cast gelatine for the base colours or wooden rollers with brass pins for colour transfer.
A necessary sideline to this production was the huge quantities of paint required and it was claimed that Lune Mills had the fifth largest paint making shop in the country. The same shop produced boiled linseed oil, colour pigments and synthetic paints used on other products.
The main product before and after the war was linoleum, one’s early experience linked lineo with the brown and green single colour types which were purchased in huge quantities by Government departments. After the war a new generation of colours and patterns became available which found its way into the home and industry.
Basically lino is a mixture of linseed oil, woodflour, cork and chalk with colour pigments which is applied to a hessian sheet. Nowadays it is claimed to be a “Green Product”, the ingredients coming from renewable sources.
With the aid of sketches the manufacturing processes were explained involving oxidising linseed oil, banbury mixers, calenders and band presses.
After leaving the band presses the lino sheet was conveyed into large drying stoves where it hung in 60 ft. loops for up to 14 days while the sheet dryed out and hardened. Each stove held between 4 and 5 miles of material.
Handling the lino from calender to stove involved a need for careful control of the speed of each unit and this was achieved with a 200 h.p. Harland Drive System which by field control on the individual motors made it possible to control slip between each set of rolls while maintaining overall control of the train speed.
In the early 60s, competition from carpet makers and the ease by which vinyl f1oor covering could he made caused a big shift in demand from lino to vinyl floorcovering and tiles,, The early products were a “disaster”, the unsupported vinyl sheet which was printed and given a wear coat were found to be dimensionally unstable and did not comply with British Standards, The chemists blamed this on the “memory” of the sheet which was stretched during calendering and from thereon was prone to uncontrolled shrinkage.
This trouble led to the introduction of a dimensionally stable product consisting of a web sheet of glass fibre which was encapsulated in a blend of P.V.C./plasticiser which was printed and finished the same as the original vinyl.
Cushion Floor. The follow on from the above was the modern vinyl floorcovering which has become generally known as Cushion Floor. Here the encapsulated sheet is coated with P.V.C/plasticeser and then printed. If an embossed pattern is needed the sunken areas are printed with debossing ink.
After printing and the application of a wear coat the sheet is run through long tunnels which have temperature graded zones, rising to 300 C° and then cooled towards the outlet. At about 300 C°the plasticeser is expanded and gelled, however the areas covered with debossing ink does not expand and this produces patterns such as tiles etc.
Cotton backed products. The cloth produced at the Cotton Mills was used Tn the manufacture of leathercloths used for wallcoverings and furnishings, blinds and cork shoes innersoles. In the main, cloth was produced on traditional Lancashire looms, but later calls for flexible cloth for car seats and furnishings led us to instal a number of Sulzer knitting machines.
In all the above cases the cotton cloth were put through roller coating machines which applied vinyl or P.V.C. coatings to an accurate thickness. After coating, the cloth was fed through pin stentor machines which held the cloth to the required width while the coating was cured at a high temperature.
Leather and other patterns are applied to the cloths by embossing rollers which create permanent markings on the surface. In most cases embossing rollers are produced by taking a silicone cast from a real skin then using the cast to acid etch the rollers.
The speaker commented on the difficulties of producing black patented “leather”.
Wallcoverings. Some early wallcoverings were made by the leather cloth method which was expensive and its use mainly confined to commercial applications.
To meet market needs we set up a wallcovering production line. The paper was bought in, but the colours and much of the new plant required was produced at Lune Mills.
The ground colour was trowelled on to the paper which then passed thro’ a modern 8 colour printing machine, using engraved print rollers. After drying in tunnels it was ready for inspection and packaging.
The speaker said the building of a machine to, trim, split and produce 11 metre rolls of wallpaper and put it into a shrink wrapped sleeve was a very enjoyable experience.
He also described the making of flock patterned wallpapers as usually seen in pubs and hotels. In this product the paper has a pattern printed with liquid adhesive and then passed through a box into which flock is fed. An electro static field within the box caused the flock to dive into the paper and adhere to the printed pattern. After removing the excess flock the paper is finished by trimming to thickness with rotating knives.
Static electricity was a problem when making these products.
In winding rolls of coated cottons and papers it is in effect producing a huge condenser which, when it discharges its stored energy could give an operator a nasty shock or produce a spark which often caused fires. Propriety cures proved to be less effective than “homemade” cures, usually brass “dancing” rollers or metalised tinsel – as Christmas decoration.
What has happened to Jas. Williamson?
In late 1963 they merged with Nairns of Kirkcaldy to become Nairn-Wi1liamson, the largest producers of floorcovering in the country.
With a falling market due to the introduction of cheaper carpets and tiles, Lancaster with the most modern plant was creating problems for Kirkcaldy. During 1967 in a purely political move the Government gave the Company £2m. to concentrate lino making at Kirkcaldy because of high unemployment in Fifeshire.
The result of this was the end of a modern factory and power station at Lancaster and almost 3,000 people lost their jobs – The rundown of the City is still apparent to-day.
As a result of this the speaker moved South instead of accepting a position in Scotland.
In 1975 Nairn Williamson was bought out by Unilever who at the same time bought Commercial Plastics at Cramlington to expand the wallpaper business.
After spending £17m on new plant for Cushion floor, Unilever sold out to the Forbo Group of Zurich. The Company now trades as Forbo Nairn at Kirkcaldy and Nairn-Kingfisher at Lancaster where wallcoverings production now takes up 30 acres of the old site.
Over the last 3 years there has been an upsurge in the demand for traditional linoleum which are finding worldwide markets for industrial and commercial buildings. Japan is a big customer where lino is known as “aroma nature”.
Nairn-Kingfisher in 1990/91 were producting 7 million rolls of wal1 paper/annum at Lancaster and 6 million at Cramlingto
A great deal of interest was shown in the product patterns and leaflets available..
A. T. Adam.