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Friday, 27 January 2017

Caught Wrapping!


This month's Derby Telegraph article features some quirky old machinery and the sudden disappearance of a manager!


You can find it here on the Derby Telegraph website, but the content is below:

I absolutely love quirky old industrial buildings that have loads of nooks and crannies (or crooks and nannies, as the old joke goes), with stairways that sometimes lead nowhere and others that take you to places you had no idea even existed.  Old brewery buildings seem particularly prone to this.  Whether this is because they grew organically over the years, or whether brewery architects just had a weakness for maze-like interiors, I don't know.  Wesley's in Victoria Crescent, Burton, where I worked in the early 1970s, was exactly like this.  Hardly surprising given that it housed the Crescent Brewery up until the 1920s (a fact which passed me by, at the time, despite the legend 'CRESCENT BREWERY' being emblazoned across the top of the office building). Such were the twists and turns of the place that, in my first few months, I frequently got lost, wandering hopelessly on silent, dusty floors stacked with rolls of paper and not a soul in sight.

The part that impressed me most about Wesley's was the Printing Department, largely because it was such a wonderful mixture of ancient and modern technology.  At the time, Wesley's printed three types of wrapping paper (mostly Christmas).  These were surface print, flexographic and gravure. 
Surface print was the type of wrapping paper you probably remember if you grew up in the post-war era.  It was crinkly, slightly embossed, quite thin and felt cheap (a bit like me!)  I suppose that, at one time, it was the only wrapping paper that was available.  The printing machines for this had to be seen to be believed.  As the paper passed between the rollers to be printed and embossed, it was then taken up by things like huge coat-hangers which produced folds that must have been about twenty feet high.  Each fold was then carried slowly around a large U-shaped track in the ceiling (as if a giant was about to embark on some paper hanging) until the paper was dry and could be wound back on a reel.  There was a row of these machines, all generating these huge paper trails winding majestically around the room.  It was quite a sight.

Flexographic printing generated a smooth, high quality print, like the wrapping paper we use today and gravure was the very best quality.  Wesley's had just taken delivery of a new gravure printer, which was the department's pride and joy.  Not new, of course.  Wesley's was renowned for being 'careful' with its money and this machine had previously printed newspapers in Fleet Street.  It was by this legendary machine that I saw something that I found both hilarious and unbelievable, at the same time.

Mr. P., the Printing Department manager, was a small grey-haired gentleman of enormous energy.  He ran everywhere and seemed to be constantly in motion, even when standing still.  Arriving at the Department to collect the weekly production figures, I found him supervising the stacking of some printing paper by the gravure printer.  Rolls of paper, about 3 feet high, covered the floor as far as the eye could see.  Mr P. passed me a slip of paper with the figures on, but I noticed that something had been missed.  He said he would go and get it and, to my surprise, bounded onto the first of the reel and raced across the array, toward his office.  What he didn't know was that, for whatever reason, there was a roll missing in the middle of the formation.  I watched with horror as the rapidly diminishing figure of Mr. P. suddenly vanished altogether with a thud, then, after a few moments, bounced back on top and continued his race to the office.  Minutes later, he returned by the same route, carefully avoiding the gap this time, and solemnly handed me the missing figure.  Neither he nor I mentioned his fall, and no-one would have been any the wiser, other than a certain dustiness about his jacket and a slight disarray of his hair.


Mr. P's active life style must have suited him as, the last I heard, he was well over 100 and still enjoying a daily walk.  For me, however, he will always be a diminutive figure suddenly vanishing amidst a sea of paper.