Rumour has it that after Thomas Messenger sold the business to Mr. Bumpus and Mr. Burder he would intercept the mail and keep the best work for himself, passing on the rest to the new Company.
I started at Messenger’s in late 1959. I was living in Loughborough at the time and looking for a job. I saw an advertisement of theirs for a general assistant to the Works Manager and the way it was worded interested me. I applied and wasn’t sure if I would get it or not. Anyway after a couple of days Mr. Martin Averay-Jones, who was a cousin of the Burders, came to see me, saying he preferred me to any of the other applicants and would I take the job, which I did. Martin and I worked mainly on taking orders and translating them into a form that the foundry could produce. We worked mainly on the boiler side; we produced replacement parts for existing boilers. We would on occasions go out to site and if we thought that we could provide a replacement part we would, otherwise we would tell them that the boiler was very old and advise them to look for an alternative boiler. We sold more of the Loughborough boilers than the sectional Quorn boilers.
It was a nice place to work, Martin and I had an am office towards the back of the office block, on the foundry side. Although there was central heating in the form of several very large old radiators, which gave out a certain amount of heat, it was still chilly in winter and as we had an open fire in the office we used to light it.
In the loft. area above the offices there was a large number of (the 5th edition) catalogues stored from floor to ceiling, apparently someone when ordering them added an extra zero to the end and no-body noticed. In addition, there were all sorts of junk up there. On one occasion, along with another office college, I tried to do an audit of what was there but it was impossible, things appeared to have been there for ever, nothing seemed to get thrown away. The man in charge admitted that if he received anything that he didn’t know what it was he simply made out another card for it.
It was a fascinating place to work; I have previously worked for a firm in Nottingham Road that had only been going about 10 years. When I came to work at Messenger’s there were all these old men there who had there since being apprentices at the age of 13. It appears that they had been there for ever and none of the processes appear to have changed during that time. By the early 1960s, Messenger’s were not receiving any orders for the large bespoke greenhouses or conservatories. Between the front of the offices and the footpath there was a small garden that was used as a display area for their small domestic sheds and greenhouses, etc. There were two or three designs of greenhouses, cold frames, etc.
Tom Wesson, the foundry foreman, lived in one of the houses and I’m not sure who lived in the other, I think that the other had been converted into offices. Someone sat in one of them and booked everything that went in and out, in a beautifully hand-written daybook. Whilst I was there I don’t remember anything coming in by train, everything must have been delivered by lorry. At the back of the site were the sheds, used for seasoning the timber; next door, I think, were the pattern makers’ sheds. By that time some of the pattern making was being sub-contracted out to firms like Cross & Sansom Ltd., on Nottingham Road who are still in existence (I think) but are now in Shepshed.
Messenger’s also made castings and had shares in a factory, a bit further down Rosebery Street that made industrial ovens, cookers and grills.
Whilst they were still making boilers and other components in the foundry, they were also making castings for everyone and anyone, including Edwards Machine Tools, who had put money into Messenger’s. Mr. Edwards used to appear from time to time and nobody liked him very much. As well as making castings for Edwards they also did some of the basic assembly work. They also made castings for Rolls-Royce, Parkers of Leicester along with Brush, Morris’s, and Cottons in Loughborough. They also cast boilers for The Beeston Boiler Company.
Mr Kenneth Maclean Burder, who had been the Managing Director died (1st Dec 1959) about a week after I started and almost everyone apart from two or three people went to his funeral. I was left to answer the phones; lots of people rang up saying how nice a man he had been. His son, Frederick Gifford Maclean Burder, who was known as Derek, took over. He had a son, David, and a daughter, Gabrielle, who were both children when I was there. Something went wrong in the family his wife was strange. Derek had never wanted to go into the family business at all, he’d much rather had been a racing driver. He was cousin to Martin Averay-Jones and also to the Beardsley’s of the Woolley, Beardsleys and Bosworth solicitors. Derek was the last Burder to be involved with the firm.
In 1895 Alfred Burder lived at The Elms, off Leicester Road and Walter Chapman Burder lived at Field House on Ashby Road. The next generation Edwin, Eric Walter Gifford and Herbert Gifford, who were all brothers, along with Kenneth Maclean, a cousin.
There was a conservatory at Mountfields, on Forest Road, but it was knocked down on health and safety grounds. My son was at the nursery there and I used to take him one day a week and they played in the old conservatory, but at some point it was knocked down.
During my time at Messenger’s the Directors of the firm were mainly people who didn’t actually work there. Tom Wesson ran the foundry and Walter Harriman ran the woodwork shops. He was in his late 60s or early 70s when I was there. He was one of those who were apprenticed there when in their early teens. It was the type of firm where people tended to stayed most of their working life.
I stayed there until 1963, when my daughter was born. Martin wanted me to go back but it wasn’t easy so I didn’t. He left shortly afterwards to go and run a hotel in Paignton. He was the son of a vicar and one of the nicest men I’ve ever met, but not very business-like. He read Classics at Oxford but I believe that it was never completed because of the war. He worked at Cotes Mill for a time and I think that the Burder family took pity on him and offered him a job at Messenger’s. He was very much into local cricket. The Shepshed Messengers cricket team, which is still going, was actually part of Messenger’s cricket team. When numbers dwindled, because so many of them lived at Shepshed, they set-up their own team. One of things we did in the office was to do the cricket team lists for the following week.
I received the orders, sent out quotations, costed up things. One of the first things I had to do was calculate the weight of the cast iron components from a series of drawings. Well I could and I did and nobody appeared to have any doubts that I couldn’t do it. There were times when we costed items far too high if the Tom Wesson, furnace foreman, didn’t want to make the. We also cast manhole covers, although when I was there they had almost stopped making them. I used to spend a lot of time ringing up firms in Cradley Heath and buying in manhole hole covers for local building firms, as there was a bit of a housing boom at the time. They never made any street signs or fire hydrant signs during my time there, although they did make one or two weather vanes. They still had the patterns for them; I think they also made lamp standards at one time. They certainly made guttering and downpipes. When I was there they were still doing a bit of woodwork, a few greenhouses and sometimes repairs on existing structures. One of the sheds was used as engineering workshop, where they cleaned up castings which we used for the big machine tools. Also, there were big rooms where they still had all the woodworking machinery and they also had space inside to assemble the structures. Whilst, by then all the machines were run by electricity, a lot of them still had the belts on from when they’d been operated by stream.
They destroyed a lot of records. They had a room full of old ledgers which they sold for scrap paper. It upset me at the time, my step-father was into local history and I kept thinking that they shouldn’t do this – but they did.
In the early 1960s they were making garden sheds and small 6ft. by 8ft. greenhouses all made of wood. This was about the time that greenhouses were started to be made of extruded aluminium and were much cheaper. Messenger’s never made any in aluminium. They were a very traditional company and it took them a long time to move into the amateur and small holding markets.
It was during my time there that they closed the London office which was in Victoria Street; they simply weren’t getting any orders everything then came thought the Loughborough works.
Looking at the office block from the front they might have been a showroom at the far left hand end; moving to the right there was the drawing office, these was followed by the buyer offices and on the right hand end the telephonists. There was a corridor down the office block and on the far side starting from the right was a small office that was empty, moving to the left was the accounts office, then Martin’s and my office, next door was Mr. Derek’s office. The last office was occupied by Mr. Hubbard who looked after the greenhouse side of the business. They was also a canteen on site and a fitting shop where the boiler-men and plumbers worked.
By the early 1960s the firm was losing money and in debt. When demands arrived they were thrown into a pile and ignored. They had a negative cash flow because they found it difficult to get the money they were owed. People would often pay one or two instalments and then refuse to pay anymore. Because of the relatively small sums involved it wasn’t worth going through the expense of taking them to court, so they just wrote off the bad debt.
The foundry business was the only department that was profitable, as they were making parts for other engineering firms, who actually paid. In the other departments, the firm appeared reluctant to get rid of people, who were under-employed because they weren’t receiving the orders to keep them busy. The firm appeared to be hoping that things would change, but it never did. Two of the problems appeared to be that there were too many people who had been there too long and were unwilling to change approach and as a result went into decline and finally folded.
In the mid-1970s they sold off all the over-ordered copies the 5th edition catalogue – these were sold by David and Mary Irwin who ran a second-hand bookshop in Frederick Street, opposite the Congregational Church. Later they moved onto Ashby Road.
Messenger’s also converted some of their Quorn Boilers to take oil. There was a scheme at the time whereby people could borrow money cheaply to make the conversion.
They also ventured into selling small electrical heaters – known as Autoheat electric greenhouse space heater. They didn’t manufacturer them themselves, but bought them in from the manufacturer who was based in Scotland. It was profitable line; Messenger’s mad 60% profit on each heater.
The firm were still exhibiting at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1960.