Douglas Pumps

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The decision to close the Douglas Rownson factory had been taken in February 1975 and the factory ran down to closure in August of that year. Many of the product lines were split up and sold to other companies but Derek Hill, the works manager who had supervised the run-down was convinced that one range – Douglas Pumps – could still be a viable proposition down at Basingstoke. He put forward a case for setting up a small factory to specialise in pump production and was given the task of finding suitable premises. 26 jobs had been saved.

Derek Hill recalled:

After reviewing the situation I put forward a case for retaining the pump manufacture and repair in a much smaller unit. Suitable premises were available near to Basingstoke railway station. The go-ahead was given and Douglas Pumps was formed. 26 employees were selected to join me in the renamed company.

I decided that I could best control the move to the new site at both points by driving the truck to ferry machine tools and equipment from one site to the other. We accomplished the move in a week and were soon back into production.

Pumps were manufactured for a wide range of uses. The food, paint and chemical industries were all big users of Douglas pumps. They even had Douglas pumps working at the Windscale Atomic Energy project, ad Douglas had long experience in pumping liquid ammonia. Overseas sales went well with consignments of pumps to Taiwan, Russia, Pakistan and Spain. The Basingstoke factory also added the 5 litre paint shaker, formerly made and sold by Baker Perkins Chemical Machinery Ltd, Stoke-on-Trent to their range. This was used by paint retailers, factory paint shops and anywhere that colour mixes were required.

Derek Hill was enthusiastic about how the new company was performing – “Because we are a small unit communications are first-class and everyone feels a responsibility to get things done”. In addition to pumps, they carried out the design and manufacturing of liquid handling plants, sold by the biscuit machinery division in Peterborough – Douglas Pumps being, for administrative purposes part of the biscuit machinery division of Baker Perkins Ltd.

Derek Hill again:

We continued with bulk liquid handling equipment and installations and performed quite well. A case was put forward to move to a larger unit that had become available on the Daneshill Industrial Estate. This was approved and we moved in using the same system as before. Shortly after the move I received a telephone call from an agent in Manchester requesting a quote for some cereal pressure cookers for a customer in Europe. Douglas had supplied similar ones when they were at Putney.

I had kept the drawings and records of all Douglas equipment in case spares were requested, and by a stroke of good fortune I was able to find the drawings for those cookers. I knew Steele & Cowlishaw had the capability and asked them to quote for the manufacture. I subsequently secured the order for 2-off, completed it by Steele & Cowlishaw fabricating the cooker shells and stands. We assembled them at Basingstoke.

A few months later Paul Parkinson asked me to go to Shredded Wheat at Welwyn as they were interested in new cookers. This proved an excellent lead into the breakfast cereal industry. At Welwyn I was taken into the plant by a project engineer. Walking through the shredding section I saw an operator with a spanner on the tension unit of a shredder. He had a 2 ft. length of pipe on the other end of the spanner and was heaving all his weight onto the pipe to increase the pressure between the rolls. I remarked to the project engineer that they must have tremendous wear on the rolls and a lot of broken shafts, and he replied that this was so.

I then explained that the spanner and pipe were unnecessary and the rolls could be tensioned hydraulically. Subsequently I left Welwyn with a car boot full of components to make a prototype unit to be installed into one of their lines. After three weeks of tests a good product was produced with no regrinds or broken shafts. They ordered a complete line including cookers.

The cookers were the first double cone units we had made; the advantage over the cylindrical cookers was the mixing action of the product tumbling down the slope of the cone. A few months before my visit to Welwyn I had read of a fatal accident at Kelloggs when an operator released the manual door on a cooker whilst it was still under pressure. We designed a slide valve opening that avoided the need for an operator to open the cooker.

Following this order Paul Parkinson decided that I should be relieved of responsibility for pump manufacture and repair, enabling me to concentrate on design and sales of breakfast cereal equipment. This resulted in the closure of the Douglas Pump Factory and a move to new premises.

From research conducted by the Baker Perkins Historical society

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Last modified: Thursday, 16 January 2020