Douglas Rownson

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Douglas Rownson Ltd was formed on January 1st 1966 to merge William Douglas & Sons (Engineering) and Rownson Conveyors. The new company had three divisions – Rownson Conveyors, Douglas Refrigeration and Douglas Process Plant. Each division had its own selling, estimating and design departments. The two companies had moved into a new joint factory on the West Daneshill Industrial Estate in Basingstoke in the autumn of 1965. This move had been brought about by the unsuitability of William Douglas and Sons' premises in Putney and the termination of the lease on Rownson Conveyors' factory at Maiden Lane, near King's Cross Station in north London.

The new factory comprised a single production area with two main bays 420 feet in length and 60 feet wide. A bay of production offices and other amenities ran the full length of the building. A two-storey office building was situated across the front of the factory on the road side of the site. The factory employed around 350 people. In an extension to the Baker Perkins Group's training facilities, a new apprentice training school was opened in 1966 on the Basingstoke site.

The great advantage of bringing the two companies together was that, in some industries, such as meat processing and the dairy industry, a complete service could be offered – covering refrigeration, process plant and mechanical handling – giving many customers a single source for most of their needs.

Inevitably, the period after the move to Basingstoke was difficult and the disruption, together with tough economic conditions in the industries served resulted in a trading loss for the year. Also in 1966, a jointly-owned subsidiary was formed between Douglas Rownson Ltd and the Bristol Abattoir Equipment Co., Bristol, trading as Meat Plant Engineering Ltd. The new company's activities – a complete range of slaughtering and mechanical handling equipment, refrigeration and animal by-products plant for abattoirs and meat works – were aimed primarily at the export market.

With the two companies joining forces and moving to a new factory in a strange town, it was realised that one of the vital factors in welding the new firm into a cohesive unit would be a strong, lively Sports and Social Club. The new Club was basically an extension of the old Douglas club at Putney which now had 270 members from a total staff of about 380. Most of the Putney activities continued - football, cricket, tennis, table tennis, darts and snooker - plus a full programme of social evenings.

Results improved in subsequent years and, by 1969, Douglas Rownson was carrying out several contracts at airport installations around the world for the automatic conveyance and handling of freight and passenger baggage. A new 12,000 square feet factory extension - to house the machine shop, electrical fitting section and marshalling section was built in 1970, increasing the factory floor area by 25%.

A rationalisation exercise took place in 1973 when certain product lines were dropped to allow the company to concentrate on its key activities of poultry and animal by-product rendering plants, ingredient and product handling, refrigeration for the food industries and the manufacture of airport baggage handling equipment.

1974 saw Douglas Rownson launch a major innovation as part of their animal by-products processing business – a method of chemically treating the vapours emitted when processing animal and poultry waste. These plants produced high protein and nutritional meal and oils from waste materials, the finished product being used as a feed additive. The new system took the vapours from the cooking process and treated them by caustic washing and chlorine scrubbing – making them inoffensive for releasing in to the atmosphere. The system was also capable of treating effluent for odour-less discharge into the sewage system. – all at a tenth of the cost of other methods.

Despite obtaining many large contracts from around the world, business volume did not rise sufficiently to offset the high technical overhead necessary to run the business and considerable losses were made over a three-year period. The weakness of the pound and the three-day week following the OPEC oil crisis, all had their effect. The Basingstoke factory was closed in February 1975 with the loss of 260 of the 310 existing jobs.

Responsibility for its businesses in liquid ingredient handling for the biscuit industry and in pumps were transferred to Baker Perkins Ltd. Peterborough and its other product lines were sold. Smaller premises were sought in the Basingstoke area into which this manufacture could be transferred and it was hoped to employ around 20 people. Suitable premises were found in the centre of Basingstoke and a new company, Douglas Pumps, was established.

Under its general manager, Derek Hill, sales grew steadily and, in 1978, a move to larger premises was necessary. Situated on the Daneshill East Industrial Estate, at 20,000 square feet and employing 34, the new factory and office building was two and a half times the size of the old premises. The company's name was changed to Douglas Process Engineering at this time.

A new Shreddies line was installed at Nabisco, Welwyn in 1982. This comprised cookers and shredders designed, manufactured and installed by Douglas Process Engineering.

In the very difficult trading conditions of the early eighties, the market for pumps and bulk handling systems dropped to a level where it was no longer economic to continue at Basingstoke and manufacture of the Douglas Pump was transferred in April 1983 to Peterborough, under R.W. (Bob) Fuller. The cereal equipment business continued at Basingstoke for another four years before Douglas Process Engineering was closed in March 1987 and responsibility for cereal plant engineering transferred to Baker Perkins BCS, Peterborough.

After the merger with APV in 1987, manufacture of the Douglas Pump was transferred to APV's Industrial Pump and Mixer Division in East Kilbride, Scotland. The animal by-products side of the business was purchased in 2002 by Dupps of Ohio, USA and the Netherlands.

From research conducted by the Baker Perkins Historical society

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Last modified: Thursday, 16 January 2020