The Birth Of Autowrappers

Part 1 

The early years... 1947 to 1953

The story starts just after the war, the text below is taken from article in by author Harry Miller, written, published and printed in 1953, this is one of the most accurate and informative accounts of the early years of Autowrappers.

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In the last decade food hygiene has become good business. During the squalid war years few could have forecast such a trend. Among the few was Charles William Maddison, who was prepared to chance his savings and his future on the belief that public demand for goods packaged at the production end would be much more insistent after the war than it had been before. He had spent all his working life with packaging machinery, Starting as an apprentice to a wrapping machine manufacturer, and working his way through the production departments, he learnt every branch of manufacture and maintenance. Subsequently, he gained experience of operating machinery in a user's factory and of supervising a pack-aging department. 


By 1945 Mr Maddison was capable of designing a machine on the drawing board, making any of its parts in the machine shop and assembling and running the complete unit. He had every-thing a prospective wrapping machine manufacturer needed except capital, and for that ingredient he thought optimism might be a sufficient substitute, optimism had to be braced with courage and guided by judgment. The wrapping machine industry, as Mr Maddison knew, was served by a small group of companies with substantial resources and established reputations. It was not enough for the newcomer to produce a good machine. He would have to be sure that the market was elastic enough to offer living room for a minnow among the tritons.  


When the war was over Mr. Maddison looked around for a factory building and a labour force. He found a ruined shack in a bombed part of Norwich. It had tolerable walls and nearly enough roof. There, with six other pairs of hands, he set up an engineering workshop. A period of hand-to-mouth progress followed. The little team constructed a wrapping machine, sold it, used the profit to buy materials for another machine and began the cycle over again. 

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A market certainly existed, but Auto Wrappers (Norwich) Ltd. as the company was to call itself, had chosen a slow way to break in. An injection of outside capital would have saved much heartburning, but capital often has tough strings and there is nothing more fiercely independent than a new enterprise on the edge of failure. Many of Mr Maddison's associates and advisers urged him to close down the business, and during a particularly dark period his obstinacy or faith, as some would call it, was all that kept it alive. 


Gradually the hard work, good design and low overheads began to show results. The firm took over some adjacent Nissen huts, and then an aircfraft hangar, a survivor from the First World War, as demand increased other problems arose, raw materials were scarce and deliveries of the finished product precarious. A better factory building was needed, but a licence was long withheld, during the licensing delay Auto Wrappers had to suffer the further complication of transferring part of their production to a temporary building in another part of Norwich.


Meanwhile, Mr Maddison helped with design, took a turn at production, handled sales, negotiated with the material suppliers and pestered or cajoled official departments. A few other wrapping machine makers, who had started since the war, had given up the struggle by the time Mr Maddison began his new building. A large machine shop was erected and equipped with up-to-date tools. The building programme is not yet complete and the site is still cluttered with builders' gear and materials, brick structures are rising around the tin huts so that production shall not be interrupted. More space will soon be available, for the drawing office, clerical departments will move into a new building and their old quarters become a staff canteen. Mr Maddison will abandon his cubby hole, choked with files and packages, for something more like a managing director's office. 

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The labour force has grown faster than the premises, the original half-dozen have swelled to more than 200. Norwich was not an ideal recruiting ground for engineering labour, its traditional industries are shoes and grocery products. Auto Wrappers Ltd. had to make skilled machinists out of men with no mechanical background. Even in their early struggling days they took apprentices with a view to future needs, today that policy is showing results in a highly skilled team. Trainees of seven years ago are now helping to train new workers, there is a waiting list of apprentices, the news has evidently spread around Norwich that Auto Wrappers Ltd. are a good firm to work for. 


Wages are augmented by bonus and by an additional share in the profits. Youths on National Service can claim their accumulated share of profit on their return. Employees can buy preference shares and many save 5s. to 10s. a week for this stake in the business. The majority of the Company's shares are held by its members. It has financed a benevolent fund which is administered by a mixed committee of workers and management. Members can draw maternity benefit and claim financial assistance. Mr Maddison attributes the good work and morale of his men in part to his own frequent appearance on the shop floor, he is usually in overalls, lending a hand at the lathe, adding some touches to a drawing, or testing a machine before dispatch. There is no doubt that the best relations between top management and shop floor are personal relations. But successful companies do not remain a manageable size. They out-grow the intimacy of the small firm, and Auto Wrappers Ltd. is fast approaching the stage of metamorphosis into a medium sized undertaking. Its managing director is realising that the "jack of all departments" must soon become top specialist in a chain of specialisation. Since the completion of the new machine shop the growth of the business has accelerated enormously. By 1st June this year it had exceeded the whole output for 1953. Turnover for 1954 is expected to reach £250,000. 

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Orders are coming in so fast that it is a struggle to keep, delivery dates. The Company employs no salesmen. It does not need them. "Every machine is a salesman", says Mr. Maddison. "If I can get an enquirer to come to Norwich, he becomes a customer." Customers may not see the precise machine for their needs. There is no standard wrapping machine. There are standard principles, but as packages differ in size and shape the handling element in the machine must be made to measure. Makers of goods to be wrapped send specimens of their packs to Norwich so that the best method and wrapping materials can be decided upon. It is in this advisory service that Mr. Maddison's varied experience of the industry is so valuable. Sometimes a manufacturer presents a wrapping problem of a new kind and Auto Wrappers design an original and exclusive machine. Mechanical wrapping is one of the most vivid symbols of human skills being taken over by the machine. 


A newly assembled confectionery machine was being put through its paces when we called at the Norwich factory. Fruit drops rolling down grooves were automatically counted and batched, each batch was enclosed in a transparent wrapper, metal fingers folded the ends, a gummed label wrapped itself over all and familiar tubes of sweets emerged. Auto Wrappers are supplying machines to several confectionery manufacturers, to most of the biscuit bakers, to producers of cigarettes, medicaments, toilet goods, and to at least one packer of frozen vegetables. They have just designed a machine for wrapping frozen fish in cartons. From Canada has come an order for a machine to wrap sausages.



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The main reason for the success of his machines, says Mr. Maddison, is that they are built for hard work and easy maintenance. Many of them are in operation day and night for seven days a week. They are less bulky and less expensive than most other wrapping machines. Prices were not affected by the last wage increase and export prices have actually been reduced. Exports are growing and twenty countries are already on the list. A representative in Holland arranges and controls agencies throughout Western Europe. Canada is a promising market in itself and will become a channel for sales to the U.S.A. Prices of American-made wrapping machines are more than double those of Auto Wrappers. The prospect at home and overseas is bright. 


Plans at Auto Wrappers (Norwich) Ltd. include more mechanisation of production to cope with the growing demand. The cleaner food movement is not a craze but a social revolution with statutory support. The sale of biscuits, cakes and sweets by the Woolworth and Marks and Spencer type of store, and the gradual but inevitable growth of self-service retailing, have made wrapping almost a condition of selling. There are few commodities which are not improved in appearance and economy by a sealed container. New packaging materials, especially plastics, are products of the movement and are helping to promote it. It will become a public habit to expect goods to be ready wrapped in a much broader sphere than the obvious one of food-stuffs. That is still a long way ahead. But Mr. Maddison's business has set its sails with skill to take full advantage of a trade wind.


                                                                  By Harry Miller ( Printed 1953 )

 

Below is the original Certificate of company registration from 1948 

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The Photo below shows an entry from the 1950 Kellys Directory, this shows the address of Autowrappers as "Rose Yard, St Augustines St" we believe that this may have been the office / contact address during the move between factories and construction work. (editors note : any help with conformation of this would be apreciated.) 

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The Mousehold Works, was a temporary home for Autowrappers, whilst planning permissions were being processed and site clearence was taking place at Edward St, the company used the mousehold works as a manufacturing base, from 1948 until the Edward St factory was finished in 1952

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The Moushold works, although small, allowed the new range of machines to be developed and manufactured, it was divided in to areas for  different types of machines. Below shows the R section ( Roll Wrapper )  

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The plating shop below was setup in a nearby Nissan Hut left over from the war. Chrome Plating was applied to many parts of the machines. Some of this plating equipment survived many years, and was used at both Edward St and the Whiffler road factories.   

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After the War there was high demand for luxury items like Chocolate, Sweets and Ice Cream, During the war these items had been rationed or were not available due to restictions of importing luxury ingredients, the high demand required new packaging machines for these products, as many of the pre war machines had been scrapped and melted down to provide steel and materials for building tanks and planes, Ice Cream was one of these first available luxury items, Bill Maddison had manufactured an Ice cream Wrapping machine for a local Ice cream company, The Aldous Factory in Norwich, demand from other Ice cream manufacturers followed and Autowrappers decided to have a stand at the National Dairy Show in Olympia in London to promote the sale of these new machines, Below is the early ice cream wrapping machine. 

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Below in the Aldous factory in Norwich shows the Auto Wrapper machines ready to wrap blocks of ice cream 

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Another view of the Aldous factory in Norwich and the Auto Wrapper machines 

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The machines sparked a lot of interest at the trade shows. and the order books for these machines soon filled up.

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As demand and interest for these machines increased, so did enquiries from abroad, Soon Auto-wrappers were exporting these machines to other countries around the world.

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The Interest from other countries soon encouraged Autowrappers to exhibit at trade shows outside of the UK, 

Below is the stand at the 1951 trade show in Denmark.

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As time went on the machines became more elaborate, and also did the trade stands, Notice that the right hand wall of the stand actually shows the very same photos of the Aldous factory in Nowich and the Spangles Wrappers  that we have in this history section.

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Below shows some of the products that were wrapped on the new Autowrapper machines, considering the company had only been operating for 3 years this was a great achievement. The early machine range consisted of the Combination cut and wrap style machine as used in wrapping ice cream and chocolate bars (top left) , The R machine which was a Roll Wrapper for tube style sweets (bottom), and then the next development was the RP machine (top middle) a combination of the above machines which produced the Square Pack which wrapped the Spangles  

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When Spangles were introduced By Mars in 1950, sweets were still on ration, and the price of sweets had to be accompanied by tokens or points from one's ration book, but Spangles required only one point instead of the two required for other sweets and chocolate  This bonus, accompanied by effective marketing, made Spangles even more popular. 

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Whilst the company was busy making new machines, work was taking place to construct the new Auto-Wrapper factory, A bombed out part of Edward St was to become the site for the new factory. The site originaly was  the "Norwich Crape Co" a long standing producer of crape fabric. The shattered remains of this old factory were demolished ready for building the new Edward St factory. 

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The new factory gradually started to take shape, note the war time nissan huts in the background.

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It's at this point that Autowrappers enters anew era with futher development of better and faster machines and a new manufacturing base in the heart of Norwich. To Continue the story click on the image below.