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The Guv'nor - Arthur Craxford (1908 - 1989)

by Maureen Bird

My father

Arthur Craxford in 1930

Arthur Craxford

Arthur Craxford, my father , was born in Birmingham in 1908 (1), the eighth child of William and Elizabeth Craxford’s nine children. (2) He had six sisters and two brothers. He left school when he was fourteen, which was usual in the 1920’s. Grammar school education was available but had to be paid for – 3d. (three pence Imperial) a week, my mother told me. This was a financial impossibility for working-class people with large families earning very little money. Generally he was an easy-going, sociable kind of person with a wide span of interests, particularly sport. At various stages in his life he played football, cricket, tennis, table tennis, billiards, etc. In his later years he played golf and was an enthusiastic member of his local golf club.

Arthur Craxford, the boss

The boss

When he first left school he worked at a local factory. However, one winter evening whilst pushing his bicycle along an unlit path at the factory, he bumped into a huge pile of metal chains, which had been left on the path. As he fell, his arm went through an already broken window. This was an horrendous accident. The year was 1924 and medicine and medical know-how was not as advanced as it is now, but with the help of some very clever, pioneering medical people he pulled through. He was forever grateful to his brother William for his contributing to the blood transfusion. The accident left him with a permanently damaged arm and some loss of use to his left hand. As time went on he was more or less able to overcome this handicap, but clearly he was not going to be able to continue with manual work in a factory.

However, Arthur Craxford was also an ambitious man. Like so many of his generation, he was academically very able so, his determination to succeed spurred him on to attend evening classes at the local college to train as a draughtsman. This proved to be a fortuitous decision. He had a natural ability/affinity with figure-work and seemed able to work anything out with the calculator of his day – the slide rule. This was a great wonderment to me as a child. On occasion, if he was working at home on one of his drawings for yet another tool, I was able to watch, fascinated, as he put it all together. He worked quite quickly, yet his drawings were a work of art.

A life in plastic

Very early on he worked for the Bakelite Co. in Birmingham. Bakelite was the new material in the late 1920’s early 1930’s. During that time he had met my mother and they married in Birmingham in 1932. I (Maureen) was born in 1936 and in 1938 the family moved to Lancashire where my father became head of the drawing office at Pilkington Bros. St. Helens. He became a founder member of the Plastics Institute and was later awarded an honoury Fellowship of the Institute. In 1946 my brother, Alan John Craxford, (later to become a jeweller), was born.

Arthur standing at the entrance to the Craxford Plastics factory

The Craxford Plastics Factory

Arthur Craxford however, was a man of vision. He took advantage of opportunities offered to him. In the late 1940’s the family moved to Kent where he worked for a company of toolmakers. Soon after this he was finally able to realise his ambition. His experience, expertise and knowledge of plastics allowed him, with financial backing, to start a small plastic injection moulding company in Ramsgate – Craxfords Ltd. Arthur Craxford had spent all his working life working in the industry. Much that could be made in the various types of plastic was being made. However, “plastics” was a new industry to the people of Thanet and in the very early days of the factory, he trained all new employees himself. There was almost nothing that he didn’t know about plastics at that time. Ultimately the successful business outgrew the original premises and larger premises had to be found, still in Ramsgate.

Christmas Dinner invitation

Dinner Dance

For some years the company was one of the largest employers in the area. They made various kinds of household ware, plastic coat hooks, soap dishes, toothbrush holders, plant-pot holders, television surrounds and the very first plastic doily amongst other things. Always trying to keep ahead of his competitors and almost always preparing the drawings for the tools himself, he was a good employer, treating his employees well. He also believed in engaging with the community of the town. The company made a number of entries into the annual summer carnival and contributed to various charities.

Arthur Craxford for the most part had realised his ambition, and was a contented man. Unfortunately, however, his health suffered. Eventually, in 1960/1 he retired, thinking that a period of respite and rehabilitation was needed. It was, and he took advantage of that, but only for a couple of years.

The later years

By 1962 he had become restless and decided to set up another plastics injection moulding company in the area – Shield Plastics Ltd. This company too was a success. For five years it continued to expand and in April 1967 moved into a new and larger factory. To coincide with this move an article was published in the trade periodical, Plastics & Rubber Weekly, (3) as a tribute Arthur Craxford's achievements. However towards the end of 1968 he felt it was time to sell the business, hopefully to take on the role of consultant. Sadly, this didn’t work out as he had hoped.

In 1972 he retired to live in Lincolnshire to lead a much quieter life. At this time, also, my mother became badly afflicted with arthritis, which is a painful, miserable ailment from which she suffered for years. She died there in 1982.

Arthur Craxford achieved so much in his life, and many others learned from him. He died in a nursing home in Horncastle in 1989 (4). In his glory years he was known and hugely respected by everyone in the plastics industry at that time. However, to his employees, who probably gave him the most joy throughout his working life, he was always known as “The Guv’nor”.



Continued in column 2...



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SSL Certificate

A mini gallery

It is perhaps surprising that so little of the output of the Craxford factory remains. There is nothing to be found by scouring the pages of the internet. As a comparison think what you would find if you went looking for Melaware for instance. I have in my possession a patterned dish which has survived from the early 1960s. There is an identical one on display at the Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar, County Cleveland. (5)

I am also indebted to Ivor Craxford who allowed the photographs of an early injection moulded ashtray to be taken. The colouring and design are so classically 1950s. The imprint on the base clearly shows the registration number of the trademark. It is interesting to note that 'Ornamin' is still a registered trademark for injection moulded objects in Germany and Scandinavia. Similarly Permaware is used for a type of tableware and cutlery in North America.

Nursery dish
Nursery dish under side

A Craxford Nursery Dish: top side (left) and reverse (right)

Small plate (red)
Scandinavian Airways ash tray

Small Ornamin plates: red (left) and Scandinavian Airways promotion (right)

Standard plate
The authentic Craxford Ornamin trade mark

Standard Ornamin plate: top side (left) and reverse showing the Craxford trade mark (right)

Tea pot stand top view
Teapot stand underside

Zebra pattern Permawear teapot stand: top side (left) and reverse (right)

Red ash tray
Black ashtray

Ornamin classic ash trays

Footnote

"On January 15, 1952 the Swiss company ORNAPRESS AG and the Union-Pressstoffwerk, Paul Roediger, in Ratingen near Düsseldorf, signed a licence agreement for the Ornamin process. Decorative Melamine foils were to be delivered from Switzerland to the Union-Pressstoffwerk for use in durable decorations of compression moulded parts. But there were problems in realizing this plan, due to the fact that foreign currency was still being rationed in Germany and import licences were difficult to obtain."(6)

Viking Plastics Nursery plate
Viking trade mark stamp

The Viking Plastics dish

There was always rationalisation and innovation going on within the industry. In the late 1950s, another thermoplastics injecting moulding company, Birkbys Plastics was taken over by the telecommunications conglomerate, AT&E. When Arthur Craxford sold out in the early 1960s, his interest was taken up by a company called Viking Industrial Plastics. They continued to operate from the Duplex Works in Broadstairs (7) and also continued to manufacture some of the lines which Arthur Craxford had pioneered (the nursery plate is a recently seen example) although by this time the trade mark stamp on the reverse had been changed. At about the same time AT&E was bought out by the Plessey Corporation. Viking continued to operate until it was bought out and merged with Birkby Plastics in 1972 (8) at which time the factory and works at Broadstairs was closed. The original Craxford Plastics company was finally dissolved in 1972.

References

1. England and Wales: Civil Registration Birth Index 1837-1983, Aston 6d 351
2. 1901 England Census: Aston, Birmingham RG13/2887 Folio 101 3 Schedule 21
3. "Arthur Craxford Sets Up A New Factory In Sandwich": A tribute by Tony King, managing director of Montrate Ltd., Plastics & Rubber Weekly 12-13: April 14th 1967
4. England and Wales: Civil Registration Death Index 1984-1992, Horncastle 7 1584
5. Cream coloured injection moulded plastic plate: Exhibit: RECKH.1976.478 Redcar and Cleveland Museum Service: Tees Valley Museums
6. The Ornamin process: from From the Ornamin Company Profile
7. Public Notices: H.M. Land Registry: Viking Industrial Plastics at Duplex Works, Broadstairs, Kent. The London Gazette: p8281 October 23rd 1962
8. History of Birbky Plastics: Bobs Telephone File

Added May 14th 2005
Updated: March 15th 2012

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