Don Rouse: Early memories of Sittingbourne Mill

Don joined Sittingbourne mill in 1936 when the company was still known as Edward Lloyd.

At the age of 16, Don followed in the footsteps of grandfather, father and two elder brothers who had all worked at the mill.

Don still recalls his mother saying to him, “At six o’clock tonight I want you to go and see Mr Brightman”, he was the Chief papermaker, the equivalent of a Mill manager today. He lived in a big house in the Tunstall area. I remember arriving at the house and a maid showed me into Mr Brightman’s study, “Sit yourself down boy, now you are Rouse’s boy aren’t you. Your father was a good man, a good employee, a very good man of the company and if we employ you I want you to be the same”, “Yes sir!”, “You start at the mill on Monday and I want you to learn as much as you can because in a year or so we have other plans”.
In 1936 there were over 1000 people at the mill including 200 women working in the Salle. 17 machines were in operation, which included four machines running in the Old Mill but No1 and No3 machines stopped shortly after. No4 made wood pulp reeled up wet for a packaging plant at Northfleet. In the main mill Machine No’s 14, 15, 16 & 17 manufactured newsprint. Roll coating was beginning to be used with No11 being the first to make base for coating followed by No.12.
The smaller machines, No’s 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 were all scrapped just before WW2 and were sent to Germany, a year later they probably came back again as bombs.

After few months working at the mill it was acquired by Bowater’s and it was then known as Bowater Lloyd. The general feeling was this was a good thing as there had been very little investment in recent years.

When I started we did not have any QC. The Machineman at the wet end simply had a quadrant and a micrometer. If the paper was within 5% of the weight and 2% of the thickness it was sold.

Don established the Main Lab which was situated in the main office building to the left of the main entrance doors. The lab equipment included an Ingersoll Glarimeter for gloss and a Becks smoothness tester. All samples had to be brought across from the mill but if it was a damp day this affected the samples.

Don’s elder brother worked on the papermaking side as a dryerman/1st assistant and due to an accident was excused from any Army service. In those days there were no rope feeds and all the machine calendar rolls were hand fed. When the paper came through from the last cylinder it had to be thrown into the calendar rolls. There was a plank he would sit on with the rolls thundering away in front of him, when the dry end tail came through he would get hold of it and throw it into the first nip. This would make his feet automatically come up and one occasion his toes went into the rolls.  After the war the mill had its own first aid unit and after a clear out of the ambulance room he remembers ‘Tiny Allan’ saying “ I have something you might be interested in”, it turned out to be a glass jar containing three solid grisly bits where were my brother’s toes!.

With WW2 I went to recruitment and going in the Army was the only choice I had. I was sent to Normandy and all our shells came in metal cases with a cardboard tube protecting the shells. Picking out my shells there was a stamp “BL” – Bowater Lloyd, I said to myself, “God – I wish I was back there!!!”.

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