1945 onwards

From the start of the twentieth century, Huntley & Palmers as a business had been experiencing difficulties. The second generation of Palmers had only five sons between them resulting in a lack of leadership in the factory. Prior to 1920 all profits of the firm had been distributed as dividends, leaving little money for investment in new machinery and buildings. In the 1930s this started to change and new machinery dramatically increased production at the factory.

Labour shortage

A 45 hour working week was introduced in 1946 and this, in addition to the increase in production, exacerbated the problem of a shortage of female labour. Despite an increase in wages from 48s to 108s for men and 32s to 75s for women and the flood of refugees from Poland and the Ukraine who took up work at the factory, the labour supply for the company did not meet its demand.

Having fought in the Polish army during World War II, Jan Patyra (left) started work at Huntley & Palmers in 1948, met his wife and settled down. Life was not easy for new arrivals, as they sometimes faced abuse from local workers. (REDMG : 2001.106.1a)

The company did take steps to tackle this problem. They issued an advertising booklet in 1946 entitled 'My Town and My Job'. Whilst this initially had some success in attracting girls from depressed areas, turnover was high and the problem was left unresolved.

This image was used in the 1946 booklet called 'My Town and My Job', aimed at attracting women to work in the factory. It shows a gardener tending flowers in Huntley & Palmers' small garden opposite the factory. (REDMG : 1997.130.258)

First Name News

In September 1954 a staff magazine 'First Name News' was issued. The title was a play on the company's slogan of the time 'Huntley & Palmers, the first name in biscuits'. It was the winning suggestion of a staff competition with a first prize of £2.25. The magazines contained information about factory staff and events. News items included Tinformation, Recreation Club news and congratulations on weddings and anniversaries.

This was the second volume of the staff magazine of Huntley & Palmers that was regularly produced between September 1954 and December 1964. (REDMG : 1997.130.1.6)

Factory closure

Labour shortages, lack of investment and competition from cheaper manufacturers, both here and abroad, led to the announcement in 1972 that the factory was to be closed down. For many people whose grandfathers and fathers had worked in the business, the closure represented the end of an era. The Palmer family directors, who were now the fourth and fifth generations, continued to be shareholders in Associated Biscuits.

Raymond Palmer became a company director in 1945 when he completed his apprenticeship after serving in World War II. He served as Deputy Chairman and Chairman in the 1960s. He became the third Lord Palmer in 1950. (REDMG : 1997.82.506)

The final word

From the early days, the strict rules and low wages led many to comment on the killjoy atmosphere at Huntley & Palmers. However for the employees who spent their whole working lives at the firm, there were many good times. Mr Wells, who worked at the factory from 1886 to 1941, wrote in his diary:
"I can say that if I had to have factory life over again I would go to it manfully. I had my ups and downs during my 55 years at the Mill. Some of it I would not have missed for all the good things in this world of ours and some times looking back I wonder how ever I weathered the storm but I did pull through and am still alive today to tell the tale."

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