A Lifetime in Cartons…

My lifetime in the carton print industry began back in 1966 when England won the World Cup!

Back in 1966

I started working in the Print Industry back in 1966 when England won the World Cup! I wanted to stay on at the local Grammar School but I was not allowed to mix an A level Science subject with Art. The Careers Advisor suggested I speak to the Bristol Master Printers to see if they could help me in some way. As a result, I was offered two five-year apprenticeships, one as a letterpress printer and one as a litho printer – both apprenticeships allowed me to continue my education and I was paid at the same time! My first weekly wage was £4,19s, 6p and I remember it well. I chose the litho apprenticeship with Mardon Son & Hall and the rest they say is history….

Early Days in Bristol

I was sent away on day release to obtain my Print A levels, which at the time were known as G Star levels. I also attended Watford College of Printing on a block release to study for an HNC. During this period of my working career I spent time in the production and administrative departments, including the Photo Litho department, where we found an old litho stone containing a picture of the Bristol riots. We even managed to obtain a print from it. I also taught Printing Science to apprentices at Bristol Technical College in 1972 on a part-time basis for about a year – they offered me a full-time position at one point but the pay was so bad I turned it down!

My first “proper” print job involved printing cigarette coupons in the highly-secure cage at Mardons No 3 Factory Temple Meads Bristol – I remember the address well. Soon after this first printing job I joined the Technical Department as Production Liaison Officer. My daily duties required me to control all the new launches from artwork right through to delivery. During this time I was also responsible for introducing the first ever UV printed packaging – one was for a pack of Vanguard cigarettes and another was for a pack of Mr Kipling Apple pies. I also printed some JPS cigarettes on a letterpress black with a gravure gold and varnish (does anybody remember the black and gold Formula One cars?).

The Somerset and Dorset Box Company

These were exciting times for me in Bristol but when I was asked to relocate to London I left Mardons and joined a small packaging company in Yeovil called The Somerset and Dorset Box Company. Even at that young age I knew I didn’t want to leave the South West where I had grown up! This new printing company only had two colour presses and supplied Clarks with shoe boxes. However, they had ambitions to grow into a specialist food packaging manufacturer and I spent a wonderful 25 years there with them as Technical Manager, Technical Director and finally Operations Manager.

One thing that sticks in my memory was how proud I was to show Fred Murrell, the company owner, our first Komori multicolour press which we had installed in a cordoned-off production area. He was about to retire and he could see that the company he had worked so hard to establish was still growing in safe hands.

The first job we ever printed on the machine was for Furniss Biscuits, a famous Cornish brand still going strong today. In 1994 we changed the name of the company to S&D Cartons and opened a second site in Crewkerne with all new machinery. They were enjoyable days but not without their anxieties. On one particular occasion we were working to a tight deadline and I remember helping an electrician reduce the length of a supply cable running to one of the presses with a saw! As we started to saw the cable another electrician asked if we had checked the cable to make sure it was isolated. Needless to say it was not and a few more saw cuts would have been the end of me. S&D gradually gained lots of customers in the West Country and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them all.

New technologies

In 1998 we were bought by MY Holdings who, in turn, were purchased by Nampak, both South African Companies. I clearly remember a visit from a South African to discuss our security as we were now spread over 4 buildings. He asked me where our gun cabinet was located because in South Africa they dealt with intruders by shooting them. During this time we were the first group in the UK to install Computer to Plate printing technology and the Crewkerne site was the first in the UK to convert totally to alcohol-free litho printing.


Onto Pastures new

Unfortunately, in 2008 the recession hit and Nampak gradually pulled out of the UK Carton market by closing all the sites. Eventually we were all made redundant and I was about to retire when I received a call from the Alexir Partnership asking if I would like to join them. I explained that yet again I would not relocate to the London area but they asked me to try to open some business in the South West and stay put in my beloved Somerset. I also explained that I knew nothing about selling but would give it a try for 3 months. Over 8 years later and I have just retired! Working for Alexir, a family-owned company, was the same as the glory days working for S&D Cartons. Although Alexir had a disastrous fire in 2010 which destroyed the entire production site, everyone pulled together and we were resurrected within a few months. Some of the customers I deal with I have known for near on 30 years; in one family-owned company we now deal with a son where previously I have dealt with his father and before that his grandfather!

Alexir is a friendly, flexible and willing-to-please company that I am very reluctant to leave. I have enjoyed my time there immensely but the younger generation is now taking over (rightly so) and included in these is my son Tom…. hence I leave my patch in good hands.

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