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William Crawford & Sons

Crawfords Original bakery in Leith
The firm of William Crawford and Sons started in 1813 as a family bakery business in the Scottish seaport of Leith, now incorporated within the city of Edinburgh.  A small premises was the place where Crawford’s began to manufacture their many specialities.  From this small beginning in Leith the company went on to be a household name in the UK and in many other parts of the world. One very important milestone in the progress of Crawford was the opening their Liverpool works.

Fairfield Biscuit Works, Liverpool, 1928
photograph © Britain from Above

The Fairfield Biscuit Works in Liverpool in 1897, the factory offered a large modern food production plant affording pleasant working conditions with the most up to date equipment available. Alexander (Alec) Crawford was the architect of the Fairfield Works in Binns Road, Liverpool and in 1927, he purchased Sandown Hall in Wavertree, which he presented to the firm in 1930 when it became the base for Crawford’s thriving sports and social club.

The company produced a booklet to demonstrate the benefits of employment at Crawford’s, this was particularly aimed at school leavers who were offered a career with the company. Crawford’s had a lot to offer for youngsters leaving school at the time and was way ahead of their competitors in terms of staff relations. They offered in house health care, a staff dining room as well as staff training. Many of its employers did indeed decide to make Crawford’s their lifelong career remaining with the company throughout their working life. As well as the excellent working condition the employees also enjoyed their relaxation time courtesy of Crawford’s Sports and Social Club.

Whilst researching information for this article I was fortunate enough to come into contact with a gentleman whose father was employed by Crawford’s. His son takes up the story and tells me...

My Dad Jack Shacklady left school in 1921, aged 14, and started working at William Crawford’s, the biscuit manufacturers the following year.  He worked in the bake house doing various jobs on various machines, working for half an hour on a job, then moving on to another.  Working from 7.45am to 5.30pm with one hour off for dinner. 

He was allowed 1 week’s holiday per year.  He occasionally worked on delivery vehicles when they were short staffed, using a candle to read the order numbers on the side of the tins when it was dark.  When he was about 18, he began working in the icing room which included working with boiling jam.  He also looked after the icing machines.

Photo from, Liverpool Online, the Crawfords Management Journal 1990

In the mid 1930’s, he was promoted to assistant foreman with a pay increase to about 26/- per week.  The working day was then 6am until 5.30pm (later 3.45pm). Dad was a member of Crawford’s Sports & Social club, this encouraged him to play several sports  including football, hockey, bowls and baseball for Crawford’s, which eventually led him to play English baseball just once for England against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park.  When war broke out, he moved about wherever needed in Crawford’s.  He was “called up” but had a flat foot and so failed his medical.  He spent evenings with St John’s ambulance at the Royal Liverpool Hospital. He was able to use the first aid training he had been given by Crawford’s to play his part in the war effort,until he was called up again to do “work of national importance” at  Crewe railway works.  He worked in the boiler shop repairing boilers and signal gantries.

He returned to Crawford’s after the war where production was very slow to recover.  Substitutes for flour and sugar were being used.  Machinery was modernised and he was made foreman in the icing room in 1967.  By now Crawford’s had amalgamated with other companies to form United Biscuits, and plant managers and shifts were introduced.  The company wanted Dad to become a shift manager, but as a 62-63 year old he refused as this would mean working nights and being away from his family and so he remained a foreman.

Dad was a keen sportsman all his life.  Crawford’s had excellent facilities at Sandown Hall, and the company always encouraged their staff to participate. The first photo shows a youthful Jack Shacklady (back row, extreme left) with the English Baseball team.  He went on to play once for England against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park.  Taken mid 1930’s.

From the 1950’s onwards, Dad was always very involved with bowls.  At various times he was secretary and captain of the Crawford’s bowling club which played at Sandown Park, and was part of the winning team of the Bruno Cup in 1967, and the Searle Cup.  I spent many happy Sunday afternoons at Sandown Hall, either watching the cricket or bowls, or even occasionally playing it.  I would usually be on my bike so there were many opportunities to play.

Dad can be seen measuring an end, 
with Albert Cross watching with hands in pockets from the side.

I can remember at Christmas, there would be a party held in the factory for the children of the workers.  We were formed into a long line and led around the factory, over and under conveyor belts.  There was a show with a magician, then we all got a present, and there was a dance, which I hated.  This would have been about 1963.

Crawford’s rewarded long service and in 1972, 50 years after starting work, he and Mum shared with others an evening of celebrations at the Exchange Hotel in Liverpool, hosted by Sir Douglas Crawford.   Dad gave a speech thanking Sir Douglas for the evening’s celebrations.

Dad (left) shaking hands with Sir Douglas Crawford during the celebration for workers with 30, 40 and 50 years service with the company, held at the Exchange Hotel, Liverpool.

Dad retired in 1977 when he was 65 years old, he was still cycling to work on his trusty Raleigh bike.  His retirement present was a valuable clock, in recognition of 55 years service to the company.

Retired Crawfords Pensioners

After his retirement, he still visited Crawford’s on a regular basis as a member of the pensioners club where he could catch up with old friends, go on organised trips, summer garden parties at Sir Douglas Crawford’s house, Fernlea in Mossley Hill, but most importantly, bring home boxes of biscuits to eat, all slightly imperfect, like the solid chocolate bars that should have had wafers in (yum yum)”.

Liverpool Picturebook wish to thank Roger Shacklady for providing photographs and information relating to Crawfords, without which this article would not have been possible.

By Robert F Edwards
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