Loom workers and weavers at the Morris & Company factory at Merton Abbey
THE RIVER WANDLE
The River Wandle is rich in industrial heritage including the historic former mills along the river and the Snuff Mill within Morden Hall Park. This heritage is recorded at Wandle Industrial Museum who are supporting us in our work with local residents and schoolchildren.
The heritage walk will record the industrial heritage of the river and highlight forgotten gems from its past.
MERTON ABBEY MILLS
Today Merton Abbey is a bustling craft village but it has a famous industrial past . The history of “calico printing” at Merton Abbey stretches back to the 18th Century. William Morris established his printing works there in 1881, the famous Liberty Works were open until the 1970s whilst the Merton Board Mills paper factory on the Sainsbury’s site closed in 1982.
Share your memories or find out more about the heritage of Merton Abbey Mills.
From the late 17th century the park was part of an important industrial area with Ravensbury Mill located on the river at the western end of the current park and a calico factory to the north, just outside the current park boundary.
The former mill is now converted into flats although 2 water wheels remain. The only evidence of the print works is a brick wall on the Mitcham side of the river. Bleaching grounds where the cloth was dried out after washing are also visible within the park.
We are aiming to provide a permanent onsite record of the location of the Mill and Print Works as part of our project.
GREAT WORKS OF MERTON
In 1881, William Morris opened a factory at Merton Abbey producing high quality goods: printed and woven fabrics, stained glass, furnishings, tapestry and carpets. Morris is famous as a founder of the Arts and Craft Movement, which rejected the mass-produced workmanship of the industrial age. His company continued trading until 1940.
Abbey Mills was also the base for Arthur Liberty (pictured) another eminent Victorian and founder of the famous Liberty's shops. The Liberty works produced thousands of yards of hand printed silks that made Liberty a household name.
Now we want to hear your great works of Merton. From Family to Friends, share with us some great works that will make the Heart of Merton project stand out.
LOCAL WORKING PLACES
By Ian Veacock
The Lines Brothers
In the U.K., the Lines Bros. headquarters at Merton was by now the largest toy factory in the World, with an area of 750,000 sq. ft., and over 4,000 employees. An article in 1950 provides a vivid description of the factory:
"The casual visitor rubs his eyes in astonishment at the sight of one of the largest tool rooms in the Metropolis containing more than 200 expert toolmakers that make tools and dies for over 500 power presses up to 300 tons pressure, and the 1,000 hand presses, injection synthetic moulding and other machinery. In the paint laboratory as many as 2,000 gallons of paint are made each week, but much more is purchased outside; the factory boasts its own 1¼ acre sawmill and the Lines Bros. Group turns out all its own [packing] cases and crates, fells its own timber, converts it, dries it in kilns and does its own turnery. All sawdust and wood cuttings from the sawmill are exhausted direct from machines to gas producers; the gas heats boilers, whose steam is used first to run high-speed engines which drive air compressors, then the exhaust steam is used to heat production plant, such as plating tanks and conveyor drying ovens, and to heat the premises and to supply hot water."
The article goes on to talk about the half-mile of railway sidings, and the fact that International Model Aircraft Ltd, the Lines Bros. subsidiary company which by this time is producing Pedigree dolls, is the only factory in the world which can produce complete dolls, including their wigs, shoes, dresses, voices, paint dyes and moving eyes.
Here is a link for the complete article:
In the autumn of 1971, due to failing business overseas and uncertain demand in the UK and accumulating losses, Lines Brothers, at the time the biggest toy manufacturer in the UK, collapsed. It had posted a record £4.5 million loss the previous year, but had been confident of a rescue offer, to the tune of £5 million by the American tobacco giant Gallaher. When this offer was withdrawn in August no option was left to the Company but liquidation, and the various elements of the Lines Bros. Group were separated and sold off. Tri-ang-Pedigree was bought by Barclay Securities for £3,600,000 (plus £1,678,000 for freehold of Merton and Birmingham factories, and the Merthyr factory), becoming part of the Barclay Toy Group, which had been founded in 1971 and which also included Sebel, Chad Valley, Chiltern and Chas. E. Methven.
The teddy bear range was taken over by Canterbury Bears and the Pedigree Soft Toys production manager, Jim Mulholland set up his own factory in Belfast named Mulholland & Bailie. Within 6 months, Barclays had begun to further dispose of Triang-Pedigree's component parts, selling the adult cycle business to Raleigh for £800,000, and the wooden toy business to Good Wood Playthings (a company which had been started by Walter Lines when he retired from Lines Bros., and which was managed by his daughter Peggy). Meccano-Triang Ltd. gained sufficient financial backing to transfer its assets into a temporary holding company known as Maofords Ltd., which was later renamed Meccano Ltd. and sold to Airfix. Overseas, Tube Investments acquired Cyclops Tri-ang (Australia) Ltd. (which consisted of 10 companies in Australia and New Zealand) for £2.25 million.
Soon after this, on 23 November 1972, Walter Lines, the driving force behind Lines Bros., died at his home in Surrey. The Merton Site in due course became the Jubilee Trading Estate in Jubilee Way / Lee Road.
Related further information links:
The following is a video, circa 1972, showing workers leaving the former Triang Factory, in Morden Road:
A RESIDENT ON THE HIGH PATH ESTATE REMEMBERS PAST INDUSTRIAL GREATS
By Ian Veacock
With Tri-ang at Merton being the largest toy manufacturing site in the world;
New Merton Board Mills (Reed / DRG Packaging) being the largest site in the UK making cardboard for packing cases and Fry's Die-casting / Eyre Smelting the largest producers of non-ferrous / non- ali metals in the UK ( I really cannot believe the comments that the NE or NW of England did not have works that exceeded these!)
Anyway, stuff used to get made in Merton (+ Raynes Park and Mitcham) - we have not even thought of the Paint, Varnish and Oil Cloth manufacturers off of Church and Western Roads towards Mitcham. Paines Fireworks, Pascals Boiled Sweets, Renshaw’s Marzipan, Foster Transformers, Bradbury Wilson Security Printers, Carters Seeds, etc. etc!
Along Station Road, here places would include Rototherm, Corfield & Buckle (TI Crown Merton), Pye Records - as well as the rear entrances to Merton Board Mills.
Littler would still be producing fabrics for Liberty's of London at the time of this view (see below) as well - I think Courtaulds / Merton Fabrics took on that site a little later too.
A resident on High Path Estate
PRIMARY SCHOOL HERITAGE WALK
Film of a Heritage Walk with pupils from Benedict and St Peter & Paul School pupils in Mitcham to Morden Hall Park and Ravensbury Park in Summer 2015. Organised by Merton Working Heritage to connect young people with the working history of their area.
MERTON ABBEY SCHOOL FILM WORKSHOP
Heritage Film Workshop and Interviews with Year 6 pupils and David Luff from Merton Historical Society in Summer 2016.
Help us add to the many stories of people who have made an impact on the working lives of Merton communities.