Conveyor systems were an integral part of many of the process plants supplied by Baker Perkins and an acquisition in this area made sense. Rownson had been making mechanical handling equipment for more than 50 years and had been associated with Baker Perkins in the handling of bulk sugar for biscuit factories before being acquired in June 1960.

Rownson banana ship unloaders Mail-order warehouse conveying system

Rownson installed specialised cargo handling equipment at many UK ports, the company having originated in 1909 to promote the “Donald” patent elevator for carrying stems of bananas to and from ship’s holds. It expanded into package handling and warehousing after WW1 but his activity was put on hold by WW2 with the company supplying, amongst other things, 400 miles of gravity roller conveyors, some of which went into ordnance factories. The cessation of hostilities saw a move into conveyor systems for large dairies.

Baggage System at Heathrow

One of Rownson’s key products was baggage-handling equipment for airports. Installations were made in many of the major airports of the world. A system to handle both incoming and outgoing baggage – totalling more than 1,000 feet of conveyor and handling 1,800 items of baggage per hour – was put into Cairo airport in 1964, just before the move to Basingstoke and the merger with Wm. Douglas & Sons to form Douglas Rownson Ltd.

To be continued

Colin Joyce’s recollections of his time at Rownson Conveyors:

In late spring or early summer 1960, I moved to London from Stoke-on-Trent, where my attention was on the machinery division of an old established builders’ merchants called Rownson, Drew & Clydesdale Ltd. The business of this division had been purchased by Baker Perkins through a new company called Rownson Conveyors Ltd. Rownson were the leaders in sugar handling and it was this that attracted Baker Perkins, although the market had already peaked and few orders for sugar screw conveyor systems were secured subsequently.

I worked with a Mr Thrift, the R,D & C auditor, at that company’s headquarters in Upper Thames Street in the City of London, to extract the appropriate data from R, D & C accounting records and set up a set of books of account for the new company. Whilst there, I saw quite a lot of William Douglas, a Scottish Chartered Accountant, who was Chairman of the vendors. His accent suggested that he had only recently moved from his native Aberdeen rather than forty years earlier, as was the case. He was full of anecdotes, but one I remember still was of his trip to Bucharest in the 1920s, soon after coming to London, in order to collect a large overdue debt; it was the travel on the Orient Express and a stay at the Athenee Palace Hotel that really evoked a different era.

As a bachelor still, I lived in a private hotel in Muswell Hill that was reasonably close to the premises of Rownson Conveyors, which was in a station goods yard behind Kings Cross station. Mr Anderson was managing director and John de Courcy was technical director with the senior sales representation, Ron Bennett. Bill Wright, with whom I had worked in Brazil, was sent from Peterborough to be works manager. I found that Rownson were really mechanical handling designers and suppliers, rather than specialises in food handling applications as I suspect Harold Crowther, who seemed to have been the mover behind the acquisition, together with Norman Mountain, had assumed. Their one unique product was the Donald conveyor that was used around the world for banana handling at that time.

One employee I remember in particular from my very short time at Kings Cross, was the caretaker cum carpenter cum handyman, who, like Dave Pearce whom I was to meet later when I joined William Douglas & Son in Putney, seemed to almost live on the premises and consequently, whose hourly wage rate was tiny; it was not appreciated by him or by the management when I insisted that he was paid the rate for the job as his hours were of a consequence reduced.

The premises were in an awful state, although relatively cheap, and access over railway lines etc. even worse but the six months or less that I spent there I found interesting because of the people and the challenges.

I left in December 1960 in order to return to Brazil”.

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