Memories of The Atlas
I Joined the Atlas in 1965 as trainee Wages Clerk. I was paid £10.00 per week, and after the training period joined the No1 Staff Pension Scheme. I worked with Jack Drury and nine other employees in the Wages and Bonus Office.
Atlas was a very friendly place to work and at the time people like Reg Catley, David Wright, Fred Simms, Bert Turvey, Les Baker, Bill Nunn, Roy Bowskill, Jack Woods, etc. were all long standing employees. People worked in many different departments throughout the site and including the factory with all its different operations including Production, Engineering, Quality Control, Maintenance and General Stores, Loading, Stacking, Paint line, Hand Moulding, Timekeeping, etc. and the Staff operations which included Finance, Credit Control, Sales, Transport, Stock and Planning, Technical, Personnel, etc. The Departments all grew in line with the increased demand for products and the Medical Centre was handy on a Monday morning to patch up Saturday’s Football match casualties. Football matches between The Atlas, Meldreth and Melbourn frequently drew blood! The Canteen under Ruth Goodwin, and later Peter Yaxley, was always a special meeting place during tea and meal breaks.
We were given a booklet entitled ‘ You and Atlas’ when starting with the Company; this outlined all procedures for working at the Meldreth Factory including, Health and Safety, the Company and its products, grievance procedures, Trade Union options, the Sports and Social and the ’25 Club’ for long service employees.
I worked in the Wages and Bonus section for several years and in the early 1970’s we were encouraged to introduce new employees into the Company. A scheme was introduced to reward current employees with Green Shield Stamps if they introduced suitable candidates.
I was then promoted to working with Roy Bowskill who was the Office Manager, and between us we ran the Cost and Management Accounting function which reported monthly to the Atlas Board on the cost effective running of the Factory. I was in this position when Eternit took over the factory in 1975.
Roy and I attended meetings with Eternit in the early days; these were held at the Institute of Directors in London and occasionally in Belgium. New costing and accounting systems were introduced, merging into the Eternit Systems. I much enjoyed the new challenges and working with my new Eternit colleagues. Eternit seemed to like the way in which the Meldreth site operated and frequent visits to the factory forged excellent working relationships. Meldreth had several Belgian Works Managers and advisors over the years. I continued working in the Cost and Management accounting function after the merger.
The factory continued to flourish within the Eternit Group and new investments were forthcoming.
I was then asked to set up the UK Purchasing and Raw Material Logistics function, a position I held until my retirement in 2006 after 41 years’ service. Eternit acquired further UK Companies within the fibre cement market – Cape Boards and Panels, Turners Asbestos Cement and Marley. The larger UK group of companies introduced new challenges. I travelled to many of the newly acquired factories – sometimes to a frosty reception. I was involved in the closure of TAC’s corrugated roofing factory at Tamworth, the only other factory in the UK producing similar products to Meldreth. I attended many international meetings within Eternit and visited East Berlin shortly after the Wall came down. The Wall itself was partly made of Eternit Products; precast concrete sections were held together by large fibre cement pipes with a groove in. The pipes were produced in East Germany at our Rudow Factory. I remember being entertained at the East German Opera House. The difference between East Germany and the West was, at the time, absolutely amazing. Wherever the European Procurement Managers’ meetings were held we were treated very well. I hosted such meetings in Meldreth, Cambridge and London. Regular meetings were also held in Brussels and Luxembourg. When in Austria we had lunch with the Hatschek family who owned the Company, heady days for an old boy from Melbourn.
Meldreth was always an enjoyable place to work, albeit the Company was now much larger than when I first started in 1965. It had no shortage of ‘characters’, and in my early days there was always a wind up or harmless leg pull around the corner. My colleagues once produced a spoof petition to Harold Wilson the then Prime Minister to have me put down! The whole site was a most enjoyable place to work.
The Sports and Social Club was always popular and in about 1938 purchased land in Melbourn for a football and cricket pitch for the sum of £300.00. This was sold in 1992 for well over a million pounds and this money belonged to the Members of the Club and not the Company. The new Club House was built and I was part of the committee that organised many trips, outings and weekend breaks for the members. The Christmas Draw (which originally had a new car as the first prize) together with dances and children’s parties were always much enjoyed, as were all the many organised outings. We even had day trips to Venice and Disneyland Paris.
I enjoyed an exceptional and enjoyable working life which started at the Atlas in 1965 and finished with my retirement from Eternit in 2006. The many wonderful people and ability to do the job in a pleasant and friendly manner is now unfortunately a thing of the past. It wasn’t all beer and skittles all of the time, but it provided many local people with regular income and security. I remain very proud to have been a small part of it.