John Connor

(Woodhall, Kinleith, Inglis Mill)

2002/96 John Connor interviewed in Stirling Fibres, Kilsyth by Sarah Bromage on 17/10/2002

000 Merchant navy straight from school. 1962 was meant to go back to the navy but got a job in the meantime at Woodhall Mill. Worked as broke boy; description of job. Fascinated by the industry so decided not to go back to sea.

030 Worked way through processes to be a machineman. Policy in the industry to send people to college to do their City and Guilds qualification. Usually lab staff, he challenged this and demanded to go to evening class.

041 3 years to be a machineman. 1st from shop floor in the industry to go to night school. Was the top student in Scotland and won the Duncan McLauren prize. Promoted to shift foreman.

059 At 26 was headhunted by a board mill in Kent. Did not take job as offered manager job of Carrongrove in Denny. Youngest mill manager in the industry.

075 Description of stationery and trials using secondary fibre. Trials were a success and led to people worldwide using secondary fibre.

087 Started Secondary fibre for Inveresk in 1977. Cancelled pulp orders and supplied Woodhall and Carrongrove. 1980 GP Inveresk took over Inveresk.

101 GP decided that they did not want waste mills so closed them down. Would not sell them. Mr Connor bought Stirling Secondary Fibres from Inveresk. Developed company. Wanted to build a newsprint mill at Gartcosh. Many backers; bad luck of Mirror pulling out and Abber Tibby Price pulling out. Scandinavian company was going to fund it. However, got funding to build mill in East Germany and the mill went there. Bridgewater bought Stirling Fibres for 8 million pounds: Mr Connor stayed on to set up operations/

186 Mr Connor decided to retire and Bridgewater was going to close down Scottish operations. Bought company back and turned it into the fastest growing company in Scotland. Future of industry.

196 Supplied waste paper for Inglis Mill, made scholastic paper. Man who ran mill wanted to emigrate. He bought Inglis Mill, but quickly found it had no potential.

206 1 machine mill that made 80 tonnes a week, was going to be his toy when he retired. Bought mill in 1990. Had to get rid of it before he sold Bridgewater as they did not want it.

216 Old machine, could not make it efficient. Biggest outlet was a company in Leeds called AG Arnold and they closed down. 1/2 profits were gone. Smith Anderson and St Regis were competing.

223 Value of mill for development was far more than it would make productivity wise. 18 worked at the mill. 3 shift system. Typical of industry in the UK as a whole, no investment. All machines were old. Inveresk did try and invest but this was just modification, needed to buy machines. Needed government investment. Mills closing.

248 Need to invest on the production side. Only speciality mills in the UK can compete. Do not have own raw materials. Doesn't look good for the industry as a whole.

264 Was a community at Woodhall. Football club, social club, annual dances. Were isolated from Edinburgh. A gap between the centre and Currie.

270 Rivalry between Balerno and Woodhall. Football and darts matches. Social life was good. Lots of families i.e. the Blaikies and the Gibbs families.

279 Went to mill and asked for a job. Paid 2 and 5 an hour. Worked 5 1/2 days and double shift if someone did not turn up. At weekend would work with engineers. 4 shift system. Christmas day worked, but two days off at New Year.

295 Would have to plan your holidays to suit the mill. Week shut. If someone had a holiday you would have to cover their hours. Barbaric hours but a good job and a pride in the mill. Rivalry between shifts trying to get the highest production.

309 2 unions SOGAT for the shop floor and the staff union. Problems with the unions and not a good relationship between the unions and management. 3 strikes, very militant. Caliber of the shop steward was pretty poor and they had no interest in the running of the mill, just what they could do for their union members. 1970s - 1980s too militant.

345 Health and Safety had no training, no risk assessment, no protective clothing. Mr Connor has tinnitus. Guarding not implemented. When at Bridgewater discussed Health and Safety but that was the first. Accidents where a boy's hands were taken off. Bales of waste paper fell on top of boy and killed him. Have to check bales. Only 3 fatalities that he dealt with.

385 No compensation. Health and Safety enforcement in the industry. Woodhall conditions. Fires in Woodhall 1973 where dust on papermachine caught fire.

409 Kinleith had own fire engine. People did drift across when the mill closed. People generally stayed in the mill that they started in.

419 Products of the mills. Woodhall made white line chipboard. Now there is not a mill in the UK making chipboard.

431 Transition from shopfloor to management, used to be able to get machinemen. Management usually came from technical or engineering dept. Once machineman started to go to college they began to transfer to management. Day release, had to request to be sent.

447 Prize meant he was considered for promotion and sent on management trainee courses. Carrongrove. 3 units and he ran 1 of them. Mill not making profits. GP Inveresk wouldn't sell mills that they were closing to Stirling Fibres. Did every job in the mill from pulper to management. Knew that mill inside out. After he left that last 2 or 3 years.

470 Inveresk invested in Woodhall, but in modifications and not new machines. Before the Second World War Britain made all of its own newsprint. Then it could not compete with Scandinavian countries.

493 Britain not interested in helping industry. Never a feeling in Woodhall that the firm was in trouble. Always had a full order book. While at Woodhall was not aware of the industry as a whole.

504 Mills were only on short time during the 3-day week. Miners strike on reduced power. 100 units of power allocated; shut down machines in mill so that could run 5 days a week. Bypassed unwanted machines and they never came back on again.

518 Overtime he worked was incredible. Overtime he worked was incredible; mostly clearing paper from the pits and the broke boy. Breaks would be most shifts. That was the job to tinker with the machines until they ran smoothly.

528 Everyone would help if there was a break. Tea breaks were taken on the machine. 18 people per shift. Day shift was mainly dispatch. His involvement with sales was on a troubleshooting basis. In Inveresk all sales were done by agency. Bill Munnoch and John Connor have worked together all throughout their working lives.

545 Paper industry was quite cyclical. America controlling factor: a global market. Woodhall had its own chief executive Mr Duke. Mill managers were looked up to from the shop floor. Most managers were papermakers not businessman and that was the problem.

579 Woodhall was the only board mill in Inveresk. State of the industry.

584 Inglis Mill closed in 1992. No houses for employees at Woodhall. Site of Woodhall and width of Woodhall to retaining wall was 50 yards. But would work. Everything would go in and out by lorry. Kinleith used the railway. Steam generated at Kinleith and went down the line to Woodhall.

633 You could hear the mill and smell it. But if you lived there for a while you got used to it.

654 End.

© Copyright -All rights reserved Sapphire 2013