James Bertram

(managing director James Bertrams)

2002/68, James Bertram interviewed in his own home in Edinburgh by Sarah Bromage on 26/8/2002

James Bertram was Managing Director of James Bertram and Sons from 1953 until its close in 1972.

000 Started at Bertrams straight out of the army after the War. Short apprenticeship at Bertrams Ltd and also John Galloways. Then came back to Leith and was there until it closed
018 Put in all departments at Galloways. Looked after by John Jones and John Anderson. Back to James Bertrams in 1953 and became a Director.
041 Joint chairmanship with Bertrams Ltd. Not a good arrangement. Friction between businesses, never amalgamated.
070 1967 possible amalgamation, Bertrams backed out. Competition fierce. Melville Brodie engineering in Kirkcaldy owned by Bertrams. Plastic industry diversification as paper machine industry becoming difficult.

103 Melville Brodie was economically linked to Bertrams so went under. Production activities of Melville Brodie. James Bertram's brother started up Edinburgh Plastics now part of BPI.

137 Bertrams during the war years. Production of guns and navy equipment. Still kept mills running.

159 Experimentation of making paper out of potato haulms, bamboo. Built bamboo mill in the Philippines.

175 Not big research department. Visiting other firms to gain knowledge.

190 Export 50% of businesses. Building all South African Board Mills. Trade in UK. UK mills under pressure as had to buy in raw materials. Firms abroad did not have to so held British Mills to ransom. Mills in UK small.

215 Galloways new machines. UK mills didn't spend money on equipment as couldn't afford to. Inglis Mill, ran it until it fell apart.

230 Got to stage where mills couldn't buy machinery. Mills always had to pay upfront.

246 Bertrams had links everywhere, knew all people for years. No salesforce. Certain mills would always order from them, would not ask price until later.

265 Mills in India, British run. Sales Office in London. Mills would not always share research developments. Mills would trial Bertrams equipment if there was not enough space in plant.

292 Only in fine paper and light board trade. Always involved in installation. Abroad senior man would oversee and mills would provide staff. Algerian Mill acted for official advisors.

320 Work in conjunction with engineers who built buildings. Power and production plant.

332 330+ people at Leith Walk. 100 in Kirkcaldy. Sciennes bigger. 1000 altogether in all 3 companies. Most people local and families worked in factory for generations.

348 Never paid people off when they were old, kept them on into their 80s.

365 Directors did not socialise together. Cross directorships. Firms worked at arms length.

381 Better to complete new works and sell off site. Needed more space at Leith, site was tight and no space to expand. Site now. Canteen at Leith.

395 No sporting facilities at Leith Walk. Bertrams Ltd had facilities at Craiglockhart. Golf clubs.

405 Annual dance, venue chosen by workers and paid for by the firm. Annual outing to the Clyde. Christmas not a holiday. Trades week holiday but not everyone got away as installation work was to be done in mills.

427 Papermills never shut. Major breakdowns, machinery in mills. Not particularly guided by health and safety guidelines. Deaths in firms; description of accidents.

465 Unions in firm, never any strikes. Works manager dealt with pay. Take home pay £3 -£4.

494 Apprentice section. Union tried to regulate the number of apprentices to journeymen. Edinburgh District Engineering Training Association. Day release. Mr Bertram chairman. 4 years apprenticeship, got indenture. Assigned to journeymen. Foreman who looked after apprentices. Apprenticeship department.

526 Didn't have to recruit, ready market of labour. Relatives working in firm. Women in office and tracing department. Women didn't have an apprenticeship.

541 Hours 6am – 6pm Mon to Friday. Saturday 6am – 12pm. Latterly 7.30 – 5.30pm. Standard hours in the trade. Mr Bertram felt that his apprenticeship was not necessary. Needed to know how to run a business and how to keep a tight reign on it.

565 More and more competition. Tariffs on trade. Fierce competition latterly. Machines made for abroad to mills which were British owned.

583 Family tree of Bertrams. History of firm.

614 No difference in machines that firm made.

634 Trade in UK on its knees. Mill closures. Closest mill now Dalmore. Knew Bruce's well

673 Decision to close firm. Mill in Algeria, consortium to build mill. Mill nearly complete and was delayed as flooded. All electrics flooded. Contract if mill not completed consortium responsible for running mill site. Bank pulled plug on finances.

730 No notice given to workers. Kirkcaldy closed. Bertrams Ltd ran out of work. If amalgamation had happened the firms might have survived.

768 Senior people in Bertrams left to go into mills. Machinery manufacturers.

791 Always trying to increase the market from abroad. Latterly to back pedal as no money to implement contracts.

812 Booms and slumps in market did not effect the business too much. Always needed a major contract. No standardised equipment.

838 50 people in drawing office. Salaried staff paid monthly and shop floor paid weekly. Pension scheme, if you moved could not transfer your pension.

858 Sick pay in office. In works no sick pay. People often got a watch for a long period of service. People worked past retirement age.

877 End.

 

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