PRESERVING THE PAST . . . . FOR THE FUTURE
MAUCHLINE'S FORGOTTEN INDUSTRY
MAUCHLINE BOXWORKS FACTORY
MAUCHLINE BOXWORKS PHOTOS AND DOCUMENTATION
This narrative is a look through door of W & A Smith, Boxworks, New Road, Mauchline in 1891. The text is sourced from and article written in The Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald in February or March 1891.
The Boxworks began on the site around 1831 when Andrew Smith began making snuff boxes. These boxes had a secret hinge called 'The Cumnock Hinge', and this type of boxwork had 'Migrated' to Mauchline from Cumnock where over one hundred and ten men and women were employed.
On arriving at the boxworks, it is clear that the introduction of machinery has added great impetus to the manufacturing capability of the company. The present head of the firm is Mr George Smith who resides in Birmingham, where the company owns large warehouses.
In 1869 part of the boxworks was burned down due to the inflammable nature of materials and the constant heat in the drying sections of the factory. The damaged areas were rebuilt and fitted out with new and improved machinery. In the late 1880's part of the works burned down again, although not so extensively as the first fire. Again the damage was rebuilt and production continued.
The first point of interest is the wood yard, where quantities of plain trees are stacked. Messrs Smith & Co have long since exhausted all the available Scottish supply, and have now turned to importing timber from Ireland. Even the famous Hawarden Woods on the boundary of Cheshire and North Wales have contributed their quota.
The first job is to cross cut the logs into 3 or 4 feet lengths. These lengths are then taken by bogie to a circular saw which cuts them into whatever number of smaller pieces are required for the finished article. After this the pieces are taken to a two storey building called 'The Stove', where they are thoroughly dried to prevent warping at a later date.
The dried wood next encounters the planing machine with 12 inch wide blades revolving at 5000 rpm. There is a moulding machine used to machine mouldings and shoulders on the wood, and the band saw with a 15ft circumference blade is able to cut patterns or curved shapes required. The factory also has several turning lathes for use when required. All these machines are supplied by Messrs John McDowall & Sons of Paisley. These machines are all positioned under the buildings large glass roof which allows in ample daylight to the work benches below. There are five or six work benches extending the full length of this and staffed with workers wearing white aprons.
The box is then taken to the 'Paper Wheel' for the purpose of shaping the top of the box. There are between eight to ten people working at the wheel. One side of the wheel is covered with sand paper which revolves at a very high speed. The minute particles thrown off by the wheel covers everything in a fine flour type coating. The workers here look like flour millers.
The box is then taken to the gallery where a great number are engaged in varnishing and polishing. The present day 'Mauchline Belles' are engaged by preparing 'The Box' by coating it with shellac. A photograph is then placed on the lid, and another coat of shellac is applied to prevent damage by the subsequent varnish coat. Transfers don't require a second coat of shellac as varnish does not affect them. The box is then rubbed down with a fine grade sandpaper and varnished with 'copal'. With every coat of varnish applied the box passes through the 'Varnish Drying Room'.
Then the polishing begins. the first process is called 'coursing' which means the already highly polished box is thoroughly rubbed down with ground flint, and after this a solution of ground rotten stone and water is applied, vigorously rubbed in then polished by smartly rubbing the naked hand along the surface. The hand process puts on a beautiful polish which is made more brilliant by the touch of a little Olive Oil.
Up until now the box has no moveable lid indeed it is only after it leaves the hands of the polisher that it receives a lid. The workmen who look after this process are called fitters or cleaners. One of these men then takes the box over to a small circular saw where the box is sawn in two to provide a body and lid. A workmen collects the two pieces and sandpapers the two sawn pieces until perfectly flat, meeting without the slightest twist or irregularity. The box is then fitted with its hinges, locks and snaps before returning to the polishing department where the young ladies give the box its final polish.
Close by is the machine which applies the transfer designs. The designs are obtained from steel plates engraved in Edinburgh. The plates measure 8 inches by 4, and each of them would have 6 or 8 engravings of a person or place. The plate is heated over a steam pan, then the particular engraving gets a coating of 'Frankfurt Black' into which has been mixed a specific amount of 'Linseed Oil'. The edges of the engraving plate are then carefully wiped clean. The plate is then placed upon an Iron Slab, and a piece of the finest silk paper is laid on the engraving plate. The operator then turns a 'cross' which has the effect of moving the slab and plate until the particular engraving is brought between two powerful rollers. On the top one are several pieces of woollen material to prevent damage being done to the face of the engraving, and at the same time for better pressing the silk paper into the tiny lines. The firm has in stock some thousands of engraving plates representing the famous places where tourists go. The views are all engraved from photographs of the particular area.
At this time the company employs almost 200 people at two large factory sites in Mauchline.
source of this entire article is the Ardrossan and Saltcoats
Mauchline - October 2012
SEE ORIGINAL NEWSPAPER ARTICLE FROM 1891, WHICH IS TAKEN AND PUT TOGETHER LIKE A JIGSAW FROM POOR QUALITY PRINT OUTS FROM A MICROFICHE READER OF THE ARDROSSAN AND SALTCOATS HERALD FROM FEBRUARY OR MARCH 1891, AS DISCOVERED BY JIMMY WHILE SEARCHING THE ARCHIVES FOR OTHER ITEMS. (11,994k pdf)