Sidelight on Strathendry – 1957
Strathendry Factory, situated in the Leven Valley, a short distance from the town of Leslie, was taken over in 1927 by Thomas De La Rue & Company, and has since played a large part in the ever-growing prosperity of this neighbourhood. Originally, Strathendry was a paper mill, and a pioneer in bonded stationery. When De La Rue decided to move their fountain pen factory from Bunhill Row, London, this was the site they chose, and the old paper mill was re-deployed for the manufacture of pens.
The Strathendry Works circa 1950
A section of the assembly shop, showing engraving and polishing machines.
Some thirty skilled workers were brought from London to form the nucleus of a business which has brought trade to Leslie and sent its workers all over Britain. To house these workers, the Leslie Town Council built the Maryfield Crescent site, and young people were trained as goldsmiths and hand turners, thus forming a pool of trained personnel which has since supplied factories in Birmingham and London with skilled assistants.
Up to the time the factory got going, pens were the product of individual skill and were hand produced. Mass production of pens was started at Strathendry, and paved the way for highly skilled tooling work which up till then had been unknown in the district. This progressive policy adopted by De La Rue proved a boon in World War Two, since the trained personnel were available for an immediate switch to work of national importance and peace time production was shelved in favour of stepping up the war effort. Automatic lathes were working at high pressure and the first Spitfire seat in laminated paper was produced for the Royal Air Force. Even during this period of high priority government work a few fountain pens still managed to find their way out of the factory.
Shortly after this, another important use was found for Strathendry when De La Rue, the premier banknote printing house in Britain, called on their Scottish factory to assist with the production of banknotes after their London factory was razed to the ground through enemy action. Another department was quickly begun in the factory, which brought with it all the security problems which are synonymous with the printing of banknotes for foreign countries. It was a daily occurrence for sealed containers carrying notes produced in the factory to be removed by armed security guards
Working on gold mounts on the left is Betty Alexander with Grace McAndrew behind her;
on final polishing in the foreground is Mary Fiet with Jean Nichol behind.
Production at Strathendry began with Onoto pens, although a number
of other items were made over the years. These included Spitfire seats and
munitions cases made in the Capstan lathe shop above.
When the war ended, the task of reconstruction had to be faced and the factory redeployed for peace time production. Within a very short time Strathendry was again able to supply the world with the famous “Onoto” pen. A further sidelight on the factory appeared when gas appliances and infra-red heating panels were produced there, but as the engineering work of the factory and pen production increased there was no longer any room for the manufacture of heating appliances, which has since been transferred to Warwick.
This year has marked a new milestone in the history of Strathendry and given impetus to trade-in the vicinity. To produce their new pen, De La Rue has installed machines which can manufacture a fountain pen of extreme durability and a lustre and finish which is unique. The most modern injection moulding machines, worked by a skilled personnel, are operating day and night to supply parts for the newly designed fountain pen which contains a self-cleaning, visible ink supply, and a filling system operated by means of a plastic piston simpler and more efficient than anything yet seen in this country.
The polishing machines at the Onoto pen factory, where the engraved vulcanite
bodies and caps were buffed. This is a WW2 picture as company issue overalls
stopped being supplied at the beginning of the war when rationing came into force.
The large commitments of the company, both home and export, have ensured a condition of full employment for everyone. In addition to these main products, space is still found in the factory for dealing with a proportion of the government’s armament programme, and for various light engineering jobs for many of the biggest industrial companies in the country. A further part of the factory is given over to the production of golf accessories, and golfers all over the world might well be surprised to know that most of the fittings of a golf club, such as ferrules, caps and grip collars come from this versatile factory. Moulded plastic golf tees in bright colours, which are practically unbreakable, are also produced here, and have largely replaced the old wooden tee.
Socially, the factory’s welfare department is active in promoting sports of all kinds, and in arranging parties of workers from Strathendry to visit other parts of the United Kingdom and take part in many annual functions which De La Rue organises for the several factories under their control. This year the Leslie football team won for the first time the “Aird Cup” which is competed for in a knock-out competition confined to teams from the various branches and divisions of the company.
Charity appeals in the neighbourhood get a ready response from the factory workers, and in the recent Old Folk’s Week a concert party toured the town in a decorated lorry and raised a goodly sum to help the Old Folks’ Fund.
Today, the ancient burgh of Leslie is expanding and becoming well known for the part it is playing in the national economy, for its contribution to the export drive and for this happy state of affairs Strathendry Factory has been in some measure responsible.
Text taken from a booklet “The Burgh Leslie 500 years a Burgh”
Production of all Onotos at Strathendry ceased on 28 February 1958.
De La Rue provided various leisure facilities for their employees, including a field for football and hockey at The Hazels. They also sponsored the upkeep of the putting green on the Back Braes.
Concert parties by De La Rue employees raised money for many charities in the area.
Pictures and text by kind permission of William Fiet author of “Old Leslie”
A concert rehearsal in the works canteen- far left Derry Moore
standing next to his father Alex the works manager.
On the right is George Webster, killed in a cycling accident going
to work on Christmas day. As well as working at Strathendry he
was the trainer/coach for the work’s football team.
A sing and dance routine in the back of Mr Mowbray’s fruiterers’ lorry
to raise funds for the Old Folk’s Fun 1956.
In the top picture – Ian Donachie, far right, the last person
known to have worked at Strathendry on pen production
Long service awards- on the left is Alex Moore, Manager, two Directors,
Mary Fiet on the right standing next to John Hughes, Supervisor.
Christmas party 1955- on the left is Alf Cotton one of the
original workers from Bunhil Row. The young lad under Punch
and Judy, facing the camera is William Fiet.