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First purpose-built can factory promised a booming future
WHEN Viscount Cobham of Hagley Hall, then Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire, opened the Perry Wood factory of Metal Box in Worcester on May 27, 1931, it was the first purpose-built open-top can works in Britain and promised a booming business future for the city and county.
At its height in the decades after the Second World War, as the nation began to find its feet again, the Metal Box workforce grew to well over 1,000 with a flourishing social club and a superb sports ground, which was home to top factory teams in football and cricket.
But a series of redundancies in the 1980s proved to be the trouble in the wind and even though the company merged with giant French packaging group Carnaud to create CMB Packaging in 1988, things were never quite the same and by the time of yesterday’s announcement of possible closure, employee numbers had shrunk to nearer 100.
It was the flourishing steel industry of north Worcestershire and the Black Country that led Victorian industrialist William Blizard Williamson to set up his factory in Worcester. Williamson came to the city from Wolverhampton in 1855 and established the Providence Works three years later. All sorts of articles were made there out of tinplate and blackplate.
His son, G H Williamson, carried on the business successfully and was an important and enlightened figure in Worcester life. In the next generation G E Williamson realised the importance of starting a canning industry in Britain, and was a major player in the formation of Metal Box Company and the building of the Perry Wood factory, which Lord Cobham opened..
The company grew into the biggest manufacturer of packaging in Europe and in the 1970s was posting profits of more than £33m. In 1988 it opened a multimillion pound Lamipac factory housing the entire UK production for Lamipac, which represented a new generation of plastic containers for food, next to its Perry Wood factory This was the most advanced unit of its kind in the world.
However, only three years later, in 1991, its flagship sports ground in Battenhall Road was put up for sale for £45,000. The company was taken over by Crown Cork & Seal in 1996 and in 1999 closed its factory on Warndon Business Park with the loss of 75 jobs. Now comes the news that puts the tin lid on another of Worcester’s iconic industrial names.