Review of manufacturing industries

Michael Cox

Manufacturing industrial activity during the past 55 years can viewed in four parts: the three major construction projects, namely the Dunbar cement works and the Cockenzie and Torness power stations; the decline of many traditional industries; the push to have an electrical/electronic/precision engineering presence; and the development of small firms.

Major works

There had been a small limeworks operation at Oxwellmains, Dunbar, before a cement works was proposed in 1958, and approved in 1960. The limestone there is the only kind suitable for the manufacture of cement in Scotland, with enough reserves to last into the 21st century. The plant was completed in 1963. By 1970, the limestone to the south of the railway had been worked out; Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers built a new stretch of the A1 to the south of the works and railway, in return for permission to extend and so maximise the potential of the quarry. Major investment in 1983 on a new production plant resulted in the loss of some 300 jobs.

The Cockenzie (although located within Prestonpans) 1200 megawatt coal fired power station was built on a former colliery site. Work started in 1962, with the power station operational from 1966, and officially opened in 1967. Linked to its completion was a noticeable feature on landscape – the 275kV overhead power lines. Initially coal was obtained from the Lothian coalfields, but from the 1980s supplies came from the nearby Blindwells opencast quarry and elsewhere.

Construction work on the 1300 megawatt Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactor (AGR) type nuclear power station at Torness began in 1978. The power station went ‘critical’ in 1988.

These three projects saw a large influx of specialised construction workers coming into the county. In the case of Torness, 500 of those working on the site were housed in a ‘construction village’ built at nearby Thurston Mains. The impact of these works was such that, at the end of the Torness construction phase, special provision was made by the council in an attempt to minimise the effects on the county’s economy.

Traditional industry

Post-war, Musselburgh (then in Midlothian), had a number of manufacturing industries – the key three being Brunton’s Wire Works (employing 2,500+), Stuart’s Net Mill and Inveresk Paper Mill (each with about 500 employees each in 1956); all were established in the 19th century. All three were to undergo immense change over the period as markets – and competition from overseas – and manufacturing processes – mostly through new technology – changed. By 2000, the Paper Mill had been closed 29 years; Stuarts had moved to Eyemouth, following their market, and Bruntons had been taken over, downsized and adapted; the original firm had closed in 1997. However, some of their skills resurfaced through the launch of Brunton Aero Products, providing control cables for aeronautical applications

Unlike Mid and West Lothian, East Lothian did not have a substantial industrial manufacturing base pre-war. In the 1950s, the number of people in the county employed in manufacturing activities was about one-third that for Scotland as a whole. However, a number of firms survived the war and continued to thrive to the end of the century, some albeit with changes of ownership. These included, Ben Sayers, North Berwick, manufacturing golf clubs; the independent brewery firm, Belhaven Brewery, Dunbar; Glenkinchie Distillery, Pencaitland; and at Haddington, Robertson Brothers, engineering and Bermaline Mills, malt extracts and malt flour – later becoming Pure Malt Products. Another agriculturally linked operation, the maltings at Haddington continued until 1992. A new maltings had been built at Pencaitland in the late 1960s, and was still operational in 2000. The well known knitwear manufacturing firm of Kilspindie, Haddington, did not survive to the end of the century; employing 325 by 1965, it went through trading difficulties from the 1970s and two changes of ownership, finally closing in 1991.

Promoting new industry

Declining employment in the traditional, agricultural and mining industries resulted in the County Council, in the 1950s, actively promoting East Lothian as a good place to set up manufacturing enterprises. After the county was designated a Development Area, financial assistance was available to the Council to develop industrial estates, build factories and provide financial assistance to new firms in the 1960s. Land for small industrial estates was purchased, initially at Prestonpans, Dunbar and North Berwick. The Macmerry Industrial estate was opened in 1960 (serviced by 1965), although Hart Builders had been based there earlier; Harts were purchased by Cruden Investments Ltd (originally of Musselburgh) in 1973, and became the largest employer of building workers in the county. Other building firms that continued from that time included Campbell & Smith, Ormiston; T McArthur & Sons, East Linton, and, Robert Rollo, Cockenzie, and by 1974, 15 firms were operating at Macmerry. By the end of the period, Macmerry firms included Weber Marking Systems, labels and labelling equipment; Spencer & Co, paper converters; and Optima Enclosures, customised enclosures for the telecommunications industry. In 1983, the old paper mill site at Musselburgh, opened as Inveresk Industrial Estate.

Seeking new specialisms

The precision/electrical/electronic engineering sector had a significant presence in Haddington from the late 1950s / early 1960s. Ranco arrived in 1956, eventually manufacturing fractional horsepower electric motors. Ultimate expansion saw them occupying a large factory in Hospital Road. The early 1980s recession saw the emergence of Lothian Electrical Machines (LEMAC) after a management buyout, continuing to 2000.

The Gateside industrial site had a more chequered life. In 1967, Hilger Electronics, manufacturing instrument control systems, built a factory there; after company ownership changes Paul Coradi took over, only to fail in 1974. A Norwegian company Tandberg, manufacturing television sets, followed. Although profitable, the company’s Norwegian operation experienced trading difficulties and in 1978 the Haddington plant was closed down. The Japanese electronic giant, Mitsubishi, took over the plant extending it four times to 200,00 sq ft allowing it to produce up to 2000 sets weekly. In 1998, a review of the company’s global activities led to the plant’s closure shortly afterwards with over 500 jobs lost.

Support for small firms

The County Council, aided by an Industrial Officer from 1971, assisted some small firm start-ups. In 1980, the District Council set up an Economic Development Unit (EDU) to expand on these small beginnings. The EDU was able to draw on an increasing number of schemes offered by a range of organisations, from the Scottish Development Agency through to the Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust. By the 1980s, more small industrial estates had been developed as well as the adaptation of redundant commercial buildings and schools. Firms starting out at such locations, included some small engineering firms: in 1972, TD Precision Engineering started in Haddington and NAC Allan in Cockenzie, later moving to Wallyford. In the 1980s we find DMI Precision Engineering at Tranent; GGS Engineering at Macmerry and the larger Zot Engineering at Musselburgh. Other engineering firms set up from the 1980s or earlier included Haddingtonshire Fabricators (Had-Fab), Macmerry, and McMillan Coppersmiths and Fabricators, Prestonpans.

A firm that started in the 1970s at the old school at Cockenzie was Scotprint, printers and bookbinders. When they outgrew the space there they moved to Musselburgh and finally transferred to Haddington’s newly named Gateside Commerce Park in the 1990s. Another commercial printing firm of note was D & J Croal of Haddington, printers of the East Lothian Courier, moving into their second century. Other small firms with specialised products, included Wilco Sports, manufacturing fishing tackle at North Berwick; Carberry Candles near Musselburgh, and Lammermuir Pipe Organs in the old school at Oldhamstocks. To end, mention must be made two long established firms known to everyone in East Lothian, the ice cream manufacturers S Luca and Di Rollo, both of Musselburgh.

East Lothian experienced many of the industrial changes that affected the central belt of Scotland since 1945. By 2000, the county supplied electricity to the national grid and was the only Scottish provider of cement. The electronics industry came and virtually went, but small, specialised engineering and other firms continued. From the 1980s on, there was a move away from manufacturing, and a substantial increase in the number of firms providing business and other non-manufacturing services, a trend that looks to continue into the 21st century.