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Man at Work


by Reg Aston

Man at Work

I was employed at James Wilkes from 1961 to 1981. This article is based on my own memories and on the company's "Team Work" magazine, which was published from 1948 to1962. I found copies of this magazine, together with a whole pile of photographs showing the company's growth and history, in a skip. I'm glad I retrieved them and kept them safe for all the years since.

In 1959 Cyril Evans stated that it was his ambition to reach retirement age and write the history of James Wilkes Ltd.  I'm not sure if he ever did so but I dedicate this work to his memory.

1.  Introduction

On 23rd February 1981 the main printing union withdrew their labour and formed picket lines, so commencing a dispute that eventually resulted in the closure of the Bilston printing business of James Wilkes Limited. The company at that time was based on Oxford Street, Bilston and also had local factories at Parkfield Road and Ettingshall Road. The company also had plants in Dublin, Charlton (London),  and Killingworth (Newcastle). The rights and wrongs of the dispute are now history and there is nothing to be gained by going over old ground. It suffices to state that to all employees the event was extremely traumatic and lives changed, some for the good and some for the not so good.

At this time the company was a national printing company, supplying such household names as J. Sainsbury, British Aerospace, Birds Eye Foods, Royal Doulton, Michelin Tyres, Eagle Star, British Airways and many other top companies. The range of printing products the group as a whole could supply was extensive, from business cards to computer stationery and cheques, from beer mats to the most intricate mailers and security envelopes.

To read the story of this company, click on the following links:

The Origins of the Company

A Trip Round the Works in 1953

My early days at the Company

Social Life at the Company

The Great Fire and the Great Rebuilding

Expansion, Contraction and Demise