Ipswich manufacturer still servicing 80-year-old machines it made
- Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND
There are few companies that can say they are still servicing machines they made more than 80 years ago – or that can lay claim to displaying their machines at the Great Exhibition in London at the height of the Victorian era.
Christy Turner – an Ipswich-based engineering firm making highly-reliable mills for a worldwide customer base – is a shining exception to today’s throwaway culture.
It’s been manufacturing its machines since it was established in 1837 at St Peters Works in the town’s College Street.
These range from flaking mills and hammer mills to roller mills and pulverisers used in the food industry, the animal feed sector and for recycling and particle reduction industries worldwide.
The mills are made for customers which include Weetabix, Connolly’s Redmills, I’Anson Feeds, and Edme Food Ingredients of Mistley near Manningtree from the company’s current site in Knightsdale Road, where it has offices and a foundry. One of its recent contracts involved building a new breakfast cereal 600 flaking mill and steam conditioner for Adicer in France.
Ian Butcher – who started his career as an apprentice at Ipswich crane manufacturer Ransome & Rapier before moving on to Manganese Bronze – presides over its 16-strong workforce. He was appointed to the role earlier this year after working his way up from parts and service manager when he joined in 2013 and rising through the ranks to become general manager in 2018.
Non executive director Tony Gosling said his experience between the foundry, workshop, customer side and the boardroom made him a “natural choice” for the role, with his in-depth industry and product knowledge.
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“His people focus means our long-standing workforce works as a unified team – he keeps both our teams and our machines running smoothly,” he said.
The business began life when Walton Turner established iron foundry and general engineers Bond Turner & Hurwood in College Street and started making steam engines and agricultural machinery.
It made its first steam engine in 1842 and used it to power its own machinery. In 1849 it produced a portable steam engine. After a machine of its type was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, the firm began to build a worldwide reputation. In 1865 it launched a traction engine.
Steam engines provided a major advance to food manufacturers, enabling them to grind food without relying on wind, water or tide-powered mills.
In 1846 Mr Turner made a steam-driven flour millstone system for eminent miller Joseph Fison of Ipswich, and later a milling plant with roller mills – thought to be first of its kind in England.
By 1908, the company had turned its attention away from steam engines and boilers and towards the milling business, and snapped up a premises which became known as Greyfriars Works.
As well as flour mills, it made the first complete maize flaking plant for animal feeds in this country. In 1922 it moved to a new site on Foxhall Road. On vacating its St Peters site on College Street in 1929, the firm presented Wolsey’s Gate to the town.
By 1937 Turners was supplying its first flaking mill to Weetabix Ltd UK.
In 1969, the business, except for electric motors, was bought by W G Gosling & Sons (Precision Engineers) Ltd.
Various acquisitions brought different businesses together, and in 2002 Christy Hunt Agricultural Ltd of Scunthorpe (formally Christy & Norris) came on board and relocated to Ipswich. Other group companies included E R & F Turner, Miracle Mills and W G Gosling.
They were all wrapped up into one company – Christy Turner Ltd – in 2004, but the firm still supplies spares and new machines for the brands of E R & F Turner, Christy & Norris and Miracle Mills. It remains a family firm with chairman Ron Gosling, whose father bought the company back in the 1960s, presiding as chairman and son Tony on the board of directors.
The company continues to innovate and has been working on a new hammer mill aimed at the recycling sector.
Unlike many businesses of its kind, the firm doesn’t outsource its work and its components are made locally.
For Ian, one of the biggest problems is attracting new recruits with engineering training. But many local firms will have machines made by it, he says, from Muntons of Stowmarket, to Forfarmers at Rougham, Marriages of Chelsmford and Gladwells of Copdock.
“It’s a very old engineering firm but there is still so much potential there. There are things going on in the recycling industry that could be massive for us. We are constantly busy, which is good,” he said.
As well as making new machines it is constantly providing new parts for old ones – the mills usually have about 1,000 parts to them and can range in prices from a few thousand pounds to quarter of a million pounds, he explains.
“Generally our biggest problem over the years is that our machines are built to last because we build them out of strong materials,” he said. When replacing parts they work on patents dating back 70 or 80 years sometimes, he said. About 50% of the work is in making spares while the factory produces about a couple of new machines a month. These are destined for countries as diverse as South America, Nigeria, France, Germany and Kenya.
The mills can be used for purposes as diverse as the makeup industry and recycling seaweed. Seashells are ground up using the mills to produce the calcium used in toothpaste, while timber pallets are shredded animal bedding.
Ian feels very strongly that engineering should not be regarded as a “dirty” industry and exported to Asia but instead brought home. “You have got to produce things yourself,” he said.