The Nash Paper Mill Strike

Written by Pam Preedy.

The decade leading up to the First World War was a time of labour unrest, often referred to as ‘The Great Unrest.’  1914 was a particular bad year with increasing industrial action and Orpington was not exempt from trouble.  In 1914, the workers of the Nash Paper Mill at At Paul’s Cray went on strike over pay and union membership.

Pay in the Nash works was low for everyone: the highest paid was Robert Marsden, Head Papermaker and actual Manager of the Mill, at £500 per year; the Sales and Purchasing Clerks earned only two or three pounds a week, as did the owner’s son, 21-year-old William Nash, who was to inherit the company after his father’s death.

The discontent caused by such unfavourable pay provided an opening for the National Union of Printing, Bookbinding and Paper Workers to become involved and push for strike action.

The Nash Paper Mill
The Nash Paper Mill © Bromley Historic Collections

In 1914, demands were received for increased wages and the unionisation of the mill. Unionisation would not only give the union power to deduct union dues from the pay, but also control over the engagement and dismissal of labour, thus keeping out non-union workers. A strike was threatened. Neighbouring mills had already capitulated to union demands, but William’s father was very sick and the Nash Mill gained a temporary reprieve. At the end of June, just three weeks after his father’s demise (7th June, 1914), a rise of two shillings a week was agreed, but the demand to become a ‘Union’ Mill was refused.

A few days later the majority of the workers gave a week’s notice of a strike, but agreed to a meeting with William unaccompanied by union officials. Despite the agreement, the union officials, unhappy at being excluded from negotiations, marched a large contingent of trade-unionists down to the Nash Mills and persuaded the majority of workers to down tools and strike then and there.

Earnings of the Nash workers compared to labourers employed by Bromley Council
Per Week
Workers in the Nash Mill
22 -33 shillings
Labourers for Bromley Council
26 - 30 shillings plus overtime

By the end of July, 1914, The Bromley & District Times reported that the strike was already three weeks old and police were guarding the premises.  The presence of police may have been precautionary; equally there may already have  been trouble from the unions.  some level of production did continue.  One press was kept running by a few foremen, friends and other workers loyal to the company, but only for a few days as the job was impossible with so few.  Apparently there was little or no personal ill-will in the dispute: a cricket match was organised with strikers versus non-strikers!

The dispute was finally overtaken by the declaration of war. When, on 5th August, 1914, William Nash, the new mill owner, re-joined the 4th (Territorial) Royal West Kent Regiment heading for India, Jubbulpore, he told his workforce that they must wait for his return before a decision about union membership could be agreed. In support of the war effort the strike ended. The wage increase was paid and the question of union membership was left open.

As well as India, William’s war service took him to Persia where he conceived the idea of a profit-sharing scheme for all the mill employees. He wanted a fresh start after the war. On his return, he put into practice new financial arrangements and on 5th August, 1919 William Nash, Ltd. was incorporated with £100,000 in Ordinary Shares and, at the same time, a Profit Sharing Scheme was adopted involving all employees who had worked at least six months. Thus the unions were excluded and it satisfied all parties.

Nash Paper Mill [phot:
Nash Paper Mill

More information on the Nash Paper Mill can be found in W.S. Shears’ book, William Nash of St. Paul’s Cray Papermakers (published 1950).

Originally published in Life in Orpington magazine (Issue 36, February 2022)

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