Records of Clifton & Baird Ltd, 1908-2002, machine tool manufacturers, Johnstone, Renfrewshire

Scope and Content

Administrative records 1911-1985; Operational records circa 1940-1960; Financial records 1908-1989; Legal records 1916-1951; Staff records circa 1930-1961; Photographic material 1956-1997.

Administrative / Biographical History

The machine tool industry formed a small but vital part of Britain's manufacturing sector in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The importance of the industry's contribution to the manufacturing economy was reflected in the influential Mitchell Report of 1960, which recognised that the industry had developed a reputation "throughout the world as an excellent producer of standard machine tools of all categories: it supplies almost the whole home demand for such machine tools and exports approximately 30 per cent of its production." In the West of Scotland it had important links to the heavy engineering and shipbuilding industries that lined the banks of the River Clyde. The town of Johnstone, originally a town of cotton mills and weaving shops, in the latter half of the nineteenth century became a focal point for machine tool manufacture, and was highly renowned for its engineering industries.

Charles Clifton & James Baird founded the machine tool manufacturing company Clifton & Baird in 1908. The site chosen for their office and factory was Empress Works in Johnstone, which had formerly been occupied by the lathe manufacturers John Lang & Sons Ltd, who had moved to larger premises nearby. From the outset the policy of the firm was to specialise in the manufacture of metal cutting-off machines. One of the earliest contracts was with Babcock & Wilcox of Renfrew for the supply of a 2.3/8" spindle horizontal drilling machine weighing 7.5 tons, which was delivered in November 1908 at a cost of £253.14.2.

For the first few years the Company followed the usual practice among machine tool manufacturers of building a variety of special machines to customers' requirements. However, Clifton & Baird pursued a specialisation policy that was progressively applied in the design and manufacture of sawing machines. By 1920, the specialisation policy had progressed so far that their list of products had become very impressive. The segmental type saw blade was introduced into the U.K. in about 1925 and was a great advance in technology over all previous methods. Clifton & Baird were amongst the first to introduce this type of blade into the structural steel industry. The company produced a complete range of machines for using these blades capable of cutting steel bar from 3" to 27" diameter, and these machines were sold worldwide.

As a natural progression from the standard sawing machines special combined sawing and drilling machines for railway rail were also designed and manufactured which allowed the steelworks or the railway company to cut the rail to length and simultaneously drill the fishplate holes. These machines were subject to ongoing design improvements and were manufactured until the company's demise.

In the early 1970s carbide tipped saw blades for steel cutting were introduced into the U.K. and Clifton & Baird were the first British manufacturer to produce a machine suitable for this type of blade. Because the carbide blade could cut through steel at least five times faster than previous blades the machine had to be completely redesigned. This type of machine was supplied to forges and steelworks both in Britain and overseas.

As railway line steel improved and new head hardening processes were invented in the late 1970s and 1980s machinery for the sawing & drilling of these using carbide tipped tooling were designed and produced by Clifton & Baird who could claim that every rail produced in Britain was cut on their machinery. In 1980 a major installation of rail sawing and drilling machines was carried out at British Steel, Workington, when four sawing & drilling machines were manufactured and installed into a flow line for the production of 60ft rails. Within two years these machines were moved to new positions to allow the production of 120ft rails.

In addition to sawing machinery Clifton & Baird produced face milling and plate edge milling machines for the structural and shipbuilding industry along with various special purpose machines such as stern tube boring machinery and engine deck millers. They also produced a special range of machinery for use in the production of large capacity boiler plant including drum drilling machines, fin tube welders and benders. In order to enhance the range of products, which they were able to offer potential customers, Clifton & Baird went on to manufacture a range of special marking machinery for the steel industry. This range of products included in-line rotary marking machines for rail and sections during the rolling process; indent marking machines for ingots, blooms, slabs & billets; and powder or metal spray or weld marking machines for identifying semi and finished steel products with characters up to 100 mm high. This range of products was mostly for export and machines were supplied worldwide.

Clifton & Baird was incorporated as a Private Limited Company on 20th November 1911. On their company website (c1990s) they claimed to be "the oldest, family owned machine tool manufacturer in Scotland.& The latter characteristic appears to have been quite typical of the industry as a whole. In 1983 Kenneth Baker, Minister of Information Technology, commented that a fundamental characteristic of the machine tool industry "is that there are large numbers of family firms which tended to be dominated by strong characters."

Significantly the company survived as an independent company through the depression of the 1930s, which John Hume identified as a particularly difficult period for the Scottish machine tool industry. During the 1970s there was a general reduction in both the number and the size of British machine tool firms, and Britain's share of world machine tool output fell. Correspondingly, employment contracted and the reduction of the industry's capacity was accompanied by rising import penetration. By the end of the 1990s, the U.K. was highly dependent upon imports.

Sydney Checkland has observed that "three main functions were demanded of the engineer: design or invention, production and selling." The first two were their basic activities, and the men in the latter half of the nineteenth century were engineers rather than businessmen, not greatly concerning themselves with marketing. However, by the turn of the twentieth century, the challenges confronting the engineers were changing. The pace of technical progress was accelerating as performance improved and products diversified. Effective marketing became increasingly important, it became a general imperative to understand and cater to markets, and consequently firms needed to have good business acumen. Events within Clifton & Baird Ltd echo this transitional phase. Charles Clifton, one of the founding directors was apparently an excellent engineer, but not a very good businessman. Clifton was reportedly a perfectionist: as machines left the shop to be delivered he would spot something that was not quite how he wanted it and have it taken back into the workshop. As a consequence Clifton & Baird fell out and eventually parted company.

Baird subsequently went into partnership with a Mr Syme, but when the economic slump came in the 1930s and the company was struggling, Syme got very nervous and wanted to leave. He received an unsatisfactory offer for his shares, but Baird stated that if Syme didn't take it he would, so Syme reluctantly accepted. Consequently James Hay of G.M. Hay and Co. was brought in as a partner, becoming the principal shareholder. Allan Baird, James Baird's brother, also came in and the shares were split between the three. Hay took no part in the running of the business and Allan Baird just looked after the accounts, as he was an accountant.

Mr Stuart Emery joined Clifton & Baird in 1934 as an apprentice draughtsman age 15 years. He had previously attended Paisley Technical College, and his apprenticeship lasted 5 years. When the war began in 1939 his job was a reserved occupation. The Ministry of Supply controlled Clifton and Baird throughout the war, and within the Johnstone area Clifton and Baird were responsible for several other local companies who worked for them, servicing and looking after the machines. After a year's absence working for Hugh Smith, Emery became Works Manager of Clifton & Baird c1944.

James Baird died c1946-47, and Emery was made General Manager soon after by the directors. The remaining shareholders at the time were James Baird's widow and Willie Baird, but as there was some internal conflict, Emery suggested they leave the running of the business to him. According to Emery from that time on the company really prospered, having significant clients such as British Steel and a lot of Export work. Emery was often mistaken for the owner of Clifton & Baird Ltd; while he did run the company he held no shares at this time.

Sales were run through an agent - the trade association Associated British Machine Tool Makers (ABMT), which was initially set up by the Ministry of Munitions in 1916-17 "to give effect to the government's rationalisation plans" of standardisation and assembly-line techniques. ABMT was run by a number of the big British tool makers, such as, J. Lang & Sons, H.W. Watt Co., Kendle and Gent, Churchill Machine Co., etc.

In the early 1980s Morris Hay, James Hay's son, needed a job, and because his father was a major shareholder Morris became managing director. As Emery knew the business so well he was again brought in to run the company. Morris Hay died c1983, and his widow asked Emery to stay on and look after Morris' son Jimmy. Jimmy was managing director, while his brother George Hay was the accountant (part of Downey and Wilson accountants) until he also became a Director. In 1989-90 the Hay family decided they wanted to liquidate the business, but seeing continuing potential in Clifton &Baird, Emery bought it. On the advice of his accountant, James Cowan, he spilt the shares between his family as follows: 5 per cent Mr Emery; 5 per cent Mrs Emery; 35n per cent Stuart (son); 25 per cent Elisabeth (daughter); 20 per cent Stuart's son; 10 per cent Elisabeth's child. Stuart Emery managed the business on and off with his son (also Stuart) until the company went into liquidation on Friday November 8 2002.

Clifton & Baird Ltd were a significant company at the UK level, within their specialised area of tool-manufacture, and their products included technological innovations. They were part of an important tool-manufacturing sector based in Johnstone and the West of Scotland, and as such impacted on the economy and culture of the local area.


The records have been arranged by level of description (sub-fonds, series, sub-series, file and item) in chronological order, by Cheryl Brown Archive Cataloguer, March 2012.

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