For 15 years, from 1985 until 2000, I worked in Paxman's Personnel Department at Colchester. At its height the business employed 2,500 people but by 1985 this had dropped to 1,300. When I left the Company in 2000 only 385 were employed on the Colchester site, 330 in Paxman itself and 55 in Regulateurs Europa. (The number employed within Paxman had dropped to 249 by February 2003 when the Company announced proposals to transfer engine manufacture to Stockport. Following this restructuring the Paxman workforce fell to 100 people, handling spares, service and overhauls work.)
Towards the end of my time at Paxman the number of colleagues who had a detailed knowledge of the Company's history was decreasing rapidly. The only documented history circulating in the business was one written by Peter Woodall in the mid-1950s and much water had flowed under the bridge since then. There was a very real prospect of the Company's long history and considerable engineering achievements being forgotten; lost to its own staff, to the people of Colchester, and to virtually everyone else.
It was these factors which prompted me to put together, in Spring 2000, two or three brief web pages about Paxman's history. The number and content of the pages have grown far beyond what was originally envisaged or intended, spurred by the encouragement of friends, ex-colleagues, and visitors to the website. As various topics have been researched more and more material has come to light from a variety of sources. A good deal of material remains to be sifted through, so the pages are likely to continue growing and developing for the foreseeable future. The aim is to provide an easily accessible and worthwhile resource for anyone wanting to know more about the Company's history and achievements.
The time and effort expended on researching, compiling and maintaining these pages have not gone unrewarded. The history itself is interesting to explore and well worth recording. The support of ex-colleagues, who have been most generous with their time and knowledge, has been a great encouragement to continue developing the pages. The widespread interest, words of appreciation, and contributions from visitors to the site, from both the UK and overseas (particularly Australia), have also been a source of satisfaction.
Although I have dabbled with computers since the early 1980s - the happy days of Clive Sinclair's ZX81 and Spectrum - I was a latecomer to the internet, in autumn 1999. In addition to email and browsing facilities, my ISP offered 15MB of free web space. One question this prompted was what level of skills and knowledge were required to make use of the 'free offer'. How difficult was it to create web pages and publish them on the 'net? A little reading and experimentation revealed the basics were by no means hard to grasp.
Another question prompted by the offer of free web space was what to use it for. Fortuitously, it arose at the same time as my concerns about Paxman's history. Putting together some Paxman history pages would serve a number of purpose. A good reason to learn some basic web page authoring skills, a proper project on which to develop and practice those skills, and a means of making some Company history widely available. The website strategy, which in reality was a happy accident, has successfully achieved all those objectives. It has proved itself a highly practical and effective way to publish, offering the following advantages:
Peter Woodall's work, referred to above, covers the first 90 years of the Company's history. It played an important part in the early development of these "Paxman Pages". Portions of his history were published during the late 1940s in the Company's house magazine, Paxman's World, of which he later became editor. His work provided a substantial foundation on which to build and much of it, in edited form, has been incorporated here. Indeed, without its existence these pages would not have developed as they have. The text of Peter Woodall's history is available as a download from the Downloads page.
I was fortunate to have access to much material in the Company's own archive before this was dispersed in 2003. The collection included old order books, catalogues, brochures, published articles, photographs and old engineering drawings. One should enter a caveat that early catalogues cannot be relied on as incontravertible evidence that a particular piece of machinery was made or sold by a particular company. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century it was by no means uncommon for the publicity material of engineering companies to reach beyond reality. Manufacturers were by no means averse to offering machinery of types they had never previously built and which they never subsequently built !
For researching the post-War period, copies of Paxman's World, the house magazine, are useful contemporaneous records which make it possible to date accurately many events occurring at this time. An invaluable source of information about Paxman engines and their applications from the late 1940s up to December 1966 is something generally referred to as 'the blue book'. The nickname derives from the blue plastic cover of the Sales Engineers' Handbook, a few copies of which have survived, issued to the Company's sales staff c.1967.
Information about surviving Paxman records and archive material can be found on the page Paxman Archives.
Vitally important sources have been many ex-colleagues and friends with whom I was privileged to work at Paxman. Some have loaned documents, magazines and books from their private collections. Others have provided information drawn from their own personal involvement in projects. Many have shared their technical knowledge and patiently explained technical matters to someone who is not an engineer either by training or profession. Visitors to the website have also offered valuable contributions which I have been pleased to include in the pages.
A detailed history of James Paxman, and of the Company up to the time of his death in 1922, has been written by Andrew Phillips, the Colchester historian. The book was published in January 2003 and is available from Waterstones in the Culver Precinct, Colchester, or direct from the author. Use this link for more details. Andrew is currently doing research with the aim of producing a second volume, covering Paxman's history from the end of World War 1 to the present day.
I cannot let go this opportunity to put on record my warm thanks to the many people who have played a part in the creation of these 'Paxman History Pages'. The result should properly be considered a team effort although responsibility for any errors or shortcomings is mine alone. It is impossible to name all who have helped but they include the late Denis Turner, Mike Gipson, Will Pavry, Roy Toyne, Geoff Gant, Alex Walford, Marcel Glover, Bill Cox, and Tony Marvin.
One individual who deserves a special mention is Malcolm Frost. Malcolm recruited me to Paxman and was my 'boss' for over ten years. At the time I joined he had already clocked up virtually 20 years service with the Company, having completed a Paxman apprenticeship, worked as a fitter in Engine Development, then run the Training Department before ultimately becoming Personnel Manager. With his knowledge of the Company, its people, its history, and diesel engineering I could not have wished for a better mentor. His understanding of people, his perception and wise judgement taught me much, earned my respect, and led to a valued friendship.
A great supporter during the early development of these pages was Mike Johnson who looked after the Paxman history archive until the end of 2002. Mike was most helpful in responding to requests for information and making material available for research. This co-operation reflected his own personal commitment and interest in maintaining information about Paxman's history. Another who shares this interest and has offered valuable help is Vic Borley who was a Service Engineer for many years before becoming Customer Training Instructor. He has an excellent knowledge of many older engines, as well as the latest ones, and has rescued historically interesting items on their way to the rubbish skip (or after being consigned thereto!). Vic's practical skills have also played a part in preserving Paxman history - he led the restoration of the pre-war 6RQ engine now at the Museum of Power, Langford, near Maldon.
My thanks also to Ian Simpson who offered invaluable help and guidance on web page creation and internet issues. He explained computer technicalities in terms I could understand. Subsequent experience has confirmed the soundness of the many tips and hints he offered.
For details of others who have offered me the benefit of their extensive knowledge and experience see Contributors to the Paxman History Pages.
I hope you enjoy these 'Paxman Pages' and re-visit from time to time to see additions and updates. Feedback is always welcome - see contact page.
Page updated: 04 APR 2008