Home   Sittingbourne   News   Article

50 years since hundreds of jobs were axed at Kemsley Mill in Sittingbourne

It's been 50 years since hundreds of jobs were lost in one area of Kent at Bowaters’ Kemsley Mill.

Here Memories writer Christine Rayner take a look back at what happened when the job redundancies were announced.

Kemsley Mill in around 1984 Credit: Sittingbourne Heritage Museum
Kemsley Mill in around 1984 Credit: Sittingbourne Heritage Museum

Families in Sittingbourne were feeling the pinch - and worrying about the future - as the axe fell on hundreds of jobs in the town in 1971.

The latest redundancies to hit the town were announced in the East Kent Gazette, with news notices due to go out to 370 shopfloor workers and 130 white collar men at Bowaters’ Kemsley Mill.

This came just a few weeks after the announcement of the closure of Barnard Engineering, the proposed move of Spembley Technical Products from Kent to Hampshire and the closure of two major employers - Wills and Packham’s brickworks and APCM’s cement factory at Murston.

Sittingbourne’s economy was really under pressure. Bowaters’ announcement said the closure of a papermaking machine at Kemsley was inevitable because of competition from Scandinavia. Jobs at the firm’s Merseyside factory were also being cut.

The company blamed “economic conditions and the depressed state of the paper industry” and said it “very much regretted” having to make the decision to cut jobs.

Kemsley Mill. Credit: Sittingbourne Heritage Museum
Kemsley Mill. Credit: Sittingbourne Heritage Museum

Staff at Sittingbourne Department of Employment offices were to visit the mill, to support employees in their search for new jobs and manager Florence Cheeseman said: “We are going to do all we can to get them placed before they actually finish”.

MP Roger Moate said the news was “a serious blow” to the town and he was proposing to talk to the minister responsible for issuing development certificates to the Kent coastal area, to speed up a formula for creating and preserving jobs.

“These redundancies represent a very serious loss to this area and to the men concerned,” Mr Moate said. He added that the papermaking industry had traditionally been “a barometer of the national economy”.

Mr Moate’s predecessor, Labour’s Terry Boston, said the news was “very disturbing”, on top of other jobs cuts and he urged action on creating “major development” in the area, to bring hope to the economy and the workforce.

Vice-chairwoman of Sittingbourne Council, Margaret Boulding, said she was sure councillors would share “alarm” at the news and that it was “very sad”. News of earlier job losses in Sittingbourne was still reverberating across the town.

“These redundancies represent a very serious loss to this area and to the men concerned...”

MD of Barnard Engineering, Tom Barnard, was interviewed in the wake of his move to close the factory, which made mini racing cars.

He said the decision had been the hardest thing he had done, but he could not continue to run a business which was losing money. He blamed the postal strike and a shortage of work for sub-contract engineers, which his company depended on.

Barnard’s had moved to Sittingbourne five years earlier, in 1966, and had built its reputation worldwide for the quality of its racing cars, which were exported to 30 countries.

One of its high-profile customers had been the Shah of Persia, who bought a number for his children.

Elsewhere, 112 production jobs had also been axed at APCM’s Murston works and 100 at Wills and Packham.

Read more: All the latest news from Sittingbourne

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More