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Robert Fletcher & Son Ltd – Greenfield, Oldham

The beginnings of the firm of Robert Fletcher & Son Limited are lost in the mist of time. It is probably that it was one of the first concerns which the industrial revolution brought to this part or Lancashire. It is know that the firm was first owned by a family called Crompton. They traded under the name of Ralph Crompton and Nephews, Bleachers and Papermakers, Stoneclough and Manchester. The influence of the bleaching side of the business is traceable in some of the terms still in use in the mill. Paper was first made at Stoneclough in 1829.

Robert Fletcher entered the firm as a young man in his twenties in the year 1830. His ability brought him to the notice of his employers and he became manager of the bleaching department and later manager of the whole mill. The Crompton family held him in high regard and Roger Crompton, the last of the brothers, left him both the principal trusteeship and the option of succeeding him in the firm.

After the death of Roger Crompton, Robert Fletcher controlled the business with conspicuous ability and integrity for many years. He died at Vale House, Stoneclough, on May 17th, 1865, and was succeeded by his sons John and James Fletcher. They in turn were followed by their sons, John Robert Fletcher and James Fletcher, who are well remembered by many old employees today.

In 1897, the firm was incorporated as a Limited Company. Many things have changed since those days. The Company then employed about two hundred people; now the number including Greenfield Mill, is about one thousand. The top wage in those days was 6½d. an hour. There were 7 paper machines which between them produced only a fraction of the paper which three paper machines produce today.

Throughout the succeeding years, the firm continued to expand and to increase its volume of business. A relation for high quality, reliability and fine craftsmanship was steadily built up. A second mill, at Greenfield, near Oldham, was opened in 1921. This mill specialises in the manufacture of cigarette paper. There are also sales offices in London & Manchester and agencies in many foreign countries. The Company owns several hundred of acres of land around Greenfield Mill, which supports a mixed farm.

The company’s products cover a wide range of fine tissues; in this field, Robert Fletcher & Son Limited has a world-wide reputation for quality, reliability and good service to the customer which is founded upon more than a hundred years of experience.

Towards the late 90’s the two mills of Robert Fletcher & Son Ltd started to struggle. The increased cost of wood pulp and energy combined to make it tough financially. In 1997 the greenfield site had a turnover of nearly £17m and shareholder funds exceeded £9m. By 1999 turnover was down to £8.2m and the shareholders funds had dwindled to little over £4m.

In 2000 in an effort to save the business going to the wall resulted in the closure of the Stoneclough site and 120 job losses resulted from the closure although 50 new jobs would be created at the Greenfield site. Despite this move the company continued to spiral into financial ruin. In July 2001 several suppliers and creditors formally applied to wind up the company and the staff starting the 6am-2pm shift one day were ordered to pack their possessions into paper bags, leave the site go home and contact the government for their pensions.  The site continues to remain derelict despite several plans of both residential & commercial redevelopment.

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