Empties for LBG

In the early 1950s my father wrote a short article about the supply of 'empties' to LBG growers so that they could get their produce to the markets. He was Stanley F E Bunting, for many years LBG's accountant.

The article is a fascinating insight into the logistics behind the sight of piles of boxes once stacked at fruit orchards across the Vale ready to be filled with plums, apples or pears. There were also asparagus hampers, crates (for cabbage, cauliflower etc.), chip baskets (for tomatoes and plums), sacks (for potatoes and other vegetables), and sprout nets left at the roadside near small holdings which, like the boxes would, when filled, await collection by an LBG lorry. Incidentally, when it was written the word "logistics" wouldn't have been used to describe this operation as it was then used exclusively in a military sense, being defined in my treasured 1950 Concise Oxford Dictionary as "the art of moving and quartering troops; also supplying and maintaining a naval fleet".

The boxes came in three sizes - pot (which, because of their large size and considerable weight when full, were almost out of use by the 50s), bushel and half-bushel. They were designed to stack in bundles of three when empty - the third one slotted inside the other two, and when I worked at LBG in the school summer holidays a frequent task was to assist with delivering these to orchards all over the Vale. The LBG had to augment its own transport fleet at this busy time and one of the regular contractors was Haskin's Transport, based at that time in South Littleton. I travelled many miles with "Pom" Marshall in one of Joe Haskin's noisy and bone-shattering grey painted Vulcan lorries, setting out with several hundred empties and returning to Blackminster with 5 or 6 tons of plums. I usually ended up looking after the paperwork described in the article.

LBG had thousands of boxes, many of them made by the Bredon Packaging Company in Evesham's Elm Road, and I'm sure that some of them are still around. There are certainly three or four in our garage, used for storage purposes, and they bring back many memories. One such memory is of the large operation to keep the boxes in good repair and the man in charge of this for many years was W H (Bill) Workman ably assisted by Bertie Knight. Most of this work was done in "the basket shop" - there's a picture of this with him in residence in the LBG picture section. In the fruit season, part of the large basement area of the old canning factory was used as an additional repair shop and many staff who normally worked elsewhere on LBG (Fred Stevens, Bill Rouse and Phil Rose to name but three) were drafted in to wield hammers and operate the machine which wrapped the strengthening wire around the ends of the boxes. Bredon Packaging supplied large quantities of ready cut "spare parts" including pieces printed "Littleton & Badsey Growers Ltd" for the sides and ones bearing the legend "Deposit 5/-" for the ends. This probably covered the original cost of the boxes back in the 1930s and 40s but certainly didn't by the 50s. In fact they became so expensive that I remember my father getting quotes from box makers from much further afield and several thousand being purchased from a company based (if memory serves me correctly) in Hull.

It is interesting to see that today used bushel boxes are being sold on e-bay for quite ludicrous prices!

Alan Bunting

Here is the article as a pdf file: 'The Organisation of Produce Containers'.

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Updated 5 December 2008.