I was born 1934, and qualified as a Veterinary Surgeon in 1961. This is unusually late for a vet, but I did two years National Service before starting at university. I then spent just over a year in agricultural practice in East Anglia (mostly pigs and dairy cattle). Joined The Wellcome Foundation Ltd in 1963 (Unlike other foundations which are charities this was a pharmaceutical manufacturing company. Wellcome was first so it is the others which got their names wrong.) My office was in London. In contrast to my work experience I found myself mainly concerned with products for sheep or dogs.
In 1967, transferred to Cooper McDougall and Robertson Ltd (CMR) in Berkhamsted, before being made redundant in 1989
History of Cooper McDougall and Robertson
Founded in 1843 in Berkhamsted by William Cooper, a veterinary surgeon who was a founder member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It is not known why he chose Berkhamsted but the canal may have been a factor.
The original business was the manufacture of Cooper’s Dip Powder (CDP). This was made by heating a mixture of white arsenic and flowers of sulphur. The product was a compound whose actual chemical structure has never been established but as a plunge dip it cured sheep of sheep scab, a serious and debilitating mite infestation which caused skin lesions and rendered the fleece unusable. CDP was sold all over the sheep-herding world and remained on the market for 135 years. (The last country where it was available was Australia.) It did however have a major defect in that although it was curative the active ingredient was soluble in water so after a rain-shower the treated sheep were susceptible to re-infestation.
There is a very small branch of the Grand Union Canal opposite the Rising Sun pub in Berkhamsted. This was the wharf where the ingredients for CDP were unloaded from narrowboats and the finished product was loaded for transport to London docks. The manufacture was between this point and Berkhamsted High Street. The offices were on Ravens Lane on the western side of this area. Chemical development work was also undertaken on this site, and the management of research and development became centred in a red brick building fronting on Berkhamsted High Street; the signage was COOPER TECHNICAL BUREAU. However none of the development work involving live animals, either patients, or parasites and pests, was done here. This work was all done at what had been the Cooper family estate, Berkhamsted Hill. The house became an office block. The office of the technical director of CMR had been the house library; it was said to be the most sumptuous office in Wellcome.
The company remained owned by the Cooper family which in due course bought up McDougalls and later Robertsons, other sheep dip manufacturers. At one time all three families were represented on the board of directors. CMR was in turn bought up in 1959 by The Wellcome Foundation Ltd which had developed several veterinary medicines, particularly vaccines for sheep and dogs, and wanted a worldwide sales and distribution organization for these products.
Meanwhile CMR had become veterinary distributors for several other veterinary products, particularly treatments for parasitic worms, “anthelmintics”. Also one or two heavy chemical manufacturers who had developed insecticides were anxious to sell their products to CMR to be formulated for veterinary use. To prevent their veterinary competitors getting into this business CMR was at one time selling products containing different active ingredients for the same purpose in different parts of the world.
In the 1960s CMR was by far the largest employer in Berkhamsted. It was granted the Royal Warrant of Appointment as ”Suppliers of sheep and cattle dips and veterinary remedies”.
Subsidiary companies were established in many countries; and several became manufacturing units, notably USA, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand.
Eventually CMR’s dip manufacturing business was transferred to Kelvindale, a suburb of Glasgow. The Berkhamsted site was converted to a different form of insecticide production, pressure pack (“aerosol”) filling. It was in fact the first such plant in Europe and was an improvement on the American plant which it was intended to copy. (The design engineer was one Stirling Wallace; my secretary became his wife!) A notable feature of the Berkhamsted site was two colossal storage cylinders for aerosol propellants – they were about 4 ft in diameter and 25 ft long – one for butane for aqueous solutions; the other for “Arcton” for non-aqueous solutions.
The active ingredient in a plunge dip is an insecticide. They were also formulated for sale as aerosols. An industrial division was also created to formulate and market insecticides for such purposes as timber preservation (against such pests as woodworm and death-watch beetle), cockroach control in industrial kitchens, rubbish tip treatment to control flies and street fogging to control mosquitoes.
A printing works was established. It was named Clunbury Press after the birthplace of William Cooper on the Welsh border. It was intended to produce labels for the company’s veterinary and industrial products but two successive enterprising managers (the second was son-in-law of the first) took it into contract production of a wide variety of other printed goods. These included, occasionally, government papers which were secret until a specified publication date.
Reorganization of Wellcome Veterinary Business
In the mid-1960s management consultants were engaged to review the entire structure of Wellcome in UK. In accordance with their recommendations the entire UK veterinary sales business was moved to Berkhamsted. The change was not without cultural problems – CMR was a heavy chemical company; Wellcome was a pharmaceutical manufacturer. About five veterinary staff were transferred from London to Berkhamsted; they included two pharmacists and two vets. CMR had not previously employed any pharmacists and its vets were all in research and development. It was about this time that The Medicines Act came into force and CMR staff found that products they had manufactured and distributed in a similar way to agricultural fertilizers had become legally classed as medicines.
A further change in company structure was the separation of a small unit managing the international business from the staff concerned with UK. UK was not in fact the most important country; Australia was. The writer found himself as the one qualified vet in the international unit. His immediate boss was Mr Alistair Robertson, a director of CMR and the last of the three families still in the business. The writer was the only person in the international unit who had any experience of vaccines but the company had foot-and-mouth vaccine factories in Germany, Spain, Kenya and four South American countries, and a factory in New Zealand producing a wide variety of bacterial vaccines for sheep. (New Zealand was the one country in the world where the company’s veterinary business was greater than its medical business.)
The job of the international unit was to determine country by country:
- What was the veterinary market?
- What was the company doing?
- What ought the company to be doing?
In this enterprise I worked (sometimes with a colleague) on USA, Australia and New Zealand, and Canada. In each case a 5 or 6 week tour of the country was necessary and my report had to be written up, this sometimes taking as long as the visit. Mr Robertson reviewed each bit as it was produced; he never changed anything but occasionally wanted clarification or more detail. At the end he acted on my recommendations instantly – one had to get it right!
After four years Mr Robertson retired and shortly afterwards Wellcome made a deal with ICI Pharmaeuticals division forming a company, Coopers Animal Health Ltd. to market the veterinary products of both parent companies. The head office was at Berkhamsted Hill. This was a cost-cutting enterprize – one lot of sales staff selling twice as much merchandise. That company was later sold on to another pharmaceutical company which closed the Berkhamsted Hill site.
The Berkhamsted Hill site and the manufacturing site east of Ravens Lane are now residential estates – Castle Village and an area called Cooper Way, McDougall Road and Robertson Road. The offices on the western side of this site facing onto Ravens Lane have also been converted to residential properties. The Clunbury Press site is now a block of flats – Clunbury Court.