Change of Management
In the later years of his life, Albert Buchanan no longer took much part in local politics, but he was vice-president of the Conservative Club and a director of the company that ran it. He also served on the Gloucester Pilotage and Harbour Boards and as a Severn Commissioner. However, his health deteriorated after he sustained a stroke, and not long after a second seizure, he died in April 1913 (35).
By this time, accountant John Barnett had become the moving spirit of the firm and had been president of the Bristol Channel Timber Importer’s Association in 1912 (36). He was assisted by Albert Buchanan’s two sons, Ernest and Lawrence, at what was a very critical time. The outbreak of the First World War had a serious effect on the timber trade because much of the traffic from the Baltic was cut off. The partners were soon in financial difficulties, but the firm survived thanks to help from Frank Croxford, managing director of Price Walker & Co, the principal timber merchants in Gloucester. It seems that Croxford was happy for Nicks & Co to continue to supply smaller customers while Price Walkers concentrated on the larger businesses. To strengthen the management of Nicks & Co, Croxford introduced a new partner in the person of Thomas Lawrence Drury , who had been works manager of timber merchants Thomas Adams & Sons prior to its closure, and Croxford lent enough money to keep Nicks & Co going. Drury brought with him substantial business, including the supply of wood for packing cases to firms like Guest Keen & Nettlefolds of Birmingham. Croxford also arranged for Price Walker’s to take over responsibility for the lease of Canada Wharf. Lawrence Buchanan remained as a partner, but Ernest Buchanan and John Barnett departed (37). The Buchanan coal business evidently went through similar difficulties and eventually passed out of the family’s control, although the name was retained (38).
Thanks to the loan from Frank Croxford, in 1916 the new management were able to build a large new shed adjoining the south side of the mill building for storing the better classes of timber under cover (39). (Fig. 4)
However, even after the war was over, trading conditions remained difficult, and Nicks & Co’s imports were only around one third of the level before the war, mainly coming from the Baltic and Scandanavian countries (40). A surviving agreement between the employers and the Dock Wharf Riverside and General Workers Union shows that the working hours in the timber yard on weekdays were 6 am to 5 pm in summer (7 am start in winter), and 12 noon finish on Saturdays. There were breaks of 90 minutes for breakfast, 60 minutes for lunch, and 30 minutes for bait each morning and afternoon. Piecework pay rates were agreed for men discharging lighters and carrying deals to piles in the yard, with additional money for carrying more than 80 yards, and day-work rates were agreed for taking wood from pile for dispatch. The height of the piles was not to exceed 80 three-inch deals or equivalent (20 ft) in order to limit the height of the lines of planks supported by trestles along which the men ran when carrying the wood to pile (41).
By the end of the 1920s, some ships used in the timber trade were too big to enter Sharpness, and Nicks & Co received some imports as part-cargoes discharged at larger ports such as Avonmouth and sent on by barge (42). Another timber shed was built to the north of the mill in 1927 (43), but before much benefit could be derived from this, Lawrence Buchanan died in January 1929. He had not played a major role in public life, but he was one of the senior members of the Gloucester Freemen’s Committee and he was a trustee of the Municipal Charities (44). Following his death, Buchanan’s family wanted to withdraw their financial interest in Nicks & Co, and Tom Drury managed to find sufficient finance to pay them off, leaving him as the sole proprietor until his son Thomas Robert Drury joined him a few years later.