Cumbria

World War One: Poppy legacy in Burneside firm James Cropper's hands

Poppy sculpture
Image caption This poppy sculpture, which sits in the factory's reception area, was made by local artist Steve Massam

A century on from the outbreak of World War One, the poppy holds a stronger place than ever in the hearts of the British public as a symbol of remembrance.

Marking the end of that conflict, the time around Armistice Day sees about 40m poppies sold to help raise money for the Royal British Legion.

Less well known is the annual charity drive's association with a narrow road that snakes through the Lake District countryside towards Burneside, near Kendal.

It is the village's factory that pumps out enough paper each year to wrap around the world several times, that enables donors to "wear their poppy with pride".

James Cropper is a sixth-generation family business, which makes speciality paper and is tasked exclusively with supplying the Poppy Appeal.

The cause has special significance for the company, said its commercial director Chris Brown.

"Sir James Cropper, who's the father of our current chairman, used to be the Lord Lieutenant of Cumbria and therefore for him, it's really, really important," he said.

Part of the lord lieutenant's brief is to support local units of the armed forces and their veterans' associations.

Mr Cropper held the post for 18 years before retiring in late 2012.

Image copyright James Cropper
Image caption The non-bleed dye is mixed with pulp in large vats
Image caption The pigment the company uses embeds itself in the fabric of the pulp so it cannot leak out of the paper
Image copyright James Cropper
Image caption At the "wet end" of the paper machine, the paper starts off between 97% and 99% liquid

Outside the entrance to the factory is the company's mark of respect to those who paid the ultimate price: a plaque listing those employees who died in World War One and World War Two.

The first conflict took a particularly heavy toll on the company, with 23 names on the list.

But it was not until years later the company became involved with the appeal.

"We've actually got a letter here from the person who worked on it first, in 1978," said Mr Brown.

Image caption At the dry end of the machine the paper forms into recognisable sheets, as the water content is reduced to about 7%

"He was approached by the Royal British Legion, because apparently the Royal Marines Guard band had been playing and they wear white uniforms and the material they were using, which was silk-based, had run and bled onto their white uniforms."

The company was tasked with supplying specialised paper, which does not bleed when it gets wet, and has done so ever since.

At one end of the factory are huge vats in which the non-bleed dye is mixed with pulp.

The dye contains a pigment which embeds itself in the cellulose of the pulp, meaning it cannot leak out, Mr Brown said.

Image caption At the end of the process the machine creates large reels of paper
Image caption The reels are cut down into smaller sizes before being sent off to poppy factories in Surrey and Kent

As you move further down the factory floor, the noise and heat start to grow and you reach the "wet end" of the paper machine, where the paper still looks like a torrent of liquid.

Water is drained out of it as it moves along the machine. At the "dry end", it becomes recognisable as paper.

It is then formed into reels, which are sent to factories in Surrey and Kent to be made into poppies, ahead of their distribution across the country.

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