Packaging has, in one form or another, played a significant role in our family for over 150 years – so you can imagine what a lot of our dinner table conversations have revolved around during that time.
The Colton legacy began as far back as the 17th century, when our ancestors worked as flax dressers. This involved breaking and preparing flax which, once processed and cleaned, was used for linen fabrics such as lace and sheeting or in the case of the more coarse flax, it was made into twine, rope and canvas.
We remained connected to this starting point right through the 1800s, with William Colton taking over his aunt’s retail rope and sack business in the 1850s – before he built his first offices on Belgrave Gate, Leicester in 1865, alongside ropewalks on Crafton Street – which were completed in 1871. William worked tirelessly for the business until he died in 1906, at which time Caroline Colton took over the company. Her sons, William (Billy), Edmund (Teddy), and John became partners between 1918 and 1922.
Fast forward to the 1940s, and with the company firmly embedded within twine manufacturing, it was announced that the industry would cease at the height of WWII because the Government launched its Utility Clothing Scheme. This resulted in tight controls around the production of items requiring raw materials such as cotton, wool, and leather. The industry was encouraged to limit its production – with the majority of material put to use for the sole purpose of utility garments only. These restrictions created a strain on both the economy and the fabric industry’s profits, but the Colton business managed to successfully navigate its way through this period of uncertainty. Billy retired in 1944 placing greater responsibilities on the younger brothers.
Post-war, the business moved into distribution: stocking and selling parcelling twines, wrapping and pattern papers, with an emphasis on supplying the textile industry. During the 1950s, corrugated boxes became the prime product and the firm stocked a wide range of sizes to supply ex-stock to local companies.
1962 saw another change, with John Colton, originally a civil engineer, taking the reins following the retirement of his father, John.
The benefits of corrugated packaging began to ingrain themselves in the public conscience and businesses were keen to jump on the trend of using environmentally friendly, renewable materials, rather than non recyclable alternatives that were often harsh on the environment. They also understood the economic benefits of this material, with its cost effectiveness widely admired. Our path was firmly set from this point onwards.
Great grandson Jonathan Colton became managing partner in 1987, introducing manufacturing of corrugated boxes in short runs to complement the stockholding. This provided a comprehensive service which was committed to supplying within a fifty mile radius.
In 1995, he acquired what became the Teesside branch for Contact Packaging. It was renamed Colton Packaging (Teesside) Limited, with branches in Leeds and Manchester following for several years until key staff retired.
Then in 2003, great, great granddaughter Laura Colton joined the business – placing a real emphasis on our culture and shaping our future direction. Laura’s passion was for the employees and the critical impact they have on the reputation and innovative culture of the business – an ethos that still runs through the company to this day.
A strategic decision was made to focus on our East Midlands operations. The Teesside branch was sold in 2016. Our board of directors then grew in 2019 with Laura’s husband Duncan joining the business, before plans were put in place to grow Colton Packaging’s footprint in Loughborough. This saw us move into refurbished 55,000 square foot premises in 2021, followed by our latest expansion in 2023, which added 10,800 square feet to our Loughborough site.
Throughout all of the changes to our business since the late 1600s, one thing has remained constant – our commitment to upholding our family values centred around honesty and integrity, as well as our ability to innovate and move with the times. By upholding these values and investing in strong relationships with our people, customers and suppliers, we have continued to grow and reaffirm our reputation as an industry leader.
Having a family-owned business is incredibly rewarding for us and we have worked hard to harness the skills and ideas of different generations in order to build the business we see today. We very much hope that the years ahead are as successful as those enjoyed by the many generations of our family to-date.