- Fresh milk was collected daily in 10 or 12 gallon zinc plated steel milk churns from farms in Orrell, Gathurst, Roby Mill and Upholland by wagon, and from Highfield, Winstanley and Windy Arbour by pick-up truck. Additional bulk supplies of unpasteurised milk would be brought in daily as necessary by United Dairies along with supplies of sterilised and other speciality products. The churns were quite heavy when full and needed a special technique to load them on to vehicles for transport, this task being made slightly easier in the early sixties when an aluminium version of the standard item became available. Full churns collected from farms were replaced with clean empty ones ready for the next milking session. In most cases bulk milk supplies from farms would be transferred into the pasteurisers immediately and processed and bottled the same day. When sufficient supplies had been produced for the following day any churns left over would be put in the fridge for pasteurising in the next morning's first batch. Richmond Hill Dairies operated a 7 day week delivery system 365 days a year.
Inside the main building to the left of the bottle and crate washing machines were two large stainless steel pasteurisers of possibly 250 gallons each. They had fitted lids with integral electrically driven paddles to agitate the milk during the process. They were aligned at an angle of 45 degrees when the lids were closed. The pasteurisers were round standing on feet about 6" off the ground and were 4' 6" high. They were double skinned and heated using steam injected into the cavity by pipes from the boiler. The pasteurising process required the milk to be raised to and maintained at a certain temperature for a fixed period of time whilst the rotating paddles ensured an even heat distribution. Thermometers built into the equipment would play an important part in controlling the process.
The milk cooler was a device like an old fashioned central heating radiator turned on its side, a stack of horizontal pipes with cold water passing through them. At the top approximately twelve feet from the ground a trough with small holes evenly distributed over its length received hot milk from the pasteuriser to dispense it evenly to run down over the cooling pipes. Another trough at the bottom but still six feet from the ground collected the now cool milk to pass it overhead through pipes to the bottling machine. When pasteurising of a batch was complete the hot milk would be pumped out of the pasteuriser to the large circular receiving container on the bottling machine via the cooler where it would be received virtually at room temperature. The capacity of the bottling machine being much smaller than the pasteuriser the flow would need to be controlled as bottling proceeded.
Bottling the Milk
The bottling machine was in the left hand corner of the dairy at the front of the building, the main feature of this was a cylindrical hopper with a capacity of perhaps 30 gallons which received milk via an overhead pipe from the cooler. The underside of this tank was fitted with dispensers with valves that opened automatically when bottles were pushed up against them by a system of cams as the machine rotated. A second rotating bed to the left of the filler used a similar system of cams to raise the bottles into rubber cups to seal the caps in place. Between the two a mechanism containing a roll of coloured aluminium foil and a 'die' which stamped out bottle caps. Clean empty bottles were fed onto individual 'platforms' rotating beneath the filler valves on the right hand side of the machine. When filled they were picked up by guide rails and propelled across the back of the machine towards the second carousel in a continuous stream pushed along by subsequent bottles. An aluminium cap was released from a flap in the underside of the capping mechanism onto each bottle as it passed beneath it, to be sealed on the left hand carousel. The operator on the left of the machine would then remove the bottles as they came off transferring them four at a time into empty crates passed across from the feed side of the machine. Operators of this machine needed good concentration at all times, as momentary lapses could spell disaster with milk and broken glass everywhere. Occasionally the odd bottle would come off the machine not properly filled, operators would be on the look-out for these and put them to one side for refilling later.
Bottles and their Contents
The colour of the cap identified the contents of the bottle, in the fifties this meant pasteurised was plain aluminium (silver top) and tuberculin tested milk (TT) green, festive versions were used at Christmas and the new year with sprigs of holly and berries. The dairy had a number of customers who wanted Channel Island milk (blue top) from Jersey cows with its higher fat content, this was bought in daily in bottles from United Dairies. Richmond Hill Dairies' own bottles had wider necks than most and consequently other firms' bottles were incompatible with the bottling plant, however if the occasional 'foreign' bottle was put out for collection by customers, they could be returned to United Dairies with the Channel Island empties for re-use. Sterilised milk was also bought in from United Dairies, it came in tall narrow necked bottles with metal caps which were also incompatible with Richmond Hill machines. Additional bottles were bought from time to time to replace those lost through wastage, these came from Rockware in St Helens who had the moulds containing appropriate lettering to imprint each bottle with the company name. Extra stocks of bottles were needed at certain times of the year such as Christmas and other bank holidays when customers could delay returning empties for a few days. A shortage of empty bottles could cause panic if not foreseen.