BMT Story, Chapter 1 - the factory

This article was published May 17, 2012.

Sir Riff Borkum, the son of the late Lord Edward Borkum, had a great interest for anything mechanical. As a young lad, due to his family´s wealth, he never needed to work in a normal manner, so he could put all his energy into studies and his hobby, machines and mechanics. With his exams over, he started his own little workshop in the grounds of the manor to try out all his childhood ideas that he had, some of which were successful and he was granted patents on several of them. He did so until 1914 when his father died and he had to take over the family business. Since the war started the same year, this was a big change for the estate population.

Apart from a lot of agricultural land, the family owned a copper mine a few miles away. His father never approved of steam machines and relied on wagons and horses for the transport of ore, agricultural produce, and people.

When Sir Riff took over, he made transport around the estate his number one priority, he investigated several options and found that a narrow gauge railway to be the best choice having heard about the trench railways used in the Great War. Because of the mine, 15in gauge was out of the equation; it was too light for the job, fine for underground work but not for transporting heavy loads any distance. The practical choices available lay between 18in and two-foot gauge. The locomotives he looked at with two-foot gauge were surely strong enough, but they couldn´t cope with the sometimes very sharp curves he needed, plus that, most 18in gauge locomotives he found were strong enough and also somewhat cheaper, so 18in gauge track it was.

The main requirement was for a five mile line between the mine and the harbour. He also needed a line around the estate to pick up the crops and milk from the cows, as a lot of the people around were leaseholders and couldn´t afford to pay their costs in cash, instead they paid part of their rent in milk and crops, and by working in the forest during the winter.

All these items needed a better, more efficient way to be collected, and as the route to the copper mine would pass a lot of the fields, it was a good idea to also plan for these transport requirements at the same time.

Not long after getting the tramway working with facilities for loading copper ore at the mine, and unloading it at the harbour, along with the transfer of produce in both directions, even a set of locomotive sheds and facilities to maintain the stock, and staff to man the trains, it came as quite a shock to find that the mine was not as productive as it had been. A new industry was needed for the area.

Sir Riff had done some tests previously with machines collecting matches in a matchbox, at first he had planned to sell these patents to a machine maker, but before he did, he got interested in the business itself and what it was all about.

He was very concerned about the people working for him, and as the little tramway did not need as many people for the transportation as before, the need was greater than ever. At the same time most of the personnel for the tramway was hired from outside the region.

Sir Riff realised that a Match Factory could bring new prosperity to the estate. He also could get good use of his many patents that he held.

The Factory

Sir Riff was a very careful man in business, so he started slow. He found a great spot to place the factory and only built the most important buildings in 1918, same year as the war ended. For labels he had another firm print them the first years. When he found them doing great, he bought the whole firm and moved them to Borkum Estate. In the first years he had good use of all the land he owned and "vacuum cleaned" the forests for aspen trees for the matches, but soon the forest was logged off and he had to import from Russia. This started a new traffic on the tramway, as heavy as the mine transports. Daily log trains was now a common sight in the region. Sir Riff was clever to send out scouts to tell people from all over, that Borkum Estate paid a good price for aspen trees. This way he could balance the logs he got from abroad with the ones he got locally. Both for availability and prices. When the local farmers tried to raise the price, he just increased the importing to keep the prices down. When imported logs was hard to get, he had local suppliers to buy from instead. Soon the local farmers learned when it was profitably to raise the price. They kept constant contact with the harbour personal, so they knew when imports were low and when it was any idea to try to bargain with sir Riff. They learned their lesson.


In 1920 love strikes sir Riff. He got married and had several children. 2 boys and 3 girls. 2 of the girls were very interested in art, they got most of their education in arts from their mother. These girls later in life, took over the creation of labels for the match boxes and everything in advertising for the factory there illustrations were needed.