Immigration and Halton Mill

The beginnings in basics

Halton Mill is an old building built in the late nineteenth century, in which Luneside Engineering Co. (Halton) Ltd. was incorporated on 23 February 1949. The company was set up by Colonel Theodore Bernirski, who was a polish immigrant and engineer. Named ‘Lech’, after the tribal name for the Poles, it employed skilled immigrants who struggled to get trade union recognition as anything but labourers.

Initial struggles for the Poles

After three months of getting a grasp of the English language, the first floor of Halton Mill was rented at a nominal sum, and the workers initially made a name for themselves doing odd jobs like sharpening garden sheers for a shilling, and spraying cars. Colonel Bernirski recalled wanting to return to a free Poland at some point, but his birthplace had become part of the Ukraine in the former Soviet Union. Things began to pick up for the group of workers when they were sub-contracted to make chassis for cars that would be sent to Australia. Unfortunately for Lech, the Australian business collapsed, culminating in financial issues for the firm. 

Recovery and Flourishment under Polish governance

After the disaster of the Australian work contract, a Lancaster businessman allied with the Poles to bankroll the company to make up for the lost income and invest in new technologies to make the mill even more productive. The colonel’s expertise was vital in keeping the company a success, an expertise forged in his history. When the Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939, Bernirski worked as a production manager at a Warsaw factory making aircraft parts for a British company and later became a soldier fighting for Polish freedom. As late as the 1970s, photos are available showing Polish and English workers enjoying leisure time side by side. By the end of his time at Lech, an anglicised version of the Colonels name became common: Mr Ben.

A group of people standing outside a stone building.
Workers at the Mill, of both British and Polish descent

<< Click here for information about Lech and the Halton Mill Community >>