One of Northern Ireland's oldest agri-food companies has been immortalised in a new book.
Animal feed firm John Thompson & Sons, based on the York Road in Belfast, dates back to 1871 and its present factory, located at the start of the M2 motorway, is a familiar sight to thousands of commuters entering and leaving the city every day.
The site on the York Road is the largest multi-species feed mill in Europe, and its logo of a Clydesdale horse is known to farmers across Northern Ireland.
Illustrated with more than 75 photographs, Gentle Giant – named after the horse logo – includes a huge cache of photographs dating back decades, which were discovered a year or so ago. The book was launched last night.
Company chief executive Declan Billington said the pictures highlight how Thompsons has been an intrinsic part of the city of Belfast since the 1870s, whilst also being a part of the fabric of rural life across Northern Ireland.
"Many will find the pioneering changes and innovations that the company made in feed milling and animal nutrition interesting, while from a company point of view it's been gratifying to highlight how the vision, business acumen and strong long-term personal and business relationships have helped Thompsons grow its business when many others struggled to survive," he said.
Author Mike Faulkner says that the book started out as an ordinary assignment but quickly became a labour of love.
"The original mill was founded considerably earlier than any of us had thought, in 1870, and for the first 95 years of its highly successful history it was very much a family business. The founder John Thompson brought his three sons into the company and the youngest, James, was at the helm for 40 years until his death in 1962," said Mr Faulkner.
"What struck me, though, was that after the mill passed out of family ownership in 1964 it continued to espouse the values of 'family' in its widest sense. I spoke to one man who joined the company in 1945 straight from school, and never worked anywhere else.
"Andy McClurg, too, started straight from school as a lowly 'bag boy' and retired as production director in 2004 after 48 years with the company.
"Success is about more than systems and engineering – it's about long-term relationships, loyalty and pride."