Monday, 28 September 2020

Slough Trading Estate at 100: 1920 - 2020

The Great War of 1914-18 had unforeseen influence on the future development of Slough. The perk of war was to be lorries or at least the wrecks of lorries. 


1914-1918 war lorries vehicle repair
Image courtesy of SEGRO

There are those that profit by war and those that loose out by war, Slough definitely belonged to the former. Location played a very major role in taking Slough into the industrial world of the 20th century. The use of mechanised transport on the field of battle proved costly, In this case Lorries. 


Damaged lorries
Image courtesy of SEGRO
By 1917 the huge number of damaged military vehicles suitable for repair lying in all corners of the battlefields and the inability of contractors to keep pace with the demand for repairs convince the war department that they should have their own military vehicle repair depot. The search for a suitable site that would meet the requirement of good communications, near to London and the War Office and easy to develop quickly. Looking in a 25 mile radius of London the cornfields of Cippenham Court Farm seemed the ideal site for Military Mechanical repair Depot. Having purchased the 600 acres of excellent agricultural land the work began on the site July 1918. Armistice in November 1918 rather made the depot redundant for military purposes, but it was decided to carry on building the many workshops of the complex. It had been decided that the returned vehicles rather than sell for scrap could be repaired and sold on to the civil market.

The rusting broken vehicles that began to pile up on the depot soon locally earned it the name of 'The Dump'. Like many government ideas, the cost escalated, and no doubt after the usual official excuses to cover the extravagance the whole place was turned over to the Government Surplus Disposal Board for sale. In the April of 1920, the Disposal Board sold the Depot with all its contents including surplus British military transport throughout the world for just over £7,000,000 to 'the Slough Trading Company'. The idea of the trading company had come from Sir Percival Perry, chairman of the Ford Motor Company, with Mr Noel Mobbs, later Knighted in 1948, in charge of the trading company. 

The sale by auction in 1920 of repaired surplus army vehicles brought in much needed returns to the 'Slough Trading Company', one of the first sales day realising over £30,000. Future sales saw Daimler charabancs sold for £805 and Peerless lorries for £350 every vehicle having a six month guarantee, in fact the vehicle sales from Slough exceeded the total output of UK commercial motor manufacturers for 1921. The vehicle repair business became the Four Wheel Drive Company' and American company which had grown out of the depot vehicle repair business. Later known as Modern Wheel Drive

Who were these early companies that gave Slough its growth in population and international fame?


Gillette Razor courtesy of Modern Mechanix
Early tenants on the estate in the 1920's included Crossley Motors, repairing ex-army motor cycles, the Perfection enamelling painting Co. , Gillette razor company, the Mentholatum Co. maker of healing cream, John & Johnson the American surgical dressing manufacturer, and the Hygienic Ice Co. suppliers of ice to hospitals and hotels etc. O'cedar Mop Company Also remembered, St. Helens Cable and Rubber Company. Makers of insulating tapes, hot water bottles and inner tubes for tyres. To make the employees feel at home many of whom had moved South with the firm from Warrington, Slough Estates named one of its housing estate streets `Warrington Avenue'. 

Having repaired the saleable vehicles by 1925, on which a workforce of up to 8000 persons had been employed, it was decided to continue to develop buildings and services on the site and rent out sheds and workshops to expanding and aspiring new companies. From this beginning sprang the Slough Trading Estate we know today. The Slough Trading Company received the Royal Assent 7th August 1925. Changing their name to Slough Estates Limited in June 1926. The management of Slough Estates set a new pattern in Landlord and Tenant agreements, making the estate a more industrial community than a collection of factory sheds. 


Sir Noel Mobbs
courtesy of Stories of London

From 1925 to 1929 Slough Estates expanded the premises and facilities available to new and established tenants. During this period the government opened a training centre for a number of trades on the Estate, this trained 18 to 32 aged men (up to 35 years for ex-service men) for a six months course to acquire basic skills to fill the vacancies in building, engineering, woodworking and other operating skills required by the growing number of companies moving onto the Estate. At this period the national unemployment had reached seven figures and rising, but Slough figure was claimed to be the lowest proportion in the country at 1%. The publication of this claim caused at the time such a large influx of job seekers that the available housing and factories could not absorb. Slough Estates had built and were in the process of building 2000 houses on their land and in other parts of the growing town. Slough gained the reputation of the 'Hardest working town in Britain'. The Estate brought rapid growth to Slough from a population of 16,000 in 1920 to 50,000 on becoming a Borough in 1938


An overseas firm that gave a boost to the town and to employment on the Estate by setting up of an assembly unit was Citroën Cars. Andre Citroen was a descendant of a family originating in Holland. As a young engineer he had set up a small factory before 1914 to make double v gears whose patent he had bought in Poland. From the tooth design of the gears his Citroen sign is taken—an inverted double V. Citroën cars had been imported and distributed from London prior to 1925 but the imposition of import duties on cars led Andre Citroën to consider producing cars in England. Car bodies had on a small scale, already been stored at Slough since 1923 which gave the English buyer the choice of a French or English car body. To assemble cars in Slough Citroën took over Unit 1 Dundee Road, the largest shed on the estate which called for a large investment. It was good news for Slough as it was announcing that 1000 men were to be taken on immediately with the prospect of up to 5000 more being employed when the plant was in full production. The plant which opened officially in February 1926 closed in 1966 as the factory was considered inefficient for modern production methods. The development of the trading estate since 1925 has brought other internationally known companies to set up manufacturing bases in Slough. Their range of products has covered a very wide spectrum and has created wealth for an ever-increasing town population. 
Andre Citroën at the opening of the factory in Slough
courtesy of Britain by Car.
Citroen

An overseas firm that gave a boost to the town and to employment on the Estate by setting up of an assembly unit was Citroën Cars. Andre Citroen was a descendant of a family originating in Holland. As a young engineer he had set up a small factory before 1914 to make double v gears whose patent he had bought in Poland. From the tooth design of the gears his Citroen sign is taken—an inverted double V. Citroën cars had been imported and distributed from London prior to 1925 but the imposition of import duties on cars led Andre Citroën to consider producing cars in England. Car bodies had on a small scale, already been stored at Slough since 1923 which gave the English buyer the choice of a French or English car body. To assemble cars in Slough Citroën took over Unit 1 Dundee Road, the largest shed on the estate which called for a large investment. It was good news for Slough as it was announcing that 1000 men were to be taken on immediately with the prospect of up to 5000 more being employed when the plant was in full production. The plant which opened officially in February 1926 closed in 1966 as the factory was considered inefficient for modern production methods. The development of the trading estate since 1925 has brought other internationally known companies to set up manufacturing bases in Slough. Their range of products has covered a very wide spectrum and has created wealth for an ever-increasing town population. 

Ford GT40 courtesy of Postcards from Slough
Ford Advanced Vehicles brought fame to the town when under the directorship of John Wyler they produced the GT 40 which raced and won at Le Mans in 1966, 67 and 68. Seven mark three with seven litre engines were built and today, if you can find one, expect to pay £375,000 to £400,000 (2001 valuation). 


Aspro Ltd, Old original Buildings 
Aspro was developed in Australia during the years 1915 to 1917 by George Nicholas when the name Aspro was registered. This wonder aspirin was eventually to be made in Slough through the foresight and the influence of Aspro financial advisor George Garcia, a Spanish Australian Jew, who was visiting England for the 1924 Empire exhibition. He thought there was a market for the product in the UK and picked Lancashire and Yorkshire for the launch territories with Manchester the headquarters. Initially sales were a disaster because the packs of 25 tablets where too expensive for unemployed England but after some misgivings the Aspro board decided to struggle on and eventually things improved which led to the important policy decision to manufacture in England. Garcia chose a factory in Buckingham Avenue on the Slough Trading Estate and George Nicholson was sent from Australia to install the machines. The first tablets came off the line on August 11th, 1927. By 22nd of November the same year sales in Britain overtook sales in Australia but all was not well, At the time there was a certain distrust of patent medicines and certain newspapers wary of the claims made by pharmaceutical companies, refused advertising copy. Aspro management reacted quickly inviting the newspaper to send its own experts to the Slough Factory and make whatever test they liked. Three analytical chemists arrived to inspect the factory and take away samples. Their test and favourable report gave the Aspro a boost and advertising of the product met no further opposition. 


The Aspro-Nicholas was acquired by Sara Lee in 1984
In 1957 on a site bought before the outbreak of WWII the new Aspro factory was built on the Bath Road. There were construction delays due to the public footpath that crossed the site and much legal argument followed before agreement was reached that the path could be moved to one side. The path runs from the Bath Road alongside Sara Lee to emerge beside Westgate school onto the Cippenham Road. The new factory only came into being due to the perseverance of the then UK manager director Jamison who brought his new factory into production in 1958 Aspro became famous locally for their entertainment, Dances, Pantomimes and other showtime entertainments.


Shortly after the establishment of Aspro in Buckingham Avenue, High Duty Alloys which had been started by Colonel Devereux took the premises next to Aspro. H.D.A. also became large employers on the estate attracting labour locally and from other parts of the country especially during the war years where castings for aero engines and other requirements of war were manufactured. The thump of the heavy duty forging hammer operating day and night during the war years that was heard over a wide area is still remembered.


New building of 75 to 79 Buckingham Avenue              High Duty Alloys New Building Development 

High Duty Alloys closed in the late 1970's. The new buildings some of which are vacant in 2002 have housed the headquarters of various small 'IT ' Companies. Little engineering or consumer goods manufacture now remains on the Slough Estate. Warehousing and retail fill many of the new buildings. 


This McDonald's fast food hut now stands where buildings that housed the security police and the canteen of High Duty Alloys. 

The site is now occupied (2002) by computer software companies, DIY warehouse, freight company and a postal delivery company. 

The HDA sand foundry buildings were taken by Vitatex in the mid 1970's and became their textile dying and finishing departments 


OS Map revised 1938
courtesy of the Nation Library of Scotland
At the close of 1927 there were 65 firms operating within the confines of the estate and the name of Slough Estates was well known through articles appearing in the national press. These reports attracted the attention of men from the depressed areas of South Wales. The year was 1933 and unemployment in the country was approaching three million. On a bitter night in February 1934, two hundred and eighty-five Welsh Hunger marchers arrived in the town and were cared for by a specially formed Slough Reception Committee. They stopped overnight in the town before going on their way to demand action from the Government.

The downturn in trade had not escape Slough firms and Slough Estate management arranged deals in rent and loans for Hygienic Ice and St. Martins Preserving Company who were in serious trouble. One firm sacked workers and offered reemployment at a penny an hour less. Unemployed Welsh girls and men offered to work for less than local labour which obviously did no go down well with local towns people. 

At the same time other new firms were opening premises on the trading estate and bringing in their skilled employees who would train the newly recruited staff skills to manufacture new products such as Metal Colours that was mainly staffed by Germans, Flexello wheels and castors started by Marcel Menko, a Frenchman of Dutch parentage. 


Mars

Here we have a difference in the historical facts, myths, and memories and folklore of the best-known company in Slough. There is not a great deal written of the company from the English point of view, the book 'The Chocolate Wars ' give a very American slant to the story. 

Like many a son, at some time in our early life we think we know better than our parents, History says likewise about Forrest Mars but in this case, son did have more go and vision than Dad. 

Mars senior commenced making candy bar in America in 1923 with Forrest joining when he graduated in 1928. The business expanded but Mars senior having gone bankrupt twice was cautious, whilst son Forrest wished to conquer the world. Disagreement followed and Forrest took off for Europe with a wife and baby son and $50,000. Having studied various chocolate methods on the continent he headed for England in 1932 where at least he could speak the language. At 28 years old he arrived and with a burning desire to prove himself by making candy. Having spoken to Philip Wrigley of chewing gum fame and James Horlick who told him to see Nigel Mobbs, Forrest Mars found himself with a large leaky shed in Dorset Avenue. Within four months of arriving he had had his factory ready for production and the first Mars Bars were ready to launch onto the marketplace. From these small beginnings Mars rose to become in fifty years the estate largest production unit and employer. 


Gresham Road 1934
VitaTex

Other firms followed such as 4711 Cologne, Coopers Mechanical Joints makers of gaskets for the motor trade and Mr Steven Wessely who started VitaTex, to make lingerie and textiles. Mr Wessely had come from Czechoslovakia in 1933 to work as a cutter in the north of England. His ambition was to have his own plant.

Charmaine work room, Gresham Road
He came to Slough in 1934 to visit the trading estate site and was met by Nigel Mobbs at the station with a Rolls Royce. What with being taken to lunch and riding in the Rolls Steven was hooked and took a small factory in Gresham Road calling it Charmaine, there to produce ladies underwear. 

Warp Knitting machines at Gresham Road in 1950's.
The annual rent was 1/- a square foot. The company expanded over the next fifty years producing all manner of textiles for the fashion, furniture and automotive industries. The Wessely family sold out to British Vita and the plant closed in 1995.


Sewing room staff with Mr Wessely in the centre.
Mr Wesseley
after 50 years as owner and chairman of VitaTex

Note — Fun Knickers. 


A young lad on joining Charmaine the task of putting printing ink on his hands and then printing his hand prints on the back panels of ladies knickers. A fun project.

This article is an extract from at talk that was given by John Denham on Industry’s Influence on Slough given on October 16, 2001. 

He worked at Mars on the maintenance team for a few months in the early 1960's and from 1965 to his retirement nearly 30 years later worked for VitaTex. His children remember their summer holiday in 1965 as their Dad was called back to work early as there had been a disastrous fire at 108 Buckingham Avenue. He told his children that dust from the Flock printing was the cause.

No comments:

Post a comment