12.  Moving the Factory

The early 1960s saw the face of Wolverhampton changing with the implementation of a ring road which came from the Birmingham New Road at the top of Snow Hill, down Church Lane, passing Chapel Ash and up Wadhams Hill, past the old Molineux Hotel to Stafford Street.  From there it was to go in the direction of a point halfway between the Victoria Hotel and High Level Station which, of course, would take it through St Patrick’s church and our factory.

We received notice to quit. The dear old church was to be demolished and so were we.  The time schedule was unknown because all depended upon money being available, both from central government and the Wolverhampton Council.   However, it was a most serious matter of concern to us and we all viewed it with great displeasure.  We have been in our existing factory for over 100 years.  Nobody wanted to go.  Many of our works people and staff said they could not leave the district and no doubt we were all afraid of the unknown.

We started to search for alternative accommodation but nothing suitable could be found.  We looked at various places, including the British Heat Resisting Glass Company's factory in Bilston, and the Midland Counties Dairy plant (roughly between the Works and Princes Square as the crow flies).  I’m afraid that it rather typified Cuthbert’s rather irate attitude of his later years when he exclaimed that he would never move there but, when asked why, merely retorted that it was “totally unsuitable” and, when asked why it was, explained “it has four bloody roads round it” and then walked out of the room.

As we believed that time was running out and that we had no alternative,  and really somewhat against our will, we decided to build our own factory, on a site owned by the Corporation and offered on lease to us by them.  The venue was Sutherland Avenue and plans were drawn up by local architects with a view to asking Henry Willcocks (and a few other builders) for a quotation.  Soon after the outline plans were approved, and whilst the detailed ones were in their early stages, we were tipped off that a factory was advertised for let in Bushbury.  A cursory visit indicated that it looked ideal.  In fact, almost too good to be true.  It had been built for the Switchgear Division of the Electric Construction Company of Bushbury whose parent was the Aberdare Holdings Group.  The group had just recorded an annual loss of over £4 million and they carried out some drastic surgery.  One of the operations was the Switchgear Division being absorbed back into their large factory site on Showell Road.  Hence the new building, now 9 years old, was up for rent.

We concluded negotiations swiftly and obtained a 42 year lease at £21,000. pa with a rent review after 14 years and thereafter each 7 years.  The area was 55,000 sq ft. The plant bordered by a railway line on one side and Shaw Road on the other with a car park at one end and some gorse bushes at the other end.  The frontage had a large lawn with two small flower beds and the front entrance and foyer, with its parquet floor, was most impressive and a great improvement on our lovely old home in Montrose Street.  

The factory in Shaw Road, seen in 2004.

However, we had yet to go through the trauma of the move. 

Moving a factory sounds simple and, indeed, is easy to write or read  about.  But to do it calls for an exercise of considerable depth to be carried out in 48 hours.  We knew that large national companies, like Pickfords, could do the job but for this vitally important exercise we had to work with the contractors to make sure everything would be left set out with part‑finished jobs to be machined located at each machine all over the factory.  My whole background in life has been with small enterprises which I have seen proved time and again to be more flexible to change and more accountable for a good result because usually the man at the top is totally involved.  It so happened that one of my oldest friends, Peter Thompson, had his family business of Thompson Bros Ltd sold to John Thompson and his new boss had given him so much aggravation that he had accepted a golden handshake and left.   Some of the money he invested in a Company, IMCE Ltd, which could move a factory.  We asked them to quote and, as expected from a small company with comparatively fewer overheads, they were much cheaper than Pickfords and the others.  We appointed them and kept our fingers crossed that all would succeed.

The problems are considerable when moving.  It is not just machines and work in progress but also all services, including electric lights and power points for each machine and all offices;  but also such things as drainage for the plating shop acids, compressed air to machines, oil to each foundry furnace and, finally, a complete redecoration to make the place habitable.

Well, Podmores did the electricity and panics about the size of load which the local sub-station could accommodate were dealt with.   Godfreys did the building alterations. These were not large but, for example, the wall built across the east end to isolate the foundry and its fumes from the Machine Shop cost over £3000 - and this would be a lot more at today’s money values.  Whilst a lot of preparatory work for the building and the services could be carried out in comparative leisure the move week was to be in the works holiday period in September.  I can’t think that General Montgomery’s philosophy in life has particularly influenced my own but I have always admired him for his peculiar courage at the Battle of El Alamein in the Western Desert (1942).  This was to become the turning point of the War and up to that point there had only been losses. The preparation for Alamein was fanatically detailed, carefully prepared, meticulously planned and then, on the night it was due to start, Monty announced that he could do no more and he was off to his caravan for a normal night’s sleep.  Well, we still won.  In September 1969 I planned to leave during the move week, after all details had been settled, and to fly to the USA.  The formation of our USA subsidiary, Meynell Valves Inc and the appointment of Bill Yarlett, as our Sales Manager followed.  But meanwhile the finances were a considerable worry to us at home.

The financial picture showed us having to sell by compulsory purchase the freehold we had mostly possessed since 1866 and we were offered £84,000 for it.  This seemed totally inadequate and we enlisted the professional services of Alan Kennard, the principal partner in a firm of Wolverhampton valuers, who had a reputation for being red hot.  Alan visited us and told us that in his opinion we had practically no chance of getting an increase in compensation and that any lengthy appeals would be costly and time consuming.  But, anyway, he had a better idea.  He suggested we obtained the maximum permissible figure within the law for every facet of the move.  This would include every single meeting between any of us, which should be carefully logged with date, time and subject discussed, all journeys to and from the new site for claiming car mileage, all drawings necessary for plant and office layout, all costs incurred for changing of visiting cards, stationery, postcards, leaflets, product instruction cards and the cost of scrapping any existing ones, etc.  The master stroke was then revealed. He told us that most people were anxious to obtain interim payments from the Local Authority for work done on a weekly or monthly basis. These were fairly closely scrutinised by the departments concerned, who had plenty of staff and could call upon them for this purpose.  He advised that queries were always raised, which led to more time being spent and sometimes various claims were not only disputed but then could be rejected.  His suggestion was that we should keep all records in great detail and keep all bills and then, at the end and 24 hours before any compensation was due to be paid, we should personally deliver by hand our huge file of evidence for our claim.  This would be within the law.  We did just that.  The Town Hall authorities were quite staggered.  Not only were we, at that time, the biggest compulsory purchase which they had ever made but its value was higher by miles than anything they had ever encountered;  and. they told us, they had no means of checking a lot of it as it was by then months past. The bill they paid us was for £67,000 and we could justify every penny.  

We had a grand opening ceremony, which included the appearance of this pneumatic lady who, at the time, was noted for taking energetic curtain calls in the Morecombe and Wise Show on TV - a show in which she appeared only at the end with her famous words "I love you all!". 

Her name was Janet Webb.  She was 6 ft 6 ins tall and told me her bust measurement was 52".  She mixed well with out factory people, who loved her, and she was a great success.  

We left Montrose Street, full of regrets for our happy home of over 100 years with all its small separate workshops, nooks and crannies and the legendary ghost but the new building enabled the Company to be far more efficient.

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