MEYNELL VALVES LTD
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.
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
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 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