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‘Purley Gates’ recall town’s fridge factory

A PAIR of gates has revived memories of the biggest employer in Bognor Regis.


The restored entrance feature to the former Lec Refrigeration site has been given pride of place in its regeneration.


It was unveiled relatives of Lec’s founder, Charlie Purley. A grandson of Mr Purley, Jonathan Thomson said: “It’s a great honour to be commemorated by the pub and these gates and I hope they are called the ‘Purley Gates’.


“My grandfather was a very special man to me. He was a true character.


“He started off selling fish off a bicycle in Brighton. Then, he managed to buy a van and sell fish over the Downs.


“My grandfather then moved to Bognor Regis, where he had a fish shop. He used to buy crushed ice to keep the fish cool.


“But he was quite canny and realised he needed refrigeration. Before the Second World War, he had started making fridges. When the war came, he used to make them for the war effort. After the war, he was helped by the government to set up the factory here.”


The Marston’s pub/restaurant named after Mr Purley is the final part of the area’s regeneration. “It’s nice to see the pub named after him in a place so special to so many Bognor people who worked at Lec,” said Mr Thompson.


He was joined at the ceremony by his mother, Joan Thomson, the daughter of Mr Purley. Under his leadership, Lec grew to employ 2,000 people and produce more than 2,500 fridges a day. Its products were known around much of the world.


But overseas competition eroded that position of strength. Fridge and freezer making ended at the original site in 2004 and at the company’s adjoining new factory on April 19, 2007.


The old factory was demolished. Its first area to be redeveloped opened as a Sainsbury’s store in November 2012. It was followed by a Wickes DIY outlet last year and The Charlie Purley last week. The pub has replaced the Widdowson Building where technical products were made by Lec.


Former Lec employees set up Polestar Cooling in Bognor Regis in 2003 to make specialist fridges. They joined with other Lec workers at Dicentra Developments, which regenerated the site, to refurbish the famous gates. They were made by Maureen Noble’s father, sheet metal worker John Standing, who joined Lec in 1953. “He would be so chuffed if he could see them now,” said Maureen, who also worked at Lec for 12 years from 1991. “I never thought I would see them again.”

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