Today I walked through the Durban Road Industrial Estate, or the South Bersted Business Park, as it is now known. It is an area I knew well as I was a personnel manager at Weir Electronics for ten years. Today there are major discussions in the Saltbox area to the north regarding new industrial units and hotels in the vicinity of Shripney Road.
It was interesting to see the changes that have taken place since the 1980. I thought I would take a brief look at this estate from its conception. One report from November 1957 commented:
“The area was poor agricultural land flanking the Aldingbourne Rife west of the Shripney Road and gasworks and belonged to a Bognorian named Brazier.
“It was thought that on his death he would present it to the town, but it went to his son. Negotiations went on for some years regarding the purchase of same by the council, but finally in 1957, it was announced that the ‘industrial site’ had been privately purchased and would be given over to piece-meal development by a speculator.” This report in the paper was to be the start of the new development.
The plan was that the new owners would erect a number of factory units ranging in size from 5,000 to 100,000 square feet, which would be offered for sale or let on long leases.
A director of the estate company believed that large industries operating out of London would be attracted to Bognor Regis in due course, hence the estate. The local planning authority instructed that the estate should be planted with shrubs and trees because of the location of the estate to the nearby residential housing.
Before work began on this estate many people worked at the two major industrial companies in the town – Lec Refrigeration, in Shripney Road, who at its peak employed in excess of 2,000 people on all its shifts.
The other company was Hall and Goulding, who became well known as Hago’s. It was also situated in Shripney Road, but eventually moved into premises on the Durban Road Industrial Estate.
In January 1960, work on the industrial estate started and the chairman of Bognor Regis Ratepayers Association said: “It has always been our view that attractively developed light industries are needed to provide year round employment in a seaside resort.”
Interestingly, one of the first companies to open, Kingston Mouldings, brought many of their staff to the town from Kingston and only employed a few local people. The article regarding Kingston Mouldings stressed that there was a waiting list for jobs and the company anticipated that 65 per cent would be women.
Another early factory was Polly Peck where the staff produced dresses that were sold worldwide. How many people who worked there can remember the design of a ship’s wheel, with the four points of the compass? This nautical symbol was embroidered on all the clothing sent from the factory.
In 1963, it averaged 500 garments a week and employed about 65 staff. The company arrived in Bognor almost by accident as the managing director had a holiday home on the Aldwick Bay estate, and he came across the factory units on a visit to the town.
I shall not attempt to list all of the companies who have used the estate during its lifetime, but only mention a few.
Weir Electronics started its life here in Bognor Regis and became one of the major employers in the town. They expanded taking over a building here and another building there so that, eventually, the company seemed to be spread throughout the estate.
Weir’s eventually had over 500 employees at its peak, but it has declined and been taken over until today there is no visual sign of the name that is known by so many people in the town who worked there.
The original office building used by Weir Electronics has undergone major changes and now offers a very different style of service for the future.
The other buildings occupied by Weir have been transformed into a wide range of smaller units.
Another company was Rosemount Engineering, who had a small unit on the estate Princess Alexandra opened their newly built premises during an impressive ceremony in July 1982.
Rosemount Engineering was formed in 1960 as a subsidiary of an American company and operated from an old stable in Kingston upon Thames in Surrey. Within 12 months they had moved to Bognor Regis into units 17 and 18 until their new premises were built on scrubland behind them.
The company expanded until they had in the region of 450 staff. However, over the years, with the changing needs of the aerospace industry, Rosemount Engineering has finally vanished from view and their Heath Place premises that seemed to dominate the estate has been taken over for other uses.
During the 1980s there were many business reviews published by the press or events in connection with career guidance and this provided us with yet more names to remember.
Jennings Office Equipment moved to the estate from their shop in York Road. Who can remember Racal Panorama, which produced health and safety products, and also Wayne Kerr and Rendar, which has now been replaced by council offices?
In the late 80s and 90s, fortunes were changing and redundancy instead of increasing staff numbers was the order of the day and companies started to close.
My overall impression this morning of the estate, was the increased number of smaller units, the style of businesses, bakery, motor cycles and a gym to name but a few.