Planes, cars and tractors - the company that did it all
PUBLISHED: 15:40 19 August 2014 | UPDATED: 15:40 19 August 2014
Mann EGGerton or Mann EDGerton? That is a question asked by locals of a certain age who can recall the famous motor organisation at the height of its pomp in the region during the second half of the last century.
No doubt there is a correct pronunciation but the only certainty is that the next person you ask will probably give the opposite answer to the previous person!
At that time the company was one of the biggest employers across East Anglia and while the name now only tends to live on in Inchcape branches in other parts of the country, there is still great affection for the old company amongst former employees, some of whom gather for a reunion once a year...and are now reaching out to others to join them.
It is a company which such a rich and glorious history which made so many products – from aircraft to school furniture.
In 1899 Gerard Noel Cornwallis Mann, a Cornish electrical engineer, happened to spot an advertisement that an electrical installation business in Norwich was up for sale so he arrived in the city and bought it from Laurence, Scott & Company for £2,600, taking over the existing premises at 2 Redwell Street. He opened showrooms opposite.
The following year Mann went into partnership with pioneering motorist Hubert Wingfield Egerton and they started a modest motor business in Prince of Wales Road with a staff of ten. Almost 30 years later they were employing more than 850.
Despite the rapid development of their motor interests, they also expanded as electrical engineers – putting electricity in homes and factories across Norwich, Norfolk and East Anglia. They were a double act with vision and were soon gaining a name for themselves.
Four years after the two of them went into business together, in 1904, two other men also set up in business together. They were Henry Royce and Charles Rolls and before long they would be doing business with the Norwich enterprise.
ME had established a reputation as first rate coachbuilders and they mounted their first body, a Landaulette, on a Rolls Royce chassis in 1909 at the Cromer Road depot. It was the start of a long line of RR bodies made to customers’ requirements by ME.
A trade directory of 1910 lists ME at Bank Plain with a garage and works at Prince of Wales Road which was expanding with the building of one of the first re-enforced concrete buildings in the country. They also had branches at Ipswich, Lowestoft and were getting bigger all the time although Hubert Egerton was moving on.
With the start of the First World War the Admiralty asked the company to build aeroplanes. A war loan of £30,000 enabled the company to acquire 60 acres of land at Cromer Road, Hellesdon, where a huge wooden hangar was built and by 1916 a flying field was constructed.
Ten separate and distinct models of aircraft were produced. Short Bombers, Sopwith I V” Strutter twin-seat fighters, single seater French designed SPAD scouts, De Havilland long range bombers, and 184 Short Seaplanes.
At the end of the war when the aircraft manufacture stopped ME was left with specialist plant, buildings and machinery and a work-force of nearly 1200 people. Adapting to peacetime they started to make to make furniture and within ten years were regarded as the leading designers and producers for school furniture in the country.
As time moved on ME used its skilled engineers to overhaul and repairs tractors and other agricultural machinery. It became a public company in 1920 with many deports in Norfolk, Suffolk and London. They had departments dealing with coach-making, commercial vehicles, electrical contracting work of all kinds, furniture making...and so much more.
By the time of the Second World War coach-building stopped and the company started producing thousands of vehicles for the government, including ambulances and troop carriers. Many were also renovated and repaired.
The first radar station in East Anglia was installed by ME and essential repairs to shipping in ports across the country were carried out. The woodworking department made more than half a million pieces of furniture for the government to replace that destroyed in the bombing raids.
Gerard Mann died in 1941 and didn’t live to see the era of prosperity and the expansion after the war with the enormous demand for motor cars and vehicles. The woodworking departments also expanded fitting out laboratories, theatre, civic centre, hospitals and hotels across the country. Business was booming.
A vast specialised vehicle centre was developed at Cromer Road, Norwich, and in 1955 a new depot was built in Surrey Street in the once secluded garden of St Catherine’s Close. Flanked by rose gardens, with showrooms and workshops, there was a large expanse of glass so people could see the work going on inside.
And it was in 1962 that Mann Egerton adopted the much-loved TERN IN FLIGHT symbol, to be used, always in black and white. This graceful, neat, easily recognisable design was chosen because of the company’s East Anglian connections and because several varieties of this attractive bird breed on the Norfolk coast.
It was a symbol which represented style and class.
Then, on September 11 1973 the Eastern Evening News and Eastern Daily Press carried the following announcement:
“Inchcape & Company, a large public company with worldwide interests in commerce and industry have made an offer valued in excess of £17.5 million for Mann Egerton, the Norwich-based firm. Acceptance of the offer was recommended unanimously by the directors of Mann Egerton.”
With thanks to Kelvin Goodrum.