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Woodville - The Rapid Expansion

On its opening in Ross the Company had only twelve employees and no-one could have foreseen the rapid expansion which was to follow.

It was in its year of opening that a major factor in the expansion was conceived, when a large proportion of business was obtained for Garrard, through its parent company, Plessey. The contracts included those for the manufacture of turntable mats, some of which were still being made in 1979. The securing of this business saw a tremendous growth in the factory's size and by 1965 the Company had grown more than fourfold.

It was this sort of growth, and also profitability, with turnover well in excess of £500,000 that brought about a takeover on 9th February 1967. The firm who made the takeover, purchasing the entire Share Capital for an undisclosed price, was the giant American company, Garlock, based in New York. At this time the company employed one hundred and ninety six people and factory floor-space occupied some 33,000 square feet.

At the time of the takeover, Mr Brewster, Joint Managing Director, made the following statement to the Ross Gazette:

"We sought such an agreement to safeguard the company's interests against the danger of crippling death duties to ensure the best possible future for all our staff and to guarantee the interests of our customers."

Obviously, because the company was owned by two partners, in the event of one dying the family of the deceased would wish to sell their half of the business to pay death duties, which would inevitably have led to its folding up.

At the time of the takeover two Directors from Garlock were added to the board. Garlock, like Woodville, were specialists in precision work, particularly seals and packings. Garlock made it clear that their policy was to continue expanding the company and it was this undertaking that prompted Mr Brewster and Mr Hodson to sell to them. A new Managing Director was also appointed at this time. He was Mr Keith Tofield who had previously worked for companies in London, Dunstable and Yorkshire. Perhaps the level of company profitability can be gauged by the fact that he sold his Daimler and bought a Rolls Royce.

Within two years Woodville took a major step forward by installing it own Internal mixing Rubber Mill, the development included a building built specially to home the mixer. Whereas the rubber was once mixed on open mills, which took about an hour, the installing of the machine enabled the job to be cut to about 10 minutes.

In 1969 more expansion was witnessed with the building of the factory administration building, which was officially opened on 20 December. The building was constructed by a local firm, Collier and Brain, and cost £40,000. At the time of its open≠ing Mr Tofield said;

"Britain is not big enough for us, we are going into Europe."

The building itself covered an area of 7,200 square feet, and included a Computer Room, which was to house only the third computer in the country. The Managing Director forecast an increase in turnover of £500,000 in the next five years. The company continued to expand over the following few years, and in 1973 the company had grown 530% since 1967, which represented an average growth of 30% per year. It was in 1973 that Woodville decided that profitability could be increased quite dramatically if they could obtain an "in house" source for the metal inserts that they used in many of their products and it did not take the company long to find one which was suitable. The firm was Precision Pressings who were based at Cinderford, about 10 miles from Ross-on-Wye.

In 1973 the new Social Club was opened by the Managing Director, Mr K Tofield. The club housed a Skittle alley, a pool table, a snooker table, gaming machines and many of the other trimmings associated with a modern social club. This year also saw Mr Tofield move house, he bought a house on the outskirts of the town. The house was put up for auction by T V personality, Noele Gordon, the bidding reached in excess of £40,000.

Equal rights came to the company in 1974 when, in October, the company appointed its first female Press shop foreman. This was also the year of the power crisis which meant that even managers and directors had to take a turn on the presses. When the company installed generators to overcome the problem, and against national trends, the company actually increased output during this period because it felt that it had an obligation to its customers to at least maintain production levels. The German company SKF were so impressed that they rewarded the company with a half-million pound order for their efforts.

In 1976 it was the turn of Garlock to be the subject of a takeover by a larger company. The company involved this time were Colt who were renowned worldwide for their diesel engines, compressors and carburettors but are probably more famous for their revolver, the legendary Colt 45, which was one of the earliest products that the company produced.

Shortly after the takeover the company announced a 35% increase in business, but more significantly a 600% increase in exports which can be attributed to both an export drive by the sales team and joining the common market a few years earlier showing its advantages. Among the countries that Woodville export to are Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Australia, South Africa, Japan and America.

Even in the two years prior to 1979 there were two additional buildings added and a third, the new office extension, was built and was to be completed by July that year. This building completed the growth of the company up to 1979 but with more land available for building and the company's ambitions for the future, was not long before there were further expansion plans on the drawing board.

The only black mark against the rapid growth of the company, was that from time to time it has had to make redundancies. In February 1975 17 people were axed, but in February of this year the town was shattered to hear that the towns largest employer had to make more than 10% of the workforce redundant, nearly 60 people out of a workforce of 612. The Managing Director explained that the need for redundancies had been brought about by the general economic situation with the effects of the transport strike of a previous year and the engineers strike of the previous autumn were still being felt, however, the workers, particularly those who were given their notice, believed that it was retaliation against the unions rejection of a 15% pay rise that led to the redundancies. The union retaliated by imposing a ban on overtime.

On the brighter side, however, the company can be proud of the fact that they had never experienced any industrial action in the form of strikes, which is quite rare in a company of Woodville's size and age.

Woodville Laboratories
Woodville Laboratories
(Click for a larger image)

Woodville had laboratories on the Ross site to allow analysis of the parts and materials used and manufactured on the site. These were well equipped and allowed all manner of testing to be carried out.

This photo shows a sample of rubber undergoing a test to possibly look at the specific energy of the rubber. This is done by stretching the rubber to the limit and measuring the load-extension on relaxation to get the energy characteristics of the rubber.

(Click for a larger image)
Laboratory equipment
Some laboratory equipment
(Click for a larger image)

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Many of the details are taken from The History of Woodville Polymer Products by Gary Minton. Gary was doing a industrial placement, presumably as part of his education, when he created the original document. - Thanks to Dennis Eagles for supplying these details

[Page updated: Feb 15 2011 13:31:59]

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