Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Garrard

When Garrard moved to Swindon in 1919 it heralded a change in the industrial profile of the town.  The precision engineering manufacturer was among the first to offer large scale alternative employment - Swindon would no longer be a one industry town, dependent on the railway works.

The firm was established in 1721 by silversmith George Wickes, who entered his mark at the Goldsmith's Hall the following year.  From 1802 the jewellers became known as Garrard  when Robert Garrard took over control.  Queen Victoria made Garrard the official Crown Jeweller in 1843.



Garrard has been jewellers to the rich and famous for over 250 years and continued to be responsible for maintaining and restoring the crown jewels until 2007.

Responding to wartime needs the Garrard Engineering & Manufacturing Company Limited evolved out of the jewellery making business, employing their skilled craftsmen and specialist machinery in the production of precision range finders for the British Artillery.


The post war move from the White Heather Laundry premises in Willesden, North London to the Newcastle Street factory in Swindon was headed by Major S.H. Garrard and engineer Herbert Slade and the factory opened with 30 employees during the summer of 1919.  Just four years later and development saw the firm extending the old canal side factory by a further 1,200 square feet of floor space.  Towards the end of the 1960s the workforce numbered 4,500.

During the Second World War production saw subsidiary factories opened at Arkell Hall in Gorse Hill, Steel's Garage and a large room in the yard of the Rifleman's Hotel.  Although these sites were closed after the war, other new factories opened at Okus and Marlborough Road.

The interwar period had seen Garrard diversify, building what would become a whole new area of production for them.  First developed in 1918, progress on the Spring Wound Gramophone Motor continued and was quickly snapped up by leading manufacturers Columbia, Decca and His Master's Voice.  By 1930 the company was producing their own gramophones and the Garrard name soon became synonymous with top of the range turntables and high quality record players.


In common with the GWR, Garrard had a whole raft of employee benefits, including a thriving social event programme.  From the Horticultural Society to the darts, cribbage and skittle teams, there were clubs to suit all tastes.

In 1949 the cricket team won the prestigious Morse shield while the bowls club had a membership of 194 playing and non playing members.  And in the early 1950s works outings included trips to Whipsnade Zoo, Weston Super Mare and to watch Chelsea play Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.

The death of Major Sebastian Henry Garrard in 1945, great grandson of Robert Garrard senior, saw links with the royal jewellers severed.

On March 21, 1958 flames swept through the Newcastle Street building causing extensive damage and still rated as Swindon's worse ever fire.  The firm's proud boast was that production resumed on the assembly line within days.

Sold to Plessey in 1960, Garrard found it increasingly difficult to compete against the growing Japanese market.  In 1979 the company was sold to the Brazilian firm Gradiente Electronica and production in Swindon ceased in 1982.


Today the former factory site is occupied by The Range and Halfords.  Garrard's sports ground lies beneath part of the Greenbridge retail and leisure park and is commemorated in the naming of Garrard Way.

Images - early 20th century picture postcard view of the Crown Jewels.
1980s photographs of the Garrard factory demolition is published courtesy of Mr J. Ensten - visit www.flickr/com/photos/SwindonLocal for more views.

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