How Mr Alphonse Reyrolle came to Hebburn. Thanks to Fred Nicod
Posted by Norman Dunn on July 25, 2022, 18:51:52
Fred Nicod’s Memories of Mr Alphonse Reyrolle in the photo below. |
On December the 17th 1981, BBC radio broadcast a short programme in which Fred Nicod age 83 gave us some insight into the formation of A Reyrolle and Company.
Fred’s father was sitting in a pub in Tottenham Court Road, London, one day in 1886 when a gentleman walked in and asked if he could join him. He agreed and asked the visitor to have a drink, but all the gentleman wanted was a chat. The man was Alphonse Reyrolle..
He was thinking about starting his own business and on finding out Mr Nicod was an engineer, Alphonse asked him to come and work for him at a half penny an hour more than Mr.Nicod was earning. (There was 480 half pennies in a pound in those pre decimal days)
Mr. Reyrolle was described as about 5'7' and a well dressed, handsome man with curly auburn hair, with pince-nez glasses and a personality that commanded respect.
The business was set up making plugs and sockets, switches and other electrical equipment. They remained in London until 1901, then moved to Hebburn, occupying the site of a former dye-works adjacent to Hebburn Station. Fred's father was manager of the firm in London and when they moved to Hebburn, was manager for about 15 years. In 1903 there were ten employees and by 1906 Reyrolle employed over 500 locals and the company was fast becoming an integral part of Hebburn’s fabric.
In 1906 two great engineers arrived at Hebburn . 32 year old engineer Charles Hesterman Merz was born in Gateshead to a German father and an English mother (the sister of Mr Whigham Richardson a Tyneside shipbuilder). Mr Merz is in the photo below, not long before he died in 1940’s WW2 at home in London when his home was bombed by the Luftwaffe. How ironic as he was half German.
Another brilliant engineer who came to work for Mr Reyrolle in 1906 and who did more to establish Reyrolle’s was Henry W Clothier who became chief engineer. He later became a Director and helped run the company after Mr Reyrolle died in 1919. Below is a photo of Mr Clothier taken in 1936, two years before he died just 64 years of age. He ran Reyrolles from 1906 to 1938.
Like other industrialists in those days, the philanthropist in Alphonse emerged. The Reyrolle’s Employees Benevolent Association was born and as part of their remit provided ‘barefoot football’ for the children in the local area. A Reyrolle’s football team wasn’t far behind and created in 1912, joining the Jarrow & District Junior League.
Football had existed in the town since the 1880s with Hebburn Argyle but World War One took its toll and when the armistice was signed Argyle ceased to exist. Reyrolles, though, was going the other way. By the end of the WW1 employee numbers were up to 800 and the team had progressed to the South Shields Combination. Mr Reyrolle himself was not a well man at the time and in 1919 just as his company was making international in roads and his football team expanding, poor Alphonse Reyrolle died.
By the 1930s Reyrolle’s employed 5000 people in Hebburn alone and was linked to a merger with General Electric. Throughout the 2nd world war and post-war period Reyrolles grew, diversified and by 1950 employed more than 12,000 . Alphonse’s, impact on Hebburn and the local area cannot be underestimated, yet he, Mr Merz and Mr Clothier are forgotten by our Local Authority. Such a shame after providing so much work for our area.
Fred Nicod and his 7 brothers all worked for Reyrolle’s. He said as a young apprentice he accidentally hit Mr.Reyrolle with a snowball and damaged his glasses. He was sent for and shown the damage to the glasses and was ordered to take them and repair them, which he did successfully which impressed Mr Reyrolle. From then on Mr.Reyrolle took an interest in young Fred and was even upset when 17 yr old Fred joined the Army in 1916 after lying about his age. Fred wrote from France and in later life treasured a reply he got from Mr. Reyrolle.
After World War ended Fred spent some time in hospital and on returning home in 1919 he saw the Reyrolle’s flags flying at half-mast. Alphonse Reyrolle had died at just 55 years of age
Mr Reyrolle was a benevolent employer and cared for his employees, particularly when they were sick or in any kind of trouble and did much to establish the family spirit. They always paid their employees well, and it was nearly always a job for life. What a great man for bringing so much employment to little old Hebburn, and so sad that he and Mr Clothier are now forgotten.
The massive High Voltage Test building was named the Clothier Building so when it was demolished and a housing estate built on the land, it was an ideal opportunity to name the Estate ‘Clothier Grove’ or ‘Reyrolle Grove’.
Instead it was another of the many Ellison names in the town & called ‘Ellison Grove’ after the wealthy Ellison family who were Wealthy landowners from times gone by. So sad that our Local Authority have so far not appreciated the Reyrolle Company employed as many as 12000 locals.