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Grass Valley Newbury HQ was originally Vickers-Armstrong factory built by MOD for Second World War effort

Turnpike Road building made parts for Spitfires

Geraldine Gardner

Geraldine Gardner

geraldine.gardner@newburynews.co.uk

Contact:

01635 886684

Grass Valley Newbury HQ was originally Vickers-Armstrong factory built  by MOD for Second World War effort

GRASS Valley's Newbury HQ in Turnpike Road was originally built in the mid 1940s by the Ministry of Defence as part of the war effort.

The MOD built the factory for Vickers-Armstrong after the company was evacuated from Southampton. When they first arrived in Newbury they had three sites - one at West Mills, one where Nias used to be in Bartholomew Street and a third in Northbrook Street. 

Employees who moved up from Southampton were housed in pre-fabs in Charter Road and Rupert Road, Newbury.

The Turnpike Road building was completed in late 1942 and the Marine Division, Military of Vickers-Armstrong stayed here until 1959 when they moved to Swindon.

The factory was mostly producing parts for the Spitfire - specifically the tail planes and fins, which were then sent to South Marsden, near Swindon, where the planes were assembled. 

After the war, parts were produced for other aircraft, namely the Swift, Comet, Viscount and Vanguard. 

Many small components were produced, as well as larger ones such as the wing spas for the Viscounts, the metal frameworks for the seating in the Comets and nose cones for the Swifts.

Air raid shelters were also built along the bank at the back of the building, which were demolished in 1980 when work started on transforming the building ready to be taken over by digital special effects systems manufacturer Quantel.

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These honing machines were used to smooth the metal legs of the undercarriage that held the wheels of the aircraft

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This picture shows where metal sheets were placed in salt baths (on the right of the picture) then flattened out in the rollers seen at the front of the picture. These flat sheets of metal were then stored in refrigeration units where they were kept soft until they were needed for the aircraft

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This was the fitting shop

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Fitting parts - the lady circled at the front had a daughter - Sylvia Ballard - who also later worked for Vickers-Armstrong and then for Quantel. In the 1990s, Sylvia's daughter Paula Ilott worked in the same building for Quantel

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Sylvia Ballard in 1993, standing at the spot where she had worked for Vickers-Armstrong and her daughter Paula Ilott who then worked in shipping at Quantel

I worked for Quantel in the 1990s and researching this history for an article I wrote for the company newsletter in 1993, I talked to Dave Fry, who had worked for Vickers-Armstrong after he left the Navy and whose son Dale was a Quantel director. 

Mr Fry told me at the time that he remembered long working hours - 8am to 8pm - and the manager's words if he caught you idling or chatting, 'Get on or get out'.

He also told me that the manager kept a pigsty at the back of the building and that the pigs were fed with scraps from the canteen, which used to be on the top floor.

Mr Fry, like most employees then, used to cycle to work and all along the side of the building were bicycle sheds, which were later demolished.

The average wage in 1946 was £4/10s a week with a bonus system of 30 shillings for any job completed ahead of schedule.  Mr Fry told me: "Very often some of us would be so far ahead of our workload we would have a month in hand, so we would have to 'look busy' for a while until the work caught up with us again."

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The original Vickers-Armstrong building - if you look closely at the picture above in the far left you will see two cars outside the front of the building, which belonged to the manager and the foreman

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In 1995, Quantel won its 8th Queen's Award for Technological Achievement for a digital system called Henry. As part of the celebrations a fly past by a Spitfire was arranged, as a nod to the factory's origins. And if you're wondering how the Spitfire wrote Henry in the air - the 'henry' was added using a Quantel Printbox

Do you have any memories of any of your family working for Vickers-Armstrong? We'd love to hear your stories. Email geraldine.gardner@newburynews.co.uk 

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