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Theresa Clark, 2007
Strong & Fisher
offices and factory
The offices and factory in Irchester Road, with houses between

Memories of working in the offices 1978-1984
I worked in the offices at Strong & Fisher from 1978 to 1984. The Rushden Factory, founded in 1932 in Irchester Road was the head office of the Strong & Fisher Group. This included local tanneries such as Victoria Leather at Higham Ferrers, Wellington Tannery at Raunds and Harrold Leather in North Bedfordshire who tanned and dyed the leather and suede for the clothing industry.

The group also included Fellmongers and Hide & Skin Merchants, who bought in the raw skins from the local abattoirs in places such as (Mullins) Luton & Dudley, Chesterfield, Cullompton and Tiverton in Devon, Bury, Cheltenham, (Walker Bros) Bermondsey and Newtown, Llangollen, Caerphilly and Llandeilo in Wales. Some of these just traded the raw skins, some pickled or tanned them before selling them on. Sheepskins were produced and sold with moccasins and gloves in a small factory shop at Newtown. They also owned ‘Simpson & Kay’ in Bermondsey who traded finished leather. During this time Strong & Fisher bought ‘Janet Ibbotson’ a suede and leather clothes designer who had a retail outlet and workshop in South Kensington, London. The managing director’s wife, Camilla Strong became a director in this company.

When I was at the firm the managing director was Richard Strong, known as ‘RJ’; his brother Christopher was also one of the directors. J P Strong and O B Strong had founded the firm with a Mr Fisher, Richard and Christopher were sons of one of the founders.

Rosemary was the receptionist; she greeted guests and operated the state-of-the-art switchboard, manually plugging incoming calls into the various extensions. There was a seating area for guests to wait in behind reception.

Beyond reception and to the left there was a wages office with Roy and an assistant and then an open-plan main office. In this area were Len Kent who was the office manager, Pam who did purchasing David Guest, Fred & Richard Minney, who I think did cash and credit control.

The group accountants, where I assisted, were led by Dudley Gibbard, with Martin Smith, followed by Dave Mason and Clive Dowie. Dave originated from the West Midlands and played Rugby for the Northampton Saints. Sometimes on Friday lunch times Dave and I would go to the Peking Restaurant in the High Street for a 3 course special set lunch, which was very reasonable. Dave drove us there in his Ford Capri, which was one of the few cars he could fit his 6’4” height into! Dave broke his jaw playing Rugby against Llanelli and was ‘wired-up’ till it healed, he survived mainly on ‘Complan’ a liquid food mix. On other Fridays I would collect fish & chip orders from nearby ‘Jimmys’ for the office staff.

Colin Farrow was in charge of the computer, which was the size of a dining table and had it’s own room, no laptops in those days! Colin had to back-up the data each evening on a huge disk the size of a car tyre, which he took home with him. Pam and Julie worked at monitors entering the computer data. Information was printed out onto a continuous pack of concertinaed computer paper. This looked rather like music sheets with staves running across and with holes down the sides to allow it to feed onto a reel and into the printer.

I hated filing these sheets, first, each page had to be ripped along the bottom along the perforations. Then the ledgers, which had a plastic front and back sheet and a long spike holding the pages in, had to be taken apart at the correct place to file each new sheet.

Along the downstairs corridor were some offices, including John Hawksfield’s, the Finance Director. At the far end was the small kitchen where Betty made the tea, which she delivered to the office staff and Bill Bayes the Warehouse Supervisor, who always seemed to appear at teatime!

Upstairs was the telex and sales office, the boardroom and various directors’ offices including RJ Strong, Christopher Strong and Douglas Ramsay the head salesman. RJ’s secretary Anita, had a small office next to his, RJ only liked Anita to do his typing and if she was ever off ill he would not be happy!

Strong & Fisher also owned a house just down from the offices, where the costing department worked, led by Roy Stock with Val Berger and Maureen Reeves. The house was also used to store old invoices and documents. I remember also seeing the old company seals here, beautiful black with gold flower or scroll patterns on them, rather like old ornate singer sewing machine decorations.

The site maintenance team were Geoff Horne, Ben Glenn and Albert Snelling, a happy, friendly man, who was tragically killed in an accident at the factory.

Strong & Fisher held an annual Christmas Dinner & Dance at Wicksteed Park, this was a major event with all the group’s managers invited and coaches laid on to bring all the staff from the Rushden, Higham and Raunds factories. It was expected that ladies wore a long dress for the occasion, mine was white with red roses.

One year Strong & Fisher sponsored the British Bob Sleigh team, I remember thinking it was a strange way of advertising as the sleigh moved so fast that you couldn’t read the ‘Strong & Fisher’ logo on the front!

When I was first at the firm, the group was doing well and expanding, buying Mullins Dudley and Luton, Harrold Leather and Janet Ibbotson. Unfortunately, times soon got much harder, some employees were made redundant, there were no more Christmas bonuses and dinners, and Harrold Leather was closed down.

In the 1990s Strong & Fisher stopped trading and the factory was demolished and houses built. The Victoria Leather Company factory still stands in Wood Street, Higham Ferrers but all that remains at Wellington Tannery, Raunds is the Tannery entrance archway around another residential area.

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