Taken from the Great Yarmouth Mercury.
With kind permission of Mrs Marian Hall (Botwright)
There was a time back in the nineteen Fifties and Sixties when there was hardly a family in the borough of Great Yarmouth and Gorleston which did not have someone working either at Birds Eye or Erie Resister. That was indicative of the role these companies played in the local economy, supporting many a household with a good income, which offered people the chance of those little extras. those so – called luxuries without breaking the bank.
We have a lot for which to thank those big two. For they were giant employers hereabouts – small fry, perhaps compared with the huge industries of the Midlands. I.E. car plants, Etc. but invaluable assets to the community. Birds Eye has long gone,(now J & H Bunn Fertilizer) taking some of its workforce along the A12 to Lowestoft with it. Erie swapped “Resister” for “Electronics” but in recent years has dwindled to several smaller businesses, thankfully flourishing in these parlous times but no longer having a big total workforce.
At the moment when Gt. Yarmouth is looking forward to attracting new industries as a result of its designation as an assisted area, it is worthwhile looking back over half a century to the time when Erie was considering a move to the borough. What is a sobering thought is that Erie picked us, In in industrial terms only 50 years, a short life – span. Erie came and went taking into account that a minority remains, fragmented and under mainly management buy – out ownership.
I doubt if Great Yarmouth realised, back in 1943, the benefit that would accrue from the arrival of Erie Resister. The war was still raging, the menfolk were away fighting, children were evacuated, but Erie had found a base and moved in and began manufacturing in 1944
We lost Birds – Eye to Lowestoft in the 1980’s. But in some way that compensated our old rivals for losing out to Great Yarmouth when Erie opted to come after rejecting the Suffolk town.
And it might have been because Lowestoft had not got a decent restaurant. As the war proceeded, the Government knew that Germany was developing V – weapons long before they came. London was the centre of the vital electronics industry in this Country, but a government committee chaired by Stafford Cripps told manufacturers they might have to be directed out of London into part of the country where they would be less vulnerable to bombing. So to ensure that raids on these plants would not knock out our electronics capability, industries began scouring the land to set up provincial factories.
From Erie, Arthur Dyson – who joined the company as works manager in 1932 when it crossed the Atlantic from the United States – obtained lists likely sites, one strong possibility being what is now the Sanyo/Pye, (long since closed) site in Lowestoft, a former artificial silk mill. He drove up there to look at it but found it was too big for what he wanted at that time.
Disappointed he looked for somewhere to lunch in Lowestoft but could not find anywhere, presumably because of a combination of austerity, evacuation and bomb damage. He asked a Policeman about a hotel or restaurant but received the reply “sorry there is nothing here, but there is the Star hotel in Yarmouth which is only a quarter of an hour’s drive along the road.
that exactly what he did. And the other story says that after lunch Mr Dyson walked round Yarmouth, went into the Town Hall opposite which was empty apart from someone looking after it, and asked about empty factories in the town. The man replied that he had the keys o the Millora slipper works.
When Mr Dyson saw the premises, he knew it was just right, The whole area as requisitioned including the Nelson Tavern and he was its landlord for some years. In 1944 they started moving production and some staff from London, and the manufacture of passive electronic components continued there.
Mr Dyson’s son Frank tells me; the firm expanded in time. Immediately after the war it was a bit static because war material was no longer wanted, But n 1947 television came back and from then until 1970 radio and television was the backbone of what the company made. “At one time the number working at Erie went up to 4350, but they could drop by 1000 in a month to 3500 as a result of customer demand for products. The peak years were 1963 – 1967. In 1963 we ran out of labour in the Yarmouth District – we had taken every available body we could get. Scouts went out and in the Eastern Daily Press saw an item about a former Ministry of Defence site in Arminghall near Norwich and opened up there.”
It is still going after management buy – outs and Frank Dyson is there as Managing Director of Syfer Technology. Erie products were exported worldwide and used on the Apollo space programme. I recall hearing tales from that heyday manufacturing industry in the borough that the council was not always encouraging, preferring to support the holiday side of the borough. There was even a story that the holiday and retail aspects of the town asked if the industries might consider closing from April to September to release staff for the summer trade!
Surely that must be an apocryphal story…
Eventually Erie Electronics was part of the giant STC, itself bought by a Canadian company which wanted only big plants, not fringe ones, so it sold the Great Yarmouth enterprise to management buy – outs and the owners are now Beck, Norfolk Capacitors, and C – Mac for example. Frank Dyson looks back fondly on another aspect of Erie’s presence in Yarmouth noting “A number of people who came back from the services after the war and got work at Erie for a number of years eventually left to start up their own businesses, helped by the money they had put aside from their wages there. Some are still going today despite the recession.
I thought that was great because it was a side benefit. I gave people a base from which to launch out.
Our grateful thanks to Mrs Marian Hall and the Great Yarmouth Mercury.