Wingard of Chichester
By Amy Roberts
By Amy Roberts, Collections Officer at the Novium Museum
Wingard Ltd. was founded in April 1930 by Mr P.N. Matton for the prime purpose of acquiring the rights to a device known as a Width Indicator (a "wing guard") for cars and commercial vehicles, and to manufacture and market this product.
The first premises, located at 36 Sunny Gardens, Hendon, London, consisted of just one room, the spare bedroom of Managing Director Mr Matton. The room played the part of the company's boardroom, office, assembly and despatch room. The facilities were not suitable for the company to manufacture the Width Indicator themselves and so the manufacturing was instead outsourced. The product was packed by the company name and sold through freelance salesmen. The salesmen were offered an attractive quarter of the selling price in commission.
Progress was steady and the company made a name for itself. They expanded their product lines, introducing Lighthead and Telescopic "winguards", plus other products such as Billiard Tables (which were soon discontinued) and cycle lamps.
In 1935 the company experienced financial problems. They re-organised and subsequently re-registered Wingard (M.A) Ltd on 31st May 1935, the M.A standing for Motor Accessories. Investment in the company had come from several new directors including D.J. Battersby and Mr Allcard. At this time the company sought new premises and moved to a private house at 81c Church Road, Hendon. An affiliation with a manufacturing unit in Birmingham was also established whereby products, such as the telescopic mirror bracket designed by Mr. Battersby were manufactured exclusively for the company.
The company also began to provide novel products such as width indicators with union jacks for the coronation of George VI, a greater range of commercial mirrors, tow ropes and more.
After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 Wingard were quick to manufacture blackout discs for vehicle headlamps. These were compulsory and prevented light from the car being seen from the air by enemy aircraft. However government quotas for the supply of general motor products were negligible so the factory at Church Road together with another factory at Staples Corner, Hendon were converted for the production of numerous items for the war effort, including incendiary bomb parts, components for aircraft seats, tanks, mosquito aircraft and trucks. The connection to the motor industry was not lost completely however and the company continued to design and produce various parts as sub-contractors for other vehicle manufacturers.
In 1943 the Ministry of Aircraft Production allotted the company the more spacious premises of the requisitioned factory of Mess. Eugene Ltd. (Eugene hair company) at Edgeware Road, West Hendon. During this time the company employed around 100 people.
Following the end of the Second World War in May 1945 the rental arrangement with Eugene Ltd. came to an end making it necessary for the company to find alternative accommodation. The search for suitable premises proved very difficult and in 1946 Wingard found themselves moving out of London, taking possession of a factory in Kingsham Road, Chichester. Production at the factory, which had previously been used as a wool storage depot, commenced on 1st September 1946.
Twelve of the original Hendon staff moved to Chichester and they soon found that the equipment they brought with them from London - lathes, grinding and milling machines, presses, drillers etc. only took up one half of the space in the new factory which was approximately 10,000sq ft. in total.
In 1948 Wingard designed and produced the framed interior mirror. In the next few years the range of products was further extended to include chrome wing mirrors, stop and tail lamps, interior lamps, car heaters, sump heaters, sun visors, wiper blades, roof racks, windscreen washers, petrol caps, fuel pump diaphragms, flexible pipe connections, locker and door keys, reflectors, licence holders and seat belts.
Contracts for original equipment on cars and commercial vehicles covered not only interior and exterior mirrors which of course was by now the company's basic business, but also specially designed ash trays, name plates, petrol caps, roof lights, door handles, coat hooks and body hardware generally.
In the very early 1950s Wingard entered the field of plastics production and this decision paid them big dividends in 1953 when the government ruled that two rear reflectors must be fitted to every car and commercial vehicle. By increasing existing production of reflectors the company was able to sell one million almost overnight. They also received substantial reflector contracts from government ministries.
By 1953 the company had outgrown the factory in Kingsham Road and decided to double the site by erecting a 10,000 ft. building to the west of the existing factory. Work commenced in January 1954 and was completed by the following June. The company's turnover doubled as a result. It was not long before the company had again outgrown the premises and a decision was taken to build a double storey block along the front of the existing factory. Worked commenced in August 1958 and added a further 18,000 sq ft of floor space.
In 1955 Wingard designed a new and improved prismatic anti-dazzle mirror. In 1956 the company designed and patented a universal stop/tail lamp at a competitive price just in time for the introduction of legislation that required two such lamps to be fitted to every car and commercial vehicle.
A new factory was purchased in 1964 and opened on the Terminus Road Industrial Estate. In 1965 Wingard entered the seatbelt industry, initially importing them from Canada; they later began manufacturing their own improved version. Working in conjunction with Ford's engineers Wingard went on to design a test rig which they sold to other major seatbelt manufacturers.
The company remained forward thinking and had an intensive training and apprenticeship scheme looking to upskill workers and ensure continuity and career progression within the various departments of the company. The company had a highly qualified design and development team which managed to secure many patents for them.
In 1968 the 21 Club was set up. This club was for employees who had completed 21 years' service with Wingard. The first committee meeting took place at the Kingsham Road works canteen on 17th February 1969. The first function was a dinner on Saturday 14th June. Many trips and outings were arranged on a regular basis for retired and working members. Retired members were also regularly invited to the factory to witness for themselves the changes and improvements the company made.
The company also had a sports and social club, as was common at the time. Run by volunteers they ran regular events, sports days, dances, trips shows and excursions.
The 1970s saw a period of change beginning in December 1972 the takeover of the company by Griffiths Bentley & Co, who owned the Britax Group. Less than a year later in October 1973 Griffiths were taken over by the Bristol Street Group, who operated a number of companies from auto component manufacturing, vehicle distribution and leasing to consumer products manufacturing aircraft equipment. The company was re-registered in 1977 as Britax Wingard Ltd.
At this time the company was also badly affected by the motor industry strikes of the early 1970s. As a result Wingard were forced to introduce new procedures to cut overheads and improve efficiency. These were highly successful and sales were higher than at any other time in the company's history.
In July of 1984 the company separated their mirror and seatbelt operations. Two years later the company's seatbelt operations were sold and the company focussed solely on rear vision systems and fuel filler caps.
The Kingsham Road factory was fast becoming outdated and in 1986 the decision was made to move exterior mirror assembly to Portchester. A second factory opened in Portchester in August 1992 and the Chichester factory finally closed in the October the same year. The buildings were demolished and a new housing estate erected. In commemoration of the business one of the streets was named 'Wingard Way'.
Compiled using information from Britax Wingard Ltd A reflection on 70 years. The History of Britax Wingard 1929-1999.