Letchworth’s first factory is still a working building after a century of service - and now a new high-tech future beckons
- Credit: Archant
Aworld-leading biotech firm which has moved its headquarters to an historic building on Letchworth’s industrial estate is keen to find out more about the companies which have occupied the site over the past century.
While Works Road was still mud and fields in the earliest days of garden city development, the plot which became known as number 605 was being developed as the Gresham Iron Works.
The offices were built in 1903 with the factory part of the site finished two years later.
It was the first purpose-built factory in Letchworth and for many years it stood in splendid isolation.
The Heatly-Gresham Engineering Company Ltd was originally based in Bassingbourn.
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The company made the first automobile taxis seen in London, and had also seen success with the patented Rational engine.
It had specialised in making motor-cars and related parts, but restrictions on expansion and poor transport links proved a real handicap.
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But with Letchworth beginning to take shape not far down the road, it seemed a logical move.
The site, originally designated as Station Road West before the name Works Road was applied to the expanding industrial zone of the garden city experiment, had its own problems. Despite the name Station Road, the railway station had yet to be completed – a full passenger service only started in 1905 and the station we know today dates from 1913.
The roads were poor, there were very few other buildings and there was mud everywhere.
But there was lots of room to grow, and the booming company manufactured railway materials, especially the component parts of the continuous automatic vacuum brake and industrial engine oils, as well as continuing to produce the Rational engine.
The firm’s status as a pioneer can clearly be seen by the telephone number it proudly displayed on early marketing material – Letchworth 6.
It had a wide portfolio of products including the Country House Electric Lighting Plant, which was bought and used by mansions and estates not only in the Herts and Beds area, but as far afield as Scotland and Cornwall.
Exporting was key to its success, too – vital engineering equipment was supplied to India, South Africa, Malaya and Nigeria, to name just a few far-flung markets, and while Letchworth Garden City architect Richard Barry Parker was working on a residential complex in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Heatly-Gresham was supplying parts for the Brazilian Paulista Railway nearby, directly from the Letchworth plant.
The Works Road site was officially opened on September 29, 1905, but the firm also had a sister company in the industrial heartland of the north, and when times got tough during the Great Depression it shifted its base to Manchester.
Other occupants over the years include building and civil engineering firm Charles Ball Ltd and Stieber Ltd, a German company, which made clutches – but information about any others would be more than welcome.
Now the building has been transformed for a new chapter in its long life, as home to Letchworth’s first biotech company.
It’s been a major refurbishment project for Glenn and Enid Taylor – whose Taymount Clinic has until now been based in Hitchin town centre – who have been working over the past two years with Letchworth builders DB Sharp and Sons.
Enid said: “We all feel a sense of history in the building and feel that we have restored ‘her’ dignity and presence from the ravages of the past few years.
“The Heatley Gresham Iron Works was the first factory in Works Road while the road was still mud.
“We saw the name of the company faintly pressed in the concrete by the missing mosaic tiles of the front porch but sadly there was nothing left to restore or preserve.
“All we had left was the magnificent oak staircase and panelling in the hall.
“We will now play another part in the building’s and Letchworth’s history by being the first biotech company to locate its headquarters in the garden city.”
The building will be known as Taymount House, and when completed the complex will also provide two public charging points for electric vehicles.
The renovation project has already been nominated for one of the 2016 Garden City Heritage Awards, organised by the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation in order to recognise best practice in improving properties in the town and giving public recognition to owners, designers and contractors who observe the highest standards of design and workmanship when carrying out restoration, alterations or new building work.
The Taymount Clinic has an international reputation as a specialist centre for the production of tested, certified, high quality gut bacteria and effective and efficient implant techniques.
It has been involved in researching intestinal bacteria since 2006, and is now a world leader in applying faecal microbiota transplant (FMT) treatments to create a ‘normal’ bacterial environment in patients with a broad range of conditions.
The treatment is an option for patients affected by Clostridium difficile (C Diff) infection, as well as a host of other gut diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and food intolerance.
It has also been used to help sufferers who have multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
You can find out more about the clinic online at www.taymount.com.