A move from Sunderland

Relocation paid for by labour exchange

Woodhall Lane c1938
Beiersdorf factory, became Herts Pharmaceuticals in 1930s then part of the T.J.Smith & Nephew company
Beiersdorf factory interior

Harry came to WGC in 1934 when he was twelve years old.

The audio clip relates how the family moved here due to high unemployment where they were living in Sunderland. The clip and the extracts below are from an interview recorded by the Welwyn Garden Heritage Trust in August 2009.

The family lived in Woodhall Lane and Harry, the youngest of three brothers, went to Handside School. He had to walk home quickly at lunchtime, collect a hot meal and deliver it to his father, who was working at a sweet factory in Broadwater Road opposite Shredded Wheat, before going back to school for the afternoon.

Harry recalled that Jimmy Nichols the headteacher at Handside School “got me a job working for Russell Jones, the solicitor. In those days there weren’t any other solicitors in the town. There was somebody who lived in Parkway but his business was up in London. But, of course, Russell Jones, being who he was (and how he was I don’t know) but he was the solicitor to everybody. And in those days I knew and was able to say ‘Good Morning Mr…. or Mrs….’ or whatever, to just about everybody that was anything at all in the Garden City, because he was solicitor to them all.”

“Well, I started obviously doing all the minor office jobs like answering the phone. In those days Reg Lambert was there, and there was Russell Jones’ nephew, Jack Howard. I find it difficult on occasions to remember. Reg Lambert was, I think, even at that stage trying to earmark himself to become a fully qualified solicitor, and one of the jobs that he was doing when I went there was ‘keeping the books’, which is a term they used to use in those days. And after a while, once they had got used to me being there, they started to teach me a bit of bookkeeping so that I could keep the records going.

Now my elder brother at this time, Stan, was working at Herts Pharmaceuticals.  Does the name “Beiersdorf” mean anything to you? No? OK.  Let me just tell you so that I can explain something else. Beiersdorf, the German company, sent some people over to Welwyn Garden City and they took these premises in Bessemer Road. Now in 1939, when things were looking, well, you know, they sent some of their members back to Germany and some stayed on. Eventually, of course, war was declared, the company became part of the government’s assets, and they changed the name to Herts Pharmaceuticals. It was rather strange because one day, my brother Stan brought home an invoice to show us, from Welwyn Stores as it was then, and it was addressed to ‘Herts Farmers’ Utensils’!”

Harry’s brother Stan left Herts Pharmaceuticals to go into the army but before leaving persuaded the company to take Harry on as a casual worker.

This page was added on 04/09/2011.

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  • My father, Roland Bilson, worked for Smith & Nephew at this Welwyn Garden City site from approximately 1953 – 1971 as a company director (sales & advertising)
    I always recall the lovely parties they held for the children of the staff

    By Janice Lewis (12/02/2021)
  • My father, Bert Knowles, came down from Sunderland to WGC in the early 1950’s to look for work ~ his first job, as a carpenter & joiner, was at the Development Corporation. He then went on to work for I.C.I. Plastics for many years and loved his time there.
    I too served an Apprenticeship at I.C.I. from 1967 to 1971, with many happy memories.

    By Geoff Knowles (27/03/2020)
  • My father used to work for what became Herts Pharmaceuticals in the 1980s.   His name was Donald Lyness.     My sister also went to the primary school on Woodhall Lane before she then went on to Attimore Hall S.M. School in 1959.

    By J Merricks (01/02/2016)