I thought I had better give a little background about myself first before I go on.
My name is Laurence Dyer and I am a Star Wars collector, not a historian nor a writer or anything like that, just a regular guy. I found my way onto the SWFUK last year and have since (usually through buying) made several friends here.
My father is Terence Dyer and my mother is Linda Dyer who was born Linda Wilmot. She is the eldest child of three to John and Hazel Wilmot. The relevance of this will become clear shortly.
Now if this is nothing new to the more experienced collectors here then apologies for the thread, but after searching the internet I could only really find a couple of pieces of documentation regarding this warehouse and its vital role to Palitoy’s operation.
So this all started with a find. It was the find of the C3P0 collector’s case enclosed with 42 Baggies that came directly out of the Palitoy factory. I posted onto the latest acquisitions thread back on July 1st 2015. I had made acquaintances with a hoarder who had a friend who worked at the Palitoy factory and used to bring all manner of toys home for his friends. The collector’s case had been left untouched for 30 years.
Now the journey, as I keep describing to myself, started here. I took the carry case to show my dad who after telling him the story of how I found it said to me “You know who designed the Palitoy factory don’t you?”. My reply was, “NO, seriously”. Well my Granddad, John Wilmot, A.R.I.D.A., was a prolific architect in Leicestershire throughout his lifetime designing many a building. He designed local housing estates, the extension to the big church in Leicester city centre and even the roof to the mosque in the city, amongst many other things. My dad went on to tell me that the construction of Palitoy’s warehouse was a massive deal in the construction industry at the time, and it was the biggest single span building in Europe in its day. Apart from that he didn’t really know any more than he kept saying, “It was a big deal”. He suggested talking to my uncle Peter who followed in my Granddad’s footsteps and is a practicing architect of the present time.
During the next week or so I kept thinking whether the plans were still in existence as my grandparents in their latter years lived with my uncle in a converted barn. If I could get my hands on the originals, and all of the reworks and amendments, they would be an amazing piece of Palitoy history that would be extremely unique and also personal to myself. Call this my true grail find if they are still available.
That weekend, on the Sunday, I decided to email my uncle and ask if he had the original plans for the building. I was still unaware of its whereabouts and existence or credibility of the building. The next afternoon I received a call from him and he was vague in memory about it but he remembered measuring the site up with my granddad as a boy. He told me that when he and my uncle Martin moved my grandparents out of the large manor house to the converted barn he remembered that my Granddad had kept plans for years and years. There were masses them but unfortunately they were burned to dispose of them. What he was able to tell me is that my Granddad had a framed photo hanging up in the manor house where he lived of the steel framework of the factory and that he had been extremely proud of his largest factory project. He also said that he had recently seen some old photos in a draw in a cupboard and if he had time before flying out to Russia on a business trip he would have a look around for them. He suggested that I should call my mother who was the eldest child and was effectively head of the family. It was she who got to choose what she wanted as mementos first. Well if I couldn’t get the plans then the framework would be another unique personal item I wanted to see if it still existed. After calling my mum she said that she had taken all of the family photos and it would more than likely be with my other uncle, Martin. That evening I received a call from Martin who had spoken to my mother earlier on that evening. He told me that he was given all of the leisure photos of when they used to go gliding in their earlier days and mentioned that he thought the factory was in the Ashby de la Zouch area. He, like Peter, recollected going to the site as a boy but couldn’t remember exactly at what age but thought it to be teenage years. He remembered the contactors piling the large concrete pillars and suggested that Peter would have any old building photos. So at this point I was no further along in the quest and had drawn a blank.
The next step along the way was to find this factory of my Granddad’s that my dad had mentioned so a spontaneous trip up to Coalville the following Wednesday afternoon was undertaken. Well what a worthwhile trip it was to go there and just explore around looking at the site layout and the various buildings of where our beloved toys came from. However no “fruit was to be harvested” there as there wasn’t a building that seemed as if it could be big enough to be the biggest of its kind in Europe.
Palitoy site Coalville.http://s1297.photobucket.com/user/laure ... t=3&page=1
So after returning home I started to research “Palitoy factory Ashby” and finally discovered three mentions of it. The first was a brief mention of it on the V&A Museum of childhood website where they have charted a brief history of Palitoy. It stated that a warehouse was opened up in Ashby. The second was what I thought was a brief mention of it on the SWFUK where there was a discussion of a post regarding a TV crew inside the old factory. I have now realised that Ashby Road was the linked word in this search. Finally, I discovered an image of it. It did exist and I had a first view of it. This was on Mr Palitoy’s Cardback Guide. It was in the 1979 Diamond Jubilee General Sales Division Trade Catalogue where it showed each page in detail giving a description of what was on that page. Page 11 gave me the first glimpse of “My Granddad’s factory”. So it did exist. http://www.freewebs.com/mrpalitoy/swhistory.htm
Below the image it states that “The warehouse before opening in 1975”.
Above the photo it states:- The modern trend of quoting meaningless statistics in an attempt to impress usually has the opposite effect. However the vital statistics of Palitoy’s Finished Goods Warehouse at Ashby-de-la-Zouch are so enormous as to be nothing but totally intriguing.
To the right of the photo it then states:- Fifteen hundred piles to support the structure, a floor slab composed of three hundred tons of steel and six and a half thousand tons of concrete, add to this recipe a further seven hundred tons of steel in the superstructure and you have five million cubic feet of building which would accommodate 300 suburban homes.
Outside are reservoirs holding four hundred gallons of water which, in the unlikely event of a fire, would flow through ten miles of piping, out of four thousand sprinkler heads and extinguish any conflagration.
Install forty foot high racking with aisles five feet wide and you now have room for fifteen thousand five hundred pallets all loaded with toys. How long it would take Father Christmas to deliver this lot by sleigh defies calculation.
The most impressive statistic however is the fact that this mammoth construction job was completed two months ahead of schedule and cost a mere £1.7 million.
The warehouse was opened officially on August 1st 1975 and since then has fulfilled a vital role in the planned expansion of Palitoy.
At this point I still didn’t know where the factory was located or even that my Granddad actually designed it.
A few days later whilst scouring the internet on Google maps I found what looked like it. I had a location and further searches on Google led me to a factory to let. Got the bugger, location, postcode, a visit was on.
So the following Wednesday we took a trip to see the warehouse. As I pulled up and got out of the car one of the first things I noticed was the gatehouse. This is his factory, the gate house was marked with his style. His houses and bungalows of the era were set out from the rest as he used stonework in each design. After an initial look around the front and a few photo’s from my phone I asked at reception if I could have a look around. I was pleasantly surprised to be offered to take a tour around the following week. Only thing is I still didn’t have any credence it was my Granddad’s, even though I knew in my heart it was.
Images of some of my Granddads designs and the Gatehousehttp://s1297.photobucket.com/user/laure ... t=3&page=1
Request to several records offices were submitted for a copy of the plans.
The next week came and, because of the extended courtesy of the present user, the factory tour commenced. After walking around the front of the site we walked through the second set of front loading bay doors to the right into what I now refer to as the Low Rise. After walking around and having a brief chat about the Low Rise’s current use, we went into what I now refer to as the High Rise. Wow! what a structure. Once inside my guide told me that they were informed by a local delivery guy from the area that the factory had had the roof extended. I disagreed with him based on the Jubilee catalogue photo. This mammoth of a building had racking from floor to roof. As we walked around there were plenty of quirky things: a fire door 30 feet in the air, large steel water pipes running around the building, large water valves fitted to the piping, a second isolated fire door high in the air, rows of extremely high racking , amongst other things to note. At the rear of the building was what my guide believed to be an extension that also had loading bays although the doorway from the main structure into the other room looked to be original with what I believed to be an original lintel.
Walking back through the low Rise I had a better look at the front loading bays and again my guide did not believe these to be from the original construction. We walked around the building and again more quirky features: a fire hydrant with original steel turning bars and wrench, brick foot finishes with slab caps to cover the steel foot bases outside, bricked up window holes towards the rear and there on top of a high bank towards the right hand at the end of the site was a large fenced off area next to a small brick building. Up the hill I go and what looks like a large pond type structure with its very own pumping house just as described in the catalogue. Further around the rear there were large old fashioned fire bells, three to the left of the rear loading doors and a further five to the right. Down the other side of the building were more of the brick foot finishers and four concrete slabs to bolt the steel stairway for the isolated mid-air fire door exit. Well, one final look at the gate house and a couple more photos of the stonework on the corner pillar and that was the tour completed. The only thing that was different to what my dad had told me that initially set me on my way was the single span structure as it had great big steels running down the middle to support three different roof sections.
Just under a week had passed when my Uncle Peter sent me scanned copies of photos he had found when building work had commenced. These were of the site when they started construction and shows the piling, drains about to go in, some retro cars and a van in the background and also a photo with a couple of mystery men.
Site construction photos individually taken.http://s1297.photobucket.com/user/laure ... t=3&page=1
A few days after receiving the scanned photos I received the response I had been looking for from one of the planning offices: three sets of plans from the original construction and two further plans for a canopy extension early the following year. In the bottom right hand corner of the first set of plans was clearly written John Wilmot A.R.I.D.A., Chartered Architect. BINGO, the credence I had sought. I called my mother to tell her that I finally had the proof I needed and said his name is on the bottom right hand side of the plans. As I read his name out, “John Wilmot”, she finished the sentence off for me with “A.R.I.D.A”. “How did you know that?”, I said. “Because that’s what he always used to say when saying his name”, was her reply.
Now after looking at these plans it was interesting to note that the original client came in the guise of MESSRS DENY FISHER and that they were dated 6th December 1974. It is only as I type this that I have realised that what I first considered the first set of plans and the revision for final approval are actually the wrong way around. The revised set of plans is dated 17th June 1974 and shows one semi-sunk water tank, whereas what I believed to be the first set of plans must have been the final detailed submission for council approval as it is dated later. I only saw one water tank when I visited so assumed the reverse, but taking a satellite view on Google maps it shows in fact two water tanks. The third set of plans I originally thought was just a building dimension overview and I initially called it plan 3, but this must have been an initial concept as it is dated 29 January 1974 and is the earliest copy I have.
The two other sets of plans I have are for a canopy extension. These are also interesting as another Leicestershire company submitted these for approval and this time the client was our very own Palitoy Ltd Ashby. These were dated 05th February 1976 as a stamped approval by the local planning authority and were for a canopy extension. You can see all eight bay doors for what I believed was the goods outwards. I can only conclude from this that my Granddad had designed a bespoke warehouse that was fire ready due to the nature of the contents it stored and the initial operation of the goods outwards bays having opened the warehouse just before an autumn and a winter wasn’t practical and must have exposed a lot of the operation to the natural elements.
Architectural plan photo's.http://s1297.photobucket.com/user/laure ... t=3&page=1
After finally placing my hands on the General Trade Catalogue it is interesting to observe on the final page that General Mills Inc bought Palitoy in 1968, and Denys Fisher in 1970.
I can only deduce that General Mills had not merged the two companies fully as the original warehouse plans were to Deny Fisher. Maybe the factory amalgamated the two companies for General Mills as they looked to take the majority UK market share.
The final part was to understand where it fitted into Palitoy’s structure (at this point I had not noticed the description on the General Retail Catalogue stating it was Palitoy’s Finished Goods Warehouse) . I had a belief that it was for all global inbound deliveries prior to being called in, as and when they were needed, to the Coalville factory. I thought the warehouse was for both containers of boxed toys from the Far East and the finished assembled products from the Coalville factory ready for distribution. These I believed would all enter through the rear six loading bay doors in the High Rise and would leave for distribution through the eight loading bay doors in the Low Rise that I referred to in what I called set of plans 3. After showing my hoarder all of my findings of the warehouse he told me that it had been an old Victorian refuse site. He vividly remembered delivering plant to the site and fishing around in the footings at the time and finding old glass bottles, which he collects, in the mud. He suggested that he would contact his friend (where the baggies came from) for me who used to work at both sites.
A few days later I received a call from my hoarder and was given the telephone number for Dave, his friend and former employee of Palitoy, and I was told he would be happy to talk to me. My call with Dave was quite interesting. A lot of questions were answered, and now after the call, and having time to digest the information, so many more. Dave started work at the Palitoy factory in Coalville in July 1965. He left school on the Friday with no qualifications and started at Palitoy on the Monday. His first job was in the paint shop that was in one of the outbuildings on the site where they used to paint the dolls they manufactured. After that his next job was working in what he referred to as the WIP (work in progress) department. His job there was to fulfil orders from the factory floor then pick the items to feed the conveyer belt (I’m starting to think of miss-cards envisaging the conveyor belt) to keep the line in full production speed. He then went on to progress to warehouse work in both the Coalville site and also the Ashby site. I discussed with Dave my theory that the Ashby warehouse handled all of the global imports and that they would be shipped back and forth to the factory in Coalville. Dave set the record straight and told me that all deliveries came directly into Coalville, the Ashby site was purely used for storage and distribution which now makes sense as highlighted by the name in the Diamond Jubilee catalogue of Finished Goods Warehouse. Dave told me that all containers would come into Coalville and remembered how the goods in the containers would have to be reorganised as they were not packed in any order. After asking him how the figures came to the UK (me thinking of shipping cartons of 500 baggies) he said a container would arrive containing approximately 2500 to 3000 boxes of figures packed by boxes of one hundred. He said the boxes would have been too heavy for 500 or so and the container may only have six different figures all mixed up in it, so a box of Luke Farmboy’s, for instance, would be packed on top of a box of Darth Vader’s, on top of a box of Chewie’s, etc, all the way through the load. Now at this point due to my C3P0 case and what lead me here so far I was thinking boxes of baggies as my hoarder also said a few times they would take the figures out of the bags and put them onto the cards. However, since reading a post from March on SWFUK that started as “Upcoming Vectis auction/toy shop find” and a discussion of when the figures were carded in the UK, I needed to get further clarity on what was in the boxes; was it card’s or baggies? So I was gaining clarity that the factory was effectively an assembly plant and asked if the AT-AT was assembled there as I had believed that was the case. Dave told me that the AT-AT came already assembled and that smaller ships came boxed straight from oversees (at this point I didn’t think to clarify if the AT-AT was boxed in Coalville and assumed the smaller ships were mini rigs, again something I need to clarify). He confirmed that the Millennium Falcon was built at Coalville. He told me that a company called Aldridge Plastics (ceased trading in 2009) in the West Midlands did the injection moulding for the MF and were making deliveries daily to Coalville; although I believe the MF had been subcontracted out at peak periods to meet demand, as mentioned to me by a good friend and reliable source and that they would then assemble it at Coalville and pack it for distribution. He also said that they did have their own injection moulding machines at Coalville but they were for making dolls that were then painted in the paint shop. He also mentioned the Staff shop briefly and said that the shop offered a long thin box of 96 figures in them for £1. Now again, at the time all I had in my mind was everything arriving in baggies. I told him that was because there were 96 figures in the range so had in my mind that they offered a box to staff of all of the 96 figures in the range. However whilst discussing this with Funkster he did inform me that the carded figures were distributed to the shops in boxes of 96 carded figures. So, another thing to clarify in the future.
Dave also told that the Ashby warehouse was sold around 1985 at the time of the redundancies and that the new owners were Rediffusion, who then eventually rebranded it through their own re-structuring to Granada, the TV rental company.
Dave continued to work at the Palitoy site, for Kenner Parker Toys and then Kenner Parker Tonka, until it was closed by the eventual new owners, Hasbro, in 1994. ( Palitoy ceased trading as such in 1986 when General Mills decided to get out of the toys business and the toy group was floated on the stock exchange in the USA with General Mills employees getting equivalent shares. The business then became Kenner Parker, which was bought by Tonka, which was subsequently bought by Hasbro ). At that time the Playdoh production machinery was sent to Cork in Southern Ireland. He was one of the last four men there, with 12 ladies in the packaging department and two managers, and remembers remaining there until the factory was finally empty.
And the final question to Dave....”You wouldn’t have anything left would you?” Well I had to ask didn’t I. He got rid of it all a long time ago and had nothing left.
So, just as I think I had finished my research and have nothing else to add I get communicating with Bob Brechin, former Chief Designer at Palitoy. Bob told me that the person responsible for getting the warehouse built was the Production Director Frank Manning. Bob told me he would make some enquires as to whether Frank was still with us. Bob was able to confirm that the man facing the camera on my Granddad’s photos was Frank Manning but was unsure who the other man was.
He also said that he had a brochure of the warehouse from the time it was built (I assumed this was the Jubilee catalogue) and that there was a big celebration in the warehouse for staff and workers. He said that they were all given a bottle of champagne with a special label on it but that he had foolishly drank it and didn’t have the bottle anymore. Bob also stated that he remembered Frank was proud of the fact that the warehouse was built on time within original budget. “Which doesn’t happen these days”, was his comment - and also mentioned he would dig out the photo and brochure, which was not from the catalogue.
I met Bob for a couple of hours and I showed him all of my research to date and the journey of discoveries that I had been on. Bob was able to share a little more knowledge with me. He was unsure of the functionality of the warehouse as Dave had previously stated that all goods received into the country came into Coalville but did confirm several different things. Previously to the warehouse being built Bruntingthorpe had been used for storage (this is now home to the Vulcan Bomber and also a large car storage facility and auction house) and he also confirmed with me that a site in Glenfield in Leicester had also been used for storage that I had previously heard about.
Now Bob showed me his Ace. He gave me a couple of printed copies of a leaflet that he believes from memory (it was forty years ago) were left lying around for staff to pick up at the opening party. This leaflet was A4 printed on both sides and folded into three making a small pocket size brochure. On what I deem to be the front as the fold is to the left is the Palitoy Parker Bradgate logo and entitled underneath, “new distribution centre”. On the reverse is a photo of the finished factory entitled “Presenting the new Palitoy distribution centre”. In the centre two segments is a map of the location nationally and the other page states some facts.These facts are under six sub headings.Why is it different to all other warehouses?It has a number of UK ‘firsts’ including:
Highest warehouse using “maestro” free aisle trucks;
Largest warehouse with underfloor electric heating;
First warehouse with rubber lined sprinkler tanks with floating rubber covers
How big is it?
130,000 square feet, covering nearly three acres. 5 million cubic feet, which could accommodate 300 suburban houses.
15,500 pallets capacity
How much did it cost?
£1,700,000 – within budget set 1 ½ years ago.
Who will benefit?
The customer – improved service
Palitoy – reduced costs, - greater control
The community - money spent with local traders and contractors, - rates for the local authority, - labour opportunitiesHow quick was it built?
Planning authorisation Mid – June 1974
Site strip Mid - June 1974
Foundations completed Late November 1974
First stock in building Early June 1975
Building completed Late November 1974How was it built?
Using local contractors and labour; on poor ground – an open cast mine; 1,500 piles in the ground for support; double reinforced floor slab – 300 tons of steel and 6,500 tons of concrete, Steel frame superstructure containing 700 tons of steel; building clad with two colour sheeting to give pleasing appearance; comprehensive fire protection system – 10 miles of sprinkler piping and 4,000 sprinkler heads; racking to 41 feet high; special high - tolerance floor finish; electric underfloor heating.The only variance between these statistics and those of the Jubilee catalogue is the height of the rack being an additional one foot in height.
The inside of the leaflet is even more detailed and shows an image of the racking and maestro system when it was just built. It is headed special features and has a further eight sub headings which are.
The warehouse is designed for a smooth flow from receipt of the finished goods to despatch to the customer. Goods are received at the high-rise end of the building into a heated canopy and then stored in the high-rise section. As customer orders are received goods are extracted from the high-rise section and despatched at the opposite end of the building via the low-rise section where the bulk stock is sorted into individual orders. Hence the flow of goods is at one end of the building and out at the opposite end to maintain a logical flow.The management system
The warehouse was not built using the traditional Architect/ Main Contractor arrangement. Insted the client himself, utilising P.A. Management Consultants Limited as executives and advisers, let direct contracts for the various parts of the building. Design was carried out by Architects and consultants on an agreed fee basis.
The success of this arrangement may be gauged by the result – building completed within cost estimate and 3 months within programme, both set one–and –a –half years ago.
High rise narrow aisle racking storage
To our knowledge the warehouse is the largest narrow aisle racking installation in the U.K. using ‘Maestro’ free aisle trucks. The feasibility of this system has been justified by the greatly reduced unit cost of the storage cube. Working from a 5 ft aisle, immediate access is available to any one of 13,500 pallet loads stored in the 80,000 sq.ft. high-rise section of the warehouse. Each of the pallet loads is 4 ft. square and 5 ft. high and contains an average of 30 cartons of goodsHeating
Heating a building of this size to the standard required posed a considerable problem. All alternatives were considered with the final choice being electric underfloor heating. The heating elements are contained in a concrete screed and positioned beneath the racking to give a clean, well-distributed and maintenance-free installation. To our knowledge this is the first large warehouse to use this system.Sprinkler tanks
The fire protection sprinkler system requires a stored water capacity of 400,000 gallons. Recent cost escalations have considerably increased the price of conventional steel tanks and for this reason a more cost effective solution for water storage has been adopted. The water is contained in earth dams lined with Butyl rubber and covered with a floating membrane of the same material. This system provides maintenance-free and safe water storage with a cost saving of approximately 30% against conventional methods.Floor finish to aisles
The Maestro trucks require a level and hard wearing floor to run on for their effective operation. A 3/4” thick granolithic screed was laid to provide an accuracy of 1/8” in level anywhere within the building together with suitable wearing characteristics. Stringent commissioning tests have proved that these requirements have been successfully achieved.Maestro trucks
This machine has been specially designed to work within the narrow aisles of the high rise racking. It is the first truck of this type which lifts pallets through 36 ft. With a driver’s cab lifting to 25ft. for improved driver’s visibility at high level. The manufacture of these machines required special quality control to ensure that the sway on the telescopic mast at the full extension of 40ft. doe not exceed 2 1/2 ins.Environment
Particular attention was given to providing the right environment within the warehouse. A high level of both natural and artificial lighting is provided together with controllable roof ventilation.
I could not reduce the image sizes of these.http://s1297.photobucket.com/user/laure ... t=3&page=1
The final article I have been able to get hold of is a copy of pages 6, 7 & 10 of the Coalville & Ashby Times from 1st August 1975. It has what I believe to be a paid for double spread editorial of the warehouse as on the front cover it lists what each page news has and it omits pages 6 & 7. The double page spread lists all of the suppliers who Palitoy used to build the warehouse and credit’s my Granddad as the architect although has different letters after his name of R.I.B.A instead of A.R.I.D.A.
My uncle has clarified the difference in the letters after his name and it was actually A.R.I.B.A. "My father originally had a qualification A.R.I.B.A which was an abbreviation of 'Associate member of The Royal Institute of British Architects. However in early 1970 the Royal Institute of British Architects changed the qualifications to be read as ‘R.I.B.A' and everyone architect was supposed to use that. They did allow previous mature architects to retain the ARIBA if they wished on letter heads and business cards and I know my dad liked that as he thought it showed more seniority and reflected a certain kind of status".
So with my dad’s initial mentioning of the factory through to Bob’s probably only surviving document of the statistics handed out at the launch party and of cause my uncles valuable insight into my Granddads architectual career hopefully I have been able to document this warehouse to completion.
I suppose the original plans and re-workings that my Granddad did when being commissioned, the photo of the framework of the factories steels once they were erected are now my quest to locate.
I often say coincidences are everywhere, you just have to look for them but my o my, what a coincidence, this as far as I can make out undocumented warehouse has taken me down a whole different path of the hobby. Just shows how this hobby can take an unexpected turn and keep you discovering.
I believe this picture of my Granddad to have been taken in 1975ish which is the year of the warehouse build, my sister was born in 1970 and my parents suggested she was about 5 years old at this point.
“My Granddads warehouse”............ or as Palitoy called it the finished goods warehouse.
Palitoy's Finished Goods warehousehttp://s1297.photobucket.com/user/laure ... t=3&page=1
I hope you enjoy my research so far, next phase is a to find out what this other warehouse 3 miles away form me and where they put those sticky labels on.