Saxby's closes the lid

More than 100 years after beginning production, Saxby's has announced it is to close its Wellingborough factory. Reporter Stephanie Weaver looks at the impact the closure will have on the town.

ONE of the last family firms in Wellingborough is to close its factory doors this summer after more than 100 years as a favourite with customers and staff.

Saxby's has announced it will close in June with the loss of 130 jobs, just two months after the family firm was sold to a multinational company.

General Mills UK, which bought Saxby's at the start of the year, also owns Berwick pastry firm Jus-Rol and has been carrying out a major review of its operations.

One option was to move all UK production to Wellingborough, but that has now been ruled out, and production is to move to Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland this summer.

General Mills UK managing director Jim Mosley said today: "As a company we take our responsibilities to our employees very seriously and we are committed to supporting them through this period of change."

Many people in the Wellingborough area have connections to the company, and most will have bought their products at some time.

Brenda Pentelow, 71, of Queensway, Wellingborough, was one of several members of her family who worked for the firm.

She said: "I was there during the 1950s until 1958 when my daughter was born.

"My father worked there before that – he was a butcher.

"I did the sausages and I used to work with Jim Saxby doing the gravy for the dripping.

"All the bosses were lovely. They would speak to us like normal people and were not all high and mighty.

"They had our best interests at heart. I loved working there."

Two of Mrs Pentelow's brothers have also worked at Saxby's in the past, and her grandson recently spent about four months there.

She added: "It is terrible that Saxby's is going.

"This is a real loss for Wellingborough."

Mrs Pentelow has fond memories of working at Saxby's, including the large social club the firm ran for employees and being able to help yourselves to a range of pies and savouries during tea breaks.

Ken Scott, 86, of Wellingborough, worked for Saxby's for 36 years.

He said: "I worked for Saxby's and was manager of the shop in Cambridge Street for most of that time.

"It was a family firm, which made it so good.

"It is such a shame that it is closing, but it is happening everywhere these days.

"They kept going for their century, and we celebrated that with the family – we met all the directors and it was very nice."

Mr Scott can remember when Saxby's had three shops in the town, in Cambridge Street, Gloucester Place and Midland Road.

He said: "They were proper grocery shops.

"And before the Arndale centre, now the Swansgate, Cambridge Street was the best shopping street after Market Street.

"You could get anything you wanted.

"Cambridge Street was a prime location for Saxby's.

"But the town centre has changed so much now, especially with all the supermarkets.

"Firms like Saxby's won't be coming back once they are gone."

President of Wellingborough Chamber of Commerce David Cross said Saxby's had been a member of the Wellingborough Chamber for many years and always supported the town.

He said: "The family company has been very successful in the food manufacturing business including sales of their products through their own shops, as well as supplying supermarkets over the years.

"There were indeed difficulties and, as reported in 2005, two-thirds of their staff were made redundant and with the recent change in ownership there was every likelihood of a closure or relocation as often happens with takeovers and buy-outs.

"Unfortunately, this has become reality and in June Wellingborough will lose a manufacturing facility, with 130 people having to look for a new occupation.

"From the chamber's point of view this unfortunately is not surprising, but it is extremely sad that the site will close with a long-established business ceasing.

"We urge General Mills Ltd to make every effort in assisting its employees in finding new employment. Perhaps some will be offered relocation."

Wellingborough mayor Tim Allebone said: "There aren't that many family businesses left in any of our market towns now, and it is sad to see a business that has been in Wellingborough for over a century go.

"With the expansion that's going on in Wellingborough we need to entice new and innovative, and forward-thinking businessmen and women into the town.

"There is no point building all these houses if there aren't jobs in the town for the people that live there."

Wellingborough Council leader John Bailey said: "Any loss of jobs is to be deplored and at the moment we are losing a lot of jobs in Wellingborough; it is quite worrying.

"With all the proposed expansion in the town we need more jobs, not fewer."

WELLINGBOROUGH'S association with Saxby's and its famous pork pie goes back more than 100 years.

The company started life as a pork butcher's shop in 1904 by brothers Herbert and Ted Saxby. They managed to scrape together enough money to open the shop in Midland Road where pies were handmade above the shop and various meats were prepared in the kitchen at the back.

Herbert would catch the 3.17am train to London to buy pigs at Smithfield Market at dawn, ensuring he was back in Wellingborough in time to open the shop at 9am.

A veal and ham pie would sell for a shilling, while an individual pork pie cost tuppence.

They even used to make deliveries using a pony and trap to customers who couldn't make it to the shop.

They had soon saved enough money to buy the land next to the shop, where they set up a small bakery and butchery joined on to the shop.

Their first pork pie factory was opened in 1912 with just 12 workers, and by 1921 business was booming so Saxby's Bros moved production to Brook Street East, half-a-mile from the shop. When they began the brothers killed ten pigs a week. This had risen to a staggering 500 by the time they celebrated their golden jubilee.

In 1938 the firm moved to its present site in Chester Road and since then it has expanded six times, including the addition of a pig abattoir and a sausage department.

Saxby's first started making its now famous chilled pastry in 1962 and it received the Royal stamp of approval in 1988 with a visit from Princess Diana, who officially opened an 8m extension to the plant.

Over the years Saxby's pies – made to a secret recipe – have won more than 100 national prizes and have been sold in Harrods, Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason in London.

Saxby's won customers across the globe, exporting its pork pies and pastry to South Africa, Malaysia and the West Indies, and in 2001 the company opened its innovation centre, dedicated to improving the firm's product range.

At its peak it had 14 shops across Northamptonshire and three in Wellingborough alone. But in 2002 Saxby's closed its last shop in Wellingborough's Swansgate centre, blaming the closure on competition from supermarkets.

After celebrating its centenary in 2004, there was a further turn in fortunes for Saxby's. In 2005 it made around 200 workers redundant when it announced the end of production of baked goods in Wellingborough, citing poor sales as the reason.

Then in 2006 Saxby's confirmed it was to be bought out by food giant General Mills.

Yesterday the Evening Telegraph reported Saxby's was closing its Wellingborough factory and General Mills would be moving production to Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland in June, leaving 130 workers out of a job.