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Piecing Together The Story of Shalford Engineering Firm Nelco

By David Rose

For over 40 years my dad worked for the electrical engineering firm Nelco, that had a factory on two sites in Station Road, Shalford.

When I was growing up, there was always a lot of talk about the firm in our household – I also had an uncle and cousin (Les and Andrew Brookes) working there at the time. Another uncle (Robert Kings) had once worked there, and my now late dad often talked about his workmates and told stories about the company that also had a factory in Farnham. Yet all these years later, as far as I’m aware, there’s no written history of this now defunct firm and what it produced.

Over the past few years I have been attempting to piece together that history – using the stories and bits of information my dad told me, while picking up other occasional facts from relations and family friends.

My dad, Arthur Rose, doing his tap dance routine with Dolly Southern.

My dad, Arthur Rose, doing his tap dance routine with Dolly Southern. More pictures of Nelco’s wartime concert party at the foot of this story.

My dad was a maintenance electrician at Nelco and started work there during the Second World War. He sometimes spoke about its wartime concert party. In it he did a tap dance routine. I still have the metal taps that he attached to his shoes. A few years ago a set of photos of the concert party came to light and these formed a story I wrote for the St Catherine’s Village website shortly before The Guildford Dragon NEWS came into being.

Then last year I was contacted by a Guildford resident who had read that story and kindly allowed me to copy some photos he has of Nelco and its staff.

Nelco's football team 193

Nelco’s football team 1936-37 season. My uncle, Robert Kings, is pictured on the far right of the middle row. Back row on the far left is Keith Gladwell. First on the left middle row (seated on chairs opposite end from Bob Kings) is Charles (Charlie) Hockley. He became the machine-shop foreman. Charlie later left to work at St Dunstan’s School for the blind in Leatherhead, teaching engineering skills to blind youngsters. Next to him is Stan Smith, and then Wally Looseley.

So this is what I have to date. Any more information would be welcomed.

The name Nelco, I am reliably told, was formed out of the names Nelson and Collins. And it is thought they were possibly the original owners. I have been told its origins were in Slough, Berkshire.

However, Nelco seems to have had connections, by way of senior members staff at least, with another similar business – The Auto Electric Company, that was in Maidenhead in Berkshire.

Nelco was up and running in Shalford by the mid 1930s I believe, as photos of its works football team reveal.

Some of Nelco's staff – date unknown. another uncle of mine, Les Brookes, is pictured

Some of Nelco’s staff – date unknown possibly wartime. Another uncle of mine, Les Brookes, is pictured second from left (towards the back). Next to him at the back is Chris Cumber. Then Sid Cap and Harry Loveland (I think). The man on the left at the front is Maurice (Mo) Ansell. On the front row far right is Donald (Dossy) Coombs. The man in the suit is Cyril ‘Jock’ Eavis, a Nelco director. Any other names would be welcomed.

Nelco made electric motors and associated products. An advertisement I have from a Guildford borough guide from about the 1960s lists its products as FHP motors DC and AC, battery traction motors, DC generators up to 2kw, small rotary transformers 15 to 44 watts, small blower motors, centrifugal motors. At that time the sister factory at Farnham produced moulded commutators and plastic mouldings for the electrical industry.

Putting the names of the unknown Nelson and Collins to one side, there was a man by the name of Dennis Murphy, who was a co-owner or director. It is believed that he was related (possibly a nephew) of Frank Murphy, co-founder of the Murphy radio / wireless firm, founded in 1929.

During the Second World War Nelco made products for the war effort and these included electric motors that were supplied to the Royal Navy.

It also tried its hand at making electric vehicles. I have located advertisements from the British Medical Journal (1947 and 1950) I found on the internet which feature Nelco’s Solocar! I think Nelco also investigated making electric motors for milk floats.

Examples of Nelco's electric Solotron cars, pictured outside the factory in Station Road, Shalford.

Examples of Nelco’s electric Solocars, pictured outside the factory in Station Road, Shalford. Before they left the works they were tested by Geoff Davis. Rob Trigger made the Solocar badges that were fixed to the vehicles. His business was called Trigger’s Transfers.

Advertisement from the British Medical Journal of 1950 for Nelco's Solocar.

Advertisement from the British Medical Journal of 1950 for Nelco’s Solocar.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) pictured with a Nelco Solocar. Who is the person in the driving seat?

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) pictured with a Nelco Solocar. Who is the person in the driving seat?

From my memories of visiting the factory when I was a nipper, the main building in Station Road housed, on the ground floor, the machine shop that I recall as being full of lathes and drills, and so on, a tool room, carpentry shop, maintenance shop, and I think a store. I recall there also being a goods lift to the first floor.

The carpentry shop was in a separate building and, with maintenance shop (attached to the main building), was on the opposite side of the factory – ie on the Kings Road side. There was an entrance here from Kings Road via a passageway between the row of cottages fronting that road.

Cyril 'Jock' Eavis in front of the main building in Station Road, Shalford.

Cyril ‘Jock’ Eavis in front of the main building in Station Road, Shalford. The car seen beyond the lorry is an Austin that was nicknamed ‘Old Faithful’. It was owned by works driver at the time Sam Phillips. Later drivers were Doug Marley, Bill Ramsay and Stan Gilbert.

On the first floor of the main building were offices and the works canteen (a separate partitioned off section for office staff away from the ‘workers’). When computers came in to use in the late 1960s they were housed on this floor – engineering was going through some radical technological changes at the time!

Some of the management? Mr Eavis is on the far right.

Some of the management? Mr Eavis is on the far right. Next to him is believed to Tom Morgan.

Its annex premises on the other side of Station Road, beside the railway line, was where the wire winding or armature winding was done (a number of women were employed doing this), and also the general assembly and testing of the motors and products, and so on, took place here. There was also a paint shop at the back.

A Nelco works party. The venue looks like the Refectory at Milford.

A Nelco works party. The venue looks like the Refectory at Milford.

Nelco's football in the 1950s. Arthur Rose is holding the ball.

Nelco’s football in the 1950s. Arthur Rose is holding the ball. First from left standing: Jim Workman, Bob Austin and then Jack Steer. Standing on the far right Doug Geary. In the middle row are Fred Innenden and Des Stone. Seated at the front: Sandy Standford, Johnny Johnson (my dad’s best mate at the time) and Dossie Combes. Any other names would be welcomed. Picture: David Rose collection.

The company was still in private ownership by the 1960s and was then making motors for fork-lift trucks made by Lancing Bagnall of Basingstoke. At that time the works manager was Bill Green. Sometime in the 1970s, Lansing Bagnall acquired Nelco and production was eventually transferred to its own factory.

I think the Shalford factory had closed by the early 1980s, and at about that time my dad was made redundant. The Farnham factory continued for a few years on from that.

The Shalford premises was then split up into small industrial units and occupied by a number of firms. This also included the annex building on the opposite side of Station Road. There were firms operating as motor mechanics, for example, and also Seymour & Partners, makers of kitchen units.

The factory being demolished in 2007. Picture courtesy of Gordon Bryant.

The factory being demolished in 2007. Picture courtesy of Gordon Bryant.

The premises was empty for a number of years until it was pulled down in 2007. Homes have now been built on the site with any traces of Nelco long gone.

Another view of demolition under way. Picture courtesy of Gordon Bryant.

Another view of demolition under way. Picture courtesy of Gordon Bryant.

Any more details and stories about Nelco and its staff are always welcome. Any corrections to what I have written will be welcomed too. Call me on 01483 838960, or email to drosedragon@gmail.com

Update, November 2014: Former Nelco maintenance electrician Ivor Davis called and has identified more of those seen in the photos. The captions have now been updated.

Ivor joined Nelco in 1944 from school. After doing his National Service with the army in Egypt between 1948-50, he returned to Nelco and worked there for more than 30 years. He and my dad worked together and spent many happy times there. I knew my dad always took cheese sandwiches to eat during his mid-morning break. But he and Ivor would take an unofficial break at about 9.30am. They’d lock themselves in the electric sub-station in the yard and toast their sandwiches on an upturned electric bar heater. One day they heard someone coming – it was the works manager Bill Green. He tried the door, but of course couldn’t get in. He later spoke to the pair about their antics saying he’d catch them one day, but he never did!

Here are some more photos of the Nelco concert party.

Nelco 08

Nelco 07

Nelco 03

Nelco 04

Nelco 05

Seen standing in this picture on the far left is Ron Deacon, next to him is Ron Stevens. Fifth from left is Ernie Ridgwell and six from left is Reg Froud.

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15 Responses to Piecing Together The Story of Shalford Engineering Firm Nelco

  1. Juan Salgueiro Reply

    September 3, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    My father also worked at Nelco from the 1960s until the early 1980s. You mention several times the Shalford factory as being in Shalford Road. It was in fact on two sites on Station Road with footpath access from the Kings Road. I lived on Station Road about eight houses up from the factory, opposite Buerk’s Pharmaceutical factory.

    [David Rose adds: Yes, you are quite right Nelco had its two factories in Station Road – slip of the keyboard there. I will make changes in the article. I too remember Buerk’s. And when driving through Shalford the other day I noticed that houses are now being built on the site of the main Nelco factory that had been an open space for some years. I have had an email from a cousin of mine (Andrew Brookes) who worked at Nelco and he has identified some of the guys in the photos. I have updated some of the captions now too.]

  2. Julian Felstead Reply

    December 5, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    I visited the Nelco factory in about June 1971.
    I was a 1st year OND engineering student at Brooklands Technical College at Weybridge and was supposed to have a placement starting there.
    When my Royal Enfield motorcycle failed to start that morning I was late and when I arrived about 9.45am I discovered that not only had I been sent along from my college but so had someone else… consequently they had already give the job to the other lad!
    They were, however, very kind and did show me around the whole place.
    Actually I did not think it was for me and was quite glad my bike had packed up!
    Eventually I found a placement at the West Surrey Water Board in Filmer Grove Godalming – funny old place – we called it Colditz Castle.
    I had a great apprenticeship there lots of fun and everything and they went on and sponsored me to go to university.
    So thanks Nelco for only having one place, and thanks to Royal Enfield too that day… but I wonder how life would have been for me if my bike had started… who knows…

  3. Alison Lincoln Reply

    July 16, 2014 at 4:57 am

    I can confirm that Dennis Murphy was the nephew of Frank Murphy of Murphy Radio, as I am a granddaughter of Frank Murphy. Dennis was the son of Harold, one of Frank’s older brothers. Another of Frank’s older brothers, Leonard, was also a managing director at Nelco. Please see the autobiography for Leonard Murphy at http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?arnumber=5293752. This article gives an alternative history on the company name.

    Dennis and his wife Doris lived in Shalford. They had no children. Doris owned two ladies dress shops, one in Guildford and I believe the other was in Godalming. Dennis left Nelco in the early 1970s as a result of the Lansing Bagnall takeover. Doris died in 1980 and Dennis passed away in 1994 at age 78.

  4. Dianne Pickford Reply

    September 1, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    I am absolutely fascinated to find this wonderful account of the Nelco’s History. My parents, Ronald and Vera Wellen (nee Goodchild), I believe knew David Rose’s parents Arthur and Freda Rose very well. I understand Arthur and Freda were my Godparents.

    My parents met in the factory, Ron being an electrician alongside Arthur and Vera in the Wages/Accounts Department. Over the years the friendship was lost although I was always regaled with fond memories of wartime Nelco days.

    My mother, I believe, once drove one of the Solocars up Guildford High Street as part of a demonstration/Carnival event..not sure. I have one photo of Ronald and Arthur together in the workshop which I can get to you if helpful. I was just searching out the history as my mother has just died aged 90 in Aug 2014. Ronald died in 1982.

  5. Ceri Davies Reply

    October 15, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    About 18 years ago I purchased a Nelco Solocar from a lady who was a retired Oxford University lecturer. She has had polio as a child and had used the Solocar as her means of transport. It still has her Iniversity Parks pass on it. It has a registration number and I have the documents she was provided with when she bought it. I presume she purchased it as new, though it wasn’t registered untiil around 1963 – I think that may be on the indroduction of a the Road Traffic Act in 1963 – but I could be wrong. I hope to one day get around to restoring it. I have over the years checked the internet for some information about the company and am pleased to have found this site with information about the company. The last time I searched must have been longer ago than I realised.

  6. David Jenkins Reply

    November 8, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    I have just purchased a Nelco Solocar in a recent auction (only last week).

    If you have any information about it I should be very pleased indeed if you could share it with me. I am planning to restore it – obviously taking photos before, after, and along the way.
    Please get in touch.
    Dai Jenkins, South Wales.

  7. Stuart Rielly Reply

    December 23, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Fascinating article and history!

    Especially as I was a company trainee at Nelco and started work at the Farnham factory in 1984 (aged 16), and if I recall correctly worked there until 1989, and then moved out of the area. I loved that job!

    I joined Nelco after leaving France Hill Secondary school in Camberley.

    I was basically an apprentice and worked in every department of the factory including armature winding, the DIP shop where coils were dipped in varnish and then baked, the commutator line, and eventually chose for my preference the machine shop where they had many manual machines and some very early NC machines (pre runner to CNC) that worked of a ticker tape.

    The company did make all manner of electric motors and in particular I remember they made parts for the spearfish torpedo. I remember that as I recall accidentally scrapping some parts at the time and getting filthy looks from my supervisor. I wasn’t the only one guilty of sending spearfish parts to the bin.

  8. Rick Dean Reply

    November 20, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    I started work at Nelco from 1970 to 1976 as an apprentice and my foreman was Les Brookes a great man who I owe for making my career a success.

    I knew all the caricters Mo Ansal, Dossy Combs, Jack (where’s me stilsons) Steer, Auther Rose, and of course my future foreman Jonny Elms.

    Nelco gave me a great start and during my apprentership I was lucky enough to win the national event apprentice of the year.

    The antics we used to get up to looking back are quite frightening, bury firerworks in the forge so when some unsuspecting user lit it, up it went.

    Lighter fuel in the air line to make flame throwers and smouldering rags in the back of machines so it looked like they were on fire.

    I had a great time there and it was with deep sadness when it was demolished.

    [David Rose: There is a further story in prepapration about Nelco at Shalford with furthjer memories and some great pictures. Watch this space!]

  9. Brian Slade Reply

    May 10, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    Very good. I worked at Nelco as Engineering Manager from 1973 to 1991, and knew Arthur very well.

    We did make electric motors for cars, and also boats and airships.

  10. Jane Fulton Reply

    September 7, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    I have an old milkshake maker made at Nelco, Shalford, Surrey, with serial number etc.

    My mother who was British ran a popular Good Companions Milk Bar in Timber Street, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa in 1938 with her stepfather after leaving the UK.

    At the time the concept was considered very innovative and possibly the first milk bar in the country.

    As a child I grew up on chocolate milkshakes made in the mixer which still works very well!

    So glad to have been able to trace a bit of the history of the mixer, so thank you for having this website.

  11. Peter Knight Reply

    December 21, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    I worked at Nelco from from 1976 through its split with the ministry side which became Airscrew Howden.

    I remained with the commercial side at Farnham, met my wife Kay Hudson there, we had two boys while there and I have great memories of some of the people.

    These include some of the old school like Doss Coombs, Doug Geary, Henty (Titch) Hill, Sandy Hendy, Pat (last name gone) who became his wife, and the newer ones – Chris Cooper, Dave Standford, Barry Cole (‘more energy Barnett’), John and Roger Holloway, Joan Slingo, Jan Pinnels, Wendy Hudson (Foot), and many more extended family that we all grew up with.

    • Mark Knott Reply

      May 15, 2017 at 5:20 pm

      Bob Heaps and Phil Kirtley have been missed out. I recall that you were our inspection.

      If I remember correctly you were a great goalie for Farnham.

      And don’t forget chippy Chris Cooper’s brother.

  12. David Hammond Reply

    December 31, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    I worked at Nelco in Shalford as an apprentice from the age of 16 in 1965.

    At this time Bill Green was managing director and “Jock” Eavis was works manager.

    My first year was in the test department under, first, Harry Matthews, and after Harry retired, Bill Williams.

    Second year was in the machine shop underforeman Les Brookes. And it was during this year that Andy Brookes joined who became a friend and drinking companion.

    Also in the machines hop at this time was Dossie Coombes on the milling machines and Les Butler looking after a row of semi-automatic lathes.

    Third year was the assembly shop with Pete Waters, Arthur Roberts and Roy Sherlock.

    Next came the winding shop and then the drawing office headed by Arthur Copus.

    I worked under Ron Stevens and alongside among others were Martin Lunn, Dick Bidwell, Vic Rolands, Christine (who married Vic), and Linda Smith.

    On the opposite side of the road from the main building in the car park was a detached house that was used as an additional test department headed by Mr Davison with Bob Davis and Mr Giles who made among other things an automatic commutator cutting machine which was a joy to behold.

    Fellow apprentices were the aforementioned Andy Brookes, Jon Wotton and Malcolm Denyer.

    I left in early 1973 but still remember my time there and the people I worked with fondly.

  13. Pamela Pickering (nee Deacon) Reply

    February 12, 2018 at 8:19 pm

    My dad was Ron Deacon. My mother was Gladys Ceacon, and she used to wind armatures in the machine shop.

    They moved from Maidenhead and bought a house in Shalford.

    Dad was a draughtsman and his boss was Bill Green.

    He also used to help run the ENSA shows. He was a pianist, and also used to love the comedy.

    It was so nice to see your article about Nelco which was brought to my attention by my neice who was helping her son with homework about WW2 and came across your article.

  14. Mervyn Granshaw Reply

    February 13, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    In the first two images of the Nelco concert party are my father Dennis Granshaw from Shalford.

    In the first image he is in the back row, second from left playing banjo. Next to him, third from left, is Ron Stevens. Dolly Southern is on the left in the front row and next to her Eileen Allen, wife of Fred Allen.

    In the next image my father is playing violin and in pink is his sister Grace.

    My father’s quartet also played at Arthur Rose’s wedding.

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