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With its reputation as an entrepreneurial hotspot, it is hardly a surprise that Essex has its fair share of family-run firms that have lasted generations. Caroline Foster highlights just a small band of bygone businesses that have a history stretc...
Cants of Colchester
The Cant name in Colchester has been synonymous with roses for more than 240 years. Benjamin R Cant & Sons was founded in 1765, although records dating back to 1728 indicate the Cant family were connected with horticultural gardening even then. Despite this longevity, the business is still very much a family-run concern currently in the hands of siblings Martin, Roger and Angela Pawsey, the children of Clifford and Diana Pawsey (nee Cant), the second daughter of Cecil and Mildred Cant. Clifford joined the Cant workforce in 1931.
Cants of Colchester grow and sell more than 40,000 roses a year, which is made up of approximately 250 different varieties. 'The varieties do change periodically,' says Roger, 'It's important that we maintain a number of historic varieties, but equally important that new blooms are available too. The company is always looking for better or stronger colours and fragrances and varieties that are less susceptible to disease.'
Cants' customer base is predominately retail, with many generations of the same families still buying from the company today. Although Cants also have a few wholesale clients, Roger was keen to stress that Cants is much more than a purveyor of roses. 'Our customers know when they buy a rose from us that we will also equip them with all the information they need to care and maintain it for years to come.' Caring for things over time is surely, just one of the reasons why this business has been so long-lasting.
Townrow Department Stores
Charles James Townrow opened his first store in 1871. Five generations of the Townrow family later and the company is still going strong. Today, father and son team Richard and Edward Townrow are at the helm of Townrow Department Stores but they now have six stores to manage. There are five stores in Essex; two in Frinton, and one each in Maldon, Braintree and Halstead, plus the recent take over of Eaden Lilley in St Ives, Cambridgeshire.
So what is the secret to remaining in business for nearly 140 years? For Townrow, Edward believes it is all about having a constant focus on your business affairs.
'Concentrate on what you know and try to improve on it,' he explains. That means having not only a good grip on the finances, but knowing every single product on the shop floor. And with concessions including fashion, menswear, accessories, a cookshop and, in the case of the Braintree store, menswear hire and a restaurant, that's a lot of product knowledge. Edward adds: 'You also need to know the people you work with. Not only do you need to look after your customers, but also your staff.'
Bennetts Funeral Directors
Established in Brentwood in 1891, Bennetts Funeral Directors is still a family-owned and run business with Jane Bennett at the helm as managing director and grand-daughter of the founder, Edward Bennett. The company is still owned by Jane's mother, Daphne.
Bennetts was originally located in Brook Street until the 1930s when the company relocated to Fern House, 120 High Street, Brentwood, where it can still be found today. There has also been the new addition of a second branch in Billericay, which opened about six years ago.
Bennetts is a business that has looked to grow and develop. Jane was keen to stress that the company not only offer funeral services, as it did in the early days, but Bennetts today can also provide many of the other services associated with funeral arrangements such as monumental masonry, flowers and even catering. There has even been diversification to offer limousine hire and wedding services.
In order for businesses to stay established, Jane believes you need to look to the future. 'You need to look at new ways to promote yourself and the use of today's technology is very important. But ultimately you must always look after your clients. Companies such as Bennetts have been looking after the same families for generations. It is a great privilege that they know they can trust us to do our best for their family members.'
Attwater & Liell
Attwater & Liell was established in 1901, when Walter Jones Attwater joined forces with Leonard W Liell, the same year Queen Victoria died and Sir Winston Churchill first entered the House of Commons. The first offices were in the city of London; in Bishopsgate and 35 The Broadway in Stratford. A third office followed in Brentwood a few years later. The move north to Essex included the opening of the Loughton office in the 1930s and the Harlow office
followed in 1954.
Since then the company has grown to become one of the region's largest firms of solicitors. Today more than 60 staff and partners work for Attwaters in Harlow and Loughton and it is one of the longest-established employers in both towns.
Attwater & Liell is no longer family-owned and just a few months ago the company rebranded. It dropped the name Liell, to be known only as Attwaters Solicitors. The rebranding however, reflects an ongoing commitment to Attwaters' clients. Managing partner, Sheenagh Parsons explains: 'This firm has a great tradition, but we're actually a very modern business. We've evolved and we've come a very long way in the past 100 years. We want to move with the times
andensure that the way we look represents what we are - modern and
Wilkin & Sons
One of our county's best-known and well-loved businesses, Wilkin & Sons has been run by the Wilkin family for nearly 300 years, farming much of the same land in Tiptree. Over the years, more than 600 acres of land has been planted with various fruits including gooseberries, cherries, damsons, quinces, crab apples, plums and Loganberries.
However, Wilkin & Sons is best known for its jam production. The very first Tiptree conserves were made there in 1885 under the name of the Britannia Fruit Preserving Company, which was the brainchild of Arthur Charles Wilkin and two of his friends. In 1905 the company was renamed Wilkin & Sons Limited to avoid confusion with 25 other companies trading as Britannia.
The Wilkin family has also seen the importance of looking after its employees as a means of progression and success. As the company grew, so its employees were rewarded with the introduction of a minimum pension scheme and company housing, which many employees to this date still live in. Today's employees will also benefit from the company's long-standing success, as a Share Ownership Scheme was started in the 1980s and shares were transferred to a trust for the employees, a trust which currently holds more than half the issued share capital.