Last of the Lec fridges

It was the largest catering fridge which Lec Refrigeration made in Bognor Regis.

There was something special about that particular CL350 as it was put together at the company's factory.

No more fridges or freezers would be following it off the production line. The completion of the model at 2pm on April 19 as it left the premises for Rampton Hospital in Nottinghamshire was a historic moment.

It ended 67 years of fridge and freezer making in Bognor.

Every worker in the factory wanted to have a hand in putting together that particular CL350 with its 327 litres capacity.

They posed for a photograph to capture the moment with the final fridge.

Production manager Joe Hudson said: "Everyone wanted to put their little bit on that fridge – to say they had had a hand in it. It was the last fridge – and it worked."

Chris Marsh, an assembly line worker, said: "There were mixed feelings as the last fridge was finished because we were a close family.

"Some people cheered, some people laughed, some people clapped and a couple waved at the fridge as they made it. That was when we knew it was the end."

The CL350 was among the 800-900 specialist fridges a week which Lec had been making for pharmaceutical, catering, bar and restaurant and retail costumers in the company's final year-and-a-half in Bognor.

Those products will continue to carry the Lec name courtesy of parent company Glen Dimplex Home Appliances' factory at Prescot on Merseyside.

That factory in north west England has been producing Lec domestic fridges and freezers since August 2005. Glen Dimplex made the decision to transfer production of those products away from Bognor five months after it bought the business from Sime Darby.

The Malaysian conglomerate had spent big since it had acquired the business in 1994. A multi-million pound investment resulted in a new 300,000sq ft computerised factory and a modern office complex.

This enabled the original factory, which has been a landmark along the A29 Shripney Road, to close in December 2003.

But Sime Darby's involvement was not enough to stop the fortunes of the business fluctuating and multi-million pound losses mounting during the 1990s.

Such uncertainty was a long way from the flourishing business built up by the founding Purley family in a world free from the global competition of the 21st century.

Lec had its beginnings in Bognor in 1940. Brothers Charles and Frank Purley began to search for a cheap method of keeping the fish stocked in their fresh fish shop in good condition.

With Leslie Jull, the two men bought a small engineering workshop in Longford Road in 1942. The Longford Engineering Company – or Lec – was born.

Throughout the war, the founders concentrated on developing a refrigeration system as well as making munitions for the armed forces. In 1946 Lec bought its first factory when land was bought from a local farmer for 125.

The business grew from there with the production of Lec's first prototype refrigerator the same year. During the 1940s, the factory at Shripney Road was in full production. About 200 workers were employed there.

Lec concentrated on its foreign export market because steel was in short supply and restricted for overseas trade. This meant that some nine out of ten fridges Britain exported to Canada in 1948 were made by Lec. At times, 80per cent of all Lec fridges went abroad.

The company continued to grow during the 1950s as its first retail outlet was opened in Regent Street in London. A special products division was formed in 1956 to make low temperature environment cabinets for hospitals, aircraft and atomic research.

The Sixties saw Lec begin to expand with a new automatic spray paint plant and the familiar three-storey building built on Shripney Road.

The 1980s was another period of growth and activity for Lec as a 73,000sq ft warehouse was constructed. This expansion led to the firm’s 1,900 workers making about 3,000 products a day in contrast to the original 27 fridges a week.

Lec stayed in the hands of Charles Purley until he gave up his chairmanship in October 1991 at the age of 81. He died two months later and the business was sold to Malaysian-based Sime Darby. The company’s fortunes fluctuated – and its workforce shrunk – in spite of the multi-million pound investment.