History of Gratnells

Company History

It all began way back in 1890.....

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The history of Gratnells spans more than 100 years taking in four generations of the Hudson family. It's a story of success, failure, fires, and unexplained deaths. But then nothing goes to plan.

1890 Our story began in London’s East End. From the centre of the capital’s household ironmongery and furniture fittings industry, William Hudson pinpointed the potential to distribute cornice poles and curtain fittings. His instinct paid off with a burgeoning product range as well as starting a small manufacturing facility. Over the years the warehouse expanded opening branches in Glasgow, Bristol and the port city of Liverpool. The name W.A.Hudson become synonymous in the trade with furnishing ironmongery. But tragedy was not far around the corner. In 1930, William died at sea in the West Indies and his sons Reg and Lesile were left to take the reins. (Reg's eldest son, Peter, then succeeded in the business.)

1939 The market had developed and required steel curtain rails so William’s youngest son Leslie set up Wood & Metal Industries with a factory in nearby Leyton. Before it got fully under way the factory was confined to War work. After the War whilst supplying the main company with curtain rails, it was a new innovation that made the name of the Seymour Road company. Britain became a nation obsessed with television and the Seymour Television Table was an immediate hit for both the domestic market and continental Europe. With Leslie’s son Neville already on board the burgeoning family business went from strength to strength.

1964 Newly installed in Silvertown the company diverted its attention from the living room to the bedroom, convinced that televisions were destined to be wall mounted! Pacta was a flat packed clothes wardrobe, which included a large plastic tray for storing clothes. Having launched the product at the important Ideal Home Exhibition in Olympia, Pacta’s future looked assured. However, national economic troubles were looming. The 1967 Government Budget brought in new legislation changing the traditional weekly payment system for expensive consumer products. The need for a significant up-front deposit decimated the entire market. Orders collapsed overnight and so inevitably did the company.

1967 Graham + Trevor + Neville = Gratnells With little more than the fixtures and fittings from the now defunct Silvertown factory Leslie and Neville were forced to begin again. Initially based at Arkley Road, they moved to Church Road, Leyton in their new incarnation of Gratnells (a play on the three sons’ names). The new focus was schools and in particular science after a curriculum change demanded students conduct their own experiments. There was instantly a greater need for equipment storage. Using the Pacta tray from the wardrobe, the pair devised a system allowing trays and shelves to be fitted within a slotted square tube frame. With the slotting process globally patented, the prototype adjustable system was unveiled to acclaim on New Year’s Day 1972 at the annual conference of the Association for Science Education.

1985 British schools were now standardising their furniture sizes and a tray smaller than the Pacta one was needed. And with stiff market competition Gratnells also had to be able to make its own trays. With no experience in plastics manufacture, the cost of an injection moulding machine demanded a daunting commitment. The purchase was made, enabling the introduction of the smaller tray into the range and the first steps to Gratnells’ position of leading school tray manufacturer were taken. Almost 100 years after William Hudson began, the original company was sold and Gratnells was the sole company owned and run by the Hudson family.

1992 Further design improvements led to the now familiar tray models. Two – the shallow and the deep – were quickly identifiable in schools throughout the UK. And in 1992, the trays were recognised for their outstanding design with a silver award from Worlddidac, the influential international education body. The goal was now to take the tray worldwide, and the growth of the export business necessitated a move to larger premises in Eley Road, Edmonton. Two additional injection moulding machines ensured 24 hour production.

2000-2012 Murray, Neville’s eldest son, joined from the BBC. The international education world was captivated by the Gratnells tray. First Europe succumbed, then America, Australia and the Far East. Fulfilling the needs of teachers worldwide meant that Gratnells needed still larger premises and the present Harlow site was discovered and turned into a high tech manufacturing site. The tray range was expanded to four depths with a lid and a large range of inserts. Gratnells now exports to 68 countries. In 2009 GratStack® storage was supplied to more than 2000 schools in Kazahkstan for a major science teaching project. Today, Gratnells continues to grow and remains the world’s leading brand in tray storage. As market needs have changed, Gratnells has responded with innovative, functional and reliable products that reflect the quality of a company with an amazing history. In 2011 we added an extension to our spray line to provide more frame colours and bought a brand new Sandretto injection moulding machine. In 2012 a new quadrant tray and cubby tray have been launched for yet more applications.

In April 2012 Neville Hudson stood down as Managing Director and was succeeded by his son.

In November 2012, we launched a range of storage solutions into the UK Veterinary market.

Throughout all of our growth over the years, we’ve still remained a family-owned company. Which means we still provide the personal service to our customers that William began over a hundred years ago. Here's to you, William.

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