The history of Clophill, Bedfordshire, UK
Including historical descriptions, maps and statistical analysis.
I wonder how many of our readers remember the Canyon Case Company?
I spent a fascinating evening recently listening to Frank Groom recall the history of the company he started in the sandpit in Great Lane making wooden boxes and crates for the agricultural and brewing industries.
Frank originates from Thrapston from a large family of 13 (5 boys and 8 girls). He and his brothers came to Clophill in 1936 and earned their living felling trees and logging, using the sandpit in Great Lane as a base.
In 1950, he bought a saw bench for £275 and around this time Stan Kirby asked Frank to make some lettuce crates. He even remembers the size - 21" x 15" x 13½". Ever keen to accept a new challenge, he made the crates and soon more orders followed.
And so the Canyon Case Company was born. Local builder Jack Nicholls erected a 2500 square foot wooden factory in the sandpit alongside the sand martins nesting in the pit walls.
The company grew until, at its height, it was the largest supplier of agricultural boxes in the country. It employed 20 local people including Frank's wife Vera. As output expanded, one of Franks biggest orders was to supply Charringtons Brewery with 50,000 cases in a three month period. The order was completed on time.
Most of Frank's customers were dealt with on a personal basis and paperwork was kept to a minimum. In fact he recalls one occasion where correspondence lost him an order. A north London customer was supplied with boxes and sent a cheque in payment.
0ne week later a second cheque arrived for the same order and Frank promptly returned the cheque with an accompanying letter. Imagine Frank's surprise when the customer telephoned to say his company didn't make mistakes and in future would place its business elsewhere!
As the business grew so Frank had to look around for equipment to meet the demand. He bought a second-hand nailing machine from Groom Brothers of Spalding (no relation) for £9. His wife Vera remembers this well; she still has the scars on her hands from operating this machine! He also acquired a branding machine for £100 to print customer's names on the boxes. However this proved less successful than using stencils and Cherry Blossom boot polish!
By the 1970's the demand for wooden boxes declined in the face of competition from the plastics industry. Consequently, when his lease expired in the early 1970's, Frank reluctantly closed the Canyon Case Company and retired.
He now lives quietly with Vera in Great Lane just a few yards from the sandpit. The factory has long since disappeared and local residents will tell you that, since the closure, the sand martins have never returned to the sandpit.