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When Birdseye made Great Yarmouth the home of the fish finger

PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 February 2019

The Duke of Edinburgh watching potatoes being prepared for chipping and freezing during his visit to the Birds Eye Foods premises in Great Yarmouth in 1960.

The Duke of Edinburgh watching potatoes being prepared for chipping and freezing during his visit to the Birds Eye Foods premises in Great Yarmouth in 1960.

Archant

Not for the first time, my get-out clause has been proved not only true but also necessary: nostalgia is an inexact science!

Hard at work: Erie Resistor employees in the South Denes factory 60 years ago, in 1959.Hard at work: Erie Resistor employees in the South Denes factory 60 years ago, in 1959.

The latest example stems from a recent column listing some of the host of non-retail businesses, industries, undertakings and familiar enterprises that have disappeared from the commercial scene in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston in recent decades, from gas-works to timber importing, pleasure steamers to holiday camps, frozen-food producers to breweries.

That sobering catalogue included Erie Resistor/Electronics, once a major employer on Fenner Road on the South Denes and it prompted reader John Goodwin to inform me that the business is still operating there, although it has undergone several name changes!

So I am delighted to put the record right.

Was it not American author Mark Twain who once retorted something like “Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated” after reading his obituary prematurely published by a newspaper?

Hard at work: Erie Resistor employees in the South Denes factory 60 years ago, in 1959.Hard at work: Erie Resistor employees in the South Denes factory 60 years ago, in 1959.

The friendly rebuttal came from John Goodwin, of Brasenose Avenue, Gorleston: “Erie Resistor/ Electronics is still going - I know because I’ve been working there for 46 years and just retired last year!

“They are still going very strongly having been renamed a few times. It is now API Technologies Corporation RF2M Division which won two awards a few months ago. It was reported in your paper!”

But he does concede: “You are not the only one who thinks it has gone, but it is the only factory left on the Fenner, lucky for me and some others.

“I started in 1972 when it changed from Erie Resistor to Erie Electronics. This factory has moved with the times and is moving to more high-tech stuff.

“It’s healthy and strong and always looks way ahead to the future - the management has the right attitude in this strong competitive field.”

According to John, its continued success stems from “the strong team work by everybody. It has been a privilege to work for this company.”

A company spokesman reports that the 150+ workforce produces high-reliability industrial electronics and is not involved with domestic items. At one stage, in the 1950s-1960s, there were 2,000-3,000 employees.

“The business was established in the town and, despite changes in global and local economic circumstances, we are still here and going strong!”

Without any figures to hand, I think it likely that Erie’s boost to the labour market in Yarmouth was eclipsed by its near neighbour, Birds Eye Foods, on South Denes Road. There were not many families hereabouts which did not include someone working at one or the other.

While ex-Erie still operates, Birds Eye boosted our local economy for only four decades (1945-86) while achieving widespread recognition as the home of the fish finger, its production launched here in 1955 and still a favourite.

The cod product, invented by American Clarence Birdseye, was developed at Yarmouth by a Mr HAJ Scott and named after a vote by women workers here. The factory worked overtime to keep up with demand.

The humble fish finger changed British tea-times forever, someone noted, and there was a suggestion some years ago that a commemorative blue plaque should mark the spot. I do not know whether or not that happened.

Yarmouth also coped with the annual challenge of the pea harvest, lorries delivering the freshly gathered pods to the South Denes for quick freezing.

Birds Eye had a profound impact on the borough, and hosted a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh who toured the enterprise in 1960. The company expanded its factory here, and added huge cold stores plus a tall block for product development.

It all seemed too good to be true. And it was. In 1986 Birds Eye abandoned all its Yarmouth presence, switching its production to its factory over in Lowestoft.

It left a figurative bad taste in the mouth of many a Yarmouthian. Perhaps sales of Birds Eye fish fingers plummeted in the borough as a result...

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