A Potted History

In the middle of the Roaring Twenties, two men with a mission set out to create something special. Charles Hepburn Lindsey and his son, Charles Record Lindsey had the vision and drive to put Colchester on the map by establishing the best heating, ventilating and water services provider in the region. Little did they know that the ethos of their humble beginnings would stand the test of time and that the Lindsey brand would still be going strong over 90 years later.

Though the 1920s may have been “roaring” for some, they were hard times for the average man in the street. Britain was still coming to terms with the after-effects of the First World War and it took a lot of courage and initiative to go into business on one’s own. Fortunately both men already had a solid core of experience in their trade to give them confidence and take them forward.

Charles senior was apprenticed in 1890 to Alfred Bowsher, a plumbing and hot water fitter from Lenham near Maidstone in Kent and thereafter, spent several years working in London gaining wide experience of what were then considered the latest and most revolutionary types of heating and ventilating systems. At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, Charles senior brought his family to Colchester, where he joined the High Street firm of Williams and Company. Charles junior joined his father as an apprentice at Williams and Company a couple of years later until, in 1925, the two decided that it was time to branch out on their own, under the banner of C H Lindsey & Son.

The new firm’s first business address was the family home at Bombay Cottage, 55 Harwich Road, Colchester and the father and son team initially used a bicycle with a large carrier to convey tools and materials to and from their various sites around the town. However it soon became apparent that transport of greater carrying capacity was required and so the firm purchased a hand cart which, being slightly past its best, provided an excellent restoration opportunity. After some diligent repairs, a fine coat of paint and with the firm’s name emblazoned on the side, the hand cart soon became an effective vehicle for both transportation and advertising. Unfortunately the passageway between the road and the workshop at Bombay Cottage was so narrow that the hand cart had to be dismantled and reassembled every time it was used. This created much hilarity amongst the neighbours so much so that, as Charles junior once recalled, “the consequential embarrassment so improved our speed and agility that we might have rivalled the Navy gunners, who put on such impressive displays of gun dismantling at military tattoos!”. The firm’s original hand cart is still in resplendent existence after a further restoration project in 2010 and is today occasionally wheeled out for exhibition at very special Company events.

This delightful state of affairs lasted barely a year, for in 1926 Lindseys moved into Colchester town centre renting the coach house, stables and harness room of the former horse drawn Royal Mail premises on East Stockwell Street. 1926 went down in history as the year of the Miners’ Strike and General Strike. Morale everywhere was low and businesses felt the pinch. For Lindseys it was the first taste of those inevitable difficult times that every firm worth its salt feels many times over years of trading. Contracts were cancelled because of a feeling of general uncertainty and difficulty in obtaining raw materials. Yet Lindseys weathered the storm by virtue of their own spirit and the loyalty and effort of the staff they had begun to gather around them.

The remainder of the 1920s were boom times for C H Lindsey & Son, who typically established themselves at the cutting edge of a new technology that was, oil as a fuel source. The convenience of using oil fired boilers, as opposed to the more labour intensive solid fuel burning equipment, proved to be very popular amongst the firm’s clientele and resulted in a great many orders. With one eye on the future, extreme effort was put into the recruitment and training of staff, to keep up with advancements in the heating and ventilating industry and to meet the very high standards expected. Although the original hand cart was still giving sterling service, more efficient transportation was required to access clients not readily served by local buses and trains and so the firm purchased it’s first company car. The princely sum of £88 bought a secondhand 1923 Morris Oxford with a Hotchkiss engine and a dickey seat, complete with its own windscreen. The year 1927 was a milestone in Lindseys’ history as the firm applied for, and was granted, membership of the National Association of Master Heating and Domestic Engineers. This organisation later became the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association and eventually the Building Engineering Services Association.

Come the early 1930s and the Great Depression the firm, in common with many others, again had a lean time of things. Yet through much hard work and with the support of their loyal staff, Lindseys survived and by 1936 were going so well that larger premises were required, so father and son moved into a new, purpose built building on Maldon Road. At around the same time C H Lindsey and Son was incorporated as a limited company, thus becoming C H Lindsey & Son Ltd.

Following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Lindseys focused their energies on the war effort, installing heating and ventilating systems in Royal Air Force bases, military camps, hospitals and munitions factories. In addition, a considerable part of the firm’s output was turned to engineering services on the Royal Navy minesweepers, MTBs and other craft, that were being built in the shipyards at Wivenhoe and Rowhedge. Some of Lindseys’ staff went even further than just helping to build the ships; many volunteered to be part of the crews that delivered them from the shipbuilders’ yards to ports such as Dover, Portsmouth, Plymouth and Hull. This motley crew of “land lubbers” certainly had some rare adventures and Charles junior later recalled that “in my time I did every job on a ship, from Deck Hand to Chief Engineer”.

Peace in 1945 and Lindseys, like everyone else, had to shake off the problems of war and rebuild life on a peacetime footing. Once more post war Britain was struggling to recover; materials were in short supply and it was again a tricky time for the firm. Even so Lindseys’ enduring ethos of enterprise and comradeship saw them through; difficulties were overcome and the firm was soon back on track, with renewed ambition for further growth and continued success.

A good part of that success came just twenty miles away in the vicinity of Frinton-on-Sea on the Essex coast. In keeping with other towns around the country, many large houses in Frinton were either mothballed or used for other purposes during the war years and towards the end of the ‘40s, many owners began refurbishment programmes which included the avant-garde concept of “modern” central heating and domestic water systems. Despite being established market leaders in their field, the transport and communication problems of the time meant that Lindseys found it very difficult to meet the demanding needs of their Frinton clients, from a base in Colchester. And so it was that in 1952 the Lindsey Heating Company Ltd was formed, with new premises on Connaught Avenue, to cater specifically for clients in large houses and some hotels in Frinton and the local area beyond.

During 1950 a third generation of Lindseys came into the family business in the shape of Charles Greenfield Lindsey, son of Charles R Lindsey. Unfortunately this obvious step forward in succession planning was tempered somewhat in January 1952 by the sad death of “The Governor”, Charles H Lindsey, at the age of 80. The firm he had started on a hand cart had taken massive strides forward towards the age of technology and his closing years were full of the satisfaction of seeing his son and grandsons thriving in the business and continuing the first class standards of workmanship and service he had always insisted upon. Then in 1958, Richard, second son of Charles R Lindsey, joined the Company, ensuring continuity was maintained from one generation to the next.

Towards the end of the ‘50s, with the new company at Frinton-On-Sea well established, Lindseys started to look for new markets, especially in the commercial sector. London was an obvious target area as a great deal of expansion was then taking place there, in the form of new office blocks, hotels and other commercial buildings. Contracts in the city were procured but, once again, Lindseys’ ability to effectively service their new clients was hampered by the transport limitations of the day. The railways were in decline and the only sections of dual carriageway between Colchester and London were from Marks Tey to Kelvedon and around Ingatestone. This meant long, tedious journeys through numerous villages and the town of Chelmsford, to reach London. It was decided that a base nearer to London was required and thus Lindsey Heating (Chelmsford) Ltd was established at Beehive Lane in 1962.

The 1960s was the decade in which Lindseys really took to the national and even international stages. Business again boomed and so with continued expansion, the Company once more moved into new and even larger bespoke premises at 78 East Hill. The advent of the electronic age dictated that high standards of temperature and humidity control; automatic operation; chilled water based air conditioning and unobtrusive installations, were all essential ingredients of a top quality product demanded by ever more discerning clients. Natural gas made its debut as a fuel and countless opportunities existed for those who were prepared to embrace the fast paced technology of the day. C H Lindsey and Son Ltd went from strength to strength. New ways of working were introduced, both in the design office and on site; turnover rose and with support from well known architects and loyal customers, the firm secured orders for heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems in many parts of the United Kingdom and occasionally, even into Europe.

Fuel shortages in the 1970s brought a need for greater firing efficiencies and energy saving devices started to be incorporated into system designs. Ever more technically advanced boilers required regular maintenance to keep them in pristine condition and maximise operating efficiency. Lindseys recognised this need and established a Service Department, specifically to carry out routine and reactive maintenance on a whole range of domestic and commercial equipment. The year 1975 was another milestone in the history of C H Lindsey and Son Ltd as the firm celebrated its golden jubilee with a grand dinner/dance at the George Hotel on Colchester High Street. By this time employee numbers had reached nearly 100 and several members of staff had already served the Company for approaching fifty years. Seven long service gold watches were presented that night.

The 1980s was a period of further expansion for the firm, with Charles G and Richard at the helm. It was also time for another “changing of the guard”. Charles R Lindsey who, with his father had founded the Company nearly sixty years before, passed away in 1984 at the age of 80. Yet once again, the firm literally regenerated itself with the arrival of a fourth generation of the Lindsey family. Charles D and Robert, sons of Charles G joined the Company, along with Richard Pearce, grandson of Charles R.

By the end of the ‘80s, Lindseys had outgrown their premises on East Hill and the traffic in Colchester town centre had become so congested that a decision was taken to move the firm once more. At the time Colchester Borough Council was selling off land to the North of the town at Severalls Lane, to develop a new business park. A plot was purchased, yet another larger and purpose designed building was erected and C H Lindsey & Son Ltd moved into their current home in 1990. At an event to celebrate the move, a commemorative stone was laid at the entrance to the new building by two long since retired members of staff, Bill Abbott and Les Bloomfield, both of whom had worked 50 years for the Company.

The firm continued to prosper, despite the financial recession that blighted the country during the early 1990s. By this time hotel work had become a major feature of Lindseys’ activities and the Company designed and installed heating, water, ventilation and air conditioning services in conjunction with hotel “new builds” and refurbishments, right across the country, from Aberdeen to Plymouth and a good many places in between. Sadly a terrible moment for the firm came in 1994, when Robert Lindsey, by then a director of the Company, died in a boating accident. Robert is still greatly missed by all who knew him. However the level of family involvement in the firm was maintained by the permanent arrival, after several “working holiday” summers, of Chris Lindsey, son of Richard. Towards the end of the decade, the time came to pass control of the Company onto the next (fourth) generation and so, in 1998, Charles G and Richard retired, leaving Chris and Charles D Lindsey, plus Richard Pearce in charge.

The ‘90s also saw the end of another era in the firm’s history. During the decades that followed the establishment of Lindsey offices in Frinton-on-Sea and Chelmsford, transport and communication links in the area improved dramatically; roads were generally better, the A12 was dual carriageway all the way into London and the railway line had been electrified. There was no longer a need for more geographically diverse operating bases. As a result of this and together with the ability of the firm’s new Severalls Park premises to accommodate all Lindsey Group employees, it was decided to carry out a reorganisation of the Company and make strategic withdrawals, first from Frinton and then from Chelmsford. Since that time, all Lindsey activities have been carried out from their headquarters in Colchester.

Alongside the dawn of the new millennium came Lindseys’ diamond jubilee and another grand party was thrown in the summer of the year 2000, this time in the form of a river cruise dinner/dance on the Thames, from Tower Bridge to the Thames Barrier and back. The firm’s 75th anniversary was also another opportunity to present more gold watches to loyal and long serving staff members, each with more than 25 years of service.

Throughout the first few years of the 21st century, Lindseys once again prospered; the level of hotel work undertaken in the 1990s subsided and the firm became more focused on the High End Residential market, in London and elsewhere around the country. All those years of training apprentices and adhering to first class standards of workmanship, meant that Lindseys were ideally placed to win and successfully complete contracts in some of the most prestigious residential properties in the land. The year 2008 brought with it a national financial crisis and another recession, the like of which had not been since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Many firms foundered at that time, yet Lindseys battened down the hatches and again weathered the storm. However the financial crisis and subsequent recession took its toll on the country, the construction industry and ultimately the firm. Work was scarce, margins were squeezed and businesses had to become leaner and more efficient just to survive.

And so it was around the time of its 90th anniversary in 2015 that the Company, under the leadership of Chris Lindsey, embarked upon a programme of modernisation. Lindseys’ offices on Severalls Park (by now 25 years old) were refurbished; modern methods of working and management were introduced and new non-family directors, in the shape of Robin Heinze and Sarah Smy, were appointed. Robin Heinze had worked his way up through the ranks, having been with the Company since he left school, whilst Sarah Smy brought with her the specialist skills required to become the firm’s first financial director.

The “in-house” design of heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems is something at which the firm has always excelled, but in the past those schemes were produced solely for the use of Lindseys’ installers. Chris Lindsey recognised a potential demand for technically sound designs, produced by people with a practical background and so set up a dedicated Design Department to provide a true mechanical services consultancy.

Nowadays, as the firm approaches its centenary, The Lindsey Group comprises separate companies, specialising in Design, Installation and Maintenance. The firm has continued to keep up with modern trends and technological advancements. Today’s “green” technology solutions, modern pipe fitting techniques and state of the art electronic control systems are all in a day’s work for a Lindsey engineer, as is a continued appreciation of the commitment to quality and customer service set out by those two men with their hand cart, nearly one hundred years ago.

reasearched and written by Richard Pearce

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