The Last Echo of EKCO

The demolition of the EKCO complex began in March 2008 – a casualty of the changes in law on tax on empty buildings. The site was fenced off as the Kent-based company Downright Demolition Ltd started a nine-month contract to raze the buildings to the ground, and it was while this was going on in May that I arranged through their head office for Chris Poole, an ex-employee of the company, and myself to have free access to the EKCO air raid shelters some 20-25 feet underground.

The Offices of EKCO that faced Priory Crescent.

I phoned Chris, who was delighted about the prospect of having access to the tunnels, and the next day we met foreman at the site entrance, who was happy to assist. We had to wear steel-toecapped boots, hi-visibility vests and hard hats (which we had taken with us in readiness anyway), and keep clear of the buildings actually being demolished. All being agreed, this was the start of what turned out to be a five-month stint of exploration and recording, by notes, photographs and video footage (often on a daily basis), the end of a landmark of Southend’s history.

We were joined by John Anderson, an IT technician who worked for 'Ecomold,' on our second visit to the shelters, and we continued taking photos, mapping and cataloguing what we found in the great network of tunnels. Following that, Chris invited the curator of Southend Museum, to come along, and in the weeks that followed, a team from the Archaeological Department from Braintree came down to professionally survey and video the tunnels.

One of the tunnels with original benches

The shelters were cleared of all their furnishings by the Braintree team, and put into storage for their future display in the new Southend Museum planned on the seafront at Southend. The only objects they could not remove because of their sheer weight and size, were the air-tight doors, but I understand that they made a fibreglass cast of one. Sometime afterwards, with the demolition and levelling of the site reaching the end, the tunnels were 'sealed' so no-one could gain access to them. It is most likely that the tunnels will never be seen by anyone again.

The 'safe' on the site, a steel mesh enforced concrete structure (where in most recent times the blank credit cards were stored) presented the demolition crews their biggest problem - it refused to break. Four one-ton Kango-heads had been broken trying to get into it, and so it was decided to leave this until last; it was too time consuming, and would take a cutting crew or explosives to open it.

Part-way through the nine months of demolition

The motor giant Ford put in a bid for the foam moulding plant, which was the last remaining operational unit on the site. The method that was used for the production of car bumpers was changing and production would be continued in Europe – the processes used for foam injection moulding in the UK was to be made illegal by 2010, and the company wanted to secure the licenced production there right up to the last minute. However, the bid was turned down by the site developers.

One of the Ecomold employees I spoke to in August 2008 told me that he had 21 years under his belt with the company; that when he started there were about 700 employees, and one of their biggest contracts was for British Telecommunications, making their domestic telephones, both the cases and the handsets. There were currently around 60 people left of the workforce, and that as each job came to an end, so ended their employment through redundancy. He anticipated that the company would close down in around four weeks’ time, as their insurance was due for renewal in early October.

What remains on the site now that is the only indication that EKCO even existed are the blue Staffordshire bricks that make up much of the design element of the hexagonal pattern 'floor' between the office building and the pavement of Priory Crescent.

Demolition completed 2 November 2008

By the end of 2008, the sole remaining site bearing the company’s name EKCO is the EKCO Social and Sports Club (ESSC) which still occupies the original clubhouse that was donated by Eric Cole at the time of the company’s Silver Jubilee in 1952. The clubhouse and sports ground were assigned to the ESSC in 'perpetuity', and while few in numbers, ex-employees can still be found there discussing times gone by. This is particularly true for the EKCO plastics tool room veterans who still endeavour to meet monthly.

Note: There were actually sixty years of the ESSC lease left to run at this time of writing, and the sports field is rented on an annual basis.

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