Battersea businessman Paul Fraser celebrates his company’s incredible heritage as it reaches its 100th birthday.
With local businesses and stores across the country regularly being run out of town by gentrification and big national chains, it is always refreshing to hear about an independent, family-run business that continues to thrive. Fraser & Ellis is one such business. Since 1919 the South London-based plumbers’ merchant continues to meet the needs of plumbers and builders across London and its surrounding counties. With the business preparing to celebrate its celebrating 100 years as a plumbers’ merchant 100-year anniversary, Paul Fraser, the current Managing Director and one of the founder’s grandsons, picks out stories from the rich history.
Original Fraser & Ellis Ltd company stamp with two individual padlocks
The beginning (1919-1938)
Fraser & Ellis’ formation sounds like the opening chapter of a Jeffrey Archer novel. Two friends enlist in the army, fight alongside each other through The Somme and, with the coming of peace, form a business partnership. In 1919, Colin Fraser and Vic Ellis returned home from the First World War and using their £50 earnings founded Fraser & Ellis Ltd, setting up shop in Warwick Street, Holborn. Less than four years later they had outgrown the premises and moved the business to Portsea Mews, Marble Arch. By 1926 the business had to move yet again, this time to Old Church Street in Chelsea, to increase storage capacity.
The War (1939-1945)
Soon after the Second World War began in 1939 Colin Fraser set up an engineering shop called ‘Essential Works’ within Fraser & Ellis’ warehouse where they made bomb parts for the war effort. During this time, Colin arrived for work to find that Chelsea Old Church, as well as part of Fraser & Ellis had been bombed by a parachute land mine. Colin and Vic continued to work from their office even though their frontage had been destroyed. A Union Jack covered the hole instead.
At the beginning of the Second World War, Colin and Vic acquired Henfold Farm at Beare Green, Dorking in order to store a large proportion of Fraser & Ellis’ stockholding should the Chelsea premises be hit by a bomb. They believed their stock would be safer there than in London. Ironically, a stray 500lb bomb landed right in the centre of the farm leaving a massive crater in the ground, burying much of Fraser & Ellis’ stock within it.
The next generation (1945 – 1994)
By the end of the Second World War the business employed thirty-four staff. Fraser & Ellis continued to run smoothly, and the business was able to acquire Watford Foundry, where it began to make Cast Iron Rainwater products. By 1952, Colin’s son Roy Fraser had joined the business, and was later joined by his brother Ian in 1958. Noteworthy at this time, Fraser & Ellis supplied the contractors who were building the Shell Centre, at 27 storeys above ground, the tallest building of its time in London.
Now coming to the 1960s, Colin and Vic decided to pass the business on to their sons, Ian and Roy Fraser and Bryan and Donald Ellis. Sadly, Colin Fraser passed away in 1961, followed by Vic Ellis in 1964. Shortly after Donald was tragically killed in a car accident and Bryan decided to leave the business in the capable hands of Ian and Roy Fraser. Anyone who lived through the Seventies and Eighties will remember
the difficult economic times they represented, and Fraser & Ellis was no exception. The business continued to grow steadily, with many “Blue Chip” customers such as Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, but often at a cost to its profitability. Hence it was at a time of financial uncertainty in 1994 that more family members joined the fold.
Roy’s son (me!) joined the business after spending seven years in the trade. My cousin Julian Fraser also came on-board. Continuing its “high rise” penchant the company was happily involved in the construction of the OXO Tower in 1995.
The modern days (1995-2018)
By 1996 trading from Old Church Street was becoming increasingly difficult. Traffic and parking restrictions were strangling the business and parts of the property were in urgent need of repair, including bomb damage from some fifty years previous. The decision was taken to sell the premises and acquire a more “user friendly” warehouse across the river in Howie Street.
In 1997, I took over the business becoming its sole director and over the next few years acquired two other local plumbers’ merchants. By that time the financial uncertainties of the previous decades were over and Fraser & Ellis had become renowned as having the most comprehensive stock of any plumbers’ merchant in London. We also had to make yet another move, this time to Gwynne Road.
Soon after the move, Battersea Bridge was hit by a barge causing TfL to close the bridge to all traffic except buses. I rallied local businesses together and raised a campaign involving local newspapers and local MP’s against TfL. This seemed to make a big difference in the sudden announcement of ‘finding a way’ to repair the bridge in a matter of weeks as opposed to several years. After a few years Fraser & Ellis moved to its current address on Broughton Street. We also joined The IPG in March 2014, a buying and marketing group for like-minded independent plumbing merchants such as ourselves.
Their support has helped us continue to provide for our enviable portfolio of customers, ranging from small family undertakings to vast multinational companies.
THE FUTURE (2019-?)
So, there you have it, it is difficult to condense 100 years of history onto one page, but I hope this snapshot of our heritage and history shows how much can happen and change in a century whilst some things, such as values remain entrenched.
It remains for me, on behalf of the Fraser and Ellis families, past and present, to say a big thank-you to the thousands of customers, past and present, who have made this Centenary possible. It’s not over yet though! We will be celebrating our milestone with some fun open day events in 2019, as well as a secret, old-fashioned surprise! Watch this space… and here’s to the next hundred years!
Fraser & Ellis can be found at:Units I & J, London Stone Business Estate, Broughton Street, Battersea, London, SW8 3QR.
To speak to a member of the team please call 020 7228 9999 or:email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article generously submitted by Paul Fraser