In the beginning…
Our journey began with Mr Eric Cole. Born in Rochford, Essex on 4th July 1901, Eric was a driving force behind his father’s business, which in 1922 was changed to E. Kirkham Cole – Electrical and Wireless Engineer.
In the early 20th century, electricity was only just being rolled out into domestic properties throughout the United Kingdom. Under the guise above, Eric and his father were responsible for wiring houses and repairing electrical appliances for local residents. The business concept changed when the two were approached by a Mr Verrells in 1924, who was interested in wiring appliances to the mains circuit – a feat that at the time was seen as impossible. At Mr Verrells’ request, Mr Cole did, however, manage to wire a few lamps and a set to the mains, and this fated meeting of two minds resulted in the creation of a new company: E.K Cole Ltd (abbreviated to EKCO).
Capital was raised by a Mr Maxwell, who was in fact the owner of Peter Pans’ Playground in Southend, a children’s leisure resort now known as Adventure Island. Other contributors to the business, who also eventually became directors, were local builder Mr Manners and milkman Mr Pring. William Stratfield Verrells took on the roles of Chairman and Managing Director, while Eric Cole was given the title of Works and Technical Director.
In the years that followed, EKCO would create a number of sub-companies, and many of these firms are still active today.
The development of the Thermotube
Just over twenty years after its inception in 1945, EKCO Domestic Products was employing over 8,000 people across the country and specialised in manufacturing mains and portable TV’s, mains and portable radios, radiograms, tape recorders, car radios, electric heaters, thermovent heaters, electric blankets, plastic toilet seats, various plastic utensils, plastic bathroom fittings and ‘Superbath’ baby-baths. Production of the Thermotube tubular heaters, then seen as an innovation, began in 1948 in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, and continued here until 1960.
A different era…
The business has not been without its challenges. An unsuccessful merger with PYE (British Electronic Industries Ltd) in 1960 contributed to a large decline in the production of its TV and radio items, not helped by the unexpected passing of Eric Cole at the age of 65 and an untimely financial scandal. Soon, PYE was up for sale.
Philips Electrical Industries, then an industry heavyweight, became the new owner of EKCO/PYE in 1967, and the organisation was separated into three different companies.
Philips were integral to the ongoing development of the Thermotube heater, which was then considered its flagship product. At one time, three entire businesses were working together to build, test and manufacture the Thermotube.
Thermo Products Ltd
Fast forward to the mid-1990s and production of the Thermotube had been moved to Plated Presswork Ltd, which was located in Ashford, Kent. The product was manufactured here by Harlow Group Ltd for Philips Electronics UK until 2000, when the plant was shut down due to the construction of the Eurostar rail network. Harlow Group Ltd eventually bought the rights to the Thermotube from Philips Electronics UK, leading to the formation of Harlow Contract Manufacturing Ltd in 2001. This company was renamed Thermo Products Ltd in 2003.
Due to a management buy-out (MBO) in 2005 involving Harlow Group Ltd, the Thermo Products Ltd subsidiary was split away from the main group of companies (Harlow Fabrications, Harlow Spraytech and Harlow Pressings). Thermo Products Ltd is now dedicated to ensuring the ongoing development of the Thermotube tubular heater and ensuring it remains an important flagship product that is cheap to run and provides a better heat output and performance than ever before. Best of all, we are proud that we have been able to keep production of Thermotube heaters right here in Essex.