This could be the oldest family firm in Portsmouth...

BUILDING has been at the heart of this family business for more than 200 years – and now the directors have spoken with pride about their rich heritage.

Monday, 21st January 2019, 6:25 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 6:03 pm
(l-r) Co-directors of T Coleborn & Son Ltd Barry Thomas and Eric Coleborn, in Kirpal Road, Portsmouth. Pictured holding copies of the original apprenticeship indentures from 1783. Picture: Sarah Standing (150119-6119)

T Coleborn & Son started in 1783 and is possibly the oldest business in Portsmouth. 

Even more impressive than that, it’s in the same family, with seventh generation descendant Eric Coleborn at its helm.

Eric, 61, puts the business’s longevity down to the hard work of his ancestors, including his father Alec. 

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(l-r) Co-directors of T Coleborn & Son Ltd Barry Thomas and Eric Coleborn, in Kirpal Road, Portsmouth. Pictured holding copies of the original apprenticeship indentures from 1783. Picture: Sarah Standing (150119-6119)

He said: ‘There’s a huge responsibility but we are very proud of our workforce. 

‘I think that my father and going back from him worked very hard. Their way of working was to make certain that they were the hardest-working people in the company and everybody followed them.’ 

Eric started at the business as an apprentice, before he went and enjoyed a career at Portsmouth Football Club, leaving T Coleborn in the hands of his brother Gordon. When their father died, Eric was brought back to the firm to help. Something he thought he would never do. 

‘If you had told me 40 years ago that I would take over the business I would have said “no way” but people’s attitudes change,’ he said.

(l-r) Co-directors of T Coleborn & Son Ltd Barry Thomas and Eric Coleborn, in Kirpal Road, Portsmouth. Picture: Sarah Standing (150119-6133)

‘There’s a big responsibility with all that history to make sure the business carries on.’ 

Eric, who also runs the Glass and Mirror Centre in Kingston Road and is still actively involved with Portsmouth Football Club as the chairman of the women’s team, now runs the business with Barry Thomas, from Waterlooville. 

Barry, 61, also has connection to the Coleborn family, with Eric’s brother Gordon – who died eight years ago – marrying Barry’s sister Lorraine. 

Barry has been involved with the firm for 30 years and says he’s proud to be part of a business that has such strong links to Portsmouth. 

He said: ‘We have documented proof of the company being formed. There is a history of the Coleborn family and it has stayed the same - a local Portsmouth based building firm. And it’s still going strong.’ 

It has been joked that T Coleborn & Son was so old, it had built parts of Victory – while this may just be frivolity, the firm has worked on some impressive buildings at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, as well as carrying out work on other Portsmouth landmarks such as St Mary’s Church and the thatched barn in Milton. 

Today, it specialises in building, decorating and refurbishment and mainly carries out contract work for local authorities, like Hampshire County Council, or schools or organisations like English Heritage. 

And it employs 18 staff – eight of which are former apprentices. 

‘Not many people leave here,’ said Barry. 

T Coleborn started life in Newcastle Street, before moving to Sandringham Road, and then finally to Kirpal Road in April 2005. But after 236 years, there are no plans to slow down.

Barry said: ‘Every year we talk about when we are going to retire, but we are not sure what will happen to T Coleborn & Son. I have a son who is a carpentry apprentice so there may be a way forward, we’ll see.’