New exhibition at The Spring tells the story behind Havant kitchenware giant Kenwood, its founder Ken Wood and his fun-loving workers
DIALS, mixing bowls, and sturdy steel frames would have all have flowed along the production line as the early Kenwood Chefs were pieced together at the firm’s Havant HQ in the 1960s.
When assembled they beat not only eggs and flour, but the world – revolutionising the way those fortunate enough to be able to afford them interacted with their kitchens at home.
But behind each finished Chef was the team responsible for piecing it together, and behind them, the man who imagined the appliance in the first place – the late entrepreneur Ken Wood.
Using his unpublished autobiography and more than 40 interviews from former Kenwood employees, a free new exhibition at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre in Havant explores the global giant's history, both before and after its move to the town from Woking in 1962.
Project coordinator Steve Murray said: ‘Moving to Havant happened because Ken wanted to get into the refrigeration business and he needed a bigger premises to do that.
‘That didn’t actually take off in the end, but after they were established in Havant, Kenwood started to employ people to manufacture all sorts of products – the Kenwood Chef being the gold standard – as well as electronic carving knives, can openers and other bits and bobs designed to help around the kitchen.
‘It’s been a major employer in Havant now for almost 60 years but it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride over that time.
‘Ken left the company in 68’ following a buyout by Thorn, then there was a management buyout in 1989, and of course the tale of much of British manufacturing is that it moved production to China eventually and jobs were lost.
‘Our exhibition tells the whole of that story – but also the stories of Kenwood’s workers.’
Made possible by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of more than £55,000, work on the exhibition began in September when The Spring hosted a 60s-themed open day, welcoming former Kenwood workers from both Woking and Havant.
Since then dozens of them have proffered up their memories and physical trinkets from the firm, including multiple Kenwood Chefs and a gold watch given to an employee by Ken Wood for long service.
One wall of Steve's display hones in on the at-times raucous social life enjoyed by Kenwood staff.
‘Kenwood was a good example of a company that looked after its employees,' he said.
‘In Woking that began when it organised day trips to seaside destinations, basically so employees could spend the day drinking and enjoying themselves.
‘When they got back to Woking, they enjoyed it so much they wanted to do it more regularly – so that initiated the start of what was known as the Kenwood Sports and Social Club.
‘That continued over to Havant and there are lots of fun stories about the club itself, including the way its subsidised prices meant you could buy alcohol very cheaply – four whiskies for a quid, for example.
‘It was a vibrant time and because Ken was a man of the people, he would often go down to the social club and pull the first drink himself.’
As the grandson of confectionery manufacturer Charles Riley Maynard, founder of confectionary firm Maynards, making a name in business ran in Ken Wood’s family.
But one aspect of The Spring’s exhibition – Steve’s favourite – explains how Kenwood’s fate, as well as another high street brand’s, could once have been so different.
‘When Ken invented the Kenwood Chef he planned to launch it at the Ideal Home exhibition in 1950, so he put an advert in a trade paper to say the product was going,’ Steve said.
‘He saw another advert in that paper, by HMV, which we now know as a music shop, that said they had also invented a domestic food mixer that seemed to be quite similar. That worried him.
‘He got in touch with them, it was established they both had patents, so they agreed to go back to the patenting office and see who’d submitted them first – that person would have the market.
‘Ken had to wait a number of weeks, six or so, but he found out he had put his patent in weeks before HMV, at which point they stepped back and said fine, you’ve got this market, and the Kenwood Chef became the Kenwood Chef.
‘Who knows what would’ve happened if HMV put their patent in first.’
On two television screens, the exhibition also features a film in which designer Sir Kenneth Grange talks about his work on the Kenwood Chef, while another illustrates the social life enjoyed by the company’s staff.
A book featuring workers’ memories of former and current employees will be released in September and a documentary about the Kenwood story will be available to watch online soon.
The Kenwood in Havant exhibition will run until Saturday, June 29.
The Spring is open from 10am to 5pm from Monday to Friday, closing at 4pm on Saturdays.
Praise from the top
CURRENT managing director of Kenwood, Mark Welch, has praised The Spring for its exhibition.
The company remains in Havant, in New Lane, after being acquired by De'Longhi in 2001 and has its own factory shop – where customers can get advice and see product demonstrations.
Mr Welch said: ‘I would like to thank the Spring for coordinating the project.
‘The project has highlighted the important role Kenwood has played in the Havant community.
‘It has been a privilege to listen to employee (ex and current) stories about their time working for Kenwood and the impact it has on their lives.
‘It has also been interesting to gain an understanding of how Kenneth Wood established and managed Kenwood in the early days of the company's history.
‘He instilled strong values in the company that are still present and important today.’