How Sir Terence Conran’s design revolution began in Thetford
- Credit: Archant Library
It was at a factory unit in Thetford that Sir Terence Conran’s revolutionary design empire began to take shape.
The Habitat founder, who has died at the age of 88, had already created Conran Fabrics and Conran Design Group by the time he relocated his furnituremaking business from London to Norfolk in 1962.
The company, then named Conran and Co Ltd, was based primarily on Burrell Way, but proceedings also stretched to old maltings on Station Road and Croxton Road.
With him, Sir Terence took almost 80 workers before launching Summa, a furniture range comprising flat-pack products made on home soil.
Bryan Skull, who worked as production controller and later as director of Conran Fabrics, recalls making the move to Thetford when he was just 23 years old.
“I joined Terence in his furniture factory down in Camberwell, knowing he was going to move to Thetford,” said Mr Skull, 81.
“When I arrived I was in charge of laying the factory out and deciding where everything would go.
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“It pleased lots of people who lived and worked in London, to come and have a garden and more space - including me. Another single guy and myself had a council house at Kimms Belt.”
In 1964, the first Habitat store opened on the capital’s Fulham Road, allowing Sir Terence to sell his stylish designs.
From there, the retailer went from strength to strength, unveiling further stores during the 1960s including its best-known branch on Tottenham Court Road.
But back in Thetford, disaster struck in 1968 when the warehouse and cutting premises on Station Road was gutted by fire, causing £200,000 worth of damage.
Habitat had, by this point, merged with stationery retailer, Ryman, and was soon in the news again as staff staged a strike in September 1969.
A year later Habitat broke away from Ryman, which retained the Thetford premises - a move that saw dozens of factory workers made redundant.
Mr Skull, who chose to depart in 1969, looks back on his experience working under Sir Terence with fondness.
He added: “When the factory closed and workers were made redundant, Terence helped people set up their own businesses and bought from them to support them.
“He could be demanding, but he was fair.”