GEC site was huge and just like a small town and it took plenty of staff to keep it running


Employing more than 3,000 people from the local areas at its peak, the General Electrical Company, or GEC, was a major player in the Potteries and North Staffordshire.

With its headquarters based in Coventry, the electrical firm was involved with a wide range of clients from consumer to defence, supplying electronics, communication and engineering products and services.

Here in North Staffordshire, GEC set up shop on the West Avenue industrial Estate, Kidsgrove.

It was in the late 1960s that a 15-year-old John Cliffe, on the verge of finishing high school first came into contact with the electrical giant, as it sought to recruit its next wave of apprentices.

“It was 1966,” said John. “GEC apparently phoned the school looking for apprentices. At the time they were hiring groups of between 10-20. I ended up being one of the ones taken on.”

Throughout the company’s time, in the background it was constantly merging or partnering with other technology firms, always looking to expand.

As for young school-leaver John he found himself taken on as a wireman, learning the ropes of the trade as he went. It was a challenging role but good. He said: “They sent me to Newcastle College on day release learning electrical engineering. I was there for four years.

“I also attended their training school for a few weeks before being thrust onto the shop floor to begin my apprenticeship as a wireman.

“At that time they occupied both sides of West Avenue then, later when the Labour government formed ICL Computers, my section was moved to the Industrial Controls side of the road.”

Recalling his time there, John remembers what a huge and diverse place it was. “When I started working there, GEC was a major employer,” he says. “The site was like a small town with its own doctor’s surgery, bank and garage for the company cars.

“It was a real family atmosphere to work in and I made many long-term friends. We had a camera club, gardening club, and a cricket team with a pitch at Oakhanger, Alsager.

“They were working on a range of things, from supplying the control gear for power stations to mining companies and even a bit of work with the Ministry of Defence.

“They were a stable employer, pumping a lot of money into the North Staffordshire economy at the time. It was a very much a place where you worked until you retired or passed away. They also took on a lot of veterans after the Second World War. The whole place was self-contained, they made everything, it was all done on-site.”

GEC’s place as both a big employer and manufacturer continued until the late early 90s when, according to John, the firm was sold to French firm Alstom.

“Different management was brought in, with new ideas on how to run the company,” he says. “Cost-cutting began, and with it mass redundancies.

“Being a union rep, we were told that a major re-organisation of the site was needed to stay competitive. This would be done with a new integrated computer system at Kidsgrove and people would have to be let go to pay for this.”

Seeing the writing on the wall. In 1992 John decided to leave, going to Staffordshire University to study computer systems. After graduating, he obtained employment with Co-op Logistics. By the late 90s, GEC found itself heavily in debt and by the turn of the millennium the firm as it was known had gone.

In its new guise, under the name of Marconi, it struggled on until October 2006 when that too went out of business. “It was rather sad to see it used as a storage depot in its last days before its demolition,” says John. “The factory in its heyday brought a lot of employment and money into the Stoke-on-Trent economy





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