This week, we continue to look back at the history of the Slough Trading Estate, which celebrated its centenary last year.

The First World War was the first major war after the industrialisation of the western economies.

This revolutionised the way in which the war was fought, with horrendous new weapons and new forms of transport.

Although horse drawn transport was still used at the beginning of the war, this was gradually replaced by motorised vehicles.

When Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914 British forces only had 47 lorries. By the time the war ended the total ran to tens of thousands.

These vehicles needed to be maintained and repaired, although many were just left to deteriorate on the battlefields of continental Europe.

In 1917, with the end of the war still a distant prospect, the Army Council decided that a centralised national vehicle repair depot should be established as soon as possible.

The criteria for a suitable site stated that it should be within 40 miles of London, to the west of it (to reduce air raid risk) and that it should be close to a railway line.

The site eventually chosen was the Cippenham Court Farm Estate. After months of wrangling the Government finally approved the scheme on May 23, 1918.

Work began on the site to form the Slough Motor Repair Depot in July 1918. This coincided with the major offensive launched on July 15 known as the Second Battle of the Marne, which was a desperate last attempt by Germany to win the war.

The war ended only four months later, much sooner than had seemed likely when the repair depot had opened in July.

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Construction of the depot was allowed to continue so the Government could repair the damaged war vehicles and get a higher price in return, rather than selling them just for scrap value.

However the scheme became subject to heavy criticism in the national press as the proverbial “White Elephant”.

Demonstrations took place and the site became known locally as The Dump, a name which survived for several decades.

The site finally became operational in 1919. Vehicles in need of repair began to arrive, together with large quantities of spare parts.

By March of that year the project employed all the available local men. The rest of the workforce, which now totalled 3,400, were either accommodated in wooden huts on the site, or commuted in by train.

At first these men would alight at Burnham Beeches station and walk down Burnham Lane to the site.

Later in 1919 a branch line was constructed directly to an on-site station in the depot. By then the depot was fully operational, with rows of large buildings for the storage of vehicles, spare parts and workshops.

One building alone covered eight acres and could accommodate 15,000 vehicles, the largest facility under one roof in the UK at that time.

The spare parts alone were said to value £15m (a staggering £675m in modern day prices).

Auctions to dispose of the stock had also commenced.

In its early years, the Slough Trading Estate was involved in the disposal of surplus warships for the Admiralty.

One of the co-founders of the company, Commander McGrath, had built up a close relationship with the Government from his service for Winston Churchill in theWW1 tank programme.

McGrath negotiated the contract for the sale of the warships – a total of around thirty vessels, including battleships, cruisers and destroyers – which contained strict rules regarding their disposal.

The purchase price was agreed at 39 shillings per ton, with a nominal contract value of £351,000.

Slough Trading Estate had a buyer for the ships, which most likely came via the Government, in the form of a German shipbreaker based in Berlin.

The price agreed was 40 shillings and 6d per ton, which was predicted to give the company a profit of £40,000.

There was no report of the deal in the newspapers of the time, which suggests that the arrangement of the UK Government selling old warships directly to their wartime enemy would have been regarded as a huge embarrassment.

To avoid the necessity of German tugs turning up to British naval ports to take away the old warships, records suggest the Admiralty agreed to deliver the vessels itself.

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By the beginning of 1921 business at the Slough site was well underway. In February the Pall Mall Gazette sent a reporter to take a look at what was happening there.

He found it “has been transformed from a wilderness of sheds and broken-down motor vehicles into imposing and well-ordered engineering works.

There are gigantic motor workshops, one of which covers eight acres of ground, and in addition chocolate and safety razor factories, whilst an enormous store has been let-off as a wool dump, valued at several hundred thousand pounds.

“One shop is packed with Ricardo tank-engines. Out of a complete tank the company have constructed (for their own use at present) a very efficient locomotive of 250-h.p.

“Another instance of the company’s versatility is the 30-seater charabanc which they are building upon a well-known chassis at a price of £950.

“An official of the company told our representative that he believed no other [site] in the wide world contained such a comprehensive stock of the component parts of very nearly every make of car on the market.

“Auction sales take place at Slough twice a week, but buyers flock in daily.”

At this time STC advertised in The Times almost continuously, an example being from March 1922 stating: “Rentals of from 7d a square foot yearly, and the advantage of low rates, for new factories, having exceptionally large uninterrupted floor space and the facilities for obtaining power and all the other services for which the company’s property is well known.”

The Times claimed: “The firm informs us that two lettings have been affected as a direct result of this publicity: The Channell Chemical Company, who manufacture in America the O-Cedar mops and polishes.

Pedigree Stock Sales Company, has acquired commodious buildings for the sale of pedigree livestock and Friesian Cattle, which is being imported from South Africa.”

STC issued a leaflet in November 1924 which listed a total of 36 companies which had leased premises. These included Barclays Bank, Crane Packing and Zwicky.

The number had nearly doubled to 65 in April 1927 and now included other major household names such as Gillette, Johnson & Johnson, Black & Decker and Citroen.

By May 1925 the original task of repairing and selling theWW1 vehicles had been completed, and the activities of STC had changed to become an estate management company.

So, on August 7, 1925, Royal Assent was given to the Slough Trading Company Act 1925, which authorised the company to build roads, lay water mains, steam pipes, electricity cables and drains.

The act was the company’s green light to go ahead with large scale development. In June 1926 it was decided to change the name of the Company to Slough Estates Ltd as this more accurately described its activities.

The Annual Report presented at the AGM for the year 1925 stated that “in spite of having one of the most up-to-date power houses in the country your directors are having to install another £15,000 worth of additional turbines and plant”.

At that time the gross rent roll was over £50,000 pa, mostly on long-term leases. The Estate had 11 miles of railway track and five miles of roads.

The company had erected 82 brick-built cottages, 52 timber-built bungalows for housing its employees, and was to erect a further large number of houses.

‘The Dump’ was set to become the largest industrial estate in Europe under single company ownership.

This piece first appeared in a centenary feature for SEGRO in May 2020. With special thanks to the Slough Trading Estate.