A Long Reign for Witham Group

A Long Reign for Witham Group

In the special year of the Coronation of the new King, we reflect on how Witham Group has changed and remained resilient over the reigns of four different monarchs and why looking after their people and their communities, with products made to the highest of standards, will always be at the very heart of what they do.

The company started in 1921 on the side of the Brayford Pool in Lincoln, an area then renowned for its industry. Using the river Witham to transport raw materials, the business started off as the Witham Oil & Candle Company making bicycle oils, candles and carbide for local businesses.

George V at that time was King and had been for 11 years. He had not expected to be king, but when his elder brother died, he became the heir apparent. His years on the throne were difficult; the First World War in 1914 – 1918 and the troubles in Ireland which led to the creation of the Irish Free State were considerable problems. In 1932 he began the royal broadcasts on Christmas Day and in 1935 he celebrated his Silver Jubilee. His latter years were overshadowed by his concern about the Prince of Wales and his infatuation with Mrs. Simpson.

During these times, the demand for machinery and industrialisation grew and transport evolved from horse and cart and steam power to vans, tractors and cars, so the business expanded. Their product range changed with the times to make lubricants and greases for engines and a wide variety of the new machinery and equipment being installed in a whole range of local industries.

 

By this time George VI was on the throne, following the Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII’s decision to abdicate to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson). He was very popular and well loved by the British people.

The Second World War started in 1939 and throughout the King and Queen set an example of courage and fortitude. They remained at Buckingham Palace for the duration of the war despite the bombing. The Palace was bombed more than once. The two Princesses, Elizabeth, and Margaret, spent the war years at Windsor Castle. George was in close touch with the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill throughout the war and both had to be dissuaded from landing with the troops in Normandy on D-Day!

The post-war years of his reign were ones of great social change and saw the start of the National Health Service. The whole country flocked to the Festival of Britain held in London in 1951, 100 years after the Great Exhibition during Victoria’s reign.

Needing to support customers and grow the Witham Oil business further, especially during and after the war, Les Bottom, came to work for the Smith family who owned the company as a salesperson. Les is the current Managing Director – Nigel Bottom’s grandfather. In 1952, the company moved premises from the original site on the Brayford Pool to Webb Street in Lincoln and there the company started its path to further success. On earth floors, the company blended lubricants for many types of customers, not only in Lincolnshire now but also into parts of Nottinghamshire and beyond. Agriculture was changing and needed oils and greases for tractors, combines, sprayers and haulage to transport the produce. This became one of Witham’s specialisms. Knowing the local farming communities well, unique and high-quality products were developed to serve the prosperous agricultural heartland of Lincolnshire and neighbouring counties.

On 6 February 1952, the Queen’s father, King George VI died suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep. Aged just 52, the King had undergone surgery for carcinoma in September the year prior and had been slowly recovering. The death of her father meant the then-Princess Elizabeth became the Queen when she was 25 years old. As she was in Kenya at the time, Her Majesty became the first sovereign in over 200 years to accede the throne while abroad.

Like her parents, Elizabeth was heavily involved in the war effort during the Second World War, serving in the women’s branch of the British Army known as the Auxiliary Territorial Service, training as a driver and mechanic. Elizabeth and her sister Margaret anonymously joined the crowded streets of London on VE Day to celebrate the end of the war. She married Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and they had four children: Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward. When her father George VI died, Elizabeth became Queen of seven Commonwealth countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka). Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953 was the first to be televised, serving to increase popularity in the medium and doubling television licence numbers in the UK.

 

The Queen’s Coronation 1953

The products and services of Witham Oil and Paint Ltd continued to expand, new team members were needed and so Les’ son Geoff Bottom, aged 15, at the time, joined his father in the business in 1965. This was in addition to the Smith family who originally started the business back in 1921 and Alan Smith, who was the third generation joined in a technical capacity at the same time.

Over the next few years, they employed many hard working and loyal team members, some of which are still working at the Lincoln factory today. Under this unique partnership the company grew beyond anything the founding fathers would have ever hoped for. Concentrating mainly on products for agriculture and haulage which was, of course some of the biggest industries in Lincolnshire at the time. The key beliefs of the business were (and still are!) to offer the best prices they could backed up by the best service that bigger companies could not match. The company kept on growing geographically and by the early 80’s, Witham products were being used extensively throughout both Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, and Suffolk.

In 1984, the much-prized Royal Estate in Sandringham became users of their Qualube lubricants and Woco paint products, which was the start of a very proud relationship for the Witham Group and in 1991 they were appointed the Royal Warrant to HM The Queen. The Appointment was only the start of a magical journey which has culminated in us supplying lubricants and paints for the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, as well as other connected properties, estates and farmland linked to the Royal Households throughout the UK.

By 1987, the Webb Street premises were not large enough to cope with the growth of the business, so the company moved to their current site on Outer Circle Road in Lincoln. The whole factory was moved by the team, their own lorries and a lot of blood, sweat and tears!

Geoff Bottom and Alan Smith outside the Witham Factor on Outer Circle Rd in 1987

In 1993, they purchased a new company called Eastern Counties Lubricants Ltd in Soham, Cambridgeshire. This was the start of the Witham Group of companies. Soham now assisted in the distribution and expansion of their products in East Anglia, South and across the Midlands and developed as a vital trade depot over the years ahead.

With the retirement of Geoff and Alan, 2004 saw the third generation of the Bottom family taking on the reigns. Nigel Bottom became Group Managing Director, his brother, Richard – Transport Director and a new Board of Directors with Mick Kenyon taking on Technical and Operational aspects and Richard Scarbrough as Sales Director.

The 4th generation of the Smith family is continuing within the business with Dominic Smith, Alan’s son who ensures the blending quality of their products remains the highest it can be. The new and growing team ensured the Witham Group would be in safe hands and continue to grow from strength to strength.

In 2007, with Soham growing rapidly, the depot soon outgrew its premises and so moved to a new address on Regal Drive in Soham. With a brand-new trade shop and room for more stock and storage, this location serviced their expanding customer base throughout Cambridgeshire and the Midlands. No longer was the business based on supplying mainly agricultural and haulage industries. Now plant and off road, marine, horticulture, automotive and many other types of businesses were on-board.

The huge popularity of the royal wedding in 2011 between the Queen’s grandson, Prince William, and Kate Middleton, now the Prince and Princess of Wales, reflected the high profile of the British Monarchy at home and abroad. 2012 was also an important year for the royal family, as the nation celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, her 60th year as Queen.

As members of the Royal Warrant Association, Witham Group are proud to have been involved in many events including the Royal Coronation Festival held at Buckingham Palace in July 2013.

The Royal Warrant helps underline the company’s commitment to maintaining and building its reputation as producers of the finest quality lubricants and paints and suppliers of excellence.

2015 also saw the immensely exciting launch of the Witham Motorsport Brand. They love all things cars and racing, and Witham Motorsport is used to capture their enthusiasm for, and involvement in, many different motorsport industries throughout the UK.

The cost and environmental impact of traditional lubricant manufacturing has for many years been huge. Witham Group wanted to change this and in 2018 developed the new unique concept of Blendtek, a flexible blending solution using ultra sound technology and solar panels. This special technique improves the speed of product blending, slashes normal gas and electricity energy consumption and is totally scalable to suit manufacturer’s requirements. They are humbled that their innovation is now being marketed across the world to other lubricant blenders so helping create an unprecedented carbon neutral blending process and sustainable legacy to the global lubricant Industry.

In 2021, they were proud to hold the company’s 100th Annual General Meeting at Lincoln, with the Board of Directors congratulating the business on reaching this amazing milestone.

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