‘It came like a bolt out of the blue’ - remembering the day a town’s historic printing works closed down
It was a day that Fakenham will never forget. The closure of the Fakenham Press hit the town hard and marked the end of its association with an industry which had brought employment to generations of people. Almost 40 years on, AARON MCMILLAN reports on that fateful day and the impact it had on Fakenham...
When a market town’s printing works shut down almost 40 years ago it was seen as a loss of cultural heritage.
Fakenham Press on White Horse Street was one of the town’s biggest employers when it closed in 1982. All 235 people working there lost their jobs.
When it hit the front page of the Eastern Daily Press on Friday, August 20, the redundancies brought the unemployment level in Fakenham to at least 15pc, 3pc above the national average.
Speaking on the day, the town’s employment officer Bill Bird said: “This has come as a bolt out of the blue, and the picture looks very bleak indeed.
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“We have no printing jobs on our books at all.
“These are skilled men. They will have to retrain or move away.”
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Fakenham man Jim Baldwin was there when the announcement was made.
He said the team were called to the town’s cinema where the press chairman Simon Clay told his staff the printing works were closing down.
But he said word had already spread - and that the whole town seemed to know.
“It seems that the people working in the town knew what was going on before we did,” he said.
“At lunchtime, I had to go home and tell my wife who could not believe it. My friends and relatives said they were not surprised and no one in the town was.
“When we got back to the office, many conversations were going on.
“One colleague had signed up for a new house that morning and others were thinking about getting another job.”
The firm suffered pre-tax losses of £383,000 in 1981. The press, which was owned by the Clay group of Bungay, had other factories in Norwich, Bungay, Northumberland and Singapore. They all made a profit in the same year.
The Fakenham Press’s losses put the whole company in the red.
Vice-chairman of Fakenham Town Council and a former Fakenham Press worker, Noel Edwards, said he was saddened, but not surprised, at the closure.
“I am very concerned about the effect this will have on the town,” he said at the time.
“The shops will feel the pinch. I shall approach North Norfolk District Council to see how much help can be given to attract more industry to Fakenham.”
Mr Baldwin said that some of the staff broke off and set up their own printing works. He said that’s where he found his next job after he attempted to set up his own.
Efforts were made to save the business. Workers got together with Trade Union officers with the idea of forming a consortium to buy Fakenham Press.
“They nearly did it”, Mr Baldwin said.
“But, the owners were keen on closing it down.”
The press closed in December that year and was pulled down in 1987.
Mr Baldwin said there was “a moment of quiet in the town” after the closure.
He added that most of his colleagues seemed to get jobs. Although, some of his coworkers moved away to get them.
“I seem to remember that there was just a handful who did not get employment”, he said.
The town suffered greatly and this was further aggravated by the closure of the huge United States Air Force base at RAF Sculthorpe in 1992.
However, Fakenham is starting to thrive again, with food factories and employment on the town’s industrial estate.
The land on which the printing works stood is home to two car parks, the supermarket Aldi, most of Miller’s Walk shopping arcade, the chocolate factory Kinnerton and Aldiss.
The Fakenham heritage trail has a plaque in honour of the printing works attached to the Argos on Miller’s Walk.
Printing blocks were laid in the town’s market square in the early 2000s when a North Norfolk District Council project refurbished the town centre.
The blocks can be found outside Sew Sweets in the square as a symbolic gesture and to remind people of how the Fakenham Press was a major economic driver in the town’s history.
Despite closing almost 40 years ago, Mr Baldwin said Fakenham’s printing works still “remain in people’s minds after all these years.”