How Sir Terence Conran’s design revolution began in Thetford

The Conran furniture factory in Thetford, pictured in October 1966, where Sir Terence Conran began b

The Conran furniture factory in Thetford, pictured in October 1966, where Sir Terence Conran began building his Habitat empire. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

It was at a factory unit in Thetford that Sir Terence Conran’s revolutionary design empire began to take shape.

Habitat founder Sir Terence Conran, who has died at the age of 88. Picture: PA Images

Habitat founder Sir Terence Conran, who has died at the age of 88. Picture: PA Images - Credit: PA

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.

Workers pictured leaving the Conran factory in Thetford in October 1966. Picture: Archant Library

Workers pictured leaving the Conran factory in Thetford in October 1966. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

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.

Bryan Skull worked at the Conran factory in Thetford during the 1960s, where Sir Terence Conran bega

Bryan Skull worked at the Conran factory in Thetford during the 1960s, where Sir Terence Conran began building his Habitat empire. Picture: Courtesy of Bryan Skull - Credit: Archant


You may also want to watch:


“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.

Workers pictured leaving the Conran factory in Thetford in October 1966. Picture: Archant Library

Workers pictured leaving the Conran factory in Thetford in October 1966. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

Most Read

“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.

Sir Terence Conran with The Duke of Edinburgh in 2016. The Habitat founder has died at the age of 88

Sir Terence Conran with The Duke of Edinburgh in 2016. The Habitat founder has died at the age of 88. Picture: PA Images - Credit: PA

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.

Workers pictured leaving the Conran factory in Thetford in October 1966. Picture: Archant Library

Workers pictured leaving the Conran factory in Thetford in October 1966. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

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.

A major fire devastated one of the Conran warehouses in Thetford in 1968. Picture: Archant Library

A major fire devastated one of the Conran warehouses in Thetford in 1968. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

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.

Workers at the Conran factory in Thetford staged a strike in September 1969. Picture: Archant Librar

Workers at the Conran factory in Thetford staged a strike in September 1969. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

“He could be demanding, but he was fair.”

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus