Centenary year for Norfolk family firm

It is a very special year for agricultural machinery manufacturer GT Bunning &Sons. For there has been a Bunning family business on the company's mid-Norfolk site for the past 100 years.

It is a very special year for

agricultural machinery manufacturer GT Bunning &Sons.

For there has been a Bunning family business on the company's mid-Norfolk site for the past 100 years.

It was in 1906 that journeyman blacksmith Robert Bunning settled at Gressenhall. In 1925 he was joined by his son, George Thomas Bunning, whose initials form the business name.

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David Bunning, George's middle son and chronicler of the family history, knew his grandfather had also been the village dentist as well as blacksmith.

"Shoeing a pony or small horse cost two shillings (10p) in 1906; a cart-horse would have set the owner back 3s 6d (17.5p). Today, a complete set of shoes on a cart-horse could be over £100," he said.

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As horse-power on the farm waned, demand for shoeing lapsed, so the firm expanded

into agricultural repairs.

After the second world war, George forged the next generation into a strong family concern. David's preference for the engineering side resulted in the building, in 1959, of the first manufac-tured product: a simple farm trailer fabricated from mild steel. "We made two trailers for a local farmer. The total bill came to £94. Today, you couldn't get one wheel for that," said David.

As technology advanced the business adapted and further trailers and agricultural equipment were developed. Then in 1962 John Bunning joined his father and brother in the business.

Three years on, David wanted a building plot next to the factory. The farmer wanted a tipping trailer, so a straight swap was struck and he paid both solicitors' fees: a grand sum of £37. And a year later, the farmer needed a spring-tine harrow, another trade was agreed and another new product was added to the growing Bunning portfolio.

The workforce still consisted of just five people including George, David and John.

In 1969, Robin Bunning left his career with the Royal Marines and began looking into the demand for specialist trailers. The onset of regular manufacture and an increase in overall production led to rapid expansion. Then, in 1976, George Bunning retired and Robin, David and John were running the business.

In the late 1970s, the seeds were sown for the develop-ment of the industrial arm with the invention of the pallet inverter. Designed to transfer items such as bags of fertiliser from one pallet to another in a single operation, it became a worldwide business.

Further expansion in the 1980s followed on a five-acre site and two new factory workshops were built for the

then 35-strong workforce.

The machinery range developed to include tanks, bowsers and, in 1983, manure spreaders. And it was John who made the first of what was to become one of the company's signature products.

He recalled: "David had bought a small farm next to where he lived and had begun doing some agricultural contracting work. He'd bought a couple of muck-spreaders but they kept breaking down, and I said: 'I'll make you one that will last.'"

"I never did get that spreader!" said David, "It was shown to a number of local farmers who all wanted one, and mine was sold."

These spreaders took the company into export markets.

Over the next 20 years, GT Bunning became a respected agricultural machinery manufacturer in the UK. The range of trailers, tankers and spreaders grew, and, with production at full capacity, the workforce expanded to around 45 employees. In 1995 the firm was incorporated as GT Bunning & Sons.

By 2002 the signs pointed to an inevitable drop in UK market demand. But the directors identified an opportunity in Canada.

An agent imported the Bunning range of spreaders, but the shipping costs of the largest model made the product uncompetitive. So it was decided to licence the product for manufacture. An agreement in late 2006 was finalised to make the top-of-the-range Bunning spreader under licence in Canada.

Today GT Bunning & Sons is still very much a family business. The eldest brother, Robin, is managing director, Greg Shepherd, general manager, is responsible for day-to-day running, while David has general repairs and John heads up product development.

Admin has been the domain of Robin's wife Doreen for the last 30 years, and it is only recently that Heather, David's wife, has retired from running the payroll, the task having now been taken on by her daughter, Sarah.

Caroline Bunning, Robin's daughter, oversees office management, advertising and marketing, and two fourth-generation sons have followed fathers into the business. James, David's son, is final assembly supervisor and John's son Robert, is the stores manager.

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