Dick Payne: Norfolk inventor of food machinery and Queen’s Award winner

Dick Payne, who headed Thurne Engineering

Dick Payne, who headed Thurne Engineering - Credit: submitted

An inventor of a resealable food label, Dick Payne, who has died peacefully aged 77 after a long illness, built up a major engineering business in Norwich.

The Thurne Food Sealer, launched in 1979, gained a worldwide reputation as the safest method to seal plastic bags for products including bread.

When Europe insisted that food labels had to include printed safety details, retail giants including Tesco and Marks & Spencer were quick to insist on the technology.

As new orders arrived, Thurne Engineering embarked on major expansion and by 1984 was employing 78 staff at Delta Close on the Vulcan Road industrial estate.

Earlier Mr Payne's team had developed high-speed slicers for the food industry – initially for bread and then later bacon and other meats. With capacity to produce up to 800 slices of meat and cheese a minute and vary thicknesses by 0.01mm, it was truly cutting edge. And when the Thurne's Polyslicer won the Queen's Award for Technological Achievement, staff were invited aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia in March 1989 for the award celebration. Two-thirds of the machines, which could cost as much as £250,000, were exported around the world.

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Born in London, Richard Payne, was educated at Lancing College, Sussex, and then joined De Havillands as a student apprentice. He worked on aeroplane engines and later became an engineering consultant and member of the Instititue of Mechanical Engineers.

He had moved from Buckinghamshire in 1968 and a year later started Thurne, named after the Norfolk river, to design and make food packaging machinery. It expanded and in 1970, bought the long-established Norwich business, Ernest Hines, then added in 1976, Estuary Engineering, of King's Lynn. Subsidiaries in the US and Germany became part of the group, now named, Bronpole, in 1984. Until 1986, he was managing director and then became chairman.

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By 1990, Mr Payne estimated that 90pc of the UK bakery market used its machines –which had formerly been imported from America or Germany.

Always of an inventive frame, his patented Food Sealer is still found on almost every supermarket shelf around the world. After he retired, he travelled widely as an international engineering consultant.

He was concerned too that the Britain had failed to encourage young people to consider a career in engineering, which would help to support British industry.

After designing and building a house at Barton Broad, later he moved to north Norfolk and bought Bale Hall, near Holt, where he took a keen interest in creating a garden.

Ski-ing in winter and sailing were his main relaxation. He sailed a Kinsman, originally at Barton, and then later off the North Norfolk coast at Morston.

He shared an interest in art with his Lancashire-born wife Ann, who is a professional painter. A couple of years ago, he was featured in a television tribute programme about the celebrated East Anglian painter and his friend Edward Seago.

A churchwarden at Bale for many years, he is survived by his widow, Ann. They were married for more than 50 years.

He leaves a daughter, Annabel, sons Matt and Alexander, and three grandsons and two granddaughters.

A funeral service will be held at All Saints' Church, Bale, on Tuesday, January 15 at 2.30pm.

Michael Pollitt

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