In July 1899, Dr Tibbles Vi-Cocoa (1898) Ltd. purchased 50 acres of land bounded by St Albans Road, Bushey Mill Lane and the branch line from Watford to St Albans. In a letter to Watford Council it stated that the company intended to construct two roads on the lower part of the land and build a factory.
By 1903 the factory employed around 600 people, two-thirds of whom were young girls, the rest being men and boys. Although the premises were known as the Vi-Cocoa Company it was understood that the business was confined to the preparation of chocolate in its various forms. The resident manager was Mr Boisselier and almost all of his employees lived in the town.
In February 1903, a fire started in the basement of the south corner of the factory and fanned by a fairly stiff south-westerly breeze it quickly spread to become the largest that had ever occurred in Watford. The extent of the fire was so great that the works were closed and all employees received one week's wages and notice to leave their employment.
The factory was re-built. As The Watford Manufacturing Company, they masterminded munitions production in The Great War, but in September 1917 suffered another fire. A store room containing dried milk, nuts, advertising material and a consignment of Vi-Cocoa about to be dispatched to the troops caught fire and the contents of the building made possible the prospect of a fire of 1903 proportions. However the efforts of the fire-fighters ensured that damage was kept to a minimum and the factory was able to open as usual the following morning.
The Watford Manufacturing Company expected great business after the war and had a large factory built. But this did not materialise, the building became a white elephant, was unfinished and bankrupted the company in 1922. This building cost in the region of £350,000, was six stories high and had a floor space of 158,000 square feet.
The buildings remained empty until 1929 when they were taken over by The Electric Hose and Rubber Company (an American firm) and was known as The British Moulded Hose Company (who used the top floor for the production of Penicillin during World War 2). In the early 1930's the single story buildings opposite Parkgate School were used as a government training centre.
There was another fire on the site in June 1961, which gutted much of the building, which was later restored. British Moulded Hose relinquished the building in 1977 and the building was demolished.
Research: Paul; North Watford History Group.
Author: Paul; North Watford History Group.
Photograph: with kind permission of the London & North Western Railway Society.
- Nunn, J.B.; The Book of Watford
[Added by Glen: 9:49pm 13 Oct 2008]
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