May 2016 Speaker
‘THE HISTORY OF THE BRITISH BATA COMPANY’ 11th May 2016
BY MEMBERS OF THE BATA REMINISCENCE CENTRE
Members from the Bata Reminiscence Centre from East Tilbury gave an excellent presentation about the company’s history. Mike Tarbard began by explaining how Tomas Bata had started in business at the age of 17 in Eastern Europe. Though he was not initially successful in his early projects, when his early business closed down he repaid all his creditors. Tomas’s father was a shoe maker in what was then Moravia. Tomas decided he wanted to branch out into other European countries, including Britain. Unfortunately he was killed in an air crash in l932 just before the Bata business was established in East Tilbury in l933. Land was cheap in East Tilbury and it was near the Thames, with good possibilities for transport. When work commenced at the first factory, people walked significant distances to get a job there, partly because there was little other industry in the area and it was in the middle of the Depression.
Mike showed slides of the various buildings that eventually covered several acres of what was to become a model village. There was a large cinema, a hotel, a swimming pool, a school and lots of company houses for rent at very modest prices. You had to keep your garden tidy otherwise you received a reminder from the company. It was explained that in time virtually the only amenities not provided were a church or a public house. The company also ran a farm and children at school had milk supplied from it, as did the staff restaurant and the milk bar. Buses provided transport for employees for those who did not live on site and in time a railway station was also established.
Mike explained that the company was virtually self-sufficient in all its requirements for production including packing, though some material was brought in from their other factories subsequently set up in the UK.
Sports were also a big hit at Bata, with its numerous sports facilities. Each year West Ham played a Bata team which helped to publicise the company and several celebrities from other sports, including Fatima Whitbread, also helped publicise the Power sports shoes.
Paul Addington then recounted his time as a young man at Bata. He applied for training in the company’s technical college. There was a formal interview and quite number of people applied for this training each year. He worked his way up in administration and studied successfully for the equivalent of today’s Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. Most people joined Bata and progressed within the company. The Bata Technical College had its own building next to the school. It arranged for graduates
to attend the college on a three year course and also sent people on sandwich courses in production management and commerce and accounting at various technical colleges.
Graham Sutcliffe worked as an engineer for many years and spoke about his long service with the company and how he had the disheartening job at the end of dismantling much of the equipment at the East Tilbury factory for installation in Bata factories in Africa and elsewhere. This was preliminary to the company which once employed 3000 people, closing down in 2006.
After the speakers had made their contributions there were many questions from members, followed by very warm round of applause