It is now 20 years since the “hooter” sounded for the final time at Queens Engineering Works and one of the manufacturing giants of Bedford came to a sad end. Or did it?
Mention the name of W. H. Allen in the town and many will say “Oh, I worked there!” or “My mum, dad, uncle, aunt or friend worked for them!”
Others fondly remember the sight of cyclists pouring in their hundreds out of the works entrance on Ford End Road and over the railway bridge or perhaps remember the river festival parades and boats, sometimes sponsored by the company.
While it’s true the hustle and bustle of up to 2,500 workers and the sight of the giant Allen machinery being transported through the town streets has long since gone, the family firm still lives on in a variety of forms.
First, there are the businesses that grew from Allens such as Allen Diesels in the Pilgrim Centre Bedford; Bedford Pumps in Kempston and the Weir Group “Allen Steam Turbines” in Oakley.
All still going strong and building on the expertise of almost 120 years of W. H. Allen and Sons expertise.
Second, there is all the Allen machinery throughout the UK and around the world some of which is still running and being maintained sometimes by the above local businesses.
Third there is the heritage of Allen machinery now on view in several museums such as the Internal Fire Museum in Ceredigion, West Wales (Internalfire.com), a private collection in Staffordshire and of course Bedford’s own Higgins Museum.
But what really made W. H Allen stand out from the rest was its people, the people of Bedford and beyond. When William Henry Allen first opened the Queens Works in 1894 his philosophy was to treat his employees with respect and gain their support and commitment.
He instigated an Allen Institute (The Allen Club) for social events, dining, and recreation in the evenings; The Allen Park with a wide range of sporting facilities; the allotments at Biddenham; trips and outings for employees and their families, and again many will remember these times as ex-employees or children of ex-employees.
In addition there was the training provided by the company.
From apprentices, students, and everyone who learnt their trade there, the training was often life-changing and engineers worldwide are grateful for the opportunity that Bedford, W. H. Allen and the local colleges provided.
The W. H. Allen story doesn’t end there though!
The heritage of the firm still lives on through the W. H. Allen Engineering Association (WHAEA). With roots going back over 100 years, the association is thriving today and run by ex-employees such as Phil Mann, Heritage Officer, who worked for the company for almost 50 years.
Now focusing on preserving the heritage of the firm, the association still meet each year, have 250 active members and continue to work to save many important items of historical interest.
Find out more or join WHAEA at whaea.co.uk.
Secretary – W H Allen Engineering Association