CVA / Kearney & Trecker at the County Cricket Ground

Hove Machine Tool manufacturer CVA was once one of the largest manufacturing employers in the area.  At its peak in the 1960’s over 2000 staff were employed at 7 locations around the Brighton area.  One of these locations was the Machine Assembly Plant in Eaton Road, right in the centre of Hove.

WWII expansion
The Company had expanded during World War II and in 1946 the Eaton Road Assembly Plant was acquired.  The building had previously been an army drill hall, and was located next to the Sussex County Cricket Ground, adjacent to the main entrance and the Cricketers Public House.  Ashdown, the large block of flats, with frontage onto Eaton Road, currently stands on the site, which was once a hive of industrial activity.   The aerial view of the factory shows the cricket ground just visible at the top.  The curved seating can just be seen at the top right.

Sussex County Cricket Club
Sussex County Cricket Club was formed in 1839.  There were three locations in the Brighton & Hove area where they played before finally acquiring the Eaton Road site in 1871 from the trustees of the Stanford Estate.  The area in the south-east corner of the ground is marked as a Skating Rink in the 6″ OS map of 1873.  Bacon’s map of 1896 has the same area is marked as Hove Tennis Ground.   In the Godfrey Edition of the Ordnance Survey Map of 1930 the area is marked as the County Sports Club.  The building on this area was to become the Machine Assembly Plant in 1946.

Machine Tool Assembly
A number of large machine tools were assembled at the Eaton Road factory, one of which was the CVA Automatic Lathe.  This lathe was developed by the Company in Portland Road Hove during the early 1940’s and the first single spindle automatic lathe was completed in 1945.  During the late 1940’s and early 1950’s these were being assembled at the rate of thirty-three a month, and a waiting list to purchase grew.  This lathe was to become quite famous in the precision engineering industry, and eventually there was a full range of different models, which were exported all around the world.  The production line and the lathes under final test can be seen in the photograph.  The size of the factory can be appreciated.  The significance of the photograph is that the lathe in the foreground was the 1000th off the production line.  The number can be just seen attached to the lathe.

Licence agreement with Kearney & Trecker
Another product range assembled at Eaton Road was the Kearney & Trecker milling machine.  These machines were designed in the USA, by Kearney & Trecker Corporation, one of the biggest Machine Tool manufactures in the world.  Agreement was reached with CVA in 1947 to manufacturer them under licence in Hove.  The first milling machine was assembled in Eaton Road in 1948.  The major castings for both the CVA Automatic Lathe and the range of Kearney & Trecker milling machines were cast at the Portland Road foundry.  Some of these castings weighed up to 2 tons.  They were then transported to Littlehampton where, in the 1950’s the Company had its Heavy Machine Shop.  Precision slideways were then machined onto the castings, before they were transported back to Eaton Road for final hand scraping  to an accuracy of a few microns, before assembly.

Cricket for free
Cricket was of great interest to many of the employees.  The rear wall of the factory yard backed onto the cricket ground.  At tea break and lunch times in the summer the rear wall was crammed with employees watching the match for free!  During important matches there was a temptation to sneak out for a quick check on the score during work time!  The assembly manager Bob Morris had his hands full to keep minds on the job!  There were many favourite cricketers to be seen at the County Ground, David Shepherd was one of these!  The Reverend David Shepherd was later to become the famous Bishop of Liverpool, who died in 2005.

Liquid temptations
Another temptation to some of the workforce was the Cricketers Public House adjacent to the factory.  It was not unknown for the manager Bob Morris to have to check the pub at the end of the lunch hour on Friday.  Anyone who had drunk too much would be sent home for the afternoon!

From apprentice to assembly manager
Bob Morris joined CVA as a 14-year-old apprentice in 1935 at the Portland Road factory.  By the outbreak of World War II he had almost completed his apprenticeship.  Like his chums he went to join-up to fight, but was refused due to his “reserved occupation”.  His skills were much needed by the country in manufacturing, particularly building machine tools, which are the heart and start of every manufacturing process.  Barely 20 years old, Bob joined the Home Guard; CVA had their own company.  Bob Morris moved to the Eaton Road factory soon after it opened in 1946 and was soon promoted, firstly to supervisor and then assembly manager, before he was 30 years old.

Automatic lathes and milling machines
The range of CVA automatic lathes and milling machines were to prove to be a great success for the company during the 1950’s and 60’s.  The machines were renown for their quality, reliability and value for money.  Thousands were sold in the UK, Europe and around the world.

Queen’s Award to Industry
The pinnacle of this success was the announcement on 21st April 1969 when the Company was awarded the Queens Award to Industry for Export Achievement.  CVA was one of only 99 companies in the country to receive the award in that year, and the only one in Sussex.  Special notices, signed by Bill Neill, the Managing Director, were posted on notice boards around the Company, paying tribute to all employees for the teamwork, which had led to the award.  Speaking later on Radio Brighton Mr Newing, the Director of Sales, explained that exports sales had increased by 173% in the previous 3 years.  In particular new markets had been opened up in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, previously dominated by German and US manufactures.  Almost 38% of everything manufactured by the Company had been exported.  The following year, further individual awards were made, of these it was announced the in the Queen’s Birthday honours list, that Bob Morris was to be awarded the B.E.M. in recognition of his services to the exports drive.  Bob was presented with the award at Lancaster House in London by the Rt. Hon. Sir John Eden, on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen.

Factory closure in 1969
Assembly of large machines continued at Eaton Road right up to the end of 1969.  Since 1957 US Machine Tool manufacturer Kearney & Trecker Corporation had controlling interest of CVA, and their plans were to centralise production at the new industrial estate at Hollingbury.  Eaton Road closed late in 1969 with production and staff being moved to the new estate. On the last day before the plant closed all 140 employees gathered with Bob Morris by the Eaton Road entrance for a last photo.

Comments about this page

  • Well, my bench is in the picture somewhere. I used to build the Knee and Table units for the milling machines. Great pictures by the way

    By Dennis Fielder (18/08/2008)
  • I worked at the Eaton Road factory under Bob Morris as a Machine Tool Fitter building first the 1A lathes and then milling machines then I went to work at the Portland Road factory until they moved us to Hollingbury. It was never the same and I soon left the company but I enjoyed my time at Eaton Road

    By Dennis Fielder (18/08/2008)
  • I have just remembered that the milling machines were the TF range. I also worked on some Bedmills.

    By Dennis Fielder (19/08/2008)
  • I was an apprentice at CVA from 1956-60 and spent about 9 months at Eaton Road in 1959. I worked on No. 8 Auto’s which was located near the back of the picture. Just above the clock right at the back of the picture was the canteen.
    When I was there the area at the front was occupied by 2D milling machines. I enjoyed my time there. Unfortunately, I can not remember anybody by name. I do remember one incident: When an elderly fitter joined my table at the morning tea break, he was asked why he was so upset. He told us it was the first time he had been late for work since 1941. Now that’s what I call commitment!

    By John Boxell (29/01/2009)
  • Well, did this picture bring back some memories! I worked at Eaton Road (No 5) for the final year of my apprenticeship and for about five years after my National Service in the Royal Navy. I worked in the mill section with George Curry and his brother Ivor, Harold (Les) Lucas, Bob Teasdale, Phil Paine and Bob Cook(e). Amazing how the names come flooding back even after nearly 50 years.  Reg Phillips was the manager and Bob Morris his 2nd i/c. Bob had the unenviable job of making one third of the workforce redundant in 1957 or 58.  George Elliott was the foreman of the attachment section (under the canteen) and George Dowsett the foreman on an auto line, I believe it was the CVA 20. Charlie Cohen used to build feed boxes and later became a service engineer. He was my mentor in the Sussex Division of the Naval Reserve, but that’s another story.  Bob Teasdale and I, when I came out of the Navy, used to go into the Cricket Ground for a pint. Bob used to drink Scrumpy and on return to work he would eat a Spanish onion like an apple. After an hour there was a clear space around him when the effects of the scrumpy and the onion took hold.

    By Doug Valeriani (15/02/2009)
  • Sorry to correct you Peter, but the foreground in this image is not the assembly line but the finalising bay where machines were ‘finished ‘ after painting. New allen screws replaced the painted ones and the overarms polished and machine generally tidied up, ‘finished’, prior to despatch. The assembly line proper was further back where mills in various stages of construction can be seen. To the right, out of picture, was the 2D die sinking mill build area.

    By Doug Valeriani (01/03/2009)
  • I served my time as a toolmaker at CVA K&T in ’51/’56. My father, George was a manager there until he retired. I went to S.Africa in ’57 and then to U.S.A in ’63. I am 76 now and long retired. I now live in Ireland with my wife Johanna and my only daughter, Karen, born in San Francisco, lives nearby. I spent 6 months of my 5 yrs on a CVA 1a lathe, a fine M/C.

    By Peter Solly (11/08/2010)
  • Hi Peter Solly, I didn’t know your father, but everyone at K&T spoke very well of him. I have some photos of him from the K&T Times, and some articles, I think written by him. If you want to contact me at pedrogroves@googlemail.com I could scan them in and email them to you.

    By Peter Groves (15/08/2010)
  • To the right and out of the picture was the Maintenance Electricians where I was an apprentice with several other guys. One had the nickname of “Shag”. Another was a short bald headed man who could work wonders with Perspex due to having been an aircraft ground crew during the war. I also worked at all the other factories including the Littlehampton site and had to get up early to catch the Campings Coach from Elm Grove at 6.45am. I fitted all the lighting at the Coombe Rd factory (now yellow box) with two other guys Arthur Plum and John ?

    By Richard Pearce (19/02/2011)
  • Hi! Just thought I’d mention…. My father (Roy Fox) was once chief engineer at CVA/K&T and I learned a lot from him about mathematics as applied to mechanics and especially gear mechanisms (profiles, methods like Cardan stuff etc). I know that he did not like moving to Hollingbury and that was either coincidentally or otherwise the start of his sad demise. I won’t go into that but some of his colleagues made a great impression on me either by his description or by meeting them. Here are some of those names…. Reg Carr (a superb tool maker who helped me rebuild model engines), Bernard Green (electronics and digital nc guy and that is where I ventured) and finally friends of the family John Houston and Rudie Capagnony (apologies for any spelling errors in those names, esp Rudie) 

    By Simon Fox (14/08/2011)
  • I forgot one other name, Harry Brooks who (like my father) used to work at CVA and then later left and went on to work with Doug Spreng (from the USA having worked for Kraft) to form one of the UK’s most successful radio control manufacturers, Sprengbrook (based originally in Redhill Drive I think but then relocated to Victoria Rd just by Portslade railway station). 

    By Simon Fox (14/08/2011)
  • Simon, I don’t remember your father, perhaps that was before my time, however the other names are all very familiar! Bernard Green went on to work for Kongsburg in Norway, there is a story about how he “carried the can” in a technology scandal with Russia when they were still behind the Iron Curtain. I think the news report can be found on the internet!

    By Peter Groves (02/09/2011)
  • Peter, Thanks for your comments and additional information, especially about Bernard Green! (I shall have to research that further!) Since my last “comment” which I submitted, I’ve reviewed in a little more detail the information contained in your web page and I reckon that Bob Morris may be a contemporary of my father, just to put a time reference to it so to speak. My father also worked at Portland Road (prior to moving to Hollingbury where “things went wrong”) and from my recollection he worked mainly on vertical milling machines (of K&T origin or maybe K&T Marwin, not sure). I should also have perhaps have mentioned another influence on me (and quite obviously my father!) and that was my mum (Brenda), who also worked for CVA, having originally worked at Ricardo in Shoreham in the D.O. staff. (a company that is still alive and kicking today!) As one does, (dotting the i’s and t’s as they say) I have reviewed my comment input, and there are a couple of minor corrections that I feel I should make: 1) My father’s official job title was Chief Designer (not Engineer) and .. 2) Rudy’s surname was spelt with an M which I had omitted i.e. Campagnonie (or something like that!). Oh and one other name, my dad’s “boss” was someone with a surname something like LeBrett. Does that ring any bells with your CVA/K&T web surfers? Cheers.

    By Simon Fox (10/09/2011)
  • Hi Simon, the Director of Engineering c. 1970 was a guy named Lebrecht. I have copies of all the K&T Times from the late 1960s – perhaps your father is mentioned in one of them. I will have a look and let you know!

    By Peter Groves (10/09/2011)
  • I worked as an apprentice electrician at Eaton Road 1965 – 1969. Does anyone remember the little maintenance section which was on the right as you went into the factory? In the photo taken outside on the final day, that’s me sitting on top the gate (on the right).

    By Richard Pearce (03/07/2012)
  • Bob Morris was my boss at Eaton Road for a couple of years, what a nice fair minded man he was. He ran a very happy shop.

    By Dennis Fielder (04/12/2012)

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