P.R.V. - The After History

Foreword: I have been contacted by John English who, within his organisation, was responsible for the procurement of the whole PRV site and its later development.  I have always been intrigued as to what happened to the site immediately after PRV's closure in July 1980 and John's memories of the period make for interesting reading; most especially perhaps as his thoughts from the time are the views of someone detached from PRV and not closely involved in its day to day operation.  Here is John's account: (with editorial notes)

As to the redevelopment of the old works, the works closed in June/July 1980 and it would have been about this time that the completion of the purchase took place, the negotiations for the purchase and the legal pre-contract process would have occupied some many weeks before the closure. At the time, I worked for Commercial Union Properties Limited (CUP) which was a wholly owned subsidiary of Commercial Union Assurance (now owned by Aviva), which undertook a lot of the property development projects for the group.

I remember my first and only visit to the property, while it was still operational, when I was advised of the huge sensitivity as the proposed sale and closure of the works was not at that stage known to the workforce
(see note[1] below).  Nonetheless it seemed as though it was suspected and I seem to recall some handmade signs to this effect as I went round.  I remember the office building at the front of the property and the jumble of factory space behind in various degrees of decrepitude.  It seemed to me at the time, and I have repeated it consistently since, that these were appalling conditions for the cream of British engineering to work in.  One could see the skill abundantly evident and the pride associated with it and all confined in such inefficient ramshackle accommodation.  Sadly, it whetted my appetite to strike a deal and undertake a redevelopment which really was the only option for such buildings (see note[2] below). British Leyland owned two sites in Park Royal, the large site of the works which I think extended to approximately ten acres and a small site of just less than an acre further down Abbey Road towards the junction with Coronation Road (see note[3] below), both sites were purchased.

I cannot remember precisely when the demolition took place but I have a feeling it was at the beginning of 1981.  Between the purchase and the commencement of demolition I had several visits to the property and seem to recall a pretty detailed visit about Christmas of 1980 as a precursor to the demolition commencement.  I think the contractor took occupation of the site at that time to provide security over the Christmas and New Year period. It was on this visit that I noticed a few noteworthy things.  The condition of the property, bare as it then was, reinforced my incredulity that anyone could be obliged to work in this type of space and be expected to produce quality product. The next thing to occur to me was the beauty of the herringbone woodblock flooring in the first floor of the office building and how sad it was that it would all be ripped up and disposed of either by burning, which was quite common, or to landfill. I made a point of going into every area and this included a range of workshops on the western boundary of the site adjacent to the adjoining property which I think was United Biscuits at that time.

The United Biscuits building had been developed on the site of the old Park Royal Stadium, a greyhound racing track. I don't know how it occurred but the stadium terracing "oversailed" the boundary and the part on the PRV site was not demolished and did not form part of the United Biscuits property (see note[4] below). As a result, the roof of the range of workshops mentioned above was formed of the original concrete stadium terracing obviously with some applied roofing to keep it weather and watertight. Looking up internally one could clearly see the underside of the terracing which started relatively low at the boundary and climbed to a greater height at the internal wall - quite extraordinary!

The development was for a range of modern industrial "sheds" that, following receipt of planning consent, was undertaken in phases from 1981 onwards. But as, at the end of 1981, I took up a new position with a different company I did not see the development through to completion.

 John English

Note[1]: Leyland announced the closure of the PRV works in September 1979 so John's visit will have no doubt predated that time [Ed.].

Note[2]: One cannot disagree with John's description of the works, or the workforce, but some of the original factory facilities dated from the WW1 munitions factory and Hall Lewis' extensions (incorporating railway tracks) dating from the 1920's. Very few real improvements to the factory environment were made and I doubt even less after Leyland took control.  Personally I think it sad though that the art deco main building could not be incorporated into fronting the new development; maybe it was beyond repair [Ed.].

Note[3]: The small site housed PRV's secretive experimental shop where both MOD and commercially sensitive programmes were carried out. [Ed.].

Note[4]: The original Greyhound Race Track was built by Harry Yager the owner of Park Royal Coachworks. As Harry owned the whole site through his own  "Investment Trust" he wasn't too bothered by the terracing overhanging his own factory's workshops and probably making best use of the space. Whilst the reason is evident, it is interesting the significant impression this, seemingly thoughtless, design made on John at the time though.  What would be intriguing is; if United Biscuits (or a leasing/holding company) bought the racetrack area what arrangements/agreements were reached as to the boundary or did the racetrack/land remain under PRV's ownership?  Does anyone know? [Ed.].