The people at Kays

This is a picture of William Kilbourne Kay is a formal portrait taken from the 1907 catalogue.  He was born in September 1856 in the naval town of Portsmouth.  The first formal record of Kay as being in Worcester is in the Census of 1881 and he is living in lodgings at Park Street, Worcester.  His occupation is recorded as “Jeweller’s Assistant”.  Kay was employed by John Martin Skarratt, the grandson of the original John Skarratt.  By the time he was married in 1883, Kay was living at 3 Broad Street, Worcester and this is where his frist two children were born.  This was the address of Skarratt’s watchmakers at that time.  Kay would have been 51 years old when the formal portrait, shown here, was taken and had developed his business to be a substantial one.  He lived at Heron Lodge, London Road, Worcester at this time.

This formal portrait of William Kilbourne Kay was taken in 1920 when Kay would have been 64 years old.  Always a well-dressed man, he insisted on high standards of dress and professional behaviour from himself and his employees.  Despite the difficult times of the early 20th century, he had continued to grow the business and he was still actively involved in running the company until two years before his death.  After suffering a long illness through cancer, he died in May 1929 leaving his two sons, Tom, the eldest, and Edwin, running the company.  The third  and youngest brother, Jack, had become a director in 1926, after resigning his commission in the Army.  Tragically Tom K Kay died, at the age of 49, in 1933 leaving Edwin and Jack to run the business.

Few pictures exist of W Kilbourne Kay and his family so any photographs that could be added to this record of the man, his life and family would be welcomed.

 

modern image

Heron Lodge, the Kay’s family home in the early part of the 20th century.  Built by an  Admiral of the Royal Navy and named after his ship, HMS Heron, this impressive building lies in its own grounds off the London Road in Worcester.  HMS Heron is still a ship within today’s Royal Navy as it is the proper name of RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset.

The two views of Heron Lodge were taken three years apart.  The view above, was taken in 2005 when the building clearly needed restoration, whereas the view left was taken in July 2008 after work had started to restore the building to its former glories.

 

above – The Kays’ Marketing team taken in 1999 (sic), outside their offices at “Midland” Office, 205 Bromyard Road, Worcester.  Within a few years, the team had all but gone having been combined with the Marketing team at GUS Home Shopping in Manchester.  They provided the Kays “feel” to the way the catalogue shopping business was sold to the agents and customers by their creation of the Kays’ brand.  Where are they all now?

left – This is a picture of the VDU Input Room at St Oswald’s, Worcester and was taken in about 1974.  These young ladies were responsible for entering orders and agent’s account details into the mainframe computer.  There were other such rooms at Leeds, Glasgow, York, Bristol and Newtown, employing young women, in similar roles.  There were very few male VDU operators.

above – part of the Computer team enjoying the sun for this group photograph.  Taken at the back of the St Oswald’s building in Worcester during the summer of 1992, many members of the team are still employed in the company (December 2006).  By December 2007 all the IT functions had been transferred away from Worcester and the team was made redundant.  Part of the redevelopment of the St Oswalds building in to commercial and residential properties led to the demolition of the building behind the group.  It used to be the training room for the IT team.

These ladies are the “Stencil Girls” and were photographed in the summer of 1953.  The Stencil department was managed by Mr Noakes.  Because of the colour of their coveralls they were also known as the Geisha girls. Some of the group have been identified but there are still several un-named ladies.  Do you know any of the names.; did one of your relatives work for Kays at this time.

In 1926, William K Kay organised a day-out for his “entire office staff, their wives and friends” at Worcester office, to commemorate his 70th birthday.  On Saturday the 11th of September 1926, a chartered GWR train left Foregate Street station in Worcester and took the assembled staff down to Weston Super Mare for the day.  Kay paid for the breakfast and dinner for all of those who went on the outing on the outbound and return journey.  The company provided each member of staff with a “half-crown” (12p) for them to make their own arrangements for lunch.  The Worcester Herald reported that over 350 staff and guests, along with Mr & Mrs Kay and his family went to Weston for the day.  The envelope (above) was given to each member of staff so that they had everything they needed for the day.  Does anyone have a photo from their familiy albums showing their relatives on the the day itself?  Do any railway enthusiasts know of any images of the train which was apparently bedecked with birthday greetings and flowers?

From the early 1950s Kays realised that members of staff wanted to keep in touch with and be aware of events and activities that were taking place at the many other offices and warehouses around the U.K..  The publication of the Kays LINK, the in-house magazine, enabled this to be done.  Published until the late 1980s, the copies of the LINK are a valuable historical record of the people and social events that took place within the company.  Here are examples from the earliest (the black & white copy, dated 1953) to the last (top left, with red banner, from 1988).

If you have any photographs of people who worked for Kays throughout its offices and warehouses in the U.K., and you can identify who is in the photograph, where and when it was taken, then please contact the group (see Contact the Group)

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