Wilfirs was established in 1945 on land that was originally part of the Stoneleigh Estate; this was called "Stoneleigh Meadow" and was a strip of land that ran all down the left hand side of Eastern Green Road from Broad Lane to Allesley Brook (Allesbrook) at the bottom of the hill. This strip of land was divided into 40 foot wide plots and began to be sold off in the early 1920s. In 1925 four of these plots were purchased by a Mr Shilvock and turned into a landscape garden site. He ran a successful business from here until 1945 when he retired
When the direction of labour ceased after World War Two ended two brothers, Frank and William Hunt, pooled their resources, sold their two homes and purchased this site. It was divided into two; the front half was divided and two houses were built, the one on the left was "The Willows" and the other on the right "The Firs". WILFIRS was established in what had been the stable and cart shed at the back. All this was prior to the 1947 Town and Country Act and these two houses were the first new homes to be built in Coventry after WW2 using surplus war materials and were featured in the Coventry Evening newspaper.
The business started as a coach building and upholstery company; the old potting shed was converted into a sewing room. One of their first contracts was with Coventry Corporation Transport to supply new seating for all their buses because during the war years the upholstered seats had been removed and slatted wooden ones put in to reduce the fire risk, also wear and tear had resulted during Coventry blitz. One bus was taken out of service each week and was refurbished then put back into service. As there was a large fleet of buses this contract ran for some years. They also supplied all the upholstery for the "Supercar Company" Leamington who made Dodgem Cars for the fairground people, each ride had a fleet of 16 or more dodgem cars on each track. Along with this work one of the top lines of Jaguar Cars was being supplied while the main production line concentrated on the bulk of cars going for export. At this time work was also carried out for the Donald Healey Car Company in Warwick who specialised in fitting out cars for celebrities with drop head hoods and seating, George Formby's car was one that fell into this category. At its height there were 36 sewing machines working in the building
In the late 1950s I was in business in Coventry and this company was supplying Wilfirs with all the seat boards for the dodgem cars, this same company was also producing the floorboards for the dodgem ride through the old Newarks Timber Supply Co who had the contract with Supercar Company. At this time we also supplied fencing panels to Newark's and both these lines had to have special bulk treatment in good old-fashioned Creosote; a product no longer available today. In 1964 I, Colin Bullas, left my old company in Coventry and came and joined Wilfirs, as by now Wilfirs was run solely by Mr and Mrs Frank Hunt and they were coming up to retirement. Unfortunately Frank Hunt did not make his 65 years resulting in my wife and me taking over Wilfirs. Shortly afterwards the new factory was built around the old Potting shed which was then demolished inside the new building. The 70s and 80s saw Wilfirs develop the fairground side, producing not only all the floors for dodgems but also Helter Shelters and Ghost Rides and many other types of amusement rides; including the upholstery for the cars on swing boats and roller coasters, both juvenile and veterans, to name just some of the different fairground rides at that time. This was being catered for in the Trim Shop. The original Trim Shop had been the whole workshop but by now this was reduced to one small room with two sewing machines, one large and a smaller industrial machine. The track for what were called veteran rides were also built here, this was very much like a large version of a toy slot racing track with three quarter size model Ford T and replica Bull Nosed Morris's trundling round, one of these was working at Coventry Zoo for many years
Alongside this the fencing trade was developing; the main production going to Travis and Arnold in Rugby who were supplying interwoven panels to all the Midland sites of new houses that were springing up all over Warwickshire and Leicestershire. It was through Travis and Arnold that a customer of theirs asked if he could have a different style of panel. We put together the overlap style panel using the same slats as the interwoven panel; this was something quite new and was acceptable. The waneyedge panel was the obvious follow on to the overlap panel
In the 1990s the fairground work slowly tapered off as theme parks took over with the massive million pound rides so Wilfirs found other work to do. We fitted out fibreglass rowing boats for the fishing boats on many of our reservoirs and large amounts of "Dunnage"; that is the packing trays etc used to move the various components around from place to place that go into the assembly of cars. This work was done for both Jaguar and Peugeot production. About this time we got into producing furniture frames; these were supplied to Bouyant Upholstery and Slumberland in Bansoldwick and Nelson. We were travelling up and down the M1 to meet people quite often as well as going to Miss Muffet at Stoke-on-Trent. We also did work for Grovewood at Tipton who made standard size kitchen units. We made samples of the kitchen units and then made up special units and worktops for the odd size kitchen. We supplied 100s of three piece suite under frames to Callow and Maddox; along with various other small products like the man who tried to launch a line of tablemats
About this time Firbric Wood Engineering Limited was trying to develop a sawdust and shaving wood block machine; it was quite successful but failed due to having to rely on outside "Experts" to perfect it.
When the superstores came into being they took the bottom end of the panel fencing trade so Wilfirs concentrated on the quality top end. For many years Featheredge Boarding had only been with posts and rails; from about 1960 we started to make panels using Featheredge boards and were one of the first companies to do so. Now they are very popular but have been spoilt by many cheap copies with very little framing material being used. Wilfirs continue to make one of the highest specification versions of this panel available in the UK
When the wooden window market tailed off a separate company Wilfirs Windows was started, manufacturing PVCu doors and windows. We followed the "WILFIRS" philosophy of concentrating on a quality product catering for the more discerning householder, trade customers and local housing estate agents who look after their clients??? property. This company closed in February 2011 due to lack of work
We have also developed the gate side of the market and are producing a large range of styles and sizes of gates. Most gateways are different sizes therefore this is far more specialised. We now have several teams out fitting fencing and gates as well as supplying many of the local landscapers with all their fencing needs. Many new styles of fencing panels are now being imported from Poland and we cannot compete with these in the UK so we buy in and sell them therefore production of panels in our own workshop has reduced but we have introduced other lines and added online shop sales to offset this trend.
Colin Bullas 2009
Archivist Eastern Green History Group