Sir Percival Perry

2001/03 pp3–4

 

Sir Percival Perry

 

This article is about Sir Percival Perry, who owned Ewell Castle from 1917 to 1925, and is based on an oral history interview held in the archives of the Ford Motor Company at Detroit.

 

From his early association with the motor industry, Perry claimed that at one time he knew everyone in the country who had a car. He built up Ford dealerships by picking the best coach builder or cycle trader in each town. Negotiating payment terms was key – Ford America didn’t have to be paid for imported cars until they were in custody in a British port, once the cars were actually in Britain it was easier to get bank loans, and dealers had to pay a deposit up front on as many cars as they were expected to sell.

 

Perry said that the Model N (before the T) had wheels 4 feet 8 inches apart to fit the ruts of muddy American roads, and therefore looked rather ungainly on the superior British roads, which were Macadam, and 4000 miles of which were straight ex-Roman roads. He complained that the Ministry of Transport hadn’t done anything to improve British roads in the following years, though.

 

His greatest achievement came after his time at Ewell Castle, for in 1928 he was tasked with reorganising Ford’s European operations into a new company and building the factory at Dagenham.

 

The best people possible were picked as directors, including a director of the Bank of England (Lord Airedale), an ex-cabinet minister (Lord Illingworth), and the principal private secretary to the Prime Minister (Sir John David KCB, who was also government director of the Suez Canal). The Bank of England’s solicitors approved the prospectus.

 

Mr. Ford hadn’t wanted a controlling interest in Ford Europe, but Perry demanded that the Ford Motor Company put up the money for 60% of the shares, with 40% being sold to the public. The total capital raised was £7 million, to both buy Ford’s existing UK assets and to build the new factory at Dagenham.

 

The shares were originally sold for 2s 6d, but soon found a level of 6s. In the UK companies could choose who they sold shares to, and preference was given to small investors, especially Ford dealers. In France shares had to be allotted pro rata to all the applicants, whereas in Germany shares were sold in big blocks to the largest industrial undertakings.

 

Perry supervised the construction at Dagenham, many problems being encountered on the way. When Mr. Ford visited the site in early 1928 the smell was overwhelming, for the site had previously been used for dumping London’s rubbish, so he insisted on building an incinerator. Mr. Ford also insisted that Dagenham had its own large power station, and a connection to the public grid was still required in case of failures, adding to the cost. All these works required extensive pile-driving into the soft marshes. Some of the land was flooded (the ‘Dagenham Breach’), requiring bridging. One of the possible benefits of having a waterside site was lost because ships weren’t allowed to stop there; freight had to be taken by barge to or from the London Docks and transhipped there.

 

They hadn’t really had any idea as to how much it would cost to build the plant at Dagenham, and in 1930 another £2 million of shares had to be issued, Ford (America) being talked into paying the market rate of 6s 9d for its 60%, instead of the face value of 2s 6d.

 

Thereafter financial concerns seemed to concentrate on avoiding paying tax on dividends, particularly in Scandinavia, using methods that Perry admitted would have caused a scandal if details had leaked out. In all but two years thereafter the dividend was at least 6%.

 

Industrial relations, not surprisingly, were important at Dagenham. Mr. Ford (and Perry) didn’t like smoking, so until the Second World War he banned it from most of the offices, but had to allow it on the shop floor to avoid a strike. During the war the men would go to the shelters for a smoke as soon as the alert sounded, so someone struck a deal whereby they could smoke at their workplace if they stayed at the alert.

 

After a lot of pushing the regulations requiring lavatories to be in a ‘well’ on outside walls were relaxed, to allow the most efficient use of the shop floor area. The lavatories (and showers and eating areas) were instead placed on a raised area above the shop floor. Perry complained that the workers had become less efficient since his time in charge, for example, demanding time off for the time taken going up and down the steps to this platform.

 

Jeff Cousins