Friday, May 17, 2024

The day Royal Enfield closed the canteen

 Built during World War II, the Royal Enfield "Canteen" (cafeteria) on Hewell Road near the Redditch, UK Royal Enfield factory, served the nutritional and social needs of workers. 

Here was a large, comfortable, clean building, away from the noise and bustle of the factory, where workers could socialize over a meal. Ceremonies honoring long time and retiring employees were held in the Canteen, and there was an annual Christmas extravaganza for children, complete with Santa Claus. 

There were dances inside the Canteen. Workers were invited to compete in Field Day competitions in the large field behind the building.  

Presentation of watch inside building.
Royal Enfield presents a gold watch during tea in the factory Canteen, April 4, 1958. (From Motor Cycle and Cycle Trader, April 26, 1958.)

Wartime demand for motorcycles and other Royal Enfield products was heavy. Royal Enfield workers had all they could do to meet that demand. 

Peacetime meant a slower pace for the factory. Cutbacks were inevitable and these would affect the Canteen.

In 1961, Royal Enfield director and secretary B.W. Smith announced that as of Monday, Aug. 14, cafeteria  service would be conducted by The Midland Counties Industrial Catering Co., Ltd., of Birmingham.

Royal Enfield was outsourcing meal service.

The next announcement was easy to foresee. Mr. Smith opened this second memo with the good news:

"The Management was pleased to hear at the last Works Committee that since the Canteen was taken over by Midland Catering there has been a general improvement in the standard of meals.

"Since the last increase in canteen prices there have been several increases in the cost of food and wages, and these together with the improved standard of meals make it necessary to revise charges. The new prices will be operative from 6th November, 1961, as follows:"

Prices followed for Main Course, Sweet, Sandwiches, Tea and Coffee.  Coffee with milk carried a slight added price. But "Persons under 18" (presumably apprentices) got a price break on the Main Course.

All well and good. But, of course, temporary. The axe would finally fall.

"The Management feel that it is necessary to make certain economies in expenses and to this end it has been decided to close down the present Canteen building," Mr. Smith announced on March 28, 1963.

"The Canteen will be closed this week and alternative facilities will be available in the old Fibre Glass Section with effect from Monday next, 1st April.

"Access to this Canteen will be through a door leading from the Weighbridge drive.

"It is proposed initially to run a Snack Bar service and a tariff of prices will be displayed at the counter.

"Provision has been made for separate rooms for the Senior Staff and Foreman."

In an earlier blog item I wrote that "Presumably, the Canteen remained in use until Road Enfield ceased operation in Redditch in 1970."

My presumption was wrong. It had closed in 1963.

Exterior view of former Royal Enfield Canteen.
Former Royal Enfield factory Canteen still stands in Redditch.

The Canteen building, converted to other uses, remains in Redditch, but the Royal Enfield factory it once served is gone. B.W. Smith's memos also remain, preserved in the archives of the Royal Enfield Owners Club (UK). They are part of the Reg Thomas Archive club members can access on line.

In other words, if you want to see them, you have to join the club.

Reg Thomas was Chief Designer for Royal Enfield before the company went out of business in Britain. Many of the papers he collected were engineering tables and drawings, beyond my understanding.

I find the more human matters more interesting. Real people built these motorcycles; and they needed to eat.


  1. Anonymous5/18/2024

    LOVE IT.....

    1. Thank you. The link in the message from Anonymous goes to a collection of photos of old structures in Redditch including the fading words "Royal Enfield" on a rusty bridge.


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