Ken Wood’s mixed fortune

THIS week marks the centenary of the birth of Kenneth Wood, who set down the roots of his world-renowned electrical goods company from a small building in Goldsworth Road.

ken-wood-pic-1Kenneth Maynard Wood, grandson of Charles Maynard, the founder of the sweet maker, most famously wine gums, was born on 4 October 1916 in Lewisham, southeast London. He served in the Merchant Navy in the 1930s, ran a small TV and radio business and served in the RAF during the war as an engineer, specialising in radar.

The roots of Kenwood began as Woodlau Industries in 1947 when Wood and his former wartime comrade and business partner Roger Laurence  started manufacturing the A100 toaster from small premises at 79 Goldsworth Road where KwikFit is now situated.

Some early success led to expansion and the company moved to a factory in Hipley Street, Old Woking. In 1950 launched its second  big product, the A200 food mixer, which would develop into the Kenwood Chef. Laurence left the company, which then became the Kenwood Manufacturing Company.

The Chef became a big hit, especially as a wedding present, and in the 1950s Wood moved into Craigmore in The Hockering.  By 1961, Kenwood had outgrown its Old Woking home and moved to Havant in Hampshire. Further expansion meant that by 1968 the company had more than 2,000 employees, including many abroad and an extensive international dealer network. The same year, the company was subject to a hostile takeover and Wood left the company.

ken-wood-pic-2He remained very active for the rest of his life, developing a 350-acre golf course in the grounds of his home in Liphook (now Old Thorns Golf & Country Estate). In 1984, he was appointed Fellow of the Institute of Ophthalmology after having given a very large donation to the institute on finding that on of his employees in the packing department was blind. In 1995 Wood officially opened the Science Museum’s permanent Secret Life of the Home exhibition which includes several Kenwood exhibits. He died on 19 October 1997, aged 81.

Wood’s stepson, John, is producing a book that tells the life story of Kenneth Wood and will include autobiographical notes that he was preparing shortly before his death.

John, who lives in East Grinstead, said: “Towards the end of his life, he was dictating his life story to his secretary. The autobiography was never published because I think he felt it would have been boasting. But we have several transcripts and edits and these will be included in the book to be published next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of Kenwood,”

John, who is the family archivist with many documents and photographs relating to his stepfather, hopes to have a blue plaque unveiled on the KwikFit building to mark the history of the site. He said that KwikFit was happy to have the plaque on its building and he was seeking official permission to have it erected.

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