Southend honours EKCO radio factory founder with statue

Published
Image source, Anne Schwegmann-Fielding
Image caption,
Eric Kirkham Cole founded his company, EKCO, in his garden shed, and it employed 8,000 people at its peak

The founder of a company which developed wartime technology including electronics for radar has been honoured with a life-sized sculpture.

The artwork, called Our Eric, is a celebration of Eric Kirkham Cole and Southend's EKCO factory.

It will be located in EKCO Park housing estate, where the factory once stood.

Sculptor Anne Schwegmann-Fielding said: "EKCO is still so loved in Southend that it was not hard to meet people with great knowledge and stories."

The statue depicts Mr Cole standing on an AD65 EKCO radio, one of his company's best-known products.

He is wearing a suit made up of a mosaic of 182 photographs showing the social history of EKCO.

Image source, Anne Schwegmann-Fielding
Image caption,
The new sculpture will stand in EKCO Park housing estate, where the company's factory was built in 1930

The black and white images include radios and televisions, factory workers, company transport, press cuttings of sports and social events, and even a Luftwaffe map outlining the factory.

A plaque reads "More than just a brand, Eric built a community."

Started in Mr Cole's garden shed in 1922, EKCO grew from a radio manufacturing firm, famous for producing circular bakelite radio sets, into an international brand.

Its factory was built in 1930 on a cabbage patch field in Priory Crescent.

Image source, EKCO
Image caption,
Metal workers at the ECKO factory helped to produce a wide-range of products at its Priory Crescent factory

Prior to World War One, EKCO was involved in secret preparatory work including making radios for tanks, commando packs and aircraft.

During World War Two, it developed electronics for radar and the first guided missiles.

At its peak ECKO employed more than 8,000 people.

Mr Cole was also a pioneer in paid holidays for employees, workplace pensions and apprenticeships.

The company eventually merged with electronics company Pye in 1960, with Mr Cole retiring a year later. He died in 1966.

Image source, Anne-Schwegmann-Fielding
Image caption,
Eric Kirkham Cole's sculpture is made up of photographs depicting the social history of his company
Image source, Anne Schwegmann-Fielding
Image caption,
Images making up the sculpture were transferred on to tiles and then cut up to make up a mosaic

Bellway Homes, which built the new housing estate, worked with Southend-on-Sea Borough Council to commission the sculpture.

Councillor Kevin Robinson said it captured "Eric's achievements, both in electronics and for local people".

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