09 January 2020

Watson through the years - The 60s

Watsons Wokingham Depot 1960

New opportunities in the central heating market, together with rapid expansion, made this decade one of the most important and successful periods for Watson Petroleum. The 60’s heralded a major change in the domestic central heating market. With the development of the small-bore system and the use of circulating pumps, central heating could be designed for almost any property regardless of size. Ironically it was the Coal Utilisation Council that put Watson Petroleum on this particular road to success, the small-bore system creating the opportunity for the company to thrive.

In 1960 Regent launched their Domestic Heating Plan and began searching for suitable distributors willing to invest in this new market. By now the agricultural merchant side of Tony Watson’s original company was diminishing and the oil distribution side of the business was increasing, particularly so when Regent, looking for a distributor in the Reading district for its Domestic Heating Plan, gave Watson Petroleum the contract. It was in 1962 that Watson Heating Limited was formed, born out of Tony Watson’s trip to Canada, specifically to study the operations of a large distributor who was a specialist in the home heating market. Based on what Tony learnt, Watson Heating was able to offer a fully integrated service consisting of design, installation, fuel supply and burner maintenance. Pioneers in the design of brick central heating systems it was Watson Heating that installed the first central heating oil storage system in Berkshire. A showroom was also opened in Reading, displaying oil heaters together with demonstration boilers and radiators.

Watsons Mini Van

A new depot was built in Theale, four miles from Reading. It had three storage tanks, each with a 5,000 gallon capacity. However within the first month of the depot being open, sales were in the region of 40,000 gallons, proving that the storage was totally inadequate. The problem of storage was made worse when an old established distributor in the Luton area, Missenden Limited, decided against investing in the domestic heating oil market and part of their area was reallocated by Regent to Watson. For a time operations continued from the Missenden depot, but demand continued to outstrip supply and the storage problem refused to go away. Finding another site for a depot was almost impossible – not only in the Luton district, but in other areas as well.

In the severe winter of 1962/63, when every gallon available was needed, the area had to be supported by deliveries from the hard pressed depot at Theale which was over 50 miles away. Eventually a rail link was established with the Canvey Island terminal and this continued to relieve the problem until Watson Petroleum opened a new depot in Bletchley – now Milton Keynes – a year later. While all this was going on the main  operations base was the rustic Brinkworth Head Office. There were two offices at one end of the building both reached by outside steps. Tony Watson was based in one office and his secretary, Audrey Parkinson, in the other.

Audrey was the very first member of the Watson office staff. She remained the only member while building work was carried out and then, after two years, was joined by more staff to cope with the increase in business and the administrative work such growth demanded.

In 1966 a Boiler Service Department was set up as part of the Theale depot Oil Burner maintenance had been a real problem from the early days. There was a lack of experienced engineers to undertake any form of planned servicing and breakdowns were frequent requiring emergency services that were not readily available. Colin Bushnell was recruited to work with the first Watson Petroleum engineer, Roger Brookes, and in due course became manager of the rapidly growing department. Most of his recruits had electrical backgrounds, but no previous experience of oil heating. Carefully planned on-the-job training, supplemented by courses provided by boiler manufacturers and by Regent’s new training school at Wokingham was the answer. As Watson Petroleum expanded taking on more and more depots, customers in each area were able to enjoy the benefits of integrated service provided by the company. It was in 1967 that Watson Petroleum moved into the Oxford area, taking over Cowley Coal and Oil. Wessex Oil and Heating Limited terminated their distributorship of the Hampshire area and Watson Petroleum took over the business, lock, stock and barrel – staff, vehicles, the lot. Delivery to the boundary of this area, Bournemouth, was eased by the purchase of Walne Oil in May 1967 with their depot in Dorchester, and the capacity to accept additional deliveries in the western part of Hampshire was assured. When Wades Fuels ended their Texaco distributorship in October 1968, Watson Petroleum agreed, to take over the area in West London, maintaining supplies from Reading until a suitable depot could be found.

A fantastic rate of expansion by any standards, but not without its problems – storage again and accessibility being the main concerns. The refurbishment of the old Regent depot at Wokingham eased many of the difficulties for Watson Petroleum. Delivery operations previously carried out from Theale were transferred to Wokingham which offered substantial storage capacity and adequate facilities for day and night working.