Yesteryear: Luton firm Kent’s vital role in the war effort

George Kent Ltd, meter manufacturers, opened premises in Luton in 1908 and by 1914 employed 450 male workers. For much of the 20th century, the company was a major employer in the town.
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Within a few days of the outbreak of the Great War, Kent’s offered to assist the government in the production of armaments. By 1918, the firm had over 8,000 employees across two sites - and was producing 140,000 shell fuses per week.

Approximately 3,000 workers – 80% of them women - worked at Chaul End on continuous day and night shifts until the end of the war. It was a dangerous undertaking and there were several fatal accidents. The women who worked with TNT found that the substance turned their hair and complexions yellow and they were known locally as ‘Kent’s Canaries’.

Violet Golding, aged 16 or 17, was putting caps on detonators in 1916 when one exploded in her hand. She lost the tips of one finger and thumb and sustained severe burns on her left arm. She returned to work after three months and was given £50 by her employers, which she used to buy a bicycle. Violet was one of the first people to ever receive an MBE.

Workers leaving the factory after a shift in 1950 with a significant proportion of them leaving with their bicycles.​Workers leaving the factory after a shift in 1950 with a significant proportion of them leaving with their bicycles.​
Workers leaving the factory after a shift in 1950 with a significant proportion of them leaving with their bicycles.​

After the war, Kent established a strong Research and Development Department and its product range expanded rapidly during the 1950s. The company's Mechanical Meter Division incorporated a number of innovations that revolutionised domestic water measurement. This photograph shows workers leaving the factory after a shift in 1950 with a significant proportion of them leaving with their bicycles.

In January 1980 George Kent Limited changed its name to Brown Boveri Kent Limited following a merger with the Swiss company. After further mergers and acquisitions, Kent name now exists as a heritage brand under the ABB (ASEA Brown Boveri) umbrella.

Kent Athletic Club – the last reminder of the factory’s existence locally - closed its doors for the final time in 2015.

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