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From the Folkestone Herald Published 20 January 2000

Success story.

ONE OF a fair number of Old Boys of Folkestone’s George Spurgen School to do well in business or in other spheres, Doug Denham, who I featured in Memories last week, went on to head an enterprise which grew to four companies and had 17 shops.

Doug, who set himself up in business, making and selling bicycles at Denmark Street, off Canterbury Road, before the Second World War, later switched to the radio and television retail and maintenance and launched an electrical contracting business. At the peak his businesses in Kent provided jobs for 400 people.

Many Herald readers will remember his old shop at 38/40 Rendezvous Street.

And yet, he tells me, his parents had been unable to afford to send him to the grammar school.

He had two sons and a daughter of his own, later adding two stepdaughters with marriage to his third wife. His strong link with George Spurgen School was strengthened when his son Peter, now living in Australia, married Carol Neale, daughter of the Headmaster.

Doug’s first business grew out of his enterprise in building his own bicycles, which he sold to classmates at school, starting with a workshop in the basement of Sharp & Sons Dairy milk shop in Denmark Street. This was managed by his father and the enterprise had the blessing of George Sharp, joint owner of the dairy business.

He later moved across the road to 2 Denmark Street and recalls how the business branched out to supply electrical accumulators which many people used to power their early radio sets.

I remember how my grandparents near Frindsbury, Rochester, still used these until well after the Second World War.

The accumulators had to be recharged about once a week and could be hired from shops like Doug’s before the War. At one time he had 10,000 of them, said Doug, and had one or more vehicles to collect and deliver them. He had a staff of three including Reg Santer, a driver. In 1953 500 accumulators a week were being supplied - the charge just over one shilling {5p} a week, including delivery!


5p gallon petrol!

He vividly remembers too, the day the price of petrol went up to a shilling a gallon (5p in today’s currency) and he decided to switch to three-wheeler vans which were cheaper to run.

As an apprentice to help with the bicycles Doug took on Alec Hughes, but sadly, war intervened, Alec joined 232 Squadron RAF and, like Doug became a PoW.

Tragically, Alec fell victim to the cruelty of the Japanese, being one of many hundreds who died on a forced march of 150 miles in the Far East.

By a strange twist of fate Doug and Alec came close to meeting in one of the big PoW camps. Doug heard that Alec had been asking after him. But, he said, sadly, Alec was whisked away before they could meet.

Doug had joined the RAF reserve in 1938 and after the miracle of the Dunkirk evacuation of the British Army from France he was sent on an engineering course, working on Pratt & Witney aero engines. Afterwards he worked at Harwel with an experimental bomber squadron before volunteering for overseas service.

Building up his radio and television service after the war he had become the biggest local electrical contractor by late 1953 and the head of a limited company - not bad for an entrepreneur who started from humble beginnings in a cellar!

When Seeboard threatened to become major competitors, launching into the retail market with electrical goods, Doug got together with other smaller firms in Kent and Sussex to counter this threat with bulk buying of products, forming the Star Television Appliance Retailers Group.

As television for the masses took off, they were ordering between 750 and a thousand sets at a time.

At one time there were 7,000 sets out on rental. And for a while his father Jack, of Hawkinge, came out of retirement to help.

Denhams, which at one stage bought the old gas workshops in Pavilion Road - now a tyre depot -as part of its expansion, branched out into four companies.

There was Denham (Folkestone) Ltd, with two shops in the town and one in Hythe, Denhams Contracting Ltd, doing electrical installations, with the late John Reynolds of Folkestone the manager, Renteevee Ltd, renting a variety of electrical goods, and Man of Kent Services Ltd, handling all servicing.

They also carried on the business strategem of providing equipment on loan for customers during repairs to appliances, Doug had introduced after the war.

The company were contractors to Folkestone, Dover, Ashford and Romney Marsh Councils, Southern Railway, Folkestone Harbour Board, the Army, Police and Coastguards, to name a few and there was a chain of 17 shops as far west as Rye, and at least 14 vehicles.



But when his business partner died in the early 70s, Doug at 53, still feeling the effects of his PoW experiences on his health, decided he’d had enough and gradually, over about five years, scaled down his business interests.

Doug, who cheated death several times in the war and has survived an operation to replace a ruptured aorta - “I now have a new plastic one which, incidentally, was made in Hythe,” he said — is still driving.

And, after 60 years, Doug still has a clean licence.

Now living in retirement in Dorset Doug enjoys visiting his family, including sons Martin (52), of Deal, who worked 28 years for Hollis Motors, and Peter (50) who retired from the Australian Army with the rank of Colonel and now runs a Muscular Dystrophy society in Queensland, and daughter Cheril (46) who also lives in Australia.

Cheril’s husband, Mark Haig, is a sales chief for a major brewery in Australia. They have a son, Paul and daughter, Emma who got married in the UK and lives in Cornwall.

Latest arrival in the family is Elizabeth Haig, aged two, daughter of Cheril’s son, Paul and his wife Marita. And she is Doug’s first great-grandchild.


Denhams outing 1950

A POSTCARD picture of some of the staff of Denhams on a staff outing fifty years ago, - in 1950. The picture, by “Victor,” of Cheriton High Street, was shown to me by Doug Denham.


Otto Marx photo 1937

Several readers have been in touch with me about the Otto Marx the butcher's staff outing picture and I plan to refer to their letters on the subject next week.



More lucky escapes in collisions in the Channel.

THERE were three shipping disasters in seven days at Dungeness. The latest occurred when the Orient liner Ormuz, homebound for London, ran down the South Shields steamer Glasgow which sank in under 10 minutes. Fortunately all 12 of her crew were rescued. Her skipper, Capt Gill and another man were Injured. Eleven were landed at Dover the other was too ill and taken on to London. Passengers of the liner passed a hat round and raised a considerable sum to help replace the seamen's lost belongings. Wrecked the previous day was the William Gordon of Belfast. The 3rd Battalion the North Lancs Regiment at Shorncliffe, was due to embark at the Royal Albert Docks for service In Malta under the command of Colonel L Bonhote, whose brother commanded the Queen's Own (Royal West Kent) Regt, The East Kent Hunt met at New Inn Green and was given the run-around by three foxes, one after the other, the meet eventually being called off at dusk without claiming a ‘brush.’ A local priest preaching his Sunday sermon said the Boer War, In which a growing number of men of East Kent were fighting and dying was the ‘greatest in history.’ He told of the “vile cruelty and horror” to the African natives meted out by the Boers.



Tributes to 12-times mayor the late Stephen Penfold.

TWELVE times Mayor of Folkestone and a remarkable record of 41 years service to the town as a town councillor behind him, Sir Stephen Penfold, 83, died after contracting a chill at an armistice service at the war memorial. Born in the town, the Colonel had watched Folkestone grow from a small fishing village into a leading health resort and was highly respected. A partner in a wine merchants business in Sandgate Road he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the old Cinque Ports Artillery and became a councillor in 1883. He was mayor throughout the First World War and was decorated by the Belgian, French and Italian governments for his work to help the thousands of refugees who came through Folkestone. His work for the Royal Victoria Hospital was also remembered by many people and It was a popular decision of the Council to honour him by making him the town’s first Honorary Freeman. His grandfather had owned the site on which Shorncliffe Camp was built He left a widow and daughter. Palmerston North, a flourishing New Zealand town was so impressed with Folkestone’s War Memorial they decided to have an exact replica, and to engage the same sculptor, Mr FV Blunstone, of Kensington. They planned to plant an avenue of trees to It, bearing Anzac servicemen's names.



Trades Council debate the plight of local homeless.

THE DIFFICULT housing situation of the district was highlighted when Folkestone Trades Council enthusiastically backed a resolution calling for a meeting of all local people seeking homes with council and government officials. The move was Instigated by the local branch of the National Union of Vehicle Builders. The Trades Council was told young married couples desperately needed homes. The town had been seriously short of homes before the Second World War and now, with destruction caused by bombs and shells the situation was worse. And yet the Council had declined to send a deputation to the government seeking more licences to build. The town had been given powers to build 125 houses In 1950 and private enterprise a further 25. But, It was alleged the council dilly-dallied so much It lost the right to build 92 homes In 1949. A Shorncliffe soldier who had been called up In 1940 was given a chance to ‘go straight' by a judge at Quarter Sessions when he pleaded guilty to breaking into an armourer’s store and stealing six revolvers. He was given two years probation after the court heard the weapons had been found hidden behind -a pile of timber. The district faced a three-cornered fight in the coming General Election, with the Liberal candidate a woman, Scots born Mrs Ray Ward Bateman, 48, a housewife and mother.



Minesweeper moves in to check for wartime mines.

THERE was jubilation among local fishermen when it was revealed their efforts had succeeded, via MP Albert Costain, to get something done about wartime mines which were still a hazard in the Channel fishing grounds. This was an about turn by the Government. A last ditch effort by a group of councillors to stop a a 400,000 project to buy private homes on the Golden Valley estate for council tenants was overwhelmingly defeated at the full meeting of the Town Council. One councillor alleged that, with Interest the scheme would ultimately cost about 1.5mililon. But another warned they had local people living In terrible conditions needing re-housing and if the council did not buy the homes a London borough would. On the council waiting list for homes were 900 people. Cllr Gwen Jacques said she appreciated the fears of the residents of the valley who had written to all councillors but she had received other letters too, “which spelled out heartbreaking cases of people living in terrible conditions and begging to be told when they would get a decent home.” And her comments were backed by her husband, Cllr John Jacques. Permission to enable the council to buy private homes had been a godsend, stressed Mrs Jacques. But another councillor who lived on the Golden Valley estate said the use of special powers granted to the housing committee by the Council to buy these homes created an atmosphere of secrecy.


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