Edna is still a big fan of Vent-Axia

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The late 40s and into the 50s was a time of huge change for Crawley as it transformed from village to new town.

Manor Royal quickly blossomed into one of the strongest industrial estates in the area with companies flooding down from London.

Crawley History: Vent-Axia

Crawley History: Vent-Axia

One such company was Vent-Axia, which set up shop in 1959 – and the first member of staff to give up the city and head for Sussex was Edna Barnett.

Edna began working for the company in 1943 at the age of 18, when it was based in Putney. She stayed until 1985 when she retired, aged 60.

This month, at the age of 88, she was presented with a bouquet of flowers by chief executive Ronnie George after she returned to Vent-Axia to see how much the company had changed.

This is her story.

“Edna Barnett was born in 1925 in Brighton although she grew up in Fulham in London.

In 1943, during the Second World War, at the age of 18 she went to the Labour Exchange who sent her to work at fan manufacturer Vent-Axia in Collinette Road, Putney.

In 1936 Joe Akester had invented the world’s first electrically-operated, window fan and Vent-Axia was born - the marketing leading fan manufacturer in the UK - although, the Vent-Axia that Edna joined was very different to today’s.

At the time, the manufacturing took place in a garage and Edna worked across the road in Upper Richmond Road, in the accounts department in an office which was actually a flat.

Since Edna did the accounts she would pay in the cheques she received.

Edna remembers receiving a very memorable cheque.

She said: “I told the accountant Bill Marsh that I had a cheque from Winnie. He asked, ‘Who?’ and I said ‘Winston Churchill’.

“Bill told me not to pay that cheque in and to give it to the company secretary. The cheque was never paid in.”

A replica of the cheque can be seen in Vent-Axia’s reception.

As the company was quite small at the time, Edna’s job included a ‘bit of everything’ including the letters, wages and company accounts.

But Edna’s first job of the morning was to clean the grate and light the fire!

She also has fond memories of Joe Akester coming into the office in the morning and sitting in front of the fire.

She said: “One day he said to me that he could smell burning and I told him it was the soles of his feet.”

Edna said working at Vent-Axia then was like working for a family and she was happy there: “My first pay was £2.50 a week which was good pay.”

As the company grew, Vent-Axia moved to Putney Bridge Road in the early 50s – and Edna’s family was also growing with the birth of her first child, William.

In 1957 she lived in two cramped rooms with her husband and son. They had a cooker on the landing, a toilet two floors down and no bathroom.

Due to wartime bombing causing a house shortage, she thought they would never live in a house.

However, in 1958 she was told by Vent-Axia that she would have a chance of a house as the company was moving to the new town Crawley, in West Sussex.

Edna went to look at the first houses being built in Gossops Green in the October. She was then the first member of staff to move down in February 1959 so that she could train the staff who moved to Crawley in the April.

She said: “Crawley was just wonderful, open space, the house and the garden, especially with a two-year-old.

“My son couldn’t believe it. He was running round everywhere after living in two rooms he now had a garden and space. It was brilliant.”

When Vent-Axia moved down to Crawley it was originally situated on the opposite corner of Fleming Way and Newton Road to where it stands today.

The Manor Royal industrial estate was in its infancy and Vent-Axia had fields opposite.

Edna’s family then grew again with the birth of her second son James in 1963.

Edna’s work was so valued that she worked at home with Vent-Axia sending a typewriter home with her so that she could continue to work in her home office.

Vent-Axia also continued to grow with the company moving to the opposite corner of Fleming Way and Newton Road where it is situated today.

To mark the move, the company planted a tree outside the building on the corner.

When the company had moved from Colinette Road to Putney Bridge Road, Edna had saved a piece of the rationed coal as a lucky keepsake for the company.

She kept the coal in her drawer and it moved with Vent-Axia to Crawley.

When the company made its final move, Edna gave the coal to the managing director at the time, Eddie Taylor, who planted it with the tree.

Edna retired in 1985 aged 60 - she still lives in the same house in Crawley.

Regarding the growth of the company, Edna said: “I can’t believe it, how much Vent-Axia has grown. We would have never thought it would be like this. It’s amazing. I only wish Joe Akester was here to see it.

“It just seems impossible. The offices were so new and modern with computers everywhere. When I worked in accounts I didn’t even have a calculator, I did it all in my head.”