NOSTALGIA: Fond memories of Birds Eye in Eastbourne

Staff at work on the Arctic roll production line
Staff at work on the Arctic roll production line

I now live in Gloucester and I work in the Walls Ice cream factory, writes former Birds Eye employee John Clarke.

I started working at Birds Eye in 1976 just after finishing my apprenticeship at Stainless Steel Pumps.

I worked on the engineering side and knew former colleague Nobby Clark, whose obituary the Eastbourne Herald carried, very well.

I went to college in Hastings with his son, Kevin I think.

Anyway, as we all know, the factory was closed down, and I, having a very young family, chose to follow the transfer up to Gloucester.

I have worked in the Gloucester factory for all my life since and now am one of the senior managers.

Sadly the Birds Eye element disappeared in the late 90s with the wind up of production of Arctic rolls, eclairs and sponges.

Birds Eye still exists as a brand, they are a shadow of the company when I first started.

Birds Eye had factories in Kirby Liverpool, Hull, Grimsby, Lowestoft, Yarmouth and of course Eastbourne.

The company was part of the Unilever group, which is who I work for.

The Birds Eye element was sold off to private equity not long after about 2003 I think.

By then, only Lowestoft factory remained, still to this day.

There is a small vestige of Birds Eye on our Gloucester site where about 20 – 30 employees work, primarily processing accounts for the brand. Lowestoft still produces primarily vegetables, all the remainder are produced through third party co-packers.

As I mention above, I still work in the ice cream factory in Gloucester.

There are about 10 – 15 of us that migrated up in 1986 from Eastbourne still working in the factory, all with fond memories of the time we had there.

Nowadays we are making Magnums, Viennetta, Cornetto, Twisters and many other ice creams. Still much of the technology is used, that we would have used in Eastbourne, although much more efficient.

My ex-Eastbourne colleagues up here would love to look at the old photos of Birds Eye and share some of the memories.

John Clarke, via email jatclarke999@btinternet.com

* Birds Eye was Eastbourne’s largest employer in its heyday and the massive plant in Lottbridge Drove was capable of producing more than 17 million Arctic rolls, 19 million dairy cream sponges, nine million chocolate eclairs, two million dairy cream doughnuts and a million Arctic logs every year not to mention pastry products, catering sweets, tub deserts and whipped cream.

The Arctic roll was the company’s best seller – a dessert made of vanilla ice cream wrapped in a thin layer of sponge cake to form a roll, with a layer of raspberry flavoured sauce between the sponge and the ice cream.

The dessert is believed to have been invented in the 1950s by Czech lawyer, Ernest Velden, who had migrated to England in 1939 and set up the factory in Eastbourne producing Arctic roll in 1958.

During the 1980s more than 25 miles of Birds Eye Arctic roll were sold each month.

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