This year marks the 100th anniversary of Wightman & Parrish, a leading supplier of healthcare and hygiene supplies.
The company’s story began when King George V was on the throne and television hadn’t been invented.
Frederick Parrish joined George Wightman to start the firm in Lewes in 1915 and the two men were selling horseshoes and other ironmongery products to wheelwrights and blacksmiths across the county.
The company evolved to meet the changing needs of society and at one time had china shops and a builders’ merchant. But in more recent years, its core business has been in healthcare and hygiene.
The firm is now in the fourth generation of the Parrish family and has grown to employ more than 100 employees with a warehouse and offices in Station Road Industrial Estate, Hailsham.
Going into the family business became a popular choice and Frederick’s son Eric joined the company in 1922 aged 16. During his career with the company he developed the builder merchant side of the business, but retained the ironmongery side.
It wasn’t only the men who joined the firm. When Eric served in the army during the Second World War, his mother Catherine stepped in to run the business. Grandson Michael joined in 1960 and developed the retail side of the business, joined by his wife Pam a few years later to take care of pricing and payroll.
A turning point came in 1968, when Sussex Police Authority established a headquarters in Lewes. Michael visited them to ask if W&P could quote for their business.
“Although the job went out to tender and we didn’t know a thing about industrial cleaning products, we quoted and won the contract. That was the start of the business as we know it today,” said Michael, now chairman of W&P.
Thanks to that contract, by 1976 W&P had outgrown its Lewes premises.
“We couldn’t find a warehouse anywhere so we ended up in Hailsham. Twelve years later we built new offices adjoining the warehouse and we were very lucky in that all our staff came with us,”
When Michael’s son Nicholas joined the company in 1995, he led W&P into the healthcare equipment business.
Personnel co-ordinator and directors’ PA, Dorothy Martin, has spent her whole working life at
“I’ve been here for 43 years and as you’d expect, the company was very different when I joined as a trainee secretary,” said Dororthy.
“We had to type catalogues on a stencil and if you made a mistake you had to start the whole document again.
“I also worked on switchboard, but that became redundant as people began to take their own calls.”
To celebrate W&P’s centenary year, a dinner was held for staff and partners.
Nicholas Parrish is proud of W&P’s history. “Celebrating 100 years is a feat that few companies ever achieve and I find it very difficult to imagine what it must be like in 1915 when this business was started,” he said.
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