If you wanted proof that the family way works for the building industry then consider an unbroken line of five generations of fathers and sons at W J Cooper & Sons. Professional Builder’s Lee Jones takes the Renault Trafic on its holidays to Southend-on-Sea to visit a firm that has been painting the town since 1887.
Nine recessions, a great depression and two World Wars – that’s the sometimes perilous path that generations of proprietors of W J Cooper & Sons have successfully navigated over more than a century.
Today it is father and son team, Colin and John who are continuing a fine tradition of quality workmanship in the Essex seaside resort and its surrounds.
In fact, Professional Builder first featured this most resilient of small building firms back in 1995 when the patriarch of the painting firm avowed to our reporter at the time that his ambition for the next five or ten years was “to still be here and enjoy it!”
Now 73, and showing no signs of retiring, that’s an objective he has achieved quite comfortably, and with a new generation waiting in the wings Colin’s legacy should be secured.
It all began in when Queen Victoria was still on throne when in 1887 William Joshua Cooper moved from London to Southend and started his own building company with his father-in-law.
In the coming years the pair would steadily prosper, with William Joshua passing the building company baton to his son William John in 1926.
In the years immediately after the Great War there was plenty of work to be had across the county. England’s eastern coast was well within range of the raids from Zeppelin airships and, when the guns of Flanders fields were finally silenced, the vital work of reconstruction would fall to firms like W J Cooper and Sons.
The heir to the company’s fortunes had himself served at the front, an experience he would share with his own sons, William Frederick and Geoffrey, both of whom saw active service in the next great conflagration to engulf the continent.
The damage from air raids in the 1914–18 conflict was nothing compared to the devastation the Luftwaffe visited upon our urban centres during the Second World War.
The two brothers returned to a society that was desperately in need of an army of skilled tradespeople to help win the peace, and with their family background were destined to join their ranks.
William Frederick and Geoffrey actually used their demob money to buy the firm from their father for what at the time would have been the princely sum of £750, a rather shrewd move on the part of the senior Cooper in that he had himself been given the firm by his father for nothing!
The post war boom years saw a move to bigger premise in Howard’s Close, where the company would reside until 1970, when the council compulsorily purchased the yard.
W J Cooper then effectively moved across the road to North St, where they built a new yard, workshop and office. Remarkably, that long and proud history encompasses an unbroken succession of five generations of father and son, and that is a tradition that could well continue.
“My son, Ewan is only five and has a bit of growing to do yet before he can join the business but he loves to come out on site with me,” explains John Cooper.
“Of course, it’s up to him if he wants to extend the Cooper and Sons lineage still further, and we wouldn’t put any pressure on him to do so.
“I like to think that we are the custodians of the company, because hopefully W J Coopers and Sons will be around long after I and my father have hung up our paintbrushes.”
In the 21 years since we last spoke to the Coopers the building industry has experienced some fundamental changes, whilst also enduring the longest recession in post-war history, and we asked John what developments his company has seen in that time?
“Probably one of the principal things that’s changed for us over the years is that it’s mainly decorating we’re engaged in now, with some general house maintenance and refurbishment in there as well. We’ve recently invested in a spray set up so we engage on the exterior decoration of properties as well.”
The company’s vehicles – emblazoned with a logo that is redolent in style of establishments of days gone by – are a testament to the traditional view that the Cooper clan espouse in business.
“We’re quite a small company in that there’s my father, Colin, myself and our painter Irving on the payroll and that for us is part of our success. We know what we are good at and provide a personal and high quality service for our clients. Large growth has never really been our ambition and I do believe that you’ve got to enjoy what you’ve got.”
WATCH THIS SPACE!
With some of the smart solutions Renault has developed the Trafic could be just like one of the family. If you’re in need of extra capacity to carry longer items like pipes or guttering, for instance then the through bulkhead continues all the way under the passenger bench allowing you to carry anything up to 4.15 metres long (LWB).
In addition, the load through bulkhead flap is magnetised to fix easily and securely in place.
An interior rack frees up floor space and lets you carry items up to 2m long and 13kg in weight, whilst the vehicle is available with up to 18 anchorage rings, depending on the version, including eight attached to the floor.