Derek Crouch (Contractors) had a large 11 acre premises to the east of the village. The company was known across the United Kingdom and Australia for its open cast mining. Before 1957 when Derek Crouch constructed his workshop a big house know as the ‘The Lawns’1 stood on the plot, today the Fountains Place housing estate covers the site where the company resided. The premises had a large workshop, a hanger, for the company aircraft and offices at the front of the property. Mr Crouch was an experienced pilot and he regularly flew to the north east of England to inspect his mines.
The company had been in operation a number of years before it was floated on the stock exchange in 1971. They were contracted to run the biggest open cast mines across the UK, their opencast site at Llanharan, South Wales covered 800 acres and produced 330,000 tonnes of coal each year. At its peak the company was highly successful, between 1975 and 1977 the companies profits increased from £983,000 to £2.55 million.
The company was well known across the UK as a leader in open cast mining but they were also involved in construction and plant maintenance. In 1984 they had branches in Birtley, Uanharan, Widdrington, Perth, Australia and Philipsburg, Pa. USA .They first got into surface mining in 1945 and quickly developed into a major pioneering force with an impressive list of achievements. This included the only bucket-wheel excavator to be used in a U.K. coal mine; the purchase, in 1969, of a B-E 1550W walking dragline otherwise known as Big Georgie – the largest in Europe until 1990.
Derek Crouch head quarters were in Eye until 1987 when the company was was acquired by Ryan International and the business was moved to Morpeth, Northumberland, one of the largest opencast coal sites in England. The land in Eye was sold off for housing.
After purchase by Ryan international the name was changed to Crouch Mining. The company were investors in the latest technology and equipment available to the industry, incuding the largest walking dragline in Europe, The Ace of Spades. Crouch mining was equipped to remain at the forefront of opencast mining.
The large investments the company had made were costing the company dearly and with the import in cheap coal and the growth in gas power stations, the company was struggling. In 2001 the company had a turnover of £45 million but lost over £5 million. This couldn’t be sustained and Crouch Mining fell into receivership in December 2003 following a number of years of financial difficulties. Half of the company’s 139 jobs were secured when the company’s plant repair business was sold to UK Coal.
The man behind the company: Derek Crouch
Derek Charles Howard Crouch was born in Manea on the 31 May 1921 and was educated at Oundle School. He formed his own business at the age of 19 and built up Derek Crouch PLC into one of the country’s leading construction and civil engineering businesses with interests throughout UK, USA and Australia. He learned to fly in 1945 and piloted his own plane for more than 40 years. His greatest adventure was said to be his trip to South Africa in 1967.
Together with his brother Maurice and father Harry they were among the pioneers of Green Crop Dehydration in UK importing one of the first processing plants from USA in the 40s. In 1954 he married Pamela Martha Elizabeth Whittome who came from a wealthy farming family. Interestingly Pamela was also a licensed flyer, was it through that common interest how they met? Her previous husband of whom she’d had four children with had died in 1952.
Dereks brother Maurice Alfred Crouch was also a qualified pilot. Maurice farmed at Carrolls Farm, Wisbech Road, Manea. In the 1950s/60s he was also farming on the island of Alderney, where he grew flowers and early produce, flying them into Cambridge for the London markets. He retired to the island of Alderney. Maurice Crouch (Growers) Ltd is still in operation at Three Holes near Cambridgeshire. He also was also a well known cricketer who played for Cambridgeshire in the Minor Counties championship from 1936-1965 and captained the team from 1952. His best score was 81 against Oxford at Lord’s in 1952. Other clubs he played for were March, Wisbech, Camden and St Giles. Maurice died in Morocco in March 2001 aged 83.
Derek left around £4m when he died in 1989 aged 67.
The Derek Crouch Locomotive
At the Nene Valley Railway in Wansford sits the locomotive The Derek Crouch. The locomotive is a Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0ST built in 1924 at a cost of £1,800.
Originally ordered by Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons for use on the Watford bypass. In 1943 the loco was purchased for use on the Wissington Light Railway and was overhauled at Doncaster. It was purchased by Derek Crouch (Contractors) Ltd in the 1960’s for use at an open cast coal working in Widderington, Northumberland which is still in operation today. It was during this time when the locomotive was re-named the ‘Derek Crouch’. It remained at the works until 1970, when the locomotive was moved and placed in storage at Derek Crouch’s base in Eye. In 1972 the it was placed on permanent loan to the Nene Valley Railway and hauled the Nene Valley Railways first trains in 1974. Over the past few years the body had deteriorated but it was great to see the little loco was recently being cosmetically restorated. You can read more here.
1 ‘The Lawns’ owned by a Mr. W. G. Moore was the centre of peace day celebrations in the village after the peace treaty had been signed at the end of the first world war. Later in the year an oak tree was planted in the grounds to which were added a commemorative tablet and iron fence. It is unknown if this tree still survives somewhere on the estate.
Today Fountains Place covers the plot of land. The entrance is to the estate is still in the same place as it was in Derek Crouch’s time and original front wall still stands.
Did you work for Derek Crouch, do you have any photos of the HQ in Eye? Please let us know.