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Rose Calendars celebrates 100 years in business

Of all the family firms in Colchester, few are more remarkable than Rose of Colchester, the calendar manufacturers, who this year celebrate 100 years in business.

Remarkable? Well, they started in an odd way. In 1896, aged 37, George Rose arrived in Colchester to manage the Peveril Hotel on North Hill, direct from an unsuccessful career running a restaurant in Nottingham. From Nottingham to Colchester, a distant market town, was an odd move, but no less so than his journey to Nottingham from his family home at Haddenham in Bucks. Clearly George Rose travelled on railways, but otherwise his early, apparently romantic, life is unknown.

He managed the Peveril Hotel well and in his spare time began selling calendars for Formans of Nottingham, then the leading producers of advertising calendars in Britain. The Nottingham link is obvious: had he done this before? Soon George was publishing his own calendars, printed by the Colchester firm of Cullingfords. Finally, in 1908, he set up his own company, E. Rose & Co., in the name of his wife, a common device so that, in the event of bankruptcy, he himself was not cleaned out.

The business grew, and in 1910 moved into a large factory in New Town, vacated by George & Co. boot and shoe manufacturers. Here Rose’s traded for 77 years. Early calendars, of course, were in black and white, but even at that date the use of pin ups was common. It’s just that Edwardian pin ups, draped in flowing white robes, were not what pin ups have come to be today. Nevertheless such pin ups dominated each monthly display, leaving the monthly dates in a tiny box at the bottom.

George Rose was remarkably successful. The key to this success was the first six months of the year when salesmen, including George, toured different regions finding new customers. The second six months were devoted to producing the calendars. George Rose had a remarkable brother, Walter, who though only a village carpenter at Haddenham, published three books about village life. In 1918, his son, Ivor Rose, moved to Colchester to work for his uncle’s business.

Remarkable? During the 1920s and 1930s gloom enveloped the economy, but Rose & Co went from strength to strength. George Rose was now well off and became one of Colchester’s most remarkable philanthropists ever. He paid for an entire ward at Colchester Hospital, then struggling on its sole income from voluntary gifts. He funded 21 bungalow almshouses for the Winsley and Winnock Charities. He gave so generously to the annual mayor’s fund for the unemployed that the Town Council presented him with a special resolution of thanks at a town hall ceremony. By the time of his death he had given £35,000 to Colchester charities, a sum worth ten times that today. Yet George Rose is hardly remembered now.

Ivor Rose took over the business, steering it through the difficult days of World War II. Paper was scarce, staff in the services, and calendars not a national priority. Only in the 1945 was three-colour printing introduced, achieved by passing a sheet through the press three times, each with a different coloured copper plate. But, with 40 nation-wide salesmen, Rose’s mostly made simple number and memo calendars.

In 1956 Ivor was joined by his eldest son Richard to form a Limited Company. After taking a degree at Oxford Richard (known as Dick) did his stint selling calendars, often disappearing to Scotland for four weeks at a time. The younger son, Christopher, studied Printing Management at the London College of Printing. On Ivor’s death the brothers split responsibilities: Richard running administration and sales, Chris production. Above all, quality was pursued as more and more advanced equipment was purchased. As the ‘print revolution’ progressed from ‘hot metal’ to photo-reproduction, Rose’s were able to move into the quality end of the market.

By now the factory at Kendal Road had become too small. Chris Rose was able to design a purpose-built factory on the Severalls Industrial Estate of 15,000 square feet, since increased by a further 10,000. Annual turnover soared to over £1,000,000. Computer typesetting arrived and digital processing is now being introduced. Staff morale has also soared and Rose of Colchester is now acknowledged to have the country’s finest plant in this specialised industry. Today it is daft to give all the credit to a board of directors. It is the quality and commitment of the staff which makes Rose’s different.

All paper now comes from sustainable sources and a new calendar explaining how to reduce carbon footprints has sold well. With five-colour printers running at 13,000 sheets an hour, not only can Rose offer over 100 calendar designs, but, with their digital press,anyone can order a customised calendar, from as few as 25 copies.

Since 1991 Michael Rose, the fourth generation, has followed his father Chris into the business, while Dick Rose, who sadly died earlier this year, has emulated his uncle in his contributions to local charities. A long distance runner, he completed 35 marathons, did several long distance walks, and raised around £30,000 for a host of local causes. Andrew Clement and Ralph White-Robinson, non family members, have also joined the Board.

Remarkable? Should not Colchester celebrate a 100-year-old, community minded company which ranks among the best in Britain?

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