Uckfield sewage works, the classic film Ice Cold in Alex, and a famously-restored water cascade at Sheffield Park Gardens all have one thing in common – Uckfield-based civil engineering company C J Thorne and Co.
The company built the sewage works, discreetly helped Sir John Mills ‘push’ an ambulance up a sand bank in Ice Cold in Alex, and re-built the 25-foot cascade between two lakes at the National Trust property.
It all began 75 years ago when Charles Thorne launched the company. He was joined a few years later by his brothers Frank and Leslie and the business remains a family affair. Charles’ son Richard is currently chairman and grandson Chris is managing director.
Chris’ wife Karen is company accountant and his brother David is non-executive finance director. Among 75 employees in Uckfield and 45 in Crawley there are many more father and son teams.
About 150 people attended a 75th anniversary party at Lampool Farm, Fairwarp. This is the home of Richard Thorne and the place where the company was founded in 1939. It is now based in Eastbourne Road, Uckfield having moved there in 1951.
Festivities included a hog roast, photo booth and use of the chairman’s swimming pool, with dancing to music from local band Ice Cream Bikinis.
Managing Director Chris Thorne said at the time: “It’s thrilling to have reached such a notable landmark in the firm’s history and very special to be able to return to our roots to celebrate this special anniversary.”
Civil engineering contractor
C J Thorne is a specialist civil engineering contractor providing services to the water industry, public authorities and major industrial clients throughout the South East.
It delivers projects in the fields of water treatment, reservoirs, coastal and river work, earthworks and landscaping, environmental protection and infrastructure and turns over about £15 million a year.
Current major projects include the £5 million restoration of the King’s Road Arches as part of the regeneration of Brighton seafront, which was recently chosen by the Institution of Civil Engineers as the flagship project in the South East for its promotional ‘This … is Civil Engineering’ scheme, designed to promote interest in the industry.
Charles Thorne launched C J Thorne in 1939 as a two-lorry haulage business but when his brothers, both engineers, joined him after leaving the Army they started buying up ex-war department equipment including bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment and began building school playing fields for local councils, slowly growing the company that can be seen today.
Scott of the Antarctic
It was a chance meeting at an auction that led to C J Thorne’s involvement in the film industry. An Ealing Studios representative needed a replica, for a film, of a snow caterpillar used by Scott during his ill-fated trip to the Antarctic.
Charles Thorne offered to build it and his firm went on to supply other vehicles used in such classics as The Red Beret, Dunkirk and The Heroes of Telemark.
When actor Sir John Mills looked as if he was pushing an ambulance up a sand bank in Ice Cold in Alex, Frank Thorne was hidden the other side of the sand bank operating a winch which was actually taking the strain.
Uckfield High Street Christmas tree
C J Thorne is actively involved in the Uckfield community. It has a close association with the Rotary Club and has supplied their High Street Christmas Tree ever since the Club was formed in 1950.
Look out for the tree being manoeuvred into place on the first Wednesday in December.
You might also spot C J Thorne vehicles used in the carnival procession on Saturday and the company has built the steps used to reach the stage where you will see schoolchildren singing during late night shopping.
Chris Thorne is a director of Uckfield Rugby Club and the company sponsors the club too. One of the charities supported by the business is Young Epilepsy at Lingfield.
Chris paid tribute to employees of C J Thorne in this 75th anniversary year. He said: “That the company is still going strong is a testament to the hard work of our employees over all those years and we aim to continue to grow the business in Uckfield for many years to come.”