A modern history of Alfred Groves and Sons Ltd

Fire at Groves 1935

Fire at Groves 1935

Groves, a name synonymous with Milton under Wychwood, has dominated the centre of the village for literally centuries. A shop for building supplies and DIY, a succession of workshops of various sizes, home to a series of local enterprises – all this within a patch of land that to most villagers, remains a closed book. That book, however, is well worth reading.

The present company Alfred Groves and Sons was formed in 1904 but the origins go back to 1660 when William Groves, a stone mason, established a business in Milton to exploit the local stone quarries. Successive generations of the family continued to run the firm right up until the present day. Indeed, three descendants of the family form the board of today. Robert Parsons, grandson of Sam Groves, died in 2019 after 30 years in his role of chairman, a very hands-on chairman who regularly visited the sites where his workers were employed. But while the family links have been retained, the business itself has changed beyond recognition.

What started off life as a stone masonry business developed into the country’s largest dealer in timber, in particular elm trees. An old aerial photo dated at around 1970 shows the ground scattered with logs, mainly of elm trees, so it is no surprise that this land is now occupied by Elm Grove while Elms House borders the northern edge of the site. That photo on its own would indicate how life has changed for Alfred Groves and Sons Limited. Gone are the logs, not to mention the elm trees, gone are many of the original buildings, replaced by renovated outbuildings and a range of three huge business units completed in 2000, each the size of a football pitch. But when growing prosperity seemed assured, disaster struck.

On 9th October 2012, fire destroyed the shop and main outlet of the business. An undistinguished building was reduced overnight to smoking embers. Shaken but unstirred, a Portakabin was erected within days and sales resumed in very short measure. This, however, was an opportunity to make more wholesale improvements. By February 2015 a much more futuristic design had emerged. The shop was re-launched and just a year later the offices above the shop had been opened up into an airy and distinctly 21st century administrative hub.

While most members of the community are aware of the shop, Alfred Groves is so much more than that. In addition to the shop, one which now splits its trade fifty/fifty between trade and retail, there is a large high-roofed joinery workshop, one that reeks of that unmistakable smell of fresh sawdust, a smell forever associated with the school woodwork room. Windows, doors, staircases and cabinetry form the hub of the activity alongside more bespoke, one-off constructions. It was in this workshop that Alan Watkins worked for so many years before he too passed away in 2019, a man of smiles and dedication, one of many who belonged to a family business which valued its workers and rewarded their efforts.

Then there is Groves the building contractors. While no job appears to be too small, the main focus is on converting period properties into modern residences. Patios are laid, conservatories installed, pools dug, roofs thatched, all in the search for the dream Cotswold property. Any snags are resolved and the end results win many plaudits.

Finally there is Groves the property developers. The land is theirs, the buildings, old and new are theirs, so probably the main focus of the firm is to make best use of these assets. On the fringes of the site, one old house is now occupied by the dentists while a modernised property is used for the Breakspeare Clinic. Within the main site, several spaces have been modernised into self-contained flats. A board beside the site’s entrance lists a whole range of industrial units, everything from fellow local building firm, Robin Perry, to Lanchburys car maintenance workshop to Wychwood Machinery where even high spec components used by Formula One outfits are manufactured, to the furniture business of Richard Stamp Agencies. There are even two beauty salons. For Alfred Groves, variety is clearly the spice of life, not to mention of livelihoods.

grovesteamnewstorewithrobertparsonsGroves is a company that is integral to its community. Not only is it the workplace for 15 employees, plus around a further 60 on site, but its community allegiance is shown in its support for major events ranging from the village fete all the way down to refilling the salt bins. The shop is expanding in line with modern demands shown, for example, in its increasing business in garden products.

The board and its avuncular chief officer, Simon Wilkins, is looking to the future. Building on the legacy left by such as Robert Parsons, Alan Watkins and long-serving managing director, Roger Rawlins, the firm is well aware of the highly competitive field in which it is working. Nothing, so they say, stands still for long. Computer systems and solutions, Simon’s speciality, are in need of bringing up to date. Simon is looking ahead:

“We recognize the importance we’ve played within the Wychwood community. Our DIY store is currently the most visible element of that with many local residents relying on us to help maintain their homes and gardens. We continue to invest in all our businesses, and you will undoubtedly see changes within the shop and improvements to the estate as our plans unfold.”

The impression left is of a business that lies at the centre of the community, a business that values its employees, one that is aware of its heritage, and one that is determined to maintain and enhance the reputation for which it is well known.

April – May 2020