Wilford & Dean is a new brand, launched on 3 May, for a business that’s as old as the imperial barge built for Napoleon, and that was set up in the days depicted in Pride and Prejudice. Sharing its stories of working locally with generations of local people is a priority, and the stories will soon be on display in Wilford & Dean’s offices in Newport Pagnell.
The business has been named after the men who had the most influence on it and who led it for 185 years: Wilford & Dean. It has only traded under two other registered names since it was established in 1810 by Charles Wilford – Wilford Brothers, and then Newport Pagnell Construction from 1972. Mike Dean became managing director in 1976.
Wilford & Dean still provides building and maintenance for heritage properties. It has also built some of the modern features of Milton Keynes, such as the Octo sculpture pool, which the Milton Keynes Development Corporation used as a symbol of Milton Keynes in their worldwide sales drive in the 1970s and 1980s.
What is now part of Wilford & Dean remained in the Wilford family for the first 145 years of trading, and has always been based in Newport Pagnell. 55-57 Union Street was bought at auction for £265 at 7pm on 31 October in 1888 at The Swan Revived Hotel, a short walk away.
Like most nineteenth-century builders, Wilford Brothers were also headstone masons and undertakers – staff doubled as professional mourners and pallbearers. They stopped providing this service in the 1960s.
When Mike Dean joined as a project surveyor in 1972, they were still using a wooden hand cart for minor works in Newport Pagnell. At the same time, the company forged ahead, building some of Milton Keynes’ schools.
While Milton Keynes was being built, competition for construction labour was fierce. Labour gangs would move from site to site and often renege on agreements with contractors over start dates.
“The shortage of labour, and quality issues, led to our decision to dramatically increase the number of craftsmen we directly employed, which went against the industry’s employment trend. At one point we had 40 employees, which was more than some of the national construction companies at the time,” explained Mike Dean, who now chairs Wilford & Dean.
In the late 1970s Aston Martin redesigned its Lagonda – it was too long for their paint shop, so Aston Martin commissioned a larger building. Newport Pagnell Construction (now part of Wilford & Dean) undertook the project.
Mike recalled hitting concrete foundations while excavating for the new paint shop: the concrete was hard, extensive and needed a specialist to blast it out. It was only then that an older member of Aston Martin’s staff pointed out that it was where Spitfire Merlin engines used to be tested.
Mike also recalled boarding up huts at Bletchley Park for GPO (the General Post Office, before it became Royal Mail). Years later, it came to light that they were the wartime codebreakers’ huts, and funding became available for restoration.
Newport Pagnell Construction was awarded the contract to restore and refurbish Hut 8, used by Alan Turing.
Newport Pagnell Construction had its first logo designed after Mike became managing director. Today, led by new managing director Simon Haddy, the rebrand pays homage to the men who were primarily responsible for the company’s survival and development.
Today, Wilford & Dean still provides reliable building and maintenance services, including some scarce skills for dying arts, for modern and historic buildings.