History of SPEL
SPEL’s story is as unexpected as what the acronym stands for—Shrewsbury Plastics and Engineering Limited. Let’s take a brief tour of our company’s 58-year history, from its humble beginnings in Britain’s dairy industry, to its current status as a driving force in the global stormwater industry.
SPEL's Early Days (1960s)
In the beginning, the company’s main product line was greatly influenced by Philip V. Pocock, SPEL’s first chairman. Philip’s vocation had been in building horse drawn milk floats during World War II, and playing to his strengths, Philip would sway SPEL into producing carbs and roofs for these vehicles later on.
After the war, Britain has experienced a shortage in cart horses. This was a big problem for the dairy industry, which relied on horse-drawn carts to distribute milk door to door. With a knack for engineering solutions, Philip invented the electric milk float in 1947.
Ahead of their time, these iconic floats were cutting-edge technology. With around 40,000 milkmen delivering to 18 million British homes, the trucks made light work of each driver’s 450 odd daily deliveries. Compact and highly manoeuverable they navigated the narrow British streets with eases, and their low cost of manufacture saw the UK dairy industry finally begin to turn a profit.
From horse-drawn to electric powered milk floats
At first, the float’s bodywork was constructed using aluminium. But this was eventually replaced by hand-moulded fibreglass—an even lighter material with lower production costs.
In 1963, SPEL began in earnest with the completion of our first factory. Such was our success in manufacturing fibreglass bodies for the electric milk floats, that three bays were added in 1970. Three years after that, we needed to add yet another three bays to the annex and established a second site.
SPEL Expands Its Product Line (1970s)
SPEL diversified its operations in tune with Britain’s increased urbanisation. There was enormous business potential in fabricating reinforced plastics for industrial and commercial use. SPEL manufactured claddings for buildings, bridge fascia systems (patented), manhole shutters, tanks, and even insulated jam containers.
In 1975, we produced the first SPEL Septic Tank, which interestingly looked a bit like an onion. Two years later, the same product earned SPEL its first Agrément Certificate, a document proving the product’s fitness and strict compliance to UK building regulations.
SPEL’s first Septic Tank: It does look like an onion.
SPEL Becomes A Player in the Stormwater Industry (1980s-1990s)
The 1980s-90s were a time of unrestrained optimism for technology. The rise of IBM’s personal computer and Apple’s ‘Mac’ signalled a digital revolution that would change the face of manufacturing.
It was during this time that SPEL saw a rise in demand for its fibreglass stormwater tanks. To capitalise on the opportunity, the company optimised production by investing in computerised robotic moulding machines.
SPEL also became a specialist in filament wound pressure vessels. Filament winding is a processing technique for fabricating cylindrical structures using composite materials. Using this technique has made SPEL’s underground tanks fast to produce at low cost.
(Left) Stormceptor by-pass Class 1 circa 1990s. (Right) Present-day Stormceptor Class 1, suited for removal of sediment, suspended solids, hydrocarbons and nutrients.
SPEL’s Commitment to Sustainable Stormwater Solutions (2000s-Present)
Over the past two decades we’ve seen an accelerated evolution in stormwater technology and design thinking. Governments and whole industries have also implemented more stringent standards in pollution control and environmental health and safety.
In tune with the times, SPEL has grown beyond its product-oriented business. While our place in the stormwater industry is firmly rooted in manufacturing, we recognise our extended responsibility to the public to drive better water quality overall. We act on this responsibility by promoting sustainable solutions for stormwater management and water sensitive urban design.
Alongside our fibreglass tanks, SPEL is investing in new products like modular bio-retention basins and floating treatment wetlands. Looking beyond stormwater mitigation, we are pushing for new solutions that also provide environmental value, social amenity, and operational economy.
It’s no longer enough to produce an excellent product. In the wake of climate change and deteriorating environmental health, the gauntlet has been thrown to come up with even better solutions. Together with our colleagues in the stormwater industry, SPEL is excited to meet that challenge.
“Rather than tell you this is the product that fits your problem, tell us your problem,” Stephen Hales discusses SPEL’s needs-oriented approach.