Issue 7 - Winter 2017

Page 22


Margate Mercury



Seb Reilly

Margate's Leading Lights


here is a glint in the eye of Peter Saunders as he tells me about his grandfather; a gentle pride in his smile and a warmness to his voice. He is his father’s son and his grandfather’s grandson. His own son, Matt – next in line to run the family business – sits next to me, enjoying his dad’s stories as if hearing them for the first time. “My grandfather died aged 55,” Peter says, “so unfortunately I never met him, but he lived an incredible life.” In 1918, after serving as a pilot in the Royal Air Corps during the Great War, Edgar Saunders started working as an electrician from a small workshop in Athelstan Road. Over a few short years he grew the business, hiring others who had also fought in the war, and in the early 1920s took the contract to replace the gas lamps that lit the streets of Margate with electric lighting. More work followed, including on the relatively new Winter Gardens. What had been incorporated as Margate and District Electrical Company Limited in 1922 was renamed E. Saunders

Photography Courtesy of E. Saunders

Seb Reilly delves into the fascinating history of E. Saunders, a family-run electrical contractors on Northdown Road that this year celebrates 100 years of keeping the lights on in Margate

(Margate) Limited in 1924, and moved into new premises at 106 Northdown Road. Along with flying in the Great War and creating the E Saunders Ltd company and brand, Edgar Saunders was also a Margate Councillor, a warden at Holy Trinity Church (before it was bombed and later rebuilt), a husband and a father. He invested in his family, his trade and his community. His attitude is reflected in his descendants. After his death, the business was passed to his sons: Edgar John ‘Jack’ Saunders (Peter’s father) and Robert ‘Bob’ Saunders. They ran the company together during the 1930s, continuing the ethos developed by their father of being there for their customers, whether it was a large commercial project or a local resident who needs a lightbulb changed. “Of course, when the Second World War started, they both went to fight,” Peter says, looking at a photograph of his father that hangs on the wall. “All the men did, apart from a few who had served in the Great War

▲ A photo featuring EJ Saunders (child with a school cap, bottom left), Evelyn Saunders (woman in the black coat, centre) and Mr Edgar Saunders (man without a hat, centre)

and were exempt.” I ask whether the company closed during this time. “My grandmother, Eva, she was a stalwart. She kept it going with two electricians who were ex-World War One.” Whilst Thanet was taking heavy bombing – the area became restricted due to fears of invasion, with no visiting for leisure allowed – the town remained functioning in part due to the efforts of E Saunders Ltd to keep the electricity flowing. “Bob served as an electrical engineer during the war,” Peter says of his uncle. “My father, Jack, was a pilot, like my grandfather. He trained at Rochester and flew Liberator bomber missions. He was involved in four crashes, including on Gibraltar runway. That was lengthened after the war, for obvious reasons.” Peter chuckles. “They both returned and took the company on again.” His father continued to fly, though. He joined