Hughes at 100: From one-man band to century-old electrical giant

Robert Hughes, chairman, celebrates the 100th anniversary of Hughes Electrical, which was founded by

Robert Hughes, chairman, celebrates the 100th anniversary of Hughes Electrical, which was founded by his grandfather, Frank Hughes. With Robert is a 1955 Bush radio, and a 1955/56 17 inch television. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

It began as a one-man band rewinding industrial electric motors for the Lowestoft fishing fleet. 

Now, a century later, and Hughes is a household name electrical empire employing 800 people in more than 30 stores across East Anglia.

Richard Howard takes a look at a 1955 New World Seventy Five gas cooker on show as Hughes Electrical

Richard Howard takes a look at a 1955 New World Seventy Five gas cooker on show as Hughes Electrical celebrate their 100th anniversary at the Forum. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

The company was founded in 1921 by Frank Hughes, who seven years later bought his first shop on Tonning Street in Lowestoft, where he built and sold radios.

His grandson Robert Hughes, now chairman of the company, said his grandfather would be astounded by the scale of the company now, 100 years later.

In 1921 Frank Hughes sets up business called FJ Hughes making and selling radios in Lowestoft. Phot

The original Hughes shop in Lowestoft, pictured in the 1930s - Credit: Archant archive

Marking the centenary by exhibiting examples of historic electrical appliances at The Forum in Norwich on Saturday, Mr Hughes said: "I think he would be amazed by the scale of it.


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"He would probably struggle to believe that a company carrying his name now employs 800 people across East Anglia."

Robert Hughes; Jim Hughes; Phyllis Spratt and Kevin Booth cutting the ribbon at the expanded Hughes

Robert Hughes; Jim Hughes; Phyllis Spratt and Kevin Booth cutting the ribbon at the expanded Hughes store in Lowestoft in 2013 - Credit: Hughes

The company has stores in 36 locations including some Norfolk towns where it is the sole provider of electrical goods.

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Across its history, it has been forced to adapt on a number of occasions, from introducing rental services to taking the plunge into the world wide web - which Mr Hughes said was among the biggest challenges the business faced.

Jim Hughes. Picture: Courtesy of the Hughes family.

Jim Hughes, the second generation of the Hughes family, who died in 2018 - Credit: Archant

He said: "The biggest change across our history was clearly the internet, which has changed so much about the way people shop.

"We even considered officially adding .co.uk to the company name as you have to have the same level of association with the web as you do with the shop.

Robert Hughes, managing director of Hughes Electrical. Picture: Hughes Electrical

Robert Hughes, outside of the shop in Great Yarmouth, which has two bears on its roof - Credit: Hughes Electrical

"Nowadays, people still want to look, touch and feel what they are buying but they'll then go away and shop around online - that's what we have to compete with."

But he added that the pandemic was the single biggest threat - and that were it not for rental income the company could realistically have gone under.

Lesley Proudfoot, 66, remembers the 1958 Hotpoint Empress washing machine and mangle on show as Hugh

Lesley Proudfoot, 66, remembers the 1958 Hotpoint Empress washing machine and mangle on show as Hughes Electrical celebrate their 100th anniversary at the Forum. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

He added: "My whole family is immensely proud the company is where it is and 100 years old.

"There's that time old saying, clogs to clogs in three generations, but I'm that third generation and here we are. It's a very proud moment."

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