The owner of Hall-Mark Hatcheries was Frank H. Grove, who lived with his wife, Edith, at Manzard House, Downham. Their son Brian was also involved with the company.
The hatcheries ran from about 1930 until 1965. becoming a large business, and was based along the Nevendon Road, Wickford, between Bromfords Drive and Oakhurst Drive. There remains a large green hedge from this period. The business of the hatchery was to rear baby chicks to eights weeks, called ‘poussin’. The eggs were collected by rail or in the company cream and green vans, mainly from local farms in the Home Counties.
There were 180 eggs to a tray, which were checked for cracks and fumigated with formaldehyde before incubation. Each tray came with documentation as a ticket, showing the producer and breed of chicken, which stayed with them until packed as chicks in the final stage. The tray was placed in an incubator for 18 days, being automatically turned every six hours. Between 18-21 days the eggs were kept on an open wire tray (called hatchers), this kept them level as the chicks hatched. Any infertile eggs – called clears – went to the baker. On the 21st day they were sexed.
If possible, on the same day as being sexed they were packed up and dispatched to the relevant customers, the poussins’ being sold to top London restaurants and hotels.
Over time the business gradually changed to selling day old chicks. From this the female pullets were sold as egg-laying chickens and the male cockerels to be reared for their meat.
Sexing the chicks was not an easy task, although some could be easily sexed by sight, due to the breed of chicken they came from. The Japanese had the technique of how to sex the chicks, and came to the hatchery to work and teach their skill. Only owing to the war, the Japanese were either interned or sent back to their country.
Hall-Mark hatcheries produced ten million day-old chicks every year at the peak of their business and employed over a hundred men. One of the men was Mr. Frank Shynn, who worked on site since 1937, helping to raise the poussins, and later became the foreman. His son, Geoffrey Shynn, joined the company in 1952 and lived on site in a bungalow called ‘Yamato’, with wife Betty and their two children Elizabeth and Liane.
The hatchery closed on 21st July, 1965. The Hall-Mark Hatchery had been one of the top four hatcheries in the country, but fierce competition came from the large American breeding companies.