A History of Wilson Gunn - 1964 to Date

Written by current Wilson Gunn Partner, Mark Goodwin

In 1964 Wilson Gunn & Ellis, as it was then called, had four partners, Geoffrey Henden Stuart Ellis, John Vaughan Worthington, Kenneth Fred Mellor and Harry Funge. The business was located in Market Street, Manchester. E.K. Dutton & Co., patent agents and Leeming, Ray & Whittle, trade mark agents also traded from the same address. M’Caw & Co., another Wilson Gunn practice, was located on the other side of Market Street. On the death of the proprietor of M’Caw & Co., Sydney E. M’Caw in 1964, Harry Funge had moved from the Wilson Gunn & Ellis offices to run M’Caw & Co.

The Arndale Centre emerged in the 1970s

Much of Market Street was demolished in the 1970's to make way for the building of the Arndale Centre. As a result of this Wilson Gunn & Ellis were forced to relocate to 41-51 Royal Exchange Buildings on Cross Street.

Royal Exchange

Mr. Ellis retired and Mr. Mellor left the partnership in 1977, leaving Mr. Worthington and Mr. Funge as the remaining partners. In the late seventies Barry Quest joined the partnership of M’Caw & Co. and Peter John Low and William Gerrard Downey joined the partnership of Wilson Gunn & Ellis. Barry Quest had qualified as a patent agent with Dunlop in Birmingham, before joining M’Caw & Co. Peter Low and Bill Downey had qualified with private practice firms in London before moving to Manchester.

M’Caw & Co move in with Wilson Gunn & Ellis

In 1979 the senior partner Mr. Worthington had a heart attack and was subsequently absent from the practice, as a consequence, for three months. After returning to work he died of a second heart attack one night after work on Cross Street outside our offices. Following this the M’Caw & Co. practice was moved into the Wilson Gunn & Ellis suite of offices in the Royal Exchange buildings. This was a difficult time for the staff and it took some time for the two sets of staff to settle in together.

As of 1964 all work was prepared using manual typewriters. Additional secretaries were used to type copies. Printing blocks were used for copying. A copying machine arrived and a telex was installed in then along came the fax machine. Electric typewriters were used from the late 70s and individual computers were introduced in the late 80s. This is all a far cry from the multi-site intranet system we use today.

A pronounced shortage of technical staff in the profession led to the decision to recruit graduates direct from university. As a result Mark Goodwin joined Wilson Gunn & Ellis in April 1988 and Richard Hill joined M’Caw & Co. in June of the same year. A computerized records system was introduced and in-house online searching was introduced by 1990.

Renamed Wilson Gunn M’Caw and the worldwide web

In 1995 the firm went live on the worldwide web as it was tended to be called then rather than just the internet. Bruce Marsh joined the firm in the same year.

The practice of I.A. Middemist & Co. of Stockport was then acquired. The partner, Ian Middlemist, continued with the Stockport operation and opened a branch in Sheffield under the name Wilson Gunn & Ellis following the acquisition. The Sheffield operation later moved to Chesterfield.

Wilson Gunn’s account of IRA bombs on Manchester

In 1975 an IRA bomb went off in Lewis's in central Manchester. As a result of this atrocity our draughtsman John Barry lost an eye. He was carrying a windscreen wiper invention of one of our automotive clients at the time.

1992 Manchester city centre bomb

In the 1990s a series of IRA bombs were let off in Manchester City Centre. At about 9am in December 1992 the first bomb, located in a bin in Parsonage Gardens, not far from our current offices, exploded. The result of this was that Manchester city centre was to be evacuated. The writer arrived in the office at 9.00 am just as the alarm went off. We were directed first towards Manchester Cathedral only for a second bomb to explode in a bin nearby, damaging the Cathedral clock and causing injuries to a number of people being evacuated past what is conventionally a quiet spot. Huge numbers of people were then moved by the police into Victoria railway station, one of Manchester's two large railway hubs. An enormous queue of hundreds of people stood before the cafeteria counter where one or two people were at work expecting the usual quiet day! After queuing for over an hour 11.00 am came and a couple of us walked to the empty bar and got in a round of drinks. Shortly afterwards a third bomb exploded outside Victoria railway station and the vast majority of people evacuated. The writer stayed on together with partners Peter Low, Bill Downey and our searcher Ray Carter. An hour or so later we were evacuated and were forced out of the periphery of the centre, from where it was impossible to get home. The net result turned into a pub crawl as we circled back to Piccadilly railway station, stopping off for a game of darts at the Legs of Man and the Pen & Wig (now closed) opposite Salford station. The landlord there very kindly kept the bar open beyond the normal 3.00 pm closing time. We were all in trouble without wives that day! Most of the rest of the office were in a night club under the Britannia Hotel where a soup kitchen had been set up. Apparently the DJ played songs, drinks were served and people were dancing. It takes a lot to break the spirit of the average Mancunian, particularly when the bar is open.

At the end of April 1993 Harry Funge retired and a year later on 1st May 1994 Wilson Gunn M’Caw & Co. was formed from a merger of the various individual practices that had previously existed. Mark Goodwin was made a partner at that time, his speech being made in front of a banner reading "The end of an era". Our long serving and excellent office manager Anne Hector retired at around this time too.

IRA bomb attacks in Manchester City Centre destroy main office

As part of the firm's policy to modernize its image and practices the reception area was refurbished at considerable expense in June 1996. The writer hung the last picture in one of the three new meeting rooms on Friday 14th June 1996. The day afterwards the offices were wrecked by an IRA bomb.

At 10.00 am on Saturday 15th June 1996 the alarm went off in our building and it was necessary to evacuate. The old building was undergoing renovation work at the time and the alarms went off a couple of times a week. It was not unexpected. That morning Mark Goodwin, Bill Downey, Clare Nicholson (the Partnership secretary and two secretaries Lynda Waterhouse and Anita Brighton were in the offices. Mark Goodwin then decided to work from home, packed his bags with some files and headed off home, as England were playing Scotland that day in the European Championships (held in England). Bill Downey and the others went for coffee in Parsonage Gardens.

At 11.20 am while police were still clearing the area and a remote-controlled device was on the way to examine a suspect van, which had been parked on a double yellow line outside Marks & Spencer all morning having received a ticket from the traffic warden - the bomb went off. It was one of the largest bombs to go off in the mainland U.K. and was parked less than 100 yards from our offices. As a result of the blast a pregnant woman flew 15 feet in the air. Bill and the others were walking along the middle of the road outside our current offices when the blast occurred and most of the glass from the various surrounding office buildings fell around them. A policeman shouted “Run!”, and they dashed over the Blackfriars bridge into Salford. The ladies were picked up by a relative and Bill stayed on in an attempt to recover his car. He did recover it three weeks later! In the meantime he caught the train home.

The Bomb

Adjusting to office life after the bomb

A meeting was set up in the Town Hall for the affected businesses. We were told that we would be back in the building in three months. We moved back in two and a half years later. In the week following the bomb phone, calls and faxes were diverted to our branch office in Sheffield and we set up offices in the homes of Barry Quest, Mark Goodwin and shortly afterwards Richard Hill. The writer remembers setting his alarm to resend a fax at 2.00 in the morning to Singapore as he couldn’t get a fax through in working hours. Post was picked up from the Post Office by hand and delivered by taxi to the house in Prestwich of the then records manager Christine Booth.

Our landlord did not allow us to get hold of our records for a week and we were not allowed access to the files for another two weeks after this. The files had to be removed by hand. This involved a human chain of people taking the files in sacks down to a car in St. Ann's Square, which delivered the files to another chain of people at our temporary offices in Maybrook House, Blackfriars Street. We had taken a short lease there two weeks after the bomb went off. Access to the files had only been achieved by issuing proceedings against the landlord.

Looting of the office after the blast

Our suite in the Royal Exchange had two distinct sections. The section closest to the blast was hit the worst and the internal partitions had been blown down. This section of the office was devastated. The other section of the office was not in too bad a shape, at least until some of the builders decided to throw a few filing cabinets upside down. Unfortunately, the main doors to the offices had been blown away and looting in the building was unfortunately commonplace. We lost a number of items as well as amassing a large pile of shoes and chocolates from the shops below, again courtesy of the builders. When we arrived at the offices, the receptionist of the building company was sitting on one of our new chairs.

We did not lose a single case as a result of the bomb

By a combination of a considerable amount of hard work by dedicated people, and an excellent records system, we did not lose a single case as the result of the bomb.

Our extended stay in Maybrook House was a difficult time. We could not get out of a relatively new ten year lease in the Royal Exchange and the Maybrook House space was too small. The business was expanding despite the bomb and we failed to receive any compensation for loss of business as we had such a good year. While operating from Maybrook House we still managed to acquire two other businesses.

MEN Article

Returning Home (Click Image to Enlarge)

Peter Low decided to retire at the end of April 1997 and was given a great send off on a cruise down the River Dee, whilst a jazz band played. Peter remained a loyal servant of the firm for years after that, giving tutorials to many of our trainees. Peter had set up the University of Strasbourg European Patent Attorney training course in Manchester and training was a passion with him.

Peter Low Retirement

Peter Low's Retirement Celebration (Click Image to Enlarge)

Mergers with other businesses

On 21st October 1997, we went into an association with the trade mark practice of Elwyn R. Roberts & Co. of Princess Street, Manchester. This coincided with the retirement of Elwyn R. Roberts, M.B.E. We also acquired the Birmingham firm of H.N. & W.S. Skerrett on 3rd August 1998. For further information see Birmingham Office.

Bruce Marsh, a qualified trade mark attorney relocated from a London practice, and became a partner of the expanding business in 1998 having done an excellent job in helping in the expansion of the trade mark side of the business. Richard Hill was made a partner on 21st December 2000, by which time he was already managing the Birmingham office.

In 2001 we acquired the London business of Gee & Co. for further information see London Office.

Birmingham office opened in 2003

On 18th September 2003 we acquired the small Birmingham firm of R.E. Parr & Co., based in Knowle. This was consolidated into our Birmingham office.

James Robey joined the firm in 1996, just after the IRA bomb, and further joined the partnership on 11th May 2004. Kate Johnson from Wilson Gunn Roberts retired on 30th April 2005.

Wilson Gunn M’Caw, Wilson Gunn Skerrett (formerly H.N. & W.S. Skerrett) and Wilson Gunn Gee (formerly Gee & Co.) began trading as Wilson Gunn from 1st May 2005.

As the firm continued to expand, Michael Douglas joined Wilson Gunn in 1999, becoming a partner in 2007.

Following this David Slattery joined the partnership in 2010 after being with the firm since 2001 bringing the partnership to 5. However, after 17 years with the firm Bruce Marsh sadly passed away due to cancer in 2013.

Liverpool office opened in 2016

On 9th May 2016, we opened our Liverpool office on Old Hall Street. Our Liverpool team are specialists in all areas of intellectual property law including patents, trademarks, designs and copyright.

On 4th May 2017, we promoted Chris McDonald, Marc Lewis and Mark Jolly to partners. All three are based in the firm’s head office in Manchester.

Today we celebrate the past and look forward to the future

The firm now holds 52 staff members, 9 partners, 5 offices and celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2014. It’s a time to reflect on what has past and celebrate the bright future ahead of Wilson Gunn as it continues to protect a variety of innovations and brands.