Ipswich Icons: Not-so-known stories behind a name now part of our heritage Breheny Contractors Ltd

The Breheny name and logo: a familiar sight on our travels. Picture: VIA IPSWICH SOCIETY

The Breheny name and logo: a familiar sight on our travels. Picture: VIA IPSWICH SOCIETY - Credit: Archant

Amongst the vast sums paid by Suffolk County Council to organisations and enterprises listed in the EADT recently I noted that £10.2million was paid to contractor J Breheny of Needham Market.

The Bury St Edmunds eastern relief road: a recent major project for Breheny. Picture: VIA IPSWICH SO

The Bury St Edmunds eastern relief road: a recent major project for Breheny. Picture: VIA IPSWICH SOCIETY - Credit: Archant

Top of the list was another construction firm, Kier, paid £45.8million to maintain the county’s roads, some details of which had been disputed.

Motorists might also argue that the state of the roads doesn’t reflect the sum paid.

In Breheny’s case, however, it was a straightforward payment for a one-off contract: the £15million (total cost) Bury Eastern Relief Road.

So who are Breheny, whose sign boards we see today across central and eastern England? They are likely to crop up anywhere work is progressing on new roads, site infrastructure and underground services.

Jack Breheny was born in Ireland in November, 1915 – one of seven children on a farm in County Galway.

When he was 21 he left home for London with a mere £2 in his pocket, found work on building sites, learned to lay bricks and became contracts manager on a variety of different wartime construction projects.

Most Read

The infrastructure for the war effort included airfields and associated military projects, many of which were in East Anglia.

Inevitably, Jack followed the work and settled here, working for a time for Bowell and Harper’s Civil Division in Lowestoft.

In 1963, at the age of 47, Jack decided to start his own business from what became Breheny’s original base: Long Road, Lowestoft.

Like most successful companies Breheny’s started small and built slowly, carefully looking after their customers.

Initially they had a single item of plant: a back hoe excavator; today they have in excess of 3,000.

Their first major project was the Frostenden bypass, for which Suffolk County Council paid them £54,000.

There were inherent problems with Lowestoft as a base. Half of the potential operating area is in the North Sea; secondly, it’s an awful long way to anywhere else.

In 1973 Breheny’s moved from Henstead (Kessingland) to Lion Barn Industrial Estate, Needham Market.

In 1979 Breheny’s opened a second office, in Huntingdon – the location chosen to win work on infrastructure projects in the new towns of Milton Keynes and Peterborough. Both were being developed during the 1980s to accommodate London overspill.

Their Needham Market office won the contracts for the new bypasses at Hadleigh, Ixworth and Saxmundham, as well as West End Road in Ipswich.

It is interesting to note that if Ipswich eventually gets a northern bypass, it is likely to be of similar design – ie single carriageway.

In 1989 the company moved to a purpose-built headquarters building in Flordon Road, Creeting St Mary. A similar facility was built at Huntingdon in 1990.

During the 1990s Breheny’s expanded into the very special field of coastal engineering.

We all know it is impossible to hold back the tide; what sea defence work contractors need to achieve is to tame the waves whilst they reconstruct the coastal margins.

Jack Breheny died in 1999 and his son John became company chairman. Today, as well as Creeting and Huntingdon, they have offices in Bicester; Addington in Kent; and Doncaster.

In 2016 they changed their name to Breheny Civil Engineering Ltd, which better reflects the wide range of contracts they are undertaking in the 21st century; an example of which are the seafront gardens in Felixstowe – not the sort of contract usually tackled by a civil engineering company but superbly executed and award-winning.