A world-famous pen manufacturer is facing closure - with the loss of up to 180 jobs.

Workers at the Parker Pen factory in Newhaven were told the factory could be closed by this time next year.

A 90-day consultation period was announced to staff by its American parent company Newell Rubbermaid at 2pm today after a review of its fine writing business.

If the proposal goes ahead, the factory will run into 2010. It is expected the site will close during the third quarter of next year.

Most of the manufacturing which takes place in Newhaven would be moved to the company's site in Nantes, France.

Some models of Parker Pen have been manufactured in France since the early 1950s and 45% of the current production in the Nantes factory is already dedicated to the Parker brand.

A spokesman said the site in Nantes is well-equipped to make the company's range of products.

Andy Smith, director of manufacturing for Parker Pen, said the Newhaven factory includes workers who make the pens, a research division, finance, and a business-to-business section where customised products are made.

Some employees may transfer to Parker Pen's site in Fradley Park, Birmingham, its only other UK base employing 350 people, if suitable positions become available.

Mr Smith said: “This proposal has been a difficult one to make and we realise the potential impact on our employees, their families and the local community.

“We wanted to tell our employees about this now, nearly a year in advance, so that we can fully consult on the proposals and if necessary they can make the transition to new employment.

“I want to reassure all our employees that during the forthcoming period the company will ensure that they will be treated with the utmost respect.

“Should the proposals be confirmed, staff will receive terms that generally exceed statutory requirements, plus access to support including an outplacement programme to assist in identifying alternative employment.”

Lewes MP Norman Baker described the news as a “terrible day for Newhaven”.

He said: “I am writing to the management of the company to ask them urgently to reconsider their decision, but to be honest, I don’t hold out much hope. I will also be writing to the government, asking them to ensure a package of support is now provided for Newhaven. I will also be asking Jobcentreplus to set up a special unit to help those who face losing their jobs.

“Parker Pen has for many years been the flagship employer in Newhaven, and this is a bitter blow for the town which is already much worse hit by the recession than other towns nearby. It is also the end of an era.”

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End of an era?

Parker Pen arrived in Newhaven in 1921. The old Army huts where the company is based were converted by Felix Macauley and eventually transformed into one of the largest and most modern quality-pen factories in the world. Most of Parker's best known models have been made in Newhaven.

Parker did well in the 1950s and there was great investment in Newhaven as the old buildings were gradually replaced with a modern factory.

The expansion continued during the early 1960s and by the early 1990s, Parker was sold to Gillette.

In 2000, Gillette sold its stationary arm to Newell Rubbermaid.

In January 2007, Parker Pen moved its distribution centre from Newhaven to Fradley Park, with the loss of 46 jobs. Twelve employees were moved elsewhere within the company, while three others retired.

In November 2007, Parker Pen announced it was axing 200 staff, almost half of its workforce, to secure the future of its business in Newhaven, with 110 jobs lost in manual operations and 90 redundancies in customer services, IT, finance and human resources.