English Electric

Wren 1923
Ayr 1923
Kingston 1924
Canberra 1949
English Electric P1A Lightning prototype
Lightning 1954
English Electric P.10 unbuilt supersonic bomber to OR.330/R.156
Guided weapons
Thunderbird 1959surface-to-air missile
Blue Water 1962cancelled short-range ballistic missile
Although only a handful of aircraft designs were produced under the English Electric name, two became landmarks in British aeronautical engineering; the Canberra and the Lightning. English Electric Aircraft became a founding member of the British Aircraft Corporation in 1960 with the other industrial operations acquired by General Electric Company (GEC) in 1968.

The English Electric Co. was founded in December 1918, with a capital of £5,000,000. The directors included representatives of Dick, Kerr & Co., Camwell. Laird & Co., John Brown & Co., Thomas Firth and the Covently Ordnance Works. The English Electric Co., Ltd., included the Coventry Ordnance Works (whose principal product was now small motors); Dick, Kerr & Co. (contractors for large electrical installations); Phoenix Dynamo Works (large motors and dynamos); United Electric Car Co. (electrical street cars), and Williams & Robbins (large direct connected engines and turbines). All these combinations were looking toward better manufacturing facilities and reduced costs.

English Electric (EE) initially specialised in industrial electric motors and transformers. Its activities would expand to include railway locomotives and traction equipment, steam turbines, consumer electronics, guided missiles, aircraft and computers. By the 1920s the English Electric Co. was a very large concern with works at Bradford, Coventry, Preston, Rugby and Stafford, but the aircraft section, was established at Preston, Lancashire.

In 1917 Dick, Kerr & Co., a partnership of Glaswegian merchants W. B. Dick and John Kerr, acquired the United Electric Car Company, a trams manufacturer of Preston, Lancashire. From 1912-1918, United Electric had supplied 2nd and 3rd generation tramcars for Hong Kong Tramways. In 1918 and 1919, EE took over Dick, Kerr & Co., Willans & Robinson of Rugby and the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company of Bradford. It also bought the Stafford works of Siemens Bros, Dynamo Works Ltd.

Dick, Kerr & Co. announced at their annual meeting in January 1919 that the English Electric Co. had acquired the shares of the Conventry Ordnance Works and the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Co. and had made them a similar offer to exchange their shares for an equal number of English Electric shares. The English Electric Co. had a capital of £6,000,000 ($24,332,500), of which only about £2,000,000 ($9,733,000) had been issued at the time of amalgamating with Dick, Kerr & Co., which latter firm has been given the right to subscribe at par for one £l ordinary share in the English Electric Co. for every three shares, ordinary or preferred, that it had exchanged.

The English Electric Co. was now one of the three principal electrical manufacturing concerns in the United Kingdom and its board of directors, which included several representative railway men, contemplated a considerable expension of its activities. It was considered that the future success of electrical companies would depend on their capacity to undertake large schemes, such as the electrification of railways, the construction of large power stations, and the development of hydroelectric installations. For this reason the present amalgamation will play a very important part in the future of the English electrical industry.

In 1923 EE supplied electric locomotives for the New Zealand Railways for use between Arthurs Pass and Otira, in the Southern Alps. In 1930, the manufacture of electrical equipment was moved to Bradford; tram, bus body and rolling stock production staying at Preston. That same year, the man most associated with EE, George Nelson, became managing director. During the 1930s, EE supplied equipment for the electrification of the Southern Railway system, reinforcing its position in the traction market, and continued to provide traction motors to them for many years. In 1936, production of diesel locomotives commenced in the former tramworks in Preston. EE took over Vulcan Foundry and Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns, both with substantial railway engineering pedigrees, in 1955.

The Industrial Electronics Division was established at Stafford. One of the products produced at this branch was the Igniscope, a revolutionary design of ignition tester for petrol engines. This was invented by Napiers and supplied as Type UED for military use during World War 2. After the war, it was marketed commercially as type ZWA.

Both Dick, Kerr & Co. and the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company had built aircraft in the Great War, including flying boats designed by the Seaplane Experimental Station at Felixstowe, and 62 Short Type 184 and 6 Short Bombers designed by Short Brothers. In the 1920s the English Electric Co. specialised in flying-boats, but their Chief Designer, Mr. W. O. Manning, was also the designer of the famous Wren which was the first British light plane ever to be built. Aircraft manufacture under the EE name began in Bradford in 1922 with the English Electric Wren but lasted only until 1926 after the last English Electric Kingston flying boat was built.

In the late 1930s EE was instructed by the Air Ministry to construct a "shadow factory" at Samlesbury Aerodrome in Lancashire to build Handley Page Hampden bombers. Starting with Flight Shed Number 1, the first Hampden built by EE made its maiden flight on 22 February 1940 and, by 1942, 770 Hampdens had been delivered - more than half of all the Hampdens produced. In 1940, a second factory was built on the site and the runway was extended to allow for construction of the Handley Page Halifax four-engined heavy bomber to begin. By 1945, five main hangars and three runways had been built at the site, which was also home to No. 9 Group RAF. By the end of the war, over 2,000 Halifaxes had been built and flown from Samlesbury.

In 1942, EE took over Napier & Son, an aero-engine manufacturer. Along with the shadow factory, this helped to re-establish the company's aeronautical engineering division. Post-war, EE invested heavily in this sector, moving design and experimental facilities to the former RAF Warton near Preston in 1947. This investment lead to major successes with the Lightning and Canberra, the latter serving in a multitude of roles from 1951 until mid-2006 with the Royal Air Force.

At the end of the war, EE started production under licence of the second British jet fighter, the de Havilland Vampire, with 1,300 plus built at Samlesbury. Their own design work took off after the Second World War under W. E. W. Petter, formerly of Westland Aircraft. Although EE produced only two aircraft designs before their activities became part of BAC, the design team put forward suggestions for many Air Ministry projects.

The aircraft division was formed into the subsidiary English Electric Aviation Ltd. in 1958, becoming a founding constituent of the new British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) in 1960; EE having a 40% stake in the latter company. The guided weapons division was added to BAC in 1963.

In 1946, English Electric acquired The Marconi Company which complemented its other business interests. The Marconi Company had opened the world’s first radio factory in Chelmsford in 1898 and was responsible for some of the most important advances in radio and television. EE tried to take over one of the other major British electrical companies, the General Electric Company (GEC), in 1960 and, in 1963, EE and J. Lyons and Co. formed a jointly-owned company - English Electric LEO Company - to manufacture the LEO Computer developed by Lyons. EE took over Lyons' half-stake in 1964 and merged it with Marconi's computer interests to form English Electric Leo Marconi (EELM). The latter was merged with Elliott Automation and International Computers and Tabulators (ICT) to form International Computers Limited (ICL) in 1967.

In 1968, English Electric became a takeover target for the Plessey Company, but instead, it agreed to accept a rival bid from The General Electric Company (GEC). Following the acquisition of Marconi through its parent company English Electric in 1968, GEC used the Marconi name to represent all of its defence companiesr, the English Electric name was then lost. Between 1945 and the de-merger of the defence businesses of the General Electric Company (GEC) in 1999, the company had become one of the world’s most important defence contractors. A number of major defence related acquisitions were made.

Eventually the companies were grouped under the name, Marconi Electronic Systems (MES). Other GEC acquisitions included: Associated Electrical Industries in 1967, English Electric in 1968, parts of Ferranti’s defence business in 1990 and the Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited in 1995. In June 1998, GEC acquired the North American defence contractor, Tracor. In December 1998, GEC began looking for a suitable partner for the Marconi Electronic Systems business and began discussions with British Aerospace. By mid-January 1999, both companies announced that they were holding talks, and by November of the same year, the deal had been completed. Marconi Electronic Systems and British Aerospace were merged on 30 November 1999, to form the new company, BAE Systems.

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Page last modified: 09-05-2013 17:37:44 ZULU