Thursday 6 October 2016

Telcon and the 1851 Great Exhibition

The Enderby Group has been handed some issues of the Telcon Company Magazine from the early 1950s - Telcon, of course, was the name of one of the predecessor firms to Alcatel at Enderby Wharf, although essentially there is a continuum for work from one to the other.  GIHS has had access to these and intends to publish some of the articles in them here.

Below is an article about exhibits in the 1851 Great Exhibition. We can date this article to 1950 when preparations for the Festival of Britain were underway and Telcon was anxious to prove 100 years continuity of work and progress

by L.R. Nicholson

Did you know that Telcon was represented at the famous 1851 exhibition in the Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, the centenary of which will be commemorated in the Festival of Britain? Yes! Telcon has the distinction of being among the select band of exhibitors represented at both exhibitions, for we are showing many of our products, including gutta percha insulated submarine cables, in several sections of the South Bank Exhibition.   

We mention gutta percha insulated submarine cables specially, for our 1851 exhibits were made of gutta percha, the application of which, as a submarine cable insulant, was destined to make Telcon world-famous in the field of international communications. Replicas of a few of our 1851 exhibits, produced with the original gutta percha moulds, are to be shown in the independent centenary exhibition to be held in the galleries of the Victoria and Albert Museum.   

The story of our association with the Hyde Park Exhibition is intriguing. This ambitious undertaking was the culmination of many years' hard first, discouraging work by the Royal Society of Arts, its energetic secretary Francis Whishaw, and others.   

Whishaw started a scheme in 1844 for an annual exhibition of national products with money prizes for the makers of articles of good design, but met with little support from manufacturers. However, before he left the Society to join the staff of Telcon's parent Company The Gutta Percha Company, at Wharf Road, as an engineer he had two small exhibitions and had seen a committee formed to find ways and means of producing an annual show and of obtaining the patronage and interest of the Prince Consort, who was President of the Society.   

Bigger and better exhibitions, continued to be shown at the premises of the Royal Society of Arts. In 1848 the display was visited by 73,000 people, and in 1849 the premises proved to be quite inadequate, so well was the exhibition patronised.  

 Eventually the Prince Consort  the President of a Royal Commission, the purpose of which was to consider   the organization of an international exhibition in 1851, and a great deal of the eventual success of this exhibition was due to his personal enthusiasm, ability, and drive.   

 The Gutta Percha Company which amalgamated with Glass, Eliot & Co. in 1864 to form our present Company was launching out at this time, and in 1848 and 1849  exhibited at the Royal Society of Arts articles of an ornamental kind, such as "Stag and Dog" and oval picture frames - all moulded, of course, in gutta percha - but nothing apparently from the wide range of more useful goods it was then producing.

The Telcon Story, it will be recalled, tells how Henry Bewley and Charles Hancock, the founders of The Gutta Percha Company, quarrelled violently over the right to use a wire-covering machine, and how Hancock broke away to form his own company known as the West Ham Gutta Percha Company. A bitter competitive war was waged by these two concerns, culminating eventually in the latter's bankruptcy, but both had their exhibits at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1851.     

The Gutta Percha Company must have had an impressive display, for it included samples of raw gutta percha, waterproof cloth, fishing net floats, driving bands, both round and square, decorated frames, and ceiling centres and mouldings in imitation carved oak and  rosewood. But, strangely enough, having made the first submarine telegraph cable, which was laid across the Straits of Dover in 1850 and marked the beginning of a vast network of under-sea cables throughout the world, and being engaged during the period of the 1851 exhibition in the manufacture of a second cable to cross the English Channel, the Company did not show any of this gutta percha insulated conductor.     

Another point of interest concerns the gutta percha ornaments exhibited in 1848 and 1849 at the Royal Society of Arts.   Charles Hancock was a great artist (he had a picture accepted by the Royal Academy when he was 19 years of age), and it was he who designed these figures "Stag and Dog" and similar articles when he was with our Company at Wharf Road. These same exhibits were to be seen at Hyde Park in 1851, but on the stand of the rival company which Hancock had started at West Ham in opposition to The Gutta Percha Company.     

No monetary prizes were given to exhibitors at the Crystal Palace. The Council Medal was awarded sparingly, and only to firms whose products possessed originality as well as outstanding excellence, whilst the second   medal, known as the Prize Medal, was an award of merit only. Out of 14,000 exhibitors, 170 Council Medals and nearly 3,000 Prize Medals were presented, and our Company had the honour of receiving one of the coveted Council Medals.

 Most of the exhibits were for sale, and Queen Victoria made many purchases. Incidentally, The Gutta Percha Company made a bargain when it bought a powerful beam engine which was installed at Wharf Road immediately after the exhibition closed. It supplied power to the whole of the factory,  and Chatterton, who gave his name to the famous compound, when he was works manager of the Gutta Percha Company, owned a lead works next door and had this plant powered also from the same  engine. This amazing machine worked continuously from 1851 until 1933, when the Wharf Road works were transferred to the present Telcon Works at Greenwich.  

 Manufacturers will be acknowledged in the official catalogue of the Festival of Britain only, but anyone familiar with TeIcon products will have no difficulty in recognizing our exhibits in the Transport and Communications, and the Power and Production sections of the South Bank Exhibition, or at   the Victoria and Albert Museum, without reference to the official list  

1 comment:

FTL said...

On my cable history site I have a page on gutta percha which includes a number of photographs from a 1950 Telcon exhibit. It seems likely that the Festival of Britain display would have included some of these items:
Telcon Gutta Percha Exhibit