Friday 8 November 2019

Lowne Instruments

Some members may have seen the announcement in the GLIAS Newsletter of the closure of Lowne Instruments in Boone Street in Lee and the sale of its machinery.

GLIAS member, George Arthur, who has worked for the company for nearly 30 years alerted the GLIAS Recording Groupcto the closure of the works at the end of February 2002 after 147 years in business, in Finchiey, Lewisham and finally in Lee. 

The Recording Group, with the permission of the owner. Bob Barnard, and with the help of George, was able to make a video, shot by Dan Hayton, of the works before it closed. The video record also showed many of the machines in operation as well as later shots of a nearly empty works. Dave Perrett, ably assisted with the tape measure by his son, Martin, was able to make a measured drawing using a computer design program and in addition Chris Grabham spent two full days photographing the works.

I spent some time in the Local History Library in Lewisham trying to find out any information about the two Lowne sites in the Borough. I was also able to look through what remained of the company's records from the 19th and early 20th century, a random rag bag selection!

Robert Mann Lowne was the son of a doctor, Benjamin Thompson Lowne, who moved to London to train at Baits Medical College in 1842. He later moved to the Farringdon Dispensary in Bartletts Passage in Holborn, now New Fetter Lane. Robert was the second son, bom in 1844. His elder brother, also Benjamin Thompson Lowne, became a noted surgeon and lecturer at the Middlesex Hospital, but iittle is known about Robert's early life. His first patent, taken out in 1865, was for a spirometer, sliowing his knowledge of things medical. From then on a great number of patents were taken out by Robert Mann Lowne and from 1872 he and his family lived in East End, Finchiey where he became known as an inventor and scientific instrument maker. He and his wife, Emily, had four children, two of  whom, Robert James Mann Lowne and Benjamin Thomson Lowne (yes, another one!), joined him in the business.

By 1894 the family moved to Lewisharn where they occupied a large house, Ravenscroft, at 108 Bromley Road. All the work was carried out by the three family members which is quite surprising considering the volume of work undertaken by the company in the early years of the 20th century. The Lowne Electric Clock and Appliance Company was set up in 1904 as company to exploit the patents for electric clocks taken out by the company. Contracts were undertaken to provide the Arsenal with an electric master clock system, with 46 slave clocks needing 6 '/a miles
of cabling and run from Leclanche batteries, as well as the South Metropolitan Gas Works in the Old Kent Road. Both systems are sadly no longer in existence. 

A new workshop in the garden was built in 1905 to be able to fulfil these orders.   

Sadly the company did not prosper and was for a while taken over in the 1920s by the Magneta Company whose head office was in Carterel Street. The Lownes continued to work at home for Magneta until 1926 when the company reverted to the Lowne family. New premises had to be found as Ravenscroft had been sold to the Magneta Company and the site had been redeveloped.
The company moved to Boone Street off Lee High Road, where a former wheelwright's premises was to be their home until 2002. Robert Mann Lowne died in 1928 and his two sons with R.J.M Lowne's son, Frederick James Mann Lowne, continuing the business. With the advent of the National Grid, mains clocks were possible and so the Lownes made synchronous clocks both for the home and for industry. Daniel remembers a large Lowne clock near the Angel in the 1970s - does anyone else know of one?
After the difficulties of the 1930s, perhaps their most profitable years were in the 1940s when war work kept them occupied, despite the damage caused in 1942 by a nearby bomb. After the retirement of his father and uncle, 'Mr Fred' ran the works and developed new products, in particular, air meters, needed in particular in mines. In turn Fred's step son. Bob Barnard, took over until the decision was made to close.
Sadly Bob died at the beginning of February, only a few days after the sale of the machinery. We were much indebted to him and his family for allowing GLIAS so much access for recording. We were particularly delighted to have the chance of finding more records, including the Minute Books and some accounts, in the office and even in the garage. 
Lewisham Local History Museum has had a number of items donated to it including synchronous clocks, stools and work benches, as well as advertising material. We look forward to a Lowne exhibition from them in due course. Many original photographs and glass negatives have. been rescued along with advertisements from the early days and the original Minute Books. The family again has been generous in allowing me to look through them to compile both this article as well as a fuller record for the Recording Group. 
Who knows where Lowne instruments are to be found. I know of several in the Science Museum, master and slave clocks as well as spirometers. Are there any others, particularly air meters, in other coUectkms?. And finally does anyone have a Lowne electric clock at home, apparently they are collectable now?

PS The works in Boone Street is to be demolished and a new housing development, 'Lowne Court' will replace it. Apparently no one objected to the demolition of the old building, perhaps because it really has outlived its usefulness'.
Sue Hayton
    This article appeared in the May 2002 GIHS Newsletter and was reproduced from the GLIAS Newsletter

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Re existing air meters
When I worked at Lownes a lot of air meters were made for Cassella Instruments and Negretti & Zambra.
I don't know if either of these firms can give you a lead