“John introduced his marathon talk on 100 years of Thameside Electrical History by giving a brief account of his career with Siemens, saying that he joined in March 1936 as a Drawing Office Learner in the Telephone Dept. at the princely sum of 12/6d per week. The blitz of 1940 caused Siemens to move most of their staff to a Yorkshire woollen mill where work on radar was undertaken. John returned to London in 1945 and for the next 10 years he was heading design teams concerned with telephone exchange equipment. He was promoted to Chief Engineer responsible for contracts, specifications, planning and final installation on site. His proudest moment was in 1950 when he flew to Winnipeg and was responsible for installing a 1000 line telephone exchange.
John outlined the history of the Siemens family and paid a special tribute to Sir William Siemens who was born in 1823 and was christened Carl Wilhelm. Later he adopted the name William. Sadly he died in 1883. During his lifetime he was a leading member of many professional institutions. He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1883 and a memorial window was placed in Westminster Abbey in 1885. The window was removed in 1914 for safety and was subsequently lost and not replaced.
In 1863 Siemens Bros. of Woolwich was founded by William and his brother Werner. Prior to that date William had developed an interest in heat sciences and inverted regeneration furnaces, steam engines, water meters etc. His brother Werner collaborated with a young engineer named Halske to produce satisfactory insulation for underground usage. In 1847 Werner Siemens amalgamated with Halske and became cable manufacturers and electric telegraph engineers."
John then used a series of excellent slides to demonstrate the wide variety of work undertaken by Siemens, such as:-
In 1858 William negotiated with Siemens & Halske and R.S. Newall Ltd to lay all Newall's cables.
In 1876 the Siemens Dynamo produced the same light and intensity as other models but was 'A the size and l/8th the weight of rival products. In 1877 a trial at the South Foreland Lighthouse was carried out by Trinity House.
In 1874 the ship Michael Faraday was launched and by 1897 it had laid seven North Atlantic telegraph cables.
The 5000 ton vessel was the first ship to be lit by electric light and when it was overhauled in 1909 over 50,000 miles of submarine cable had been laid. In 1923 a second ship M. Faraday II was launched. This ship was 5,530 tons and during 1940 it picked up and recovered 260 miles of German submarine cable. In 1953 the ship ss Empire Frame was converted and renamed the Ocean Layer. This ship laid a big proportion of telephone cable from the USA to France before it was irreparably damaged by fire. Between the years 1873 and 1957, 63,105 miles of submarine cable had been laid.
Siemens Bros were responsible for the floodlighting of Big Ben by 12 x 1000 watt projector lamps as part of the 1935 Silver Jubilee Celebrations. Other notable buildings were also floodlit, e.g. St. James Palace, St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Hammersmith Bridge and the R.A.C. Automobile Club.
Manual telephone exchanges were set up soon after 1850 and in 1877 Werner Siemens filed letters patent in England for 9 telephone receiver designs. In the early 1900s the GPO standardised candlestick phone was developed and in 1929 the Neophone was introduced. By 1931 the 2 millionth GPO telephone had been installed. In 1951 the Siemens No. 17 System was modernised for the PLA. The system comprised 240 lines for Head Office and 699 lines for the five docks and was manned by eight switchboard operators.
Radio Telephony & Marine Radio
Siemens Bros was responsible for a complete installation of telegraphs for transmitting orders to and from the navigation bridge to the engine room for the RMS Queen Mary and later the RMS Queen Elizabeth.
Traffic Control & Road Signals
In 1913 Siemens developed the "Autoflex" Progressive Traffic System widely used on busy London roads such as Oxford Street, Edgware Road and Marylebone.
Power Signalling For Railways
Siemens Bros in collaboration with the General Electric Railway Signal Co. provided electric signalling boxes etc. which in later years replaced the old original mechanical systems and manual signal boxes.
Fire & Ambulance Control Systems
Another facet installed by Siemens.
Several of these were installed by Siemens at race courses in Edinburgh, West Ham, Haringey and Crayford. Siemens engineers made extra money for operating the Totalisators and were readily on hand to deal with any electrical faults.
London Television Cable
Co-axial cable was laid for the BBC between Alexandra Palace and Broadcasting House. The cable was also routed to cover Oxford Street, Park Lane, Hyde Park Comer, Piccadilly, Shaftesbury Avenue, Pall Mall, St. James' Palace, Victoria Station, Horse Guards, Westminster Bridge and St. Margaret's, Westminster.
The Grid System
In 1961 a 40 year dream was realised by the British & French power authorities. The ship Dame Caroline Haslett was converted off Woolwich to lay twin cables to carry a 200,000 volt direct current link across the Channel.
In 1942 Siemens Bros undertook experimental and development work in connection with the high pressure couplings which enabled a million gallons of petrol to be pumped daily from Dungeness to Calais to supply fuel to the Allies.
The foregoing provides some indication of the wide variety of work undertaken by Siemens Bros & Co. of Woolwich.
SIEMENS BROTHERS ENGINEERING SOCIETY
Brian Middlemiss writes:
Siemens Brothers & Co. was a British-based and registered business founded in 1858 primarily by William Siemens who subsequently assumed British citizenship, married a Scottish lass and was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1883 to acknowledge 'the service he rendered to the cause of science'. The Company grew and prospered at Woolwich, London for over 100 years throughout which time it maintained its early pioneering spirit among the World leaders in electrical, cable and telecommunications design and manufacture. Final closure occurred in 1968 following the takeover by G.E.C..
Over recent years members of the Engineering Society, who still meet bi-annually, have collaborated to collect, collate and catalogue archive papers and hardware items related to the Company. This project was prompted by a realization that far too little evidence remains to record the above long history which also embraced factories at Preston, Lydbrook, Hartlepool, Spennymoor, Gravesend and other locations in the UK and Overseas. Our self-imposed task now nears completion and we think it sensible and helpful to widen catalogue distribution to locations other than the 6 "New Holders" with whom our archive material is now lodged.
John Ford of our Archive Committee has endeavoured to outline our intentions to most additional recipients by direct contact during recent weeks and we much appreciate the courtesy and co-operation received. We thus have pleasure to enclose:-
i) One copy of the Archive Catalogue (very generously printed and bound by Siemens U.K. plc, Bracknell, Berks., at their expense and thus involving no charges to the Society's own budget).
ii) A separate paper re. specific aspects on which queries may possibly arise.
iii) A catalogue distribution list.
Our final intention is to issue informative publicity "flyer" leaflets to many locations, societies, etc., to publicise the availability of the material. In the meantime please address any immediate queries to the undersigned and please accept our thanks for your co-operation in helping the Society to achieve its aims.
A copy of the Archive Catalogue has been deposited with GIHS and is available should anyone want to see it. Please ring Mary 0208 858 9482. Copies have also been sent to Lewisham, Southwark and Bexley Local History Libraries, as well as Greenwich… to the Museum of London, the National Maritime Museum and the Meridian Sports Club at Charlton.
THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN THE GIHS NEWSLETTER IN JANUARY 2005