The IET Archives holds an amazing collection of images which was put together by British Thomson-Houston (BTH), and which consists of some 28 photograph albums and 13,000 glass plate negatives in total. The images all have a connection to equipment and machinery manufactured by BTH at its Rugby, Warwickshire site and date from 1898 to 1939. However, it’s not just stock photographs of switchgear and turbines that can be found in this collection. Many of the photographs of BTH’s products were taken at its customer’s factories and premises from around the world and people were also captured in many of the images. This has given rise to a collection of photographs rich with images shedding light on industrial heritage and social history.
The two images below, taken at Silverwood Colliery, Yorkshire, England, illustrate this blend of industrial and social history. The first image is a general view of the pit-head gear at Silverwood Colliery with the railway lines stretching out in front of the pit-head. The second image, showing workers at Silverwood, is titled ‘coal run by gravitation’.
Silverwood Colliery, named after a local woodland, was located between Thrybergh and Ravenfield in Yorkshire. The first shaft at Silverwood was begun in 1900 with the first coal being produced in 1904.
Silverwood Colliery was owned by Dalton Main Collieries Limited (DMCL), which floated on the London Stock Exchange in December 1899. DMCL had been formed specifically to buy out the business of Roundwood Colliery, purchase land at Silverwood, and sink a new deep mineshaft at Silverwood. These installations were to be connected to a boat staithe on the River Don by a railway which became known as John Brown’s Private Railway. The line, along with the collieries, became the sole property of John Brown & Company of Sheffield in 1910, giving the line its local name. For those interested in learning more about Silverwood there is a website devoted to the colliery and its miners which can be found here – Silverwood – its miners and history
BTH was a British engineering firm known for its electrical systems and steam turbines. It was originally founded as a subsidiary of the General Electric Company (GE) of Schenectady, New York, but was taken into British ownership and amalgamated with Metropolitan-Vickers in 1928 to form Associated Electrical Industries (AEI). Post-amalgamation the BTH brand was kept separate until the 1960s. Therefore most of the images in this collection date to the period of GE’s ownership of BTH.
BTH is often considered to be a heavy industrial company so industrial / social history images involving transportation electrical systems might be a category of pictures that you would expect to find in such a collection and indeed there are many such images. The two shown below are typical of the many photographs that fall into the transportation category.
The above image shows Croydon Corporation Tramways’ Thornton-Heath & Purley tram.
The above image shows a 25 ton, 8 wheel, locomotive for the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company, Hoboken, New Jersey, USA.
Unlike the previous images, ‘unexpected finds’ within the photographic collection of a heavy engineering company include shop fronts and light fittings. BTH made a variety of electrical appliances and lamps and had an incandescent lamp factory at its Rugby Works (first lampworks constructed during the 1900 to 1902 period). One of its many lamp products, a ‘meridian lamp with prismo glass shade’ is shown below.
As a result of having an extensive range of lamps, many photographs in the collection show shop fronts and shop interiors where the company’s lamps were being used. Two such images are shown below. Firstly BTH’s lamps at LJ Minchin, Forest Gate, London. Secondly the interior of WH Hull at Cricklewood.
Both images above highlight the wide diversity of subject matter within the BTH collection.
Further work on the collections
The BTH collection (NAEST 74) has already been catalogued but given that much of the collection consists of glass plate negatives which are difficult to handle and fragile, not many images have been digitised up until this point. Given the richness of this collection and wide appeal of the images, we are now undertaking a new project to digitise more of the BTH images. Primarily this will be based upon those images contained in the photograph albums and on microfiche rather than the glass plates.
Some of the early fruits of this work have been used for this article and a selection of new digital images from the BTH collection will be added to the IET Archives Pinterest boards over the coming year. Some images have already been added and can be viewed on https://uk.pinterest.com/ietarchives/.