STC, the British telephone, telegraph, radio, telecommunications, and related equipment manufacturer started out life in London in 1883 as International Western Electric (the UK arm of the US company Western Electric). It only became known as STC in 1925 after Western Electric sold off its international operations, and its new owner ITT Corporation, renamed its new UK operation.
The company’s first London manufacturing base was in North Woolwich which it set up in 1898 after purchasing a failing electrical cable factory. That facility made lead-sheathed cables, and also assembled equipment from components imported from Belgium and the US. Then in May 1922 the company acquired the John Tylor site at New Southgate and spent the 1920s and 1930s developing the facility in New Southgate which was the base for its telephone and radio equipment manufacturing business.
The image above shows STC’s ‘building number 3’ at New Southgate in 1936 and the image below shows a model of the whole site taken in 1938.
History of the New Southgate Site and a London Cemetery Station!
In 1855 the Great Northern London Cemetery Company established a 150 acre burial ground at Colney Hatch (now New Southgate). These 150 acres were around three-quarters of a mile north of Colney Hatch (later New Southgate) Station on the Great Northern Railway (GNR) main line just over 7 miles out of Kings Cross. The Colney Hatch Cemetery Company, as it was often referred to, had as one of its objects the betterment of funeral arrangements for the poorer persons who experienced much difficulty in finding the money for even the lowest class of funeral. One of the problems the company was trying to lessen was the retaining of the corpse in the house for upwards of a week because the bereaved family was unable to pay undertakers’ fees.
In 1859 the GNR provided two stations for the use of the cemetery company, one at Maiden Lane, near Belle Isle, King’s Cross, on railway land, and the other on cemetery land at New Southgate. The railway company then ran trains between these two stations for the transportation of coffins and mourners between the two stations. This service was not long-lived and ran from 1861 to circa 1870. The photograph below shows the New Southgate Cemetery Station and chapel buildings in 1884, which were known as The Retreat, New Brunswick Park, New Southgate.
Another photograph of the chapel and cottages forming The Retreat is shown below, viewed from Oakleigh Road, with the railway hidden behind the fence.
The cemetery company secured an Act in 1876 authorising the land on which the station at Colney Hatch was built to be used for other purposes and subsequently the railway works at both stations were demolished, and the buildings left derelict. The buildings at Colney Hatch only just survived into the 20th century before being demolished in the 1900-1910 period. The STC factory obliterated all trace of the original station.
Much of the information above has been sourced from the R G Lucas article, ‘Kings Cross Cemetery Station’, published in The Railway Magazine in October 1954 and which used one of the STC photographs now held by the IET Archives.
STC’s Early Years at New Southgate
[Extracted from the STC staff newsletter Standard News which became STC News in 1963]
The land on which the STC factory at New Southgate was located was mainly undeveloped until 1916, when J Tylor & Sons partially developed the site for the manufacture of lorry engines for the 1914-1918 war effort. After acquiring the site in 1922 STC spent the time until 1923 adapting the property for its various manufactures. In 1923 STC transferred part of the North Woolwich organisation to New Southgate. However, shortly before the transfer, instructions were given to erect a hut on the highest spot of STC’s land. That resulted on the night of 14/15 January 1923, in a distinguished company of engineers, together with representatives of the daily and technical press, sitting in the southwest corner of the first floor of Building 3 listening for 2 hours to H B Thayer, President of AT&T, and others talking by radio-telephone from 195, Broadway, New York, and it was recorded that this was ‘one of the most brilliant feats of engineering that the world had witnessed’. A plaque commemorating that event was situated in the entrance hall of Building 3 and it said:
“This plaque is set here to record that the first spoken word from the Western Hemisphere to these islands was received in the grounds of this factory on 14 January, 1923.”
Very little development of the property took place until after the trade recession in the 1930s, but then the company decided to consolidate its activities at New Southgate, Woolwich and other places, and a big expansion took place at new Southgate. From 1933 onwards STC purchased another 13 acres of land from the Cemetery Company and a farmer, Mr Morley. Another floor was added to Building 3 in August 1933, and Buildings 4 and 6 (Woodshop) and the Canteen were erected. Building operations continued at intervals until 1940 when Building 8 (the Radio Building) was completed. The images below show; candlestick phone production on the site; working on wiring and telephone exchange systems in 1936/37; the canteen in 1938; and the main roadway on the site in 1939.
The ‘War Years’ at New Southgate
Early in 1939 plans were made for the establishment of a self-contained Air Raid Precautions (ARP) organisation within the works. Directions were given by the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and Executives were allotted to take charge of the various services i.e. Heard Warden, Plant, Medical, Evacuation, Fire, Gas, Roof Spotting and each of these services received specialised training. The images below show ARP staff in gas masks (1938/39), the Air wardens room (1945) and the plane models used by ‘spotters’ during the war to identify whether planes were ‘friendly’ or ‘enemy’ planes.
Before the outbreak of WWII, STC completed an effective black-out of the factory and this enabled work to continue uninterruptedly both by night and during the day. Headquarters, which was built of sufficient strength to withstand anything but a direct hit, was connected to all parts of the works by an elaborate loudspeaker system, and the factory was manned throughout the war period by seven teams each on a 24-hour shift of duty.
Incidents tended to be few and far between but the worst incident occurred on 23 August 1944, when a flying bomb fell between Buildings 6 and 8, causing 30 deaths and 300 injured. The next evening a flying bomb fell in the middle of the north field but did little damage.
For anyone wishing to consult these New Southgate photographs within the STC corporate collection of photographs, they have been catalogued with reference NAEST 211/2/28, and they can be viewed at the IET Archives, by appointment.