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Engineering Industries in Stafford and Kidsgrove

Bagnall Locomotive

W.G. Bagnall Ltd was established in 1870 in Castle Street, Stafford. Bagnall's first locomotive was produced in 1875, the company going on to produce machines for collieries and overseas plantations. Bagnall went on to produce powerful locomotives for some of the world's most important railways.

William Henry Dorman established a factory in Foregate Street in 1870. He began by manufacturing cutting tools for the Stafford Shoe Industry, then progressed to printing, sewing and grinding machines. He built the first internal combustion engine for the motor car in 1903. During the First World War the company built aircraft equipment. In 1929 the factory was moved to new premises on Tixall Road, still used by Trafford Perkins, a successor company. During the Second World War industrial and marine diesel engines were developed, and the factory became a training centre for engineers. In 1959 W.G. Bagnall Ltd was purchased by Dorman Diesels, and in 1961 the combined company was taken over by English Electric. The photograph below shows Computer Aided Design & Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software being used in the design department at Dorman Diesels, Tixall Road in the 1980s. The computer-created designs were then manufactured using numerically-controlled machine tools in the factory.

The story of the electrical industry in Staffordshire began when the German company Siemens Bros built a large factory to the south of Stafford in 1901. However after the First World War all German possessions in Britain were nationalised as war reparations.

Siemens Brothers Factory, Lichfield Road, Stafford

In 1917 Dick, Kerr & Co., a partnership of merchants W. B. Dick and John Kerr in Glasgow, acquired the United Electric Car Company, a tram manufacturer in Preston.

English Electric (EE) was founded in 1919 at the end of the First World War, and during 1919 took over Dick, Kerr & Co., diesel engine manufacturers Willans & Robinson in Rugby, the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company in Bradford, the Stephenson Railway Company in Warrington, and the Stafford works of Siemens Bros. EE's Articles of Association were framed so that the company could manufacture virtually anything, but initially it specialised in industrial electric motors and transformers. In 1930, the manufacture of electrical equipment was moved to Bradford, while tram, bus body and rolling stock production stayed at Preston. That same year, the man most associated with EE, George Nelson, became Managing Director.

English Electric Generator Set

English Electric Deltic Locomotive

English Electric Generator transport by traction engine in 1927

English Electric Generator transport passes the High House
in Greengate Street, Stafford in 1952

EE then went on to produce railway locomotives, traction equipment, steam turbines, diesel engines, generators, transformers, switchgear, electrical transmission equipment, meters, relays, instruments, consumer domestic electrical and electronic equipment, guided missiles, aircraft (English Electric Canberra and Lightning) and computers.

English Electric Cookers


Gulielmo Marconi, the Italian radio engineer, established factories in all the developed countries of the world. These companies had two main functions: manufacture of radio equipment, but also sole broadcasting rights within those countries. The first radio broadcast in Britain took place from the roof of the Marconi factory in Chelmsford. Naturally the sole broadcasting rights were attractive to the Governments of the countries concerned, so all the Marconi companies were all nationalised by their respective Governments. In Britain, the radio broadcasts from the roof of the Chelmsford factory became the BBC, but the radio manufacturing continued, and in 1946, EE took over the UK Marconi Company. In the USA the broadcasting rights formed the NBC, and the radio manufacturing business became the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), which apart from radios manufactured computers. This Marconi link was to have far-reaching consequences for the development of EE computers.

Marconi logo

The 1912 Marconi factory in Chelmsford,
showing the aerials for the early radio transmitting
station 2MT

A 1912 Marconi transmitter at Chelmsford

The 2MT studio at Chelmsford in 1920. These sole broadcasting rights
were nationalised and became the BBC

In 1951 Bagnall merged with Brush Traction Ltd., and in 1959 the firm was sold to W.H. Dorman Ltd. Two years later they were taken over by the English Electric Co. and production at the Castle Street works ceased. Dorman also became part of EE, but is now part of Perkins Diesels.

The Blackheath Lane, Stafford site of the Nelson Research Laboratories, formerly a 1940 World War II aircraft engine testing facility, and later the Department of Computing of North Staffordshire Polytechnic
Aerial view of the Beaconside site, Stafford, with the large three-winged building of the Nelson Research Laboratories top right, and the buildings of the 1964 Staffordshire College of Technology in the foreground, later part of North Staffordshire Polytechnic, Staffordshire Polytechnic and Staffordshire University.

In Staffordshire EE's chief factories were at Stafford, and at Kidsgrove on the edge of the Cheshire plain. English Electric also set up the Nelson Research Laboratories two miles east of Stafford using the Second World War aircraft engine testing facility in Blackheath Covert (known to this day as the Blackheath Lane site); an additional three-winged building for the Nelson Research Laboratories was then built on the slopes of Beacon Hill (a Medieval signal station), named as the Beaconside site. Staffordshire College of Technology was founded on the expanded Beaconside site, with EE patronage, and later became part of North Staffordshire Polytechnic, Staffordshire Polytechnic, and finally Staffordshire University. The Blackheath Lane site, after many years as the Department of Computing at North Staffordshire Polytechnic, remains the School of Health of Staffordshire University. The southernmost wing of the Beaconside building, encased in yellow brick, became the Library at the Stafford Site, being opened by Lord Nelson of Stafford, the former Managing Director of EE. The new Octagon Building was also built. Student courses were moved to the Stoke-on-Trent campus of Staffordshire University in 2016, apart from the nursing courses, which remained at the School of Health at the Blackheath Lane site. The Beaconside site, including the student accommodation and sports facilities, was then sold to the Chinese, and is now Beaconwood College.

English Electric DEUCE Drum. DEUCE computers were tested at the Blackheath Lane, Stafford site of the Nelson Research Laboratories.

A team of engineers from EE developed Alan Turing's ACE Pilot computer design at the National Physical Laboratory, in Teddington, London and this was manufactured at EE Kidsgrove as the Digital Electronic Universal Computing Engine (DEUCE). DEUCE naturally follows ACE, but the "Engine" part of the name was also an acknowledgment to Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine in the 19th Century.

English Electric KDF9 Computer, manufactured at Kidsgrove, Staffordshire

Meanwhile the first generation computers such as DEUCE, built of thermionic valves, were becoming obsolete. A new semiconductor device, the transistor, which replaced the function of the triode valve, was invented by Shockley in the USA in 1950. Transistors, together with other discrete components such as resistors, capacitors and diodes were assembled on printed circuit boards to build the second generation of computers. Where was EE to get transistor knowhow? The answer was provided by Marconi at Chelmsford. The key point was that the Marconi personnel working in the USA and Britain still regarded themselves as working for the same company: transistor know-how and computer designs soon passed by agreement and licence from RCA to English Electric. The single transistor in its can was replaced by 1960 by small-scale integrated circuits (SSI) with about ten components on the same 5mm square "chip" of semiconductor. Using this technology, the second generation computer KDP10, manufactured at Kidsgrove, was a copy of an RCA design. Using the same technology the KDF9, a home-grown hardware stack based computer, which was one of the first to demonstrate multiprogramming, was built at Kidsgrove, while the KDN2 was an industrial control computer built at Chelmsford.

English Electric KDF9 Large Fixed Disc (3m length, 2m depth, 2m height, see operator for scale)

A press cutting of the time, indicating the homely environment that then existed at the Kidsgrove site

Joe Lyons of Teashop Corner Houses fame wanted in the early days of computers to purchase a computer to process its teashop accounts, but found that there was no commercial computer available on the market. Accordingly they set up the Lyons Electronic Office (LEO), and several successful computers (LEO 1, LEO 2, LEO 3, LEO 326) were then built and marketed. In 1963 EE and J. Lyons & Co. formed a jointly owned company English Electric LEO to manufacture the LEO computers developed by Lyons. EE took over Lyons' half stake in 1964 and merged it with Marconi's computer interests to form English Electric LEO Marconi (EELM).

Next came medium-scale integration (MSI, about 100 components per chip) by 1965, and large-scale integration (LSI, about 1000 components per chip) by 1970. LSI chips were used in the third generation of computers. Where was EELM to get its integrated circuit knowhow? From RCA again, resulting in the System 4-50 computer built at Kidsgrove from the RCA Spectra 70/45 design. Again, a home-grown larger version, the System 4-70 was Kidsgrove designed, while the System 4-30 was built at Chelmsford.

As a result of Labour Government policy of the time, British computer manufacturing firms were forced to form two large groups. As a result, Elliott Automation of Borehamwood were absorbed by EELM, bringing with them the Elliott 4100 series of computers, licensed originally from the NCR 4000 series. The company was renamed yet again, to English Electric Computers Ltd. The other group consisted of such companies as Hollerith (formed originally by the USA census controller Hermann Hollerith to market punched card equipment), Powers Samas and Ferranti, and was named International Computers and Tabulators (ICT).

Finally, in 1967, the Labour Government forced a merger to just one British computer manufacturing company. The original assets of English Electric Computers Ltd and ICT, together with money from the memory manufacturer Plessey, and an unprecedented Government shareholding, formed International Computers Limited (ICL). ICL then built the 2600 series of computers (1974), designed to run software from both the ICT 1600 and English Electric System 4 ranges of machines. ICL later became part of Fujitsu.

For more information on computer history in Stafford and Kidsgrove, Staffordshire, UK see:
Wilcock, JD 1994 A historical perspective of British computer manufacturers with particular reference to Staffordshire , School of Computing, Staffordshire University

General Electric Company

The General Electric Company (GEC) was a major UK company involved in consumer and defence electronics, communications and engineering. In fact EE had tried to take it over, unsuccessfully. In 1968, GEC, recently merged with Associated Electrical Industries (AEI), merged a second time with EE, the GEC name being retained, and sadly the English Electric name was then lost. The Managing Director was the formidable Arnold Weinstock. Dorman Diesels was sold to Perkins.

GEC Alsthom

In 1989 GEC ALSTHOM was formed from the merger of GEC with the power and transport activities of Compagnie Générale d'Electricité (CGE), set up as Alsthom in 1928 by Société Alsacienne de Constructions Mécaniques and Compagnie Française Thomson Houston. France's market was no longer sufficient for CGE, so the merger was to enable ALSTHOM to export into Europe. GEC Alsthom still operated the main Lichfield Road, Stafford factory (originally built by Siemens) as the base for many constituent companies involved in electricity transmission and distribution, switchgear, turbine generators and transformers. Other sites in Stafford were the GEC Alsthom Measurements Ltd St Leonardís works for meters, relays and instruments and electronic assemblies, the Stafford Foundry, GEC Alsthom Ceramics at the Castle Works, GEC Computer Services Ltd at the Hollies, Newport Road and the leisure facility at Stychfields. Other sites in Staffordshire were GEC Electromotors Ltd at Lower Milehouse Lane, Newcastle-under-Lyme, GEC Meters at Stonefield Works, Stone, GEC Industrial Controls in the former southern factory of English Electric at West Avenue, Kidsgrove, and GEC Hotpoint at Kidsgrove. In 1995 the social centre at Stychfields was replaced by the St Leonard's Sports and Social Club for company employees.

While the engineer Lord Weinstock was in control things went well. However, he retired as Managing Director in 1996 and was replaced by accountanat George Simpson. In July 1997 GEC announced the result of a major review: the company would move away from its joint ventures and focus on moving toward "global leadership" in defence and aerospace (Marconi Electronic Systems), industrial electronics (GEC Industrial Electronics) and communications (GEC Communications). But this reorganisation did not go according to plan.

In1998 GEC ALSTHOM acquired Cegelec, an electrical contracting firm, and then was introduced to the Paris Stock Exchange, changing its name from GEC ALSTHOM to ALSTOM.

The remaining part of GEC was renamed Marconi Corporation plc in 1999 after its defence arm was sold to British Aerospace. In 2005 Ericsson purchased the bulk of Marconi and the remaining businesses were renamed Telent plc.


ALSTOM was a large French-owned multinational conglomerate which held interests in the power generation and transport markets. Alstom employed more than 80,000 people in 70 countries, and its headquarters were located in Levallois-Perret, near Paris. It was a world leader in hydroelectric power generation; nuclear power plants and air quality environmental control systems. In energy infrastructure the company was a world leader in integrated power plants using all energy sources (coal, gas, nuclear, fuel-oil, hydropower, wind) and was a leader in innovative technologies for the protection of the environment (reduction of CO2 emissions, elimination of pollutant emissions). Alstom was manufacturing the future EPR nuclear power plants in France. The Group was also developing CO2 capture processes and integrated this technology in pilot plants in Germany and the USA. It was also a producer of high speed and very high speed trains, being the manufacturer of the TGV (1978), AGV (fourth generation of very high speed trains) and Eurostar series, and the Citadis trams. Alstom also designed rolling stock, urban transport systems, regional train systems, signalling infrastructure equipment, and a number of associated services. Alstom equipment achieved the world rail speed record of 574.8 Km/h on 03.04.2007. The company was second in the world for urban transport, and a third of urban tramways worldwide rolled off Alstom's production lines. Finally, one quarter of the world's light bulbs were powered by Alstom technologies.


AREVA was named from Areválo Abbey in the region of Ávila (a province of central-western Spain, in the southern part of the autonomous region of Castile and Léon), the name Areválo being shortened to AREVA. The derivation of Areválo is uncertain, but it may be derived from a Celtic compound word meaning "against the wall" or "near the wall". Why Areválo? According to AREVA's website, a French business daily at the time referred to the merger between the five main companies T&D, Cogema, Framatome ANP, Technicatome and FCI as "a Cistercian Abbey that wedded perfect symmetry to great dignity".

AREVA then became a global leader in solutions for CO2-free power generation. It is 79% owned by CEA, the French Atomic Energy Research Organization, a public body established in 1945. It is active in three main fields: Energy, information and health technologies, defence and national security. AREVA never stopped building nuclear reactors over a 50 year period, and produced about one fifth of the more than 400 currently active nuclear reactors. AREVA employs 75,000 people worldwide, 46% in France, 22% in Europe (including Stafford, but excluding France), 13% Americas, 14% Asia Pacific, and 5% Africa and Middle East.

AREVA is Number 1 worldwide in the overall provision of reactors and services.

AREVA T&D is Number 3 worldwide in transmission and distribution. It designs and manufactures a complete range of high and medium voltage equipment, systems and services on a global basis. This includes transmission and distribution of electricity from the power plant to the end-user, optimisation of power grids, and installation of complete systems and supplies services for transmission and distribution.

The companies are now operating against a background of future world requirements and strategies for power by 2030:
Electricity demand will grow by a factor of two
Overall energy demand will increase by 50 %
Population will increase by 2 billion people
Human Development will increase energy intensity
Carbon emissions must be cut by half to stabilize climate change
Oil and gas supplies will have passed their peak (total oil and gas production will start to decrease by 2025) and energy must be provided by substituting the renewable energies of wind power, biomass or hydrogen energy, plus supplies from nuclear reactors, and these are all types of energy which AREVA is well placed to provide.

On June 30, 2009, having reviewed the group's development plan, the AREVA Supervisory Board asked AREVA's Executive Board to initiate a process for the sale of the Transmission and Distribution business.

At the close of the bidding process on 09.11.2009, AREVA had received three binding offers submitted by Alstom/Schneider, General Electric and Toshiba/INCJ, respectively.

AREVA's Supervisory Board met on 30 November, 2009 to examine the bids. After review, the Supervisory Board asked the Executive Board to begin exclusive negotiations with Alstom and Schneider.

The consortium offered 2.29 billion euros in equity value, i.e. 4.09 billion euros in enterprise value. The bid included a buyer's commitment to maintain all European sites for a 3 year period from 2010.

The French state owned 91 percent of AREVA in December 2009, and expected to complete the transaction with Alstom SA and Schneider Electric SA in 2010, who ultimately intended to transfer the transmission activities to Alstom and the distribution activities to Schneider Electric, a French global company.

Schneider Electric

The high voltage transmission part of AREVA T&D was very close to Alstom's own activities in power generation. Alstom intended to bring to AREVA T&D its expertise and knowledge in power networks and automated systems, its know-how in the management of large projects, and the full benefit of Alstom's worldwide commercial network which was particularly focused on power generation utilities, the primary market for high voltage activities. Schneider Electric, which was very active in medium voltage distribution, intended to bring to AREVA T&D its considerable technical and operational strengths in automation and medium voltage distribution, plus a worldwide sales network.

Alstom Grid

The sale of AREVA T&D was completed on 07.06.2010, and it was renamed Alstom Grid. This resulted in 1400 AREVA T&D workers being transferred to Alstom, joining the other 400 workers at other Alstom plants in Stafford, around 4,400 other Alstom workers in the UK across the transport, power and supply grid sectors, and more than 96,000 workers worldwide in 70 countries, with annual sales of £19 billion. This sale was a reversal of the 2004 deal when Alstom sold off the transmission and distribution business to AREVA. Following the 2010 sale Alstom Grid had 20,000 workers worldwide on more than 90 sites. Alstom Grid is about one third of Alstom, the other two sectors being Alstom Power and Alstom Transport, with headquarters at La Défense, Paris. Alstom Grid continued to use the St Leonard's works at Stafford until 2018, but this has been demolished and the site razed for redevlopment as housing.

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Send all comments, updates and queries for The Stafford Singers History of Companies Page to John Wilcock

Version: 08 26 January 2019 updated by John Wilcock