Updated 07-XII-2019

Philips Harlesden Factory

Very little information has been found about the former Philips factory at Harlesden, but it is believed to have been established prior to 1916 as a smaller manufacturer that was later absorbed by Philips. It operated for several decades until 1949 when Philips decided to concentrate all of its British lampmaking at Hamilton in Scotland.

Address Winchelsea Road, Harlesden, NW10, England.
Location 51.5379°N, -0.2570°E ?.
Opened Prior to 1916.
Closed Lampmaking ended 1949. Possibly continued later as a Philips-Mullard valve or radio factory
Floorspace Unknown.
Products Incandescent, Fluorescent and Discharge lamps.

Start of Philips UK Lampmaking
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Philips had a rather scattered lamps business in the UK. It had never built its own factories and operated based on joint ventures and acquisitions of other smaller companies. During the 1910s its leader, Anton Philips, was desperate to expand his manufacturing empire to the UK but that country was substantially closed off to foreigners thanks to the immense power of the 'Lamp Ring', a cartel formed by the key British manufacturers. The combination of the cartel plus high import taxes created a powerful defence for many decades, but it also encouraged acute stagnation of the British manufacturers. They had little motivation to invest in improved lamps or more efficient manufacturing so long as they were guaranteed continued business at extortionate selling prices. This situation began to change after WW1, when in particular the German Osram and Dutch Philips made enormous developments in manufacturing technologies which dramatically reduced lamp prices. Foreign competition gradually threatened the established UK manufacturers, and Anton Philips' chance came in 1919 when he approached the ailing Ediswan company with a solution to its financial troubles. In exchange for 10% of the share capital he provided the company with state-of-the-art automatic lampmaking machinery built by Philips of Eindhoven, to allow it to return to profitability and increase its chances of survival.

The first manufacturing of Philips lamps in Britain was established in 1920 when a new building was created at Royal Ediswan's Ponders End works, to house the high-speed automatic Philips machines. However the installation, operation, management and quality of the lacklustre Ediswan team all fell below Philips' expectations. Friction between the companies was exacerbated when Ediswan fell into arrears in paying for the new equipment - but still paid out a hefty dividend to its shareholders. Philips had to initiate legal procedings to recover the debt, and this soured the relation to the extent that no further co-operation was possible between Philips and Ediswan.

Philips' next partner in the UK was with a small manufacturer that had been established prior to 1916 as the Harlesden Lamp Company Ltd., whose origins are not known. On the 21st April 1916 another company by the name of Stella Lamp Company was founded. It is not known if these two companies were related from the outset, but in 1921 an advertisement appeared featuring the joint names of the Harlesden Lamp Co. and Stella Lamp Co. both at the same Harlesden address. In 1924 Stella abandoned its own manufacturing in favour of sourcing from Tungstalite, and it is not known if the Harlesden factory ceased operations at this time. Stella however maintained is quota for manufacturing volumes within the 'Phoebus' International Lamp Cartel. That provided security for its members but strictly prevented any of them growing faster than others due to its quota system - instead all companies grew in parallel as the industry as a whole expanded. The only way for one member to grow its sales volume was by taking over a competitor.

In 1925-26 Stella was taken over by Philips so as to acquire its quota. It is not known if this also gave Philips a lamp factory in the UK, or if that had already been closed and Philips resurrected it later. Nevertheless it is known that by the late 1930s, Philips was operating a British lamp factory at Harlesden, possibly on the same site as its predecessor. Later Philips also resurrected the Stella brand name with the purpose of enlarging its sales channels. Previously Philips UK had exclusive agreements (in part enforced by the Phoebus cartel) that it would only sell its lamps at fixed prices via official distributors, who of course took a major share of the profit margins. Meanwhile cheap importers who operated outside the lamp ring were able to service a part of the market for which Philips lamps were too expensive. It appears to have been the intention that the re-establishment of the Stella company allowed Philips to sell a range of lamps direct to the wholesalers, no doubt with better margins for Philips but the final customers were able to buy Stella lamps at lower prices - by eliminating the monopoly of its former distributors. A different brand name was required to avoid devaluing existing Philips products. There was always a belief among customers that even though Stella lamps were made by Philips that they were somehow of lower quality, which may or may not have been true.

In parallel, Philips had associations with other British lampmakers. One of these was the Corona Lamp Works, which had been founded prior to the 1920s. In 1923 Corona and another British lampmaker, Cryselco, were attacked with litigation from GE of America's British subsidiary, BTH-Mazda, for infringement of its basic patents on gas-filled coiled-filament incandescent lamps. Corona and Cryselco both took the unusual move of approaching their competitor Philips for help in defending them. This was a smart move which was actually in Philips' interests, because if BTH won its lawsuit, the British Gasfilled lamp market would most likely have fallen under the full monopoly of the British Lamp Ring cartel for the life of the patents. Corona also had its own manufacturing subsidiary for tungsten wire, the Duram Wire Company, which may have been of strategic interest to Philips. Philips therefore agreed to pay Corona and Cryselco's legal costs, and to support them with technical expertise from Eindhoven. The result was successful, but it appears that thereafter Corona was transferred into Philips hands. It is not known when the Corona factory was closed, but for many years afterwards Philips also offered Corona brand lamps alongside its other cheap range of Stella lamps in Britain. In 1927 Cryselco was taken over in equal share by both Philips and the lighting subsidiary of The General Electric Company of England, Osram-GEC. GEC took the lead in the day-to-day operations of that company's Kempston Lamp Works, with Philips providing the machinery and technical support. Cryselco continued as a controlled lampmaker of Philips and GEC until the 1960s when lampmaking was abandoned in favour of sourcing from its parent company's much more efficient factories, although luminaire manufacturing continued until much later. Philips also had a controlling interest in the Splendor Lamp Company of Holland, which operated a satellite factory in England, however Splendor retained its operating independence from the Philips factories for much longer.

In 1949 Philips re-organised its manufacturing footprint in the UK, which resulted in part of the radio production moving from Hamilton back down to Croydon in the south. In parallel it was decided that Hamilton should become the country's principal operations for the Philips Lamps business. In that year the Harlesden factory was closed down, and all lampmaking was concentrated at Hamilton.

1 A Brief History of Philips Lighting Hamilton, 1974. Internal document from Frank Love & Charles Ramsay, GLS Department.
1 Grandpa's Book, Frank Beck, publ. Lulu 2016, p.117 - reference to fluorescent lamp development at Philips Harlesden.