Updated 26-IV-2014

Trafford Park

Trafford Park was primarily a factory for large scale manufacturing of heavy electrical goods, but did make a very brief excursion into lamp manufacturing during its ownership by the Westinghouse Electric Company. The site is worthy of mention for its truly vast scale. Surprisingly although Westinghouse was a major lampmaker in the USA, this product was not manufactured in Britain until 1917 and even then only very briefly. Westinghouse purchased another lampmaker in the same year and swiftly transferred its operations to that site. The rest of the Trafford Park estate continued for many years more in the manufacture of gas turbines and other large electrical machines.

Westinghouse Trafford Park Industrial Estate, circa 1903

Address Trafford Park, Manchester, England.
Location Unknown
Opened 1917
Closed 1917
Products Tungsten Filament Lamps

Factory Origins and Takeovers
George Westinghouse was a brilliant American engineer, who developed numerous electrical industries and was one of the more prominent early developers of incandescent lamps. Following impressive growth in the home markets, the company established a British manufacturing subsidiary in 1899, the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company Ltd. It was established with £1.25 million capital, of which £0.5m was alotted to Westinghouse USA for purchase of exclusive patent rights, another £0.5m was held by US Westinghouse, and the balance was taken by public shareholders.

On the 10th July of that year, George Westinghouse purchased the 100-acre tract of land known as Trafford Park near Manchester in the North of England. Previously that estate had been owned by the deTrafford family and served as the family home, surrounded by a large area of beautiful parkland. He at once put together bold plans to build a vast industrial complex on the site, for the manufacture of all kinds of electrical goods. So huge was the scale of building work that the local contractors advised him that it would take five years to build. Westinghouse refused to accept such sluggish progress, and brough over a team of his own bricklayers to show the British how it should be done - and remarkably he succeeded in pushing them to speeds of 2000 bricks per day at a time when 400 per day was the average for a British builder! The works were completed in record time, barely 18 months, and by 1902 lay ready for the start of manufacturing. Production machinery was shipped over from the USA and 1903 marked the first year of manufacturing on the site.

The first year of trading showed a loss of about £110,000, which was concealed by 'optimistic' accounting. By 1906 the problems had still not been resolved, and the American parent company sent over Newcomb Carlton and Philip A. Lang (who would later become a very powerful figure in the British electrical industry), to resolve the difficulties. They reduced the company's capital and sold off the unusued portion of Trafford Park. A similar situation was being faced in America following George Westinghouse's mismanagement - he may have been the company founder and a brilliant engineer, but his management skills left much to be desired. The Westinghouse USA corporation went into receivership in 1907, but was saved by the banks who provided a significant loan. Philip A. Lang persuaded the banks to provide an additional £0.25m in cash to save the British Westinghouse division, which thus remained under American control. Matters continued to deteriorate and in 1909 George Westinghouse was voted off the Board of British Westinghouse, and replaced by John Annan Bryce. This seemingly unimaginable move was repeated the following year when he was incredibly also voted off the board of his American parent company.

It was not until 1913 that the situation of British Westinghouse improved, when the company made its first profit, of £100,000. However progress remained difficult because the company was very obviously American-owned, and in Britain at the time there was a strong culture of desiring to buy products made by local companies. In 1916 British Westinghouse tried to join the Federation of British Industries (which had been founded by Dudley Docker of the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon & Finance Company, a staunch supporter of British Industry), but was denied membership owing to its American roots. The board of British Westinghouse then began to consider the value of its American parent, and formed a new holding company with the intention to progressively buy out the American shares. Previously they had been struggling to win contracts from the Government during the First World War, and the foreign ownership was clearly hurting the company's interests. Docker approved heartily of their actions, and his company provided at once a significant cash investment - with the balance of the full amount required being provided by Vickers Limited, a major shipbuilding company. All links with the American parent were thenceforce severed, and in May 1917 British Westinghouse became an entirely British and independent company. In 1918 Docker tried hard to persuade the board of British Westinghouse to merge fully with Vickers to create a single company, but failed. He then tried the same again between Westinghouse and GEC, but once again did not succeed. On March 15th 1919 however, Docker agreed terms with Vickers to purchase all of his shares not only in British Westinghouse, but of his own business, the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon & Finance Company, for almost thirteen million pounds. And so it followed that on the 8th September 1919, British Westinghouse ceased to exist and its name was changed to The Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company.

Metrovick as it soon became known was secretly purchased in 1927, when General Electric of America took controlling interest in the company. Gerard Swope, head of GE's International Division purchased 78% of the shares in Metrovick from Vickers Ltd for the sum of just £1.3 million, as part of his plans to amalgamate the entire British electrical industry into a single giant company that would be controlled by GE. Since such a deal would of course have been blocked, the shares were registered in the name of Dudley Docker, who was paid handsomely by Swope for his services, to keep it a secret that GE was behind the scheme. Because Docker was very vocal on the matter of his own beliefs that the large British electrical industries should join forces and be amalgamated, it was genuinely believed that he was the man behind the scheme and that it was also his own finance - even the board of Metrovick had no idea that GE had become the real owner of their company! During informal discussions, Swope of GE suggested to the chairman of Metrovick, Sir Philip Nash, that he consider the opportunities for a joint technical, manufacturing and sales agreement with BTH, which was also entirely owned by GE. Unfortunately for Swope the board of Metrovick disagreed - and the secret then came out that in fact the board had little choice in the matter, and in July 1928 the two companies were forced together by GE into a most unhappy marriage. On 4th January 1929 GE officially created the new holding company Associated Electrical Industries (AEI) which became the parent of both BTH and MV. The former competitors who were brought together under the deal were not fully integrated, operating for many decades to come as independent companies under AEI, and this situation resulted in bitter internal rivalry which damaged AEI considerably, eventually leading to its own collapse.

Lamp Operations of British Westinghouse
Although the American parent company had been one of the strongest pioneers in the development of the original incandescent lamps, the British operations focussed for the early years only on heavy electrical equipment. It was not until 1906 that the British Westinghouse Metal Filament Lamp Company was formed, to establish the marketing of lamps in Britain. There was no own manufacturing in England at the time, and the lamps were all purchased from another Westinghouse subsidiary which operated a lamp factory in the Austrian town of Atzgersdorf.

The financial situation was less than desirable, and British Westinghouse failed to earn sufficient profits on these externally sourced lamps. In 1913 the then largely independent British Westinghouse company purchased controlling interest in the Atzgersdorf factory, thereby providing it a source of cheaper lamps. This proved to be an unfortunate situation however, because with the outbreak of War in 1914, supplies were cut off and British assets in the country were seized by the German occupying forces. After the war, Westinghouse never recovered its lost investment and the Atzgersdorf factory became a part of the German Osram company.

By 1917 the situation was becoming desperate - Westinghouse urgently needed the profits that competitors were earning from the electric lamp market, and it was decided to establish lamp manufacturing within the Trafford Park works. It is not clear however whether or not production actually started, because on the 23rd July 1917, British Westinghouse purchased the Brimsdown Lamp Works (formerly Julius Pintsch) from the Custodian of Enemy Property who had confiscated that small German lampmaker at the start of the War. It is presumed that whatever lampmaking operations may have existed at Trafford Park would then have been swiftly closed in favour of continued operations at Brimsdown.

1 Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company 1899-1949, J. Dummelow, 1949.
2 Grace's Guide entry for British Westinghouse.
3 Death of a Lightbulb, J. Otten, Blue Ocean Publishing 2012, pp.62,72,136,272-273.
4 Anatomy of a Merger : A History of GEC, AEI and English Electric, R.Jones & O.Marriott, Pan Books Ltd, 1970.