The English Electric
Company Limited
Company typePrivate
FoundedDecember 1918 (as The English Electric Company Limited)
Defunct1968; 56 years ago (1968)
FateMerged with General Electric in 1968
HeadquartersStrand, London, England, UK

The English Electric Company Limited (EE) was a British industrial manufacturer formed after the armistice ending the fighting of World War I by amalgamating five businesses which, during the war, had been making munitions, armaments and aeroplanes.[1]

It initially specialised in industrial electric motors and transformers, locomotives and traction equipment, diesel motors and steam turbines. Its activities were later expanded to include consumer electronics, nuclear reactors, guided missiles, military aircraft and mainframe computers.

Two English Electric aircraft designs became landmarks in British aeronautical engineering; the Canberra and the Lightning. In 1960, English Electric Aircraft (40%) merged with Vickers (40%) and Bristol (20%) to form British Aircraft Corporation.

In 1968 English Electric's operations were merged with GEC's,[2] the combined business employing more than 250,000 people.[3]


Aiming to turn their employees and other assets to peaceful productive purposes, the owners of a series of businesses decided to merge them forming The English Electric Company Limited in December 1918.[1]


English Electric was formed to acquire ownership of:

The owners of the component companies took up the shares in English Electric.[1]

Planned activities of the combined businesses

John Pybus was appointed managing director in March 1921[4] and chairman in April 1926.[5] Initially J H Mansell of Coventry Ordnance Works, John Pybus of Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing and W Rutherford of Dick, Kerr were joint managing directors.[6]
The five previously independent major operations under their control had these principal capabilities:

Together these businesses covered the whole field of electrical machinery from the smallest fan motor to the largest turbo-generator.[6]

In November 1919, English Electric bought the Stafford works of Siemens Brothers Dynamo Works Ltd.[7] In 1931 Stafford became English Electric's centre.[8]

Locomotiva 1449 [English Electric • Sorefame] N.º UIC: 9094 110 1449-3 (Takargo Rail)

However, there was no post-war boom in electrical generation. Though English Electric products were indeed in heavy demand, potential buyers were unable to raise the necessary capital funds. In 1922, a drastic reorganisation of the works was carried through and that managed to halve overheads. The Coventry Ordnance Works was practically closed down. Cables, lamps and wireless equipment were then in buoyant demand, but that would have been a new field for the company to enter. English Electric's business was in heavy electrical and mechanical plant.[9] Both the 1926 general strike and the miners strike caused heavy losses.[10] In 1929 part of the Coventry Ordnance Works was sold and the pattern shop at Preston, neither of which was required.[11]

By the end of 1929, it was clear the only solution to English Electric's financial difficulties was a financial restructure. The restructure acknowledged the loss of much of the shareholders' capital and brought in new capital to re-equip with new plant and machinery. In the event, an American syndicate fronted by Lazard Brothers and Co. bankers came up with the new capital, but left control in the hands of the previous shareholders.[12]

In June 1930, four fresh directors were appointed, filling four new vacancies.[13]

Ten days later, there was a formal announcement of an American arrangement. "English Electric, with works at Preston, Stafford, Rugby, Bradford and Coventry, had entered into a comprehensive arrangement" with Westinghouse Electric International Company of New York and Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company of East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania US, whereby there would be an exchange of technical information between the two organisations on steam turbines and electrical apparatus. It was made clear that this technical and manufacturing link did not carry with it any control from America. In recognition of the exchange arrangement, Westinghouse had offered to provide further capital, which would be less than 10% of the total, including that new capital organised earlier by Lazard Brothers.[14]

George Nelson

Seven weeks later the chairman, Lionel Hichens, who had temporarily replaced John Pybus in 1927, retired at the end of July 1930 and was replaced by Sir Holberry Mensforth as a director and as chairman.[15] It was then announced that George H. Nelson had been appointed to the board and would take up the position of managing director early in October.[16] Mensforth had been taken away from his position as general manager of American Westinghouse Trafford Park Manchester, where George Nelson had been his apprentice, in 1919 by the Minister of Transport. The minister had given Mensforth the responsibility of easing the transition of the nation's munitions businesses back into peacetime industry. It was Mensforth who had arranged the technical exchange agreement and extra capital with Westinghouse.[17] They began to reorganise.


The main base of the company's operation was moved from London to Stafford including the sales departments, general and factory accounts and the principal executives previously in London. The managing director was to divide his time between the various works but would be mainly in Stafford or in London[8]

On 30 December 1930 the engineering shops at Preston closed leaving the following distribution:[8]

Radiators and cookers

Manufacture of domestic apparatus got underway at both Stafford and Bradford during 1931.[18] They were followed in 1934 by a range of household meters of various kinds. In the same report to shareholders, the chairman pointed out that every day 330 more homes adopted electricity for heating cooking and lighting and between 1929 and 1935 the production of electricity in Britain had increased by 70 per cent.[19]


1933 proved to be the first of four years of real achievement. At the beginning of July 1933, Mensforth stepped down and George Nelson took up the post of chairman. Nelson remained managing director.[20] Mensforth kept a seat on the board from which he later retired at the end of 1936.[21]

English Electric's recovery was noted by commentators as remarkable. During 1936, past preference dividends had been brought up to date: they were English Electric's first dividend since a 1924 dividend on ordinary shares. The balance sheet at the end of 1936 showed liquidity was in a strong position[22] and the chairman told shareholders that the rate of production in the factories for the last three months of the year was double the rate of production in the first three months.[23]

During 1938, the first dividend was paid on ordinary shares since 1924.[24]

In the summer of 1938, a large display advertisement confidently declared:

ENGLISH ELECTRIC PLANT AND EQUIPMENT in operation throughout the world.
With its historical achievements and the wealth of experience of its several Associated Companies the English Electric Company
continues to maintain its reputation as Manufacturers and Suppliers of electrical and allied products for Home and Overseas markets:

Three English Electric
7SRL Diesel alternator sets being installed
the Saateni Power Station, Zanzibar 1955
Complete Electrification Schemes Undertaken[25]

World War II


Two Hampden bombers pictured on 9 April 1940

The first steps to strengthen the Royal Air Force had been taken in May 1935 and English Electric was brought into the scheme for making airframes[26] working in conjunction with Handley Page.[27] The chairman reported to shareholders that though both Dick, Kerr and Phoenix were involved in the aircraft business during and shortly after the previous war the problems had so changed they were now completely new to the company. He also noted as he ended his address that the demand for domestic appliances including cookers, breakfast cookers, washing machines and water heaters was growing progressively.[28]

The Preston works without subcontracting made more than 3,000 Hampden and Halifax aircraft.[29][30]

Aero engines

Napier Deltic engine, cut away for display
de Havilland Vampire T11

In December 1942, English Electric bought the ordinary shares of D. Napier & Son Limited. Mr H G Nelson, son of English Electric chairman George H Nelson, was appointed managing director.[31]

Napier's Sabre engines were used in Typhoon and Tempest aircraft and Lion engines in Motor Torpedo Boats[29][30]

Tanks, locomotives, submarines, ships, power generation

The Stafford works made thousands of Covenanter, Centaur and Cromwell tanks as well as precision instruments for aircraft, electric propulsion and electrical equipment.
The Rugby works made Diesel engines for ships, submarines and locomotives, steam turbines for ships and turbo-alternator sets for power stations.
Bradford made electric generators for ships' auxiliaries and a wide variety of other naval and aviation material.[29][30]


In April 1945, English Electric employed 25,000 persons in its four main works.[30] Subsequently the chairman revealed that the peak employment number during wartime had been 45,000 when including Napier's people.[32] C. P. Snow was appointed director of scientific personnel in 1944. Later he was physicist-director, a position he held until 1964.[33]

de Havilland Vampire

In September 1945, details were released of the Vampire jet, the fastest British aircraft with a top speed of 548 mph. The aircraft was built by English Electric at its Preston works, the Frank Halford designed Goblin jet engine, the world's most powerful, by de Havilland in London.[34]



From 1912 to 1924, United Electric and English Electric (with assistance from Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock) supplied second- and third-series tramcars for Hong Kong Tramways. These cars were eventually retired from 1924 to 1930 as the fourth Generation cars were being introduced.[citation needed]


Preserved 1927 EN80 English Electric tram, the last example of a fleet of 20 once used by the Warsaw Commuter Railway

In 1923, English Electric supplied the EO electric locomotives for the New Zealand Railways for use between Arthurs Pass and Otira, in the Southern Alps. Between 1924 and 1926, they delivered nine box-cab electric (B+B) locomotives to the Harbour Commissioners of Montreal (later the National Harbours Board); later they were transferred to Canadian National Railways, where four of them ran until 1995. In 1927, English Electric delivered 20 electric motor cars for Warsaw's Warszawska Kolej Dojazdowa. During the 1930s, equipment was supplied for the electrification of the Southern Railway system, reinforcing EE's position in the traction market, and it continued to provide traction motors to them for many years.

In 1936, production of diesel locomotives began in the former tramworks in Preston. Between the late 1930s and the 1950s, English Electric supplied electric multiple unit trains for the electrified network in and around Wellington, New Zealand. In 1951 English Electric supplied 3 & 5 car articulated Diesel Electric multiple units to the Egyptian State Railways Egyptian-thumpers. Between 1951 and 1959, English Electric supplied the National Coal Board with five 51-ton, 400 hp electric shunting locomotives for use on the former Harton Coal Company System at South Shields (which had been electrified by Siemens in 1908) to supplement the existing fleet of ten ageing Siemens and AEG locomotives. English Electric took over Vulcan Foundry and Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns,[35] both with substantial railway engineering pedigrees, in 1955.

English Electric produced nearly 1000 diesel and electric locomotives, of nine different classes, for British Rail as part of the Modernisation Plan in the 1950s and 1960s. Most of these classes of locomotive gave long service to British Rail and its successor train operating companies, some still being active well into the 21st century.


English Electric Canberra PR.9 of the RAF, 2006

Both Dick, Kerr & Co. and the Phoenix Dynamo Manufacturing Company built aircraft in the First World War, including flying boats designed by the Seaplane Experimental Station at Felixstowe, 62 Short Type 184 and 6 Short Bombers designed by Short Brothers. Aircraft manufacture under the English Electric name began in Bradford in 1922 with the Wren but lasted only until 1926 after the last Kingston flying boat was built.

With War in Europe looming, English Electric was instructed by the Air Ministry to construct a "shadow factory" at Samlesbury Aerodrome in Lancashire to build Handley Page Hampden bombers. Starting with Flight Shed Number 1, the first Hampden built by English Electric made its maiden flight on 22 February 1940 and, by 1942, 770 Hampdens had been delivered – more than half of all the Hampdens produced. In 1940, a second factory was built on the site and the runway was extended to allow for construction of the Handley Page Halifax four-engined heavy bomber to begin. By 1945, five main hangars and three runways had been built at the site, which was also home to No. 9 Group RAF. By the end of the war, over 2,000 Halifaxes had been built and flown from Samlesbury.

In 1942, English Electric took over D. Napier & Son, an aero-engine manufacturer. Along with the shadow factory, this helped to re-establish the company's aeronautical engineering division. Post-war, English Electric invested heavily in this sector, moving design and experimental facilities to the former RAF Warton near Preston in 1947. This investment led to major successes with the Lightning and Canberra, the latter serving in a multitude of roles from 1951 until mid-2006 with the Royal Air Force.

At the end of the war, English Electric started production under licence of the second British jet fighter, the de Havilland Vampire, with 1,300 plus built at Samlesbury. Their own design work took off after the Second World War under W. E. W. Petter, formerly of Westland Aircraft. Although English Electric produced only two aircraft designs before their activities became part of BAC, the design team put forward suggestions for many Air Ministry projects.

English Electric Lightning

The aircraft division was formed into the subsidiary English Electric Aviation Ltd. in 1958, becoming a founding constituent of the new British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) in 1960; English Electric having a 40% stake in the latter company. The guided weapons division was added to BAC in 1963.

Industrial Electronics

The Industrial Electronics Division was established at Stafford. One of the products produced at this branch was the Igniscope, a revolutionary design of ignition tester for petrol engines. This was invented by Napiers and supplied as Type UED for military use during World War 2. After the war, it was marketed commercially as type ZWA.[36]

Mergers, acquisitions and demise

In 1946, English Electric took over the Marconi Company, a foray into the domestic consumer electronic market. English Electric tried to take over one of the other major British electrical companies, the General Electric Company (GEC), in 1960 and, in 1963, English Electric and J. Lyons and Co. formed a jointly owned company – English Electric LEO Company – to manufacture the LEO computer developed by Lyons.

English Electric took over Lyons' half-stake in 1964 and merged it with Marconi's computer interests to form English Electric Leo Marconi (English Electric LM). The latter was merged with Elliott Automation and International Computers and Tabulators (ICT) to form International Computers Limited (ICL) in 1967.[37] In 1968 GEC, recently merged with Associated Electrical Industries (AEI), merged with English Electric; the former being the dominant partner, the English Electric name was then lost.

Some products

Electrical machinery

London Post Office Railway

Complete electrification schemes

Steam turbines

Water turbines

Oil engines Generators

English Electric Generator
Washing machine

Switchgear, transformers, rectifiers

Electric motors

Electric and Diesel-electric traction equipment

Marine Propulsion equipment

Domestic appliances

Military equipment


English Electric Lightning UK

Manned spacecraft

Rear view of English Electric Thunderbird MK I anti-aircraft missile at Anti-Aircraft Museum, Tuusula, Finland

Guided weapons


See also


Railways and traction

Train in Retiro station of Belgrano Norte line, 1959.
Alycidon English Electric Type 5 (British Rail Class 55) at the National Railway Museum, York, UK
British Rail Class 83 E3035 on display at Doncaster Works open day on 27 July 2003.
British Rail Class 50 50035 Ark Royal at Doncaster Works on 27 July 2003.
A New Zealand Railways EO class locomotive at Ferrymead.


Main article: English Electric diesel engines

Locomotives and multiple units

Tasmanian Government Railways Za class locomotive at Bell Bay in February 1978
Westrail C1702 at Busselton with a Hotham Valley Railway tour train in March 1986

Several industrial diesel and electric locomotive types were also built for UK and export use.


  1. ^ a b c City Notes. The Times, Wednesday, 1 January 1919; pg. 13; Issue 41986
  2. ^ English Electric and GEC plan biggest merger in Britain. The Times (London), Saturday, 7 September 1968; pg. 1; Issue 57350
  3. ^ Payroll of 250,000 for the new giant. The Times (London), Saturday, 14 September 1968; pg. 13; Issue 57356
  4. ^ City News in Brief, The Times, Friday, 11 March 1921; pg. 17; Issue 42666
  5. ^ English Electric Company. The Times, Thursday, 22 April 1926; pg. 21; Issue 44252
  6. ^ a b c d e f Prospectus, English Electric Company, Limited. The Times, Wednesday, 16 July 1919; pg. 18; Issue 42153
  7. ^ City News in Brief. The Times, Saturday, 15 November 1919; pg. 19; Issue 42258
  8. ^ a b c The English Electric Company. The Times, Friday, 17 April 1931; pg. 21; Issue 45799
  9. ^ English Electric Company, chairman's address to shareholders. The Times, Thursday, 31 March 1927; pg. 21; Issue 44544
  10. ^ English Electric Company. The Times, Tuesday, 1 May 1928; pg. 25; Issue 44881
  11. ^ English Electric Company. The Times, Saturday, 19 April 1930; pg. 16; Issue 45491
  12. ^ English Electric Scheme. The Times, Tuesday, 4 February 1930; pg. 20; Issue 45428
  13. ^ English Electric Directorate. The Times, Tuesday, 10 June 1930; pg. 18; Issue 45535
  14. ^ English Electric. The Times, Thursday, 12 June 1930; pg. 20; Issue 45537.
  15. ^ English Electric. The Times, Wednesday, 30 July 1930; pg. 18; Issue 45578
  16. ^ English Electric Directorate. The Times, Friday, 26 September 1930; pg. 21; Issue 45628
  17. ^ Geoffrey Tweedale, ‘Mensforth, Sir Holberry (1871–1951)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  18. ^ English Electric Company. The Times, Friday, 4 March 1932; pg. 24; Issue 46073
  19. ^ English Electric Company. The Times, Tuesday, 7 April 1936; pg. 23; Issue 47343.
  20. ^ City News in Brief. The Times, Monday, 10 July 1933; pg. 21; Issue 46492
  21. ^ Business Changes. The Times, Saturday, 2 January 1937; pg. 17; Issue 47572
  22. ^ City Notes.The Times, Wednesday, 17 February 1937; pg. 20; Issue 47611
  23. ^ City Notes. The Times, Thursday, 25 February 1937; pg. 19; Issue 47618
  24. ^ City Notes. The Times, Thursday, 10 February 1938; pg. 19; Issue 47915
  25. ^ The English Electric Company Limited. The Times, Tuesday, 9 August 1938; pg. 51; Issue 48068
  26. ^ Air Defences. From Our Aeronautical Correspondent. The Times, Thursday, 2 February 1939; pg. 13; Issue 48219
  27. ^ City Notes. The Times, Wednesday, 8 February 1939; pg. 20; Issue 48224
  28. ^ English Electric Company. The Times, Wednesday, 22 February 1939; pg. 22; Issue 48236
  29. ^ a b c War achievements, English Electric Company. The Times, Friday, 2 March 1945; pg. 9; Issue 50081
  30. ^ a b c d From Tramcars To Bombers. The Times, Monday, 9 April 1945; pg. 2; Issue 50112
  31. ^ The offer of the English Electric Company. The Times, Tuesday, 29 December 1942; pg. 7; Issue 49429
  32. ^ Company Meeting. The Times, Friday, 1 March 1946; pg. 10; Issue 50389
  33. ^ "C.P. Snow facts, information, pictures | articles about C.P. Snow".
  34. ^ Three New British Aircraft. The Times, Thursday, 20 September 1945; pg. 2; Issue 50252
  35. ^ Longhorn, Danny (29 June 2023). "Alstom celebrates 200th Anniversary of the World's First Locomotive Works in Newcastle". RailBusinessDaily. Retrieved 13 March 2024. went on to become English Electric
  36. ^ Instruction manuals and advertising brochures for the Type UED and Type ZWA versions
  37. ^ Oral history interview with Arthur L. C. Humphreys, Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota.
  38. ^ Flight 13 March 1924
  39. ^ Chris Gibson Vulcan's Hammer p35