Library and Archives
Library and Archives - Allen West - a Key Figure in British Electrical Equipment Manufacturing
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October 29, 2014
Allen West - a Key Figure in British Electrical Equipment Manufacturing

The IET Archives recently received the donation of a very large black & white photograph of Allen West, which measures 104cm by 90cm, and which is reproduced below. The name of Allen West will be unfamiliar to many people but he was the founder of the company Allen West & Co. Ltd in 1910 which grew to become one of the UK’s largest manufacturers of control gear and switchgear in the 20th century. The company, which once employed over 3000 people in the UK and had branches and representatives all around the world, no longer exists as Allen West & Co, but following a management buyout in 2007 the rights to the Allen West products and associated records are now held by the company Allenwest Brighton Ltd.



The story of the Allen West company from 1910-1960 is told in the book, ‘The Allen West Story’ which was published for private circulation by the company in April 1960 – a copy of this volume which was presented to the IEE in 1960 by the company can be found in the IET Library. A cropped version of the donated photograph above appears in the book on page 24.

As well as being an engineer Allen West was also a soldier who fought in the Boer war as well as the two World Wars. On the outbreak of the Boer war, he volunteered as a trooper in the Yeomanry and following rapid promotion was given the command of a squadron which took part in the relief of Mafeking. He was wounded at that time and sent to convalesce in Hove.

Allen West was also associated with the British Electrical and Allied Manufacturers’ Association (BEAMA) and was on its Council for many years. Although he gave up the Managing Directorship of the eponymous company in 1933, he remained on the Board for a further 20 years before retiring. He died in 1957 aged 80.

Allen West & Co Ltd

One of Allen West’s first contracts in 1911 was with the Admiralty providing control gear components and it went on to supply starters for many ships of the Royal Navy from aircraft carriers to midget submarines. The company also supplied many industrial concerns such as steelworks, power stations and mines where it supplied controllers for mine hoists and haulages.

In World War II, the company played a part in the development of radar. It manufactured self-contained radar trailers and equipment for long range detector units. It also supplied special control gear for apparatus used to protect vessels from magnetic mines.

The IET Archives also holds some Allen West & Co material within its other collections for example some of its product leaflets can be found in our Croyden ‘A’ power station collection (reference NAEST 001/1/100) as well as connection diagrams within the same collection (reference NAEST 001/1/132). Leaflets for circuit breakers and switches are illustrated below.




The History of the Allen West Photograph

The Allen West photograph was kindly donated to the IET Archives by the Parmley Graham company. It’s Chairman, Mike Wilson, tells the following story about the photograph;

“My first recollection of seeing this rather imposing photograph was on the grand staircase of the Brighton head office of Allen West & Company, when I arrived there for training in 1966. J Parmley Graham & Sons Ltd, the firm which had just recruited me from ICI Heavy Organics Chemical Division, (now Parmley Graham Ltd) had been appointed as the Allen West Agent in North-East England in the early 1900’s just as Allen West was getting started.

Allen West and James Parmley Graham became friends whilst serving their apprenticeships on Tyneside at J H Holmes and Co., a manufacturer which eventually became Reyrolle then NEI, Rolls Royce and is now Siemens. By 1910 JPG as agent had secured the first order for six large reversing haulage controllers for a colliery in the North-East, which were still working twenty years later. The relationship prospered because of the huge requirement there was for Allen West products, like the newly invented drum controller, for use in the coal steel and chemical industries. The firm’s marine control gear was also in great demand and it is claimed that there was not a single Royal Naval vessel afloat in both world wars which was not extensively equipped with Allen West Gear, in the engine room and on deck.

When I arrived on the scene, there were 3500 employees in Brighton, plus those in its subsidiary companies in Canada, South Africa, Rhodesia and France. However, the notion of selling industrial goods through an agent was already passé, but such was the success of the North-East England Agent, it remained in place when every other area of England and Scotland were made into Allen West regional offices.

During those heady days when our links with Allen West were very strong and we were by far their largest distributor, the directors were moved in 1992, to send to me an appreciative plaque celebrating 82 years of co-operation together with a copy (I think) of the photograph of Mr Allen West which I had so revered at the beginning of my career.”

An Interesting Shareholder!

We are also grateful to Mike Wilson for supplying us with a copy of a handwritten list of the early Allen West & Co shareholders shown below.



Albert Slazenger, of sports equipment fame, appears on the list with a large holding of 23,000 shares. Mike believes that at some point around the time of this circa 1910 list, Allen West was also involved with the manufacturer of Slazenger’s tennis racquets!

The Allen West photograph has been catalogued as SC MSS 256 and can be viewed by appointment at the IET Archives Centre at Savoy Hill House.

Jon Cable
Assistant Archivist
The Institution of Engineering and Technology


    Posted By: Jonathan Cable @ 29 October 2014 10:50 AM     Archives  

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