Wednesday, 22 June 2011

ABC of Chippenham: Westinghouse

Last week we saw how Brunel has left his mark on Chippenham in 1841 in the shape of a viaduct. The coming of the railway here led to a profitable railway supply industry springing up in the mid 1800s, which continues today. Various companies have come and gone (Rowland Brotherhood -->, Evans O'Donnell -->, Saxby and Farmer), but the main name connected with railways and Chippenham today is Westinghouse.

Those of you across the pond are probably more familiar with George Westinghouse than most people over here as he was an entrepreneur and pioneer of the electrical industry in the USA, whose development of the alternating current system eventually prevailed over Edison's direct current system. He also was the inventor of the air brake and had an interest in railway signalling amongst many other things.

This led him to make an alliance with a British signalling company in the late 19th century based in Worcester. This is turn merged with Saxby and Farmer to form the Westinghouse Air Brake and Saxby Signalling Company Ltd in 1920. Several iterations later and Westinghouse was a name dominating Chippenham in the form of several different companies, all with various fingers in the railway industry worldwide and employing thousands of people. Somewhere along the way the link between the American Westinghouse company and its English cousin was severed and they went their separate ways.

Further takeovers and mergers of the various companies from the late 1970s through to the 1990s mean that the name Westinghouse is no more and we today have Invensys Rail instead. However, this name is pretty meaningless to most people in Chippenham and so Westinghouse remains in the collective memory and consciousness. I'm constantly amazed at how such a small place like Chippenham can have such a global presence.

NAH was interviewed for an electronics engineering job at Westinghouse Signals in 1984, just before we married and moved down here. He didn't take that job, but after a couple of dalliances elsewhere joined Westinghouse Brakes instead in 1990. The project he was working on moved to Westinghouse Signals in 1992 and so NAH had a 'free transfer' over there too. He stayed there until three years ago.

I decided a while ago the Westinghouse symbol on Invensys' premises gates on Hawthorn Road was going to be my picture for today's post. However, NAH told me they've long gone: it's shame he didn't rescue them from the rubbish skip when they were thrown out. Instead, I'm showing you one of the ones on the gates of the Westinghouse Sports and Social Club on Bristol Road. These gates are endangered - as evidenced by their peeling paint - as there are proposals to build new houses on the land. The latest plans have just been rejected by the Town Council.

This is for ABC Wednesday and forms the 23rd of my themed posts about Chippenham.

13 comments:

  1. A bit of history I dfid not know, tho I did know the name, of course!
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

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  2. When I saw the title, I thought it was going to be about diesels. I've clearly got my railway history muddled.

    Esther

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  3. Interesting history of Westinghouse!

    Would love you to peek at my ABC. You are welcome to come by anytime, have a nice day!

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  4. ROG and chubskulit - I thought you might recognise the name!

    Esther - hmm, I can't even think of a similar name which might be the one you're trying to think of.

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  5. I don't think I've muddled the name with another - I've simply made the wrong associations.

    Esther

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  6. Fascinating - I love these bits of local history

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  7. And of course the company , in current form, is still globally active, recently involved with much of the rail infrastructure in modern China. I too think of it as Westinghouse.

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  8. Esther - ahh I see :)

    Ann - glad you like it. This is such a fun series to do!

    Mark - the list of countries where they're working (and have done in the past) is phenomenal + all over the UK. Sadly I could never persuade NAH to go on one of the opportunities abroad - I quite fancied going to Singapore or Oz for a couple of years!

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  9. Thanks for the bit of history lesson!

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  10. FYI, Westinghouse Sports and Social Club is on Bristol Road, not Marshfield Road.

    I worked for Westcode systems in the late 70s early 80s. It was just inside the Foundry Lane entrance, almost opposite the railway station.

    This was shortly after leaving Sheldon School, in 78, whose school playing field runs, albeit a little way back from, along the opposite side of the Bristol Road from these gates.

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  11. Hi Steve - well spotted, now corrected :)

    My husband worked for Westinghouse from the 1990s until 5 years ago and we live not far from those gates and Sheldon school.

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  12. I read recently that local residents had lost their campaign to prevent developers from converting the site into residential properties, although the report did say that the clubs' members were delighted at the outcome because it meant they would get new facilities on a shared site with the rugby club on the bypass.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, we seem to be going through a bit of a planning nightmare in Chippenham at the moment :/

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