The History Of New Southgate

From STC News, in the 1950s

AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING: The chapel and cottages forming "The Retreat", built by the Great Northern Cemetery Co. in 1860, near what is now our Receiving Department, viewed from Oakleigh Road. The railway is hidden behind the fence.

As it stands today New Southgate, our largest Location, needs no description to its 7,000 employees or to the many visitors from both inside and outside the Company who have been impressed by this great industrial unit. Few, however, know its origins and those who have sought knowledge have often met conjecture rather than fact. Here is the story of the Location told by F. J. Baker, a member of the Plant Department, who was brought up in the neighbourhood and who has been associated with the site since the days before Standard came there.

THE New Southgate Factory was taken over by us from J. Tylor & Sons Ltd. on the 12th May, 1922. The area purchased was twenty-seven acres and the main building (now "Building 3") was a ground and first floor only, together with several wooden out-buildings. Our Company at that time was known as Western Electric Co. Ltd.

Very little is known about the land before 1850. It was in that year, on 7th August, that the Great Northern Railway opened the railway track connecting London (Maiden Lane) - King's Cross Station was then being built - to Peterborough. There is no doubt that all the land in this area, which was forest land, came under the authority of the Abbots of St. Albans for many centuries, probably from the time of King Offa of Mercia, who died about A.D. 790 up to the time of the Reformation in 1536, for we know that St. Mary's Church, East Barnet, was built at one of the Abbot's expense about A.D. 1100 and is probably the most ancient building in the whole of the Barnet area. It was not until 1199 that mention was made of Barnet, and that was in connection with a charter given by King John to the Abbot to hold a market - hence the name Chipping Barnet. (old word for market)

ANOTHER VIEW FROM A FAMILIAR POINT: Looking north from Oakleigh Road bridge. "The Retreat" is on the right.

In 1855 the Great Northern Cemetery Co. purchased a large area of land from a Mr. Bowles and it included land east of the railway track and on both sides of Brunswick Park Road. Some of the land on the east side was later compulsorily acquired by the East Barnet Valley Urban District Council for the purpose of the present sewage farm and the remainder was developed by the Great Northern Cemetery Co. On the west side of Brunswick Park Road, on which our property stands, the Cemetery Co. built a siding, a chapel and cottages on the land, called " The Retreat," approximately near our present Receiving Department. The reason for this was that very little accommodation was available in the houses in London for bodies waiting to be buried, so they were sent from King's Cross Station and held in the Chapel until the day of the funeral. The hearse would then proceed along Buckingham Road to the south-east corner of our property into the Great Northern Cemetery. The first interment to take place there was in 1861.

St. Michael's Church in Oakleigh Road had its first home in the south-east corner of our property, where it was known as the "Iron Church". (The writer of this article was christened there in 1900.) It is interesting to note that the signal box near the north-west corner of Building 4 is still designated "Cemetery".

The chapel that stood on the factory site.

The opening behind the wedding party corresponds with the double doors in the Screw Machine Shop. The bridesmaid in lower left of photo is a Standard pensioner and her daughter also works with us.

One of the accompanying photographs shows a wedding party, with the chapel in the background, and one of the bridesmaids who used to live in the cottages is still one of the Company's pensioners and has a daughter working at New Southgate at the present time.

The land remained undeveloped until 1916 when J. Tylor & Sons Ltd. partially developed the site for the manufacture of lorry engines for the 1914-1918 war effort.

Our first job on taking over the property was to adapt it for the various manufactures of our Company. This occupied our attention until 1923 when part of the North Woolwich organisation was transferred to Southgate. Before that, however, we had instructions to erect a hut on the highest spot on our land, which at that time was at the north end of the property. This eventually resulted, on the night of 14th/15th January, 1923, in a distinguished company of engineers, together with representatives of the daily and technical press, sitting in the south-west corner of the first floor of Building 3 listening for two hours to Mr. H. B. Thayer, President of the A.T. & T. Co., and others talking by radio-telephone from 195, Broadway, New York, and it was recorded that this was one of the most brilliant feats of engineering that the world had witnessed. A plaque commemorating the event is to be seen in the Entrance Hall of Building 3.

Very little development of the property took place until after the trade recession in the 1930s. Then the Company, who had to give up the lease of the aerodrome buildings at Hendon, decided to consolidate their activities at Southgate, Woolwich and other places, and big expansion took place at Southgate. From 1933 onwards we purchased another thirteen acres of land from the Cemetery Company and also from Mr. C. Morley, a farmer who owned Gallants Farm, and some of the photographs on the next page show the land that is now our North Sports Field.

A view, taken in the period 1880-1910, over what is now our Canteen and Lower Sports Field. In the distance is the Cockfosters ridge and the white house formerly owned by Sir Thomas Lipton.

We commenced erecting another floor on Building 3 in August, 1933, and constructing Buildings 4 and 6 (Woodshop) and erected the Canteen. This canteen framework was originally the "Alderman's Cafe" at the Wembley Exhibition, which we had purchased and erected at our new factory site at Wembley. It was taken down again and re-erected at Southgate. The Canteen has, of course, had several extensions since. The fine poplar trees which now adorn the Southgate property are cuttings taken by our retired head gardener from trees purchased from the Wembley Exhibition.

The building operations continued on the freehold property at intervals until 1940 when Building 8 (the "Radio Building") was completed. Just before this time we started to lease land from the East Barnet Council for a car park, and it finally resulted in our being granted a lease for 5 1/2 acres for a car park and the construction of Buildings 52 and 53. The floor space area when we purchased the freehold property amounted to approximately 150,000 sq. ft. and it now stands at 880,000 sq. ft. Each of the three main buildings measures 440 ft. long x 180 ft. wide.

On 8th February, 1935, H.R.H. the Duke of York (later King George VI) visited the factory and planted a tree outside the Medical Building. At the conclusion of his visit he was asked to accept two gold-plated telephone instruments for his children, our present Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret.

Early in 1939 plans were made for the establishment of a self-contained A.R.P. Organisation within the works. Directions were given by the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and Executives were allotted to take charge of the various services, i.e. Head Warden, Plant, Medical, Evacuation, Fire, Gas, Roof Spotting, etc., and each of these services received specialised training in its own sphere.

Such good progress was made with the scheme that it was possible on 7th July, 1939, to stage a full-scale operation of the services in the presence of the Lord Privy Seal, the Rt. Hon. Sir John Anderson, and other prominent Government officials, together with central and local organisations. The demonstration proved a complete success.

We now had to complete an effective black-out of the factory to enable work to go on uninterruptedly by night as well as by day, a prodigious task which was successfully completed before the outbreak of war.

Headquarters, which was built of sufficient strength to withstand anything but a direct hit, was connected to all parts of the works by an elaborate loudspeaker system, and the factory was manned throughout the war period by seven teams each on a 24-hour shift of duty.

Fortunately, incidents were few and far between. A batch of incendiaries was dropped on the railway line north-west of the works, some fell on the north field whilst a few fell on the Woodshop and were effectively dealt with. An anti-aircraft shell fell at the entrance to the tunnels, but beyond pitting the blast wall did little damage.

The worst incident occurred at 7.57 a.m. on the 23rd August, 1944, when a flying bomb fell between Buildings 6 and 8, causing 30 deaths and 300 injured. The next evening another flying bomb fell in the middle of the north field but did little damage.

The story of New Southgate since the end of hostilities has been one of technical development and productivity to meet the post-war needs of public services throughout the world and to keep ahead in the march of science and industry. Today New Southgate is the home of the Telephone and Radio Divisions but many other parts of our organisation were born or spent their adolescence there, moving elsewhere, some to form Locations of their own, as even this great site became inadequate for our expanding business.

The author wishes to thank Mr. F. W. Bath, Honorary Curator of the Barnet Museum for some of the details of the early history of the locality.
For the photographs of Gallants Farm we are indebted to Mr. V. Morley.

Seventy Years of Growth

Upper drawing, made in the 1880's, shows a plan of the projected development of our New Southgate site and its environs.
Below is a plan of our site at the present time. Building 3 now occupies the position of the chapel marked in the upper plan and this gives a key to comparing the plans. It will be noticed that several of the projected roads now fall within the boundaries of our site.


In The '20's

The first photo of our New Southgate site shows the factory as originally built - a single two-storey building. The road down to the East Gate can be plainly seen. North of the factory block is a wooden building - the canteen of those days.

Second photo, taken recently, shows the size to which the plant has grown. The original building now has three storeys and many additional buildings have been constructed. Upper and lower sports fields have been made and the photo shows the extensive housing that has developed around the site.

Before Building 3

(Left) The old Lime Tree Walk with chapel and cottages in the background. Building 3 now stands here.
(Right) The lane which ran from the corner of the drive near Building 3.

Rural Bliss

The two scenes below were taken on Gallants Farm, for 36 years the home of MR. and Mrs. C. Morley. Part of our site comprises land which we purchased from Mr. Morley. On the right is a photo of Russell Lane - before it became the modern dual carriageway road known to many employees

Many thanks to David Lunnon for sending a scan of the original article to Jean Oakleigh, and thanks to Jean for forwarding it to me.

If you would like to help contribute to this site with photos, stories, or memorabilia please contact Rob White