British Insulated Callender's Cables

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British Insulated Callender's Cables
IndustryBuilding materials
SuccessorBalfour Beatty
Founded1945; 75 years ago (1945)
Defunct2000; 20 years ago (2000)
HeadquartersHelsby, UK
ProductsElectrical cable

British Insulated Callender's Cables (BICC) was a 20th-century British cable manufacturer and construction company, now renamed after former subsidiary Balfour Beatty.


British Insulated Callender's Cables was formed in 1945 by the merger of two long established cable firms, Callender's Cable & Construction Company Limited and British Insulated Cables. Subsidiaries could trace their roots back to submarine cable manufacturing on the Thames in the 1850s. The company was renamed BICC Ltd in 1975.[1]

Callender's, originally an importer and refiner of bitumen for road construction, began manufacturing insulated cables in the 1880s at their Erith site on the Thames. British Insulated Cables had its origins in 1890 in the British Insulated Wire Company of Prescot, near Liverpool. Cable manufacture remained at both sites throughout the history of BICC.

Among the many early companies absorbed into BICC was the Greenwich firm Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company (Telcon). This made the 1865 and 1866 transatlantic cables and (as its forerunner Glass, Elliot & Co), the 1857 and 1858 cables.

Constituent companies of BICC played significant roles in construction of the British National Grid in the 1930s. Callender's for example constructed the 132 kV crossing of the Thames at Dagenham with overhead cables spanning 3060 feet (932m) between two 487 ft (148m) towers, and allowing 250 ft (76m) clearance for shipping.[2] Companies including Glovers at Trafford Park and Callender's at Erith contributed to manufacturing PLUTO.

BICC had a world presence which was initially in the Commonwealth but in the 1980s and 1990s extended into mainland Europe and beyond. Acquisition of Spanish and Portuguese companies gave entry in turn to South America and other parts of Africa. Disastrous investments in former East Germany and Russia helped bring the business to its knees at the same time as margins in every other part of the cable-making businesses came under attack.

In the 1970s the firm had UK works at Erith, Prescot, Kirkby, Leyton, Helsby, Leigh, Melling, Wrexham, Blackley, Belfast and Huyton (now Hi-Wire UK Ltd) making electric power cables, telecommunications cables and metals. BICC's (originally Callender's) research and engineering laboratories at a former power station site in White City, London was close to Ormiston House, William Ormiston Callender's house of the 1870s.[3] In 1988 the research and engineering facilities moved to new premises at the company's Wrexham and Helsby sites.

Demise of the business[edit]

In January 1991 the British Copper Refiners subsidiary[4] in Prescot was closed with the loss of 230 jobs.[5] In 1999 the ailing BICC sold its optical cables business to Corning and power cables businesses to General Cable Corporation,[6] which subsequently sold on parts to Pirelli.

Closure of part the Erith works by Pirelli was announced in 2002, with production of oil-filled cable transferred to their Eastleigh works in Hampshire.[7] Pirelli subsequently sold off their cable operations, now known as Prysmian.

BICC also owned construction company Balfour Beatty and, following sale of its cable operations, BICC renamed itself Balfour Beatty in 2000.[8]

The BICC name still survives in 2010 at the General Cable owned BICC Egypt; a power-cable plant near Cairo.

Callender's Cableworks Band[edit]

This was an amateur brass band, active between 1898 and 1961, of which all members were employees of Callender's at Erith.[9] They rehearsed and performed in their leisure time, while the company in its role of patron lent its name and supplied uniforms and instruments. The band broadcast prolifically on BBC Radio in the 1920s and 1930s.[10]


Further reading[edit]

  • R.M. Morgan, 1982, Callenders 1882-1945, BICC plc.

External links[edit]