British Thomson-Houston

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BTH logo on an electric motor access plate
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British Thomson-Houston (BTH) was a British engineering and heavy industrial company, based at Rugby, Warwickshire, England and founded as a subsidiary of the General Electric Company (GE) of Schenectady, New York USA. They were known primarily for their electrical systems and steam turbines. BTH was taken into British ownership and amalgamated with the similar Metropolitan-Vickers company in 1928 to form Associated Electrical Industries (AEI), but the two brand identities were maintained until 1960. The holding company, Associated Electrical Industries (AEI), later merged with GEC, the remnants of which exist today as Marconi Corporation plc.

In the 1960s BTH apprenticeships were highly thought-of, with apprentices exposed to production of a wide range of industrial products. Each year in Rugby there was a big parade of floats run by its apprentices, many of whom lodged in the nearby Coton House apprentice hostel.

In 1980, G.E.C. Turbine Generators Ltd, on the Rugby site, was awarded a Queen's Awards for Enterprise.



One of the two British Thomson-Houston distributors (the circular gold-coloured component) on a Rolls-Royce Kestrel aero engine
  • 1939–45 (World War II): BTH expanded north of the River Avon into the Boughton Road site to make magnetos for aircraft engines and other war products.
  • 1940: BTH decided they were not really interested in making jet engines due to their commitment to electrical equipment. Rover was soon selected to make jet engines.
  • 1943: Rover exchanged jet engine production with Rolls-Royce for making tank engines.
  • 1944: The Lutterworth Power Jets work was nationalized.
  • 1945: After World War II Oliver Lyttelton took over AEI, and started a massive expansion.
  • 1947: The Hungarian scientist Dennis Gabor invented holography at the BTH site in Rugby.
  • 1953: AEI acquired Siemens Brothers.
  • 1954–1963: Lord Chandos was chairman of AEI.
  • 1955: BTH supplied 18 New Zealand DSC class locomotive Rolls-Royce powered locomotives for New Zealand Railways.
  • 1956: Ediswan trademark appeared on semiconductors.
  • 1957: The massive new £8 million turbine works was opened at Larne as a result.
  • 1957 or after: BTH won the contract to build the new Buenos Aires Central Costanera S.A. power station, valued at £35 million. Rivalry with Metrovick intensified. Lyttelton continued to try to reduce this friction, leading to several unsuccessful reorganizations and slipping profits.

AEI (Associated Electrical Industries)[edit]

  • 1957: Building of Britain's first commercial nuclear power facility began at Berkeley.
  • 1957: Siemens Edison Swan subsidiary formed.
  • 1 January 1960: To try to cure internal political and efficiency problems, AEI stopped using the names BTH and Metrovick. This led to a huge decline in sales because no-one had heard of "AEI" before, and in turn, a massive drop in AEI's stock price. Continued attempts to streamline what was two separate management structures continued to fail, and by the mid-60's the entire AEI group was in financial trouble.
  • 1960: The AEI research lab was built (building BR57 in the Boughton Road site).
  • about 1960: The size of BTH's Rugby site peaked. By then all the BTH Rugby's land west of the Black Path was built over.
  • 1961: The name AEI was first used on products.
  • 1962: Commissioning of Britain's first commercial nuclear power facility at Berkeley.
  • 1963–67: Building and commissioning of the 25M Chilbolton (radar) Dish at Chilbolton Observatory.
  • 1967: AEI brands included Metropolitan-Vickers, BTH, Edison Swan and Ediswan, Siemens Brothers & Co, Hotpoint, Birlec and W.T. Henley.

GEC (General Electric Company)[edit]

View across Mill Road, Rugby of where the east entrance of BTH was
  • 1967: GEC bought AEI outright. GEC thus became the UK's largest electrical group.
  • 1969: Marconi Radar Systems Ltd. (MSRL) formed from GEC-AEI Electronics (Blackbird Road and New Parks, Leicester), Marconi's Radar Division (Chelmsford) and Elliott's Aerospace Control Division.
  • 1980: G.E.C. Turbine Generators Ltd received The Queen's Award for Enterprise: International Trade (Export)
  • 1980s: GEC Rugby shrank and buildings were demolished. The south part of the area to the west of the Black Path became a supermarket site. The Boughton Road site became several separate small firms.
  • 1989: GEC in Rugby split into GEC Alsthom and Cegelec Projects.
  • 1998: GEC Alsthom and Cegelec Projects were reunited as Alstom.
  • 2007: The firm's clubhouse on Hillmorton Road was demolished, and the south edge of its surrounding sports field was encroached along for house building.
  • 2011: The former BTH Rugby site was greatly changed and included Rugby College.[1] Quartzelec, [2] and Converteam [3] worked on electrical engineering projects in some of the early BTH buildings, notably buildings 4, 193 and 140. A public road was built through the site between its former east and west gates.
  • 2012: Converteam was bought out by GE, therefore coming full circle back to when they were partnered in AEI. Converteam (now GE) produced rotating machines and used former-BTH equipment (machines) for running tests.


During post-World War II Britain, AEI established a consolidated research effort at Aldermaston in Berkshire, England. The research centre was based at Aldermaston Court a large stately home owned by AEI that had been requisitioned for military use in the war era.

Preserved locomotives[edit]

One of the BTH-built batch of New Zealand Railways DSC class Bo-Bo shunters has been preserved and is used in industrial service, complete with original Rolls-Royce engines. The locomotive (DSC406) is the primary motive power at Alliance Ltd, Pukeuri, New Zealand. All the others were scrapped between 1986 and 1990.


  1. ^ [1] Warwickshire University, Rugby College. Retrieved 2013-12-28
  2. ^ [2] Quartzelec, Rugby. Retrieved 2013-12-28
  3. ^ [3] Converteam Archived 4 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]