A Virtual Museum - Your Town, the Borough and its History

The history of WT Henley, who founded the company that bore his name, began in a workshop in London, 1837, with the manufacture of covered wires. Henley progressed at an impressive rate and pioneered the submarine cable field with the dream of seeing all of civilisation linked together telegraphically. In 1859 he spent £8,000 building a factory at North Woolwich beside the Thames. His name would soon be synonymous with the development of submarine telegraph cables, a success story that culminated in 1863 with the laying of the Persian Gulf telegraph cable, 1615 miles long, for the Indian Government. By the end of 1873, the Henley site had spread to cover some 16 acres and Henley owned three cable laying ships and a 400 foot wharf to allow 500 ton ships to load and unload. Henley died in 1882, but the company he formed went from strength to strength with branches throughout the country.

In 1906 work was completed on the impressive Gravesend factory on the Thames, which like the North Woolwich factory included wharf facilities but, perhaps more impressively, extensive purpose built research laboratories. The choice of Gravesend for a site was an easy one, as company historian Ernest Slater wrote in 1937 "Gravesend is where the sea ends and the river begins."
During these same Victorian years Sir William Siemens, who founded Siemens and Halske in1858, was equally as active in the manufacture of submarine cables, in addition to projects as diverse as dynamos and recording instruments.

The Victorian Era came to a close and soon the Great War swept Europe, acting as a great catalyst for technological and industrial change, particularly in the realms of electrical equipment and distribution. The great depression followed and during these bleak years The Edison Swan Electric Company became the founder member of the Associated Electrical Industries (AEI) in 1929.
The Second World War saw Henley's company winning praise for various tasks performed for King and Country, especially its contribution to 'Operation Pluto', the system of petrol pipelines across the English Channel. The main Henley factory at North Woolwich, however, suffered repeated damage during the war years that led to the decision to build a purpose-built factory at Birtley in the North East, completed in 1950.

In 1953, AEI acquired Siemens Bros., taking over the Liverpool Electric Cables Company in 1958 and Henleys a year later. These cable companies were integrated as the AEI Cable Division, re-organised in 1960 into four product groups. In 1967 the General Electric Company took over AEI Cables and Hackbridge Cables Co., culminating in the formation of AEI Cables Ltd in 1968. In 1982 production of Mineral Insulated Cables commenced at AEI's Cables Bootle factory in Merseyside.

AEI cables are supplied into market sectors including Construction, Defence, Fire Protection, Industrial, Mining, Oil and Gas, Power and Rail. The Gravesend site was finally closed to production in 2008.


Taken from AEI website http://www.aeicables.co.uk/history.asp
The W. T. Henley Telegraph Works by Frank R Turner