Hawker Siddeley / Fuller Electric / ASEA
Hawker Siddeley Power Transformers (HSPT) – and under its earlier names of Fuller Electric and ASEA Electric – was an important Walthamstow employer for nearly 100 years, until its closure in 2003. The factory in Fulbourne Road provided jobs for thousands of local people, producing power transformers, tapchangers and electric motors; and during the Second World War an additional factory at Leyton Green carried out production of war and defence materials.
Originally the British arm of a Swedish company, visits of engineers between the two countries continued at least until the 1950s; and the works in Walthamstow supplied an overseas market stretching from Abu Dhabi and Argentina to the USSR and Zimbabwe. Major projects included designing and supplying the transformers for the CERN synchrotron in Switzerland and the smoothing reactors for the first Cross-Channel power supply.
To explore the history of the factory and the achievements of its workers, WFOHW carried out an oral history project to interview former employees about their memories of working for the company, as a record of local working life in the 20th Century. Interviewees covered nearly seventy years of the factory’s life, from those who started in the mid 1930s and worked through to the 1980s, through those who joined in the years of expansion in the 1960s, and to those who started in the 1980s and were there at the final closure. Several had worked their way up having joined the company straight from school, either through the specialist manufacturing departments of the factory – such as core winding – or through the design and development departments of the offices. Their interviews cover both technical details of their work and memories of the work atmosphere and social activities of the company.
As well as recording and transcribing the interviews for the WFOHW archive, we worked with the Vestry House Museum, former HSPT employees, and a local photographer to create an exhibition – “A Powerful Past” – which was held from April to June 2009 at the museum. This combined extracts from the interviews with objects and designs from the works, as well as photographs by Albert Bale (who was the company photographer from 1965 to 2000) and by Paul Tucker, who photographed the factory and site after closure.
The former site of HSPT has now been transformed into housing, a secondary school, and the Council’s housing department (within the only remaining HSPT building). Some local people may remember the traffic disruption to Fulbourne Road and Forest Road when one of the massive transformers left the works, but increasingly few people walking or driving past will have a sense of the major engineering enterprise which existed there. Transformers and tapchangers are central to the electricity supply, and the oral history interviews carried out by WFOHW record the role of a Walthamstow factory in maintaining that supply.
We were part of a group developing an exhibition on HSPT in 2009 – see the panels here.
We have five pictures from Paul Tucker’s series of the factory after closure, by kind permission of Paul Tucker.