Significant German Contributions to British Engineering Businesses during and after the Second World War

 I recently attended Refugees from Nazism to Britain in Trade, Industry and Engineering, a conference held at Senate House in London on 13/14 September, organised by the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies. This was their first conference to look at engineer refugees, including those who set up businesses in Britain.

The people and firms covered were varied and probably just a small sample. Papers and discussion included contributions on the importance of patents, the machine tool industry, technical businesses in Wales, British leisure trades, textiles, textile design, glove making, aeronautical engineering, chemical engineering, modernist furniture making, and control engineering. Participants concluded that these refugees had initiated revolutionary engineering and design changes to British and American industry, whose significance is only beginning to be understood. A selection of papers will be collected and published in due course.

Some material emerged relating to the stories told in Household Names and Lubetkin and Goldfinger. The control engineering firm, Londex. founded in 1936, was located in Croydon, not far from the original home of Russell Hobbs. Walter Stern was the engineering force behind Londex, which took out over 60 patents between 1939 and 1962, among other things supplying the first generation controls of the flashing Belisha Beacons introduced on pedestrian crossings in 1952. Like Russell Hobbs it was a small firm swallowed by larger conglomerates in the 1960s. Surprisingly this was not to attract capital for buildings or machines, nor was Londex put under the control of corporate executives. Russell Hobbs had needed capital and Tube Investment executives pushed Bill Russell and Peter Hobbs out of control of their company. Londex continued to occupy rather homely converted houses and sheds as factories and workshops right into the 1970s. Pictures of them reminded me of the run-down cinema used by Russell Hobbs as a factory in its first decade.

There was also a paper on the collaboration of Ernö Goldfinger with the Easiwork Furniture Company on pioneering fitted kitchen and other space-saving furniture designs in the 1930s. Many Easywork papers are still in the hands of its Canadian founder’s family. Significant missing elements turned up among Goldfinger’s papers, archived in the V and A as part of the Royal Institute of British Architects collection. This rich haul is in sharp contrast to the minimal surviving paperwork of both Londex and Russell Hobbs.