BICC in Prescot

Moving to Prescot in 1980, we found BICC (British Insulated Callenders Cables) was a major part of the town in every respect. It was still a very significant employer with a site that covered a huge area. I have to say it was probably a significant polluter too. At that time there were number of chimneys spewing  foul-smelling fumes into the atmosphere. I know, we lived downwind from one of 'em!!!

So, it wouldn't be possible to contemplate even an amateur history of Prescot without looking at "the BI". The following resume is taken from Liverpool Museums Maritime Archives Information Sheet No. 63 (with their permission, for which I'm very grateful.)

British Insulated Callenders Cables has its origins in two 19th century pioneering electrical cable companies: Callenders of Erith (formed 1882) and British Insulated Wire Company of Prescot (formed 1890). In 1902 British Insulated Wire merged with the Telegraph Manufacturing Company of Helsby, and became British Insulated & Helsby Cables Limited. In 1925 it was re-named British Insulated Cables Limited. In 1945 British Insulated Cables merged with Callenders and became British Insulated Callenders Cables Limited.

British Insulated Wire Company of Prescot

In 1890, the Atherton Brothers joined TP Hewitt, Managing Director of the Lancashire Watch Company, Colonel Pilkington of St. Helens and Sebastian Ferranti, the Liverpool born electrical genius, and established a factory in Prescot to manufacture paper insulated power cables under licence from US patentees. The decision was part commercial and part philanthropic. The directors had the vision to realise the potential of the emerging need for and use of electricity. The development of electric traction world-wide was of itself enough to justify the venture.

Within a decade the firm has secured its position in the power distribution industry while continuing to establish itself locally, producing the lighting for Lord Derby's house, Knowsley Hall, and street lighting in Prescot and its surrounds.

The merger in 1902 with the Telegraph Manufacturing Company brought with it the expertise of EK Muspratt. Dane Sinclair was Chairman for a long period prior to 1930, when Sir Alexander Roger, a financial wizard, succeeded him. Roger and his financial manager, William H. McFadzean, organised the key merger with Callenders in 1945. Roger was the first Chairman and was followed by McFadzean. Other companies merged or were taken over, including the Anchor Cable Company of Leigh, Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company Limited (or Telecon as it was known) and Balfour Beatty, Civil Engineers.

Callenders of Erith

Founded on 19 April 1882 as Callender's Bitumen Telegraph and Waterproof Company Limited, the company reformed in 1896 as Callender Cable & Construction Company Limited. Callenders was a family based firm formed by William Ormiston Callender who started out as a manufacturer of bitumen. His sons, Thomas Octavius Callender, William Marshall Callender and James Ormiston Callender, joined the business later and all contributed their various skills to the business, ranging from research and development to marketing. For example, William experimented with a mix of bitumen and elasticon (a waste product given to William by James Irvine & Company of Liverpool ). He produced 'Vulcanised Bitumen' - a less expensive substitute for gutta percha or indian rubber that could be used for waterproofing or as an insulant for telegraph and arc lamp electric wiring. This led the firm to move from the manufacture of bitumen to the manufacture of electric cables.

During the 1880s Callenders supplied cables as far apart as Sydney , Gibraltar and Stafford . During the late 1890s the company won several major contracts for the provision of cables for several tramway companies throughout the UK . This expanded at the turn of the 20th century to include India, Burma, Denmark, France and Australia.

During the 1930s the company went on to benefit, as did many others, from the construction of the National Grid in the UK following the 1926 Electricity Act.

WT Glovers of Trafford Park and Callenders at Erith both played an important role in the manufacture of PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) which played such a big part in helping the Allies in Europe during the Second World War, supplying fuel from refineries in England to Dungeness and Boulogne. Callenders also supplied cables for the Spitfire and produced a buoyancy cable that deflected enemy magnetic mines.

It was during 1943 that Callenders entered into discussion with British Insulated Cables about the merger of the two companies. Following earlier failures the two companies merged in 1945.

Further information about the history of the [Callenders of Erith] company can be found in Callenders 1882-1945 by RM Morgan, published by BICC plc, 1982.


Stephen Nulty, webmaster & developer of the site writes;

"The office building which stood opposite the Prescot Leisure Centre was four storeys tall and contained the BICC Computer centre. I worked in that building from 1977 to 1986. It was sort of “L” shaped and behind it were some wooden huts, probably second world war vintage, which we also used as overflow offices for a while in the early 1980’s.

Next door to the Computer centre, just before the Sally Army, [Salvation Army] stood “Middleton House” which was an old detached house which held the private dining room for BICC directors. Somewhere or other I have the 1911 census details for the house as it was the home of one of “my” Prescot men from my website (of which more later).

Further back from the wooden huts was a fence running along, more or less to Ash grove and beyond the fence was a huge car park (on the west side), mainly serving the factory and then the sports field on the east side, bounded by Ash grove to the east and Hayes Avenue to the south. There was a footbridge from the bottom of the car park over the railway, giving access to the factory. For most of our business meetings, we would walk through the car park and over the bridge into the General Office area.
Over the road from the computer centre was the main canteen, now Prescot leisure Centre. It consisted of two parts; the general canteen which was generally packed each day, probably holding over 200 people, and a smaller area which (as I recall) offered waitress service at an extra price, though I never used that so might be wrong."

I'm very grateful to Stephen for this insight. Please let me know if you have any memories of BICC in Prescot...