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BICC & Prescot

stephen nulty

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Thomas Peter (TP) Hewitt was a Prescot-based businessman in the late 19th Century. In the 1880's, he was one of the founders of the Lancashire Watch Company in Prescot, brining with him the idea of "keyless" works in a watch.


Late in the 1880’s, Jacob and Joseph Atherton of Prescot, along with TP Hewitt and Colonel Pilkington from St Helens, established a factory in Prescot to manufacture paper-insulted power cables. This was known as the British Insulated Wire Company Limited. It seems that they were made under patent from US manufacturers. Hewitt had travelled extensively to the United States as part of his work in selling Prescot manufactured watches, so I assume that he came across the idea on his travels.


They were joined in the establishment of the factory by Sebastian Ferranti, the electrical engineer born in Liverpool in 1864. Ferranti will probably have been the “brains” behind the operation; at 16, he had already invented and patented the Ferranti dynamo. He was a key innovator in the concept of large scale electricity generation and distribution. His relationship appears to have been short-lived, however, and he was off to London by the mid-1890’s.


It isn’t immediately clear why they chose Prescot as the site for their factory, although they all had close links with the town. Some have said that Hewitt wanted it to be close to his Watch Factory as he had anticipated the forthcoming downturn of one industry and thought that he would have a ready made labour force looking for work, although this seems to be slightly cynical!


Anyway, within ten to fifteen years, the company was a market leader and the generation of electricity, manufacture of insulated cable and its for street lighting meant that Prescot was one of the first towns in the country with electric street lighting.


In 1901, a merger with the Telegraph Cable Company of Helsby resulted in British Insulated & Helsby Cables Ltd., a name that remained until the mid-1920’s. This is the name which was engraved on the War Memorial after the Great War, and many of the men of Prescot who served in the war also worked at the factory.


The company was renamed to British Insulated Cables Ltd in 1925 and it then merged with the Callendars Cable Company of Erith in Kent and became British Insulated Callendars Cables Ltd., later becoming BICC Ltd.


Along the way, other companies became acquisitions, such as Anchor Cable Company (Leigh), British Copper Refiners Ltd (BCR), Balfour Beatty, etc. Many of these names will be familiar to those of us who worked at any of the sites.


Along the way to becoming a huge national and multi-national company, BICC established new practices in company accounting, setting a model for other large companies formed from the merger and acquisition of smaller companies and using different operating models from each other.


By the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the company was at the peak of its power. Over 10,000 people worked at the vast sprawling site at Prescot, summonsed to work each morning by the well-known factory buzzers. As I recall, these sounded at 0730, 0755, 0800, 1230, 1330 and 1700.


Within minutes of the five o’clock buzzer each evening, the streets around the factory were overcome by a swarm of men walking and on bikes, as well as a fleet of busses which used to stop in Bridge Road and take men to the outer reaches of Liverpool and St Helens.


The company had a well-established Social Club in Scotchbarn Lane, and various social sections came into being. The “Country & Western” nights were sold out weeks in advance, the bowling greens at the rear of the club entertained national competitions and the football team even did reasonably well!


When I left school in 1973, I worked in the Drum Shop, building Cable Drums. Other sections I recall were the Builders Yard, Joiners Shop, Telephone Cables Division, Wire Mill Division, Tank House (where my dad worked), the Refinery, Mineral Insulated Cables Division (MI), Transport Section, and of course the General Office.


The GO used to go on an annual coach trip to Blackpool, and I recall seeing the line of coaches queuing up to take the office staff away. We on the shop floor were allocated £1 per head to cover the cost of an alternative (we used to go to York races).


There was a surgery (three, actually), dentist and even an on-site optician. Safety boots could be acquired from the stores and paid for at 50p a week from your wages.


In 1977 I got a job in the Computer Building on Warrington Road. I then found out more about the more remote arms of the company due to the work I did, and I also travelled to visit some of these, such as Head Office in Bloomsbury Square, London. I also went to Thomas Boltons & Sons at Froghall near Stoke, where I was entertained in the Director’s Dining Room as I was visiting staff. As well as the waitress service, there was also bottled pale ale and cigars !


I finally left the company in 1986, and I recall that the same day I left, the Drum Shop (where it all started for me) closed down as the manufacture of cable drums had been sold off to somebody in Knowsley.


The company itself was now in steady decline as the cable market changed from paper insulated to the likes of fibre optics. There doesn’t appear to have been any appetite within the company to undergo such a strategic change and eventually, early in the 1990’s, the main parts of the factory closed.


Some smaller units remained on site – Continuous Casting & Rolling (Rod Rollers) was bought by Pirelli and I think they’re actually still there, down at the bottom of Carr Lane, but that’s pretty much it.


Most of the site was demolished and the Cables Retail Park came into being, along with some smaller office development, but the BI is no more. Even the Social Club burned down last year. The Warrington Road canteen remains, now being Prescot Leisure Centre, but that’s about it.


I’d be interested in reading about any memories others might have of the BI. It was something that was always there at the top of the road when I was a lad, and then working there until I was 29 meant that it will always be a huge part of my life.









I forgot to add..


To see the cable making in all it's glory, just Google on "Stranded in Prescot" to see a Pathe film from the 1930's where some well spoken people go into a shop and electric cable making is explained to them



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It would be interesting to know more about the rôle of the BI in war production during World War Two. This must surely be documented somewhere. Sadly, my parents (who met there during the war) didn't say an awful lot, apart from the odd anecdote. Without wishing to introduce an anti-Scouse element on the borders of Liverpool, my father did say that the Liverpool men who worked for him in the Stores were an absolute shower. My neighbour, who worked for Post Office Telephones before and during the war, made similar observations about Liverpool men who worked for him when he was based in Prescot. Geoff Duke also worked there in his time, but he got a good report, being from St. Helens. :)

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I certainly remember the horn ..I lived in hayes avenue in prescot as a child we backed onto the railway.

I also remember the huge silver chimney that was just behind where the imp is (I think) and the midland bank next to the imp this is all about 1980.


I remember someone falling to there death from the chimney Vickers I think there surname was I was the alter boy ringing the bell at the funeral in St Lukes.


And the buildings of the BICC and with the bus station on bridge st use to intimidate me so much as a kid just huge either side.

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Gordon Vickers was my machinist when I worked in the drum shop. I "pushed up" the timber straight in from the timber yard and he operated the circular saw which cut it all to length. I worked with him for four years. He lived in Shaw Lane, over the road from the shops. He was a cracking feller but was suffering from an illness ( I don't recall the details) and one day he simply disappeared.


It was quite some time later, I think over a year, before they found his body inside the chimney and I seem to recall that the incident was treated as suicide, with him climbing the outside of the chimney and jumping in. A sad tale indeed, he was a good friend.

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It certainly is, Mike


That "Six Degrees of Separation" rule illustrates it in some way, doesn't it? I've never really tried it. I might start a thread to see what people's views are, rather than continuing this as a BI discussion. :D

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  • 2 weeks later...

A photograph of four young women employed at the BICC in Prescot during the second world war. They hadn't chosen to be there, as usually depicted in TV dramas like Foyle's War. The BICC was engaged in war production, and they were conscripted to work there.



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  • 3 weeks later...

Just sort of "Mixing" threads, some of you may be aware of my research into Prescot men who died in the Great War. As part of this research (and this can be seen on my site), I found that the BICC War Memorial had been taken into care by Knowsley Council. It had previously been down the bottom of Carr Lane at the Pirelli plant.


There are now plans (just waiting for planning permission) to relocate the memorial in a bespoke setting in the grounds of Prescot Parich Church, close to the civic war memorial. I don't have a date for this but I understand that the intention is to have the work complete before the November Remembrance services.


I have been working for some time on identifying the men named on the First World War memorial, many of whom were from outside of Prescot. I have identified 73 of the 116 Great War names, and I have also now started looking into the Second World War names, having identified 31 of the 76 names in the last few days, including (from St Helens) Tom Bone (06/10/1946), John Caffrey (11/06/1946), Ronald Morrow (19/07/1944) and James Shutes (13/09/1944).


St Helens men from the Great War period who I have identified are Sidney Bagnall (03/05/1917) and John Hanks (07/11/1916).


I would be delighted if anybody could add any detail to any of these names, or alternatively let me know if they have any information on St Helens servicemen who they know worked at BICC.


Edited: Typo corrected.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've just joined after coming across the site when researching my family history. I'd just like to say thanks for all of the work on the Prescot Roll of Honour web site. Two of my family where there Charles and John Berry so you plugged a gap and saved me a lot of work.


Back to Prescot. I was born in Prescot and my father worked for the BI from leaving school around 1929 through to his death in 1971. I too remember the buzzer in the morning and the streams of people leaving the factory at the end of the day. My mother also worked for several years in the canteen on Warrington Road. Two of my uncles also spent their working lives at the BI.


I got a summer job their in around 1969 - working in the Reprograhics Section.


I'm also glad you enjoyed the Country and Western Nights at the BI Social Club. I worked behind the bar for a few years around 1971 and it was there that I met my wife who was a part time waitress. We married in 1973 - still married :D . The Country and Western evenings were always mad - but good for the waitresses who made good tips - not so for the men.


One particular memory of one C&W was when there was a bomb scare - half an hour before last orders. The police arrived and we were told to shut the bar and evacuate the hall. When this was announced the bar was beseiged and as fast as I pulled the shutters down the customers were pulling then up saying it was only going to be a hoax and that they'd rather have a drink and take their chances.


In complete contrast was the Ken Dodd night when he came to formally open the Club. He was on stage for several hours and we hardly sold a drink all night.


My wife and I moved from Prescot to Rainhill before ending up in Macclesfield. Until recently family connections meant that we regularly back to Prescot. I have become interested in Prescot Local History. I have so far traced my family back to around 1760 - all Colliers all within about a quarter mile radius of Sewell Street and Kemble Street. I have been working on a detailed map circa 1850 and I also have transcribed the 1891 Census for Kemble Street, Sewall Street, Market Street and a few others.


My mother's famly came from St Helens so I guess I have a foot in both parts of this site.


Geoff Berry

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Hello Geoff, and welcome to the forum.


It's good to hear from another Prescot lad, and thanks for sharing the memories of the BI Club. I remember in around 1975 that one of my dad's mates in the foundry had an accident and broke his leg. When the ambulance was wheeling him out of the works, there was a scramble around him because it was known that he had a couple of tickets for that nights C&W night at the club and he clearly wouldn't be needing them !!!


Did your wife have one of those blue & white uniforms that the bar and waiting on staff wore? Do you rememeber that kitchen they had? They cooked lovely meals there, as I recall.


I would be interested in seeing the 1891 census transcription that you have done. I have transcribed the complete 1901 census for Prescot and it is available to download on this forum, in the Downloads section. I have also been transcribing the 1891 but have not done too much on it. I'll PM you my email address and perhaps we can swap what we've done to hopefully avoid any duplication of effort.


And thanks for the kind words about my Roll of Honour site. It's always good to hear from relatives of "my" men :D

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I must admit Steve with orginating from Whiston but having lived in Prescot I also enjoy all the stuff you dig up.

Post more and have a pat on the back :)


Cheers Mike.


I reckon living in Heyes Avenue qualifies you as a Prescot lad :D


I have some time booked at National Museums Liverpool at the back end of May to go through the BICC archives, so I'm hoping to turn up some intertsing material. Needless to say, anything of interest will find its way on to the forum.

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  • 4 weeks later...

One night in the early 70's me and the futrue wife went the BI club.They had a guy on and he wanted an assistant.so idiot me went on stage,got dressed in a sombrero,marackas etc and had to accompany him.I really got into it and moved around the stage,then fell off.A mate of mine Brian Gunning wet himself laughing.I also remember the C&W nights, especially an American guy who performed there called Vernon Oxford.Another mate Jeff Partington was a big fan.

It was a good club that.Mainly 'cos you always knew someone in there.

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I remember Brian Gunning (and their Jimmy) and also Jeff Partington. I worked with Jeff in the Drum Shop and last saw him a few years back in the Guild Hall at my dad's funeral. he's had a few health problems but was doing well that day.


Do you remember the compere at the BI Club "Big Mick" Kilgallen? And the resident "Dave Barry Duo". Sometimes I think it might be a godsend that it burnt down :D

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People whinge and moan in the other threads about Pilks and the pits closing.I reckon that the BI in its heyday say in the 60's had just the same effect on the community.In 1968 I was at Prescot tech, full time engineering course.As part of this we made frequent visits to the BI.I can recall these as if they were yesterday.

One visit was to the AD (accessories division) now imagine row upon row of benches about 50 mtres long with a wench every metre on a bench drill,all with hairnets or turbans on(no ethnic rag eads then)We were all about 16/17 and not very streetwise.Talk about getting a cherry on,some of the remarks that were aimed at us were superb as in ''do you use your left or right hand'' or '' bet youv'e never done the business'' .It was a magic place this forum has had me thinking for days now.

On the plus side Christmas eve lunchtime in the local pubs was brill.If you couldn't get your leg over you were queer.Remember in 68/69 you had Tinlings as well .Local word for it was ''snooin wi t***''.

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Very interesting and well written history of BICC there Ste.I had call to visit the plant twice,once with West Park a trip was organised by Bro Austin Chadwick(don't ask me why him,it certainly wasn't his field)The second time i was invited to see the process of making Tri- rated cable,at the time i was a foreman for a company that was installing new lines in several major car plants.We didn't order the cable in 100metre coils ,we ordered it by the wagon load.Ford in perticular had just changed their spec and we were buying cable in wonderful colours ,purple and orange were 2.But like most of our industry in the North West it's relegated to the history section.

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An interesting fact regarding the Copper Refinery.It had a gold washing plant,this was at the furthest end from Station road.They used it to wash the dust brushed up everyday from the refinery,and wire mill floors.They used to recover an average of 20 tons of copper a year from just washing the dust.



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Mm, I don't recall Bro Austin Chadwick being keen on trips when I was there biggrin.gif


I did say don't ask me why.but it was definitely him,could a private visit to the chairmans whiskey cabinet have been involved?

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In my time, Bro. Austin Chadwick commandeered one of the rooms in the sixth form block as his study, and invited a select group there to have tea with him. I was briefly among that number. Was that "Christian Citizenship" week one of his ideas, where we got to visit a selection of local businesses and institutions? I recall going to the Town Hall, Bold power station and British Sidac, but I missed out on the crematorium.

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