mailing list
site map

Wardle > history

Founded by Walter and Arthur Wardle in the 1890s, Wardle was one of the many new firms capitalizing on the emergence of the fledgling electrical industry. Building the firm up from its Manchester base, Walter and Arthur sold the firm to Chamen and Wilkinson in 1910, but the name was retained.

With Walter Wardle leaving for Australia, Arthur moved to Edinburgh and set up another Wardle engineering company (it isn't known if this was a subsidiary or an independent firm).

With the Edinburgh company closing in the 1920s, the firm solidified its trading from its Manchester address.

Family members were involved with Wardle until the late 1930s. (M H Wardle became an honorary member of the APLE in 1930 but he may not be related to the Wardles of this firm).

Wardle gained early promenance by designing the first commerical lantern for the low pressure sodium lamp. The Liverpool Lantern, a cut-off, was jointly specified and originally installed by Liverpool Council, the first city to widely adopt the new light source in 1933. The first installation of Philips cut-off lanterns on the Purley Way, Croydon was replaced by Wardle Liverpools on a catenary system in 1936.

Despite early successes, Wardle never gained the success of the larger manufacturers, and their products didn't get installed far from their Manchester base.

Wardle ceased trading in the 1980s.

(With thanks to Nigel Cooper nigelc at onetel dot com.)

Wardle Engineering (Manchester) was founded and run by two brothers, Walter and Arthur Wardle, probably around 1895 (following the brothers' return around 1894 from 10 years in Pittsburgh USA), and was sold around 1910.

There was no recollection in the UK family of the existence of Wardle Engineering (Manchester) before the early 1920s. Information about the early (?1895-c1910) Manchester family firm came to me initially from hitherto unknown Australian relatives, in response to my internet posting enquiring about the company. The company catalogue (dated 7 June 1910, probably just after the sale of the company) shows: head office at 196 Deansgate, Manchester; works in Hargraves Street, Hulme, Manchester; and a London Office at 35 Euston Road. The catalogue, entitled 'Streetlites Etc.', describes the company as 'Electrical & Mechanical Engineers & Metal Workers, Contractors to H.M. Government'. A patent was held for an anti-shock mounting to render electric street light bulbs less prone to failure due to vibration. Hargraves Street is not on modern maps. Hulme is between central Manchester and Old Trafford. The firm's telegraphic address - Chamen - as shown in the catalogue is the name of one of the new owners, and I assume that the catalogue was made by, or for, these people. It seems odd that the company retained the sole name Wardle after the sale - perhaps Walter and/or Arthur retained some financial interest, or maybe the company's reputation made it advantageous not to change the name.

The Local Studies Library at Manchester Central Library has provided the following information: "The firm makes its first appearance in the Manchester & Salford Directory for 1910 (compiled during 1909), when it is listed as Wardle Engineering Co. Ltd, 41 Royal London Buildings, 196 Deansgate... The founder was a Walter Wardle, formerly of Cutler, Wardle & Co. Ltd, electrical engineers. It is, however, interesting that that firm seems to have vanished at about the time Wardle Engineering came into being." This suggests that brother Arthur played a less important role in the early company. Nothing is known about Mr Cutler. Where was Wardle Engineering (Manchester) based before 1910? Perhaps it was at the same location, but was simply not advertised.

It is clear that the family retained influence in the company for some years after it was sold. Following the sale of the Manchester company, Walter went to Australia, but Arthur then appears in Edinburgh family records. At this point - perhaps around 1911 - Arthur started another Wardle Engineering company in Edinburgh, although I do not know its exact name. There is no documentary evidence of this company - we have only family memories. Wardle (Edinburgh) will either have been started by Arthur with capital from the sale of his share of the Manchester operation, or set up by the new owners of Wardle (Manchester) with Arthur as manager. According to marriage registrations, there were various family members working as electrical engineers and lathe operators in Edinburgh from around 1912.

The Edinburgh incarnation of Wardle Engineering was based in premises rented from Bruce Peebles. [Information from a relative who was an apprentice at Bruce Peebles in the 1930s.] This company manufactured large electrical transformers etc. at their works in Pilton Drive South/Ferry Road, North Edinburgh (a short walk from family addresses at the time). Wardle (Edinburgh) was a relatively short-lived operation that closed down in the early 1920s - it seems that Arthur was a less successful businessman than his brother Walter. The closure of the Edinburgh operation explains a family migration back to Lancashire for employment with Wardle (Manchester) in the early 1920s. Close links had evidently been maintained with the Manchester company from Edinburgh, even though the family had not owned it since 1910.

My grandfather, Charles Cooper, was the husband of Edith Wardle, a daughter of John Wardle who was the eldest brother of Walter and Arthur. Both Charles and Edith had worked for Wardle in Edinburgh, and possibly met there. According to their 1918 marriage record, Charles was an electrical wireman, and Edith an electrical insulator - a delightful combination. Witnesses were Alfred Wardle (older stepbrother of Edith), metal spinner (i.e. lathe operator, no doubt with the same company), and Isabella Romanes (box maker). (Alfred was returning the compliment - Edith had witnessed his marriage in Edinburgh in 1913. Alfred was then already a metal spinner. Alfred's other witness had been Arthur Wardle, but no occupation is shown for witnesses in this record.)

Charles Cooper transferred to Wardle Engineering (Manchester) in the 1920s. His first job was on the 'factory floor', and he was later proud of having worked his way up to factory manager. He continued to work for the company in Manchester during the 1920s until his death in the late 1930s. According to family sources, he invented a form of electric light fitting known as the 'polygon' or 'polyglon'.

Charles's son, my late father Alfred Cooper, also served part of his apprenticeship with Wardle Engineering in Manchester from May 1935, where he was known, unsurprisingly, as the 'currant [current?] bun' (rhyming slang for 'son'). His reference (February 1938) shows the company on a different site: Wardle Engineering, Export Engineers, Elsinore Road, Old Trafford, Manchester (telegraphic address 'Eldrawenco', which is Wardle backwards). A second branch of the company is now shown at Secunderabad, India.

There are few internet references to the company. The Indian branch had its own 2 ft gauge railway line (undated, ?1930s) [ ]. Wardle (Manchester) supplied heating components for the SS Canberra (late 1950s; the company must have diversified into heating) [ ].

As for the later history of the company: "Wardle Engineering seems to have moved (from Old Trafford) to Swinton [NW Manchester] between 1965 and 1967. It is listed at Swinton in the 1968 phone book but does not appear in the 1970 edition" [Manchester Local Studies Library]. It is thought that Wardle Engineering eventually became part of the English Electric group [family source]. A Wardle Engineering Company was dissolved on 15 June 1989, reg. 00102714; this could be anywhere in the country as there is no address, but it is probably the same company [Manchester Commercial Library]. This begs the question of where the company was after the last known directory listing in 1968.

Walter Wardle moved to Australia around 1910, shortly after the sale of the company. His wife and their three sons - Harry, Walter (Wally) and Arthur Oliver - moved to Australia a few months later; they had remained in Manchester for a while, and the two older sons had continued to work for Wardle briefly under its new management. The letter of introduction for Harry has been preserved:

From: Wardle Engineering, 196 Deansgate, Manchester, 27 July 1910
C H K Chamen AMIEE & H T Wilkinson AMIEE

To: J W Bragg Esq., Messrs Gibson Battle & Co, Ltd., 7 Pitt Street, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Dear Mr Bragg,
The bearer of this is one of the sons of Mr Wardle whose works we bought... we are writing to you in case you may be able to give him some advice as to obtaining employment. He has been employed by our firm upon installation work and latterly on drawing office work… H T Wilkinson"
[This is the source for the names of the new owners of Wardle Manchester.]

Walter's other two sons, Walter (Wally) and Arthur, were later to start yet another Wardle Engineering Company in Sydney. Their business card (date unknown) shows:

"W & A Wardle, Electrical & Mechanical Engineers, Cambridge Street, Willoughby [Sydney] - Licensed Contractor to NSW Government".

Nigel Cooper nigelc at onetel dot com