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PEEL-CONNER TELEPHONE WORKS LTD


by Alan Gall and Bob Estreich


The history of Peel Conner is difficult to untangle, as it was not really an independent telephone manufacturer at all. From 1910 to 1921 it was the telephone manufacturing works of Britain's General Electric Company. GEC was founded in 1886 to import and sell electrical goods, including telephones. They were quite successful and in 1888 they opened a factory in Salford (often reported as Manchester because of the close proximity of the two cities). This was known as the "Manchester Works". They had another factory in Salford nicknamed the "Peel Works" because it overlooked Peel Park. Peel Park was named after Sir Robert Peel, the local M.P. and the originator of the British Police Force. Following a fire in the Manchester Works in 1895 (not 1893 as listed in Company histories - the 1895 date is confirmed by newspaper reports) all construction was moved to the Peel Works.


M. S. Conner


Around 1909 Merritt Scott Conner entered the picture. Born in Paw Paw, Michigan, around 1874, he worked for a time for Bell Canada. In 1906 he received a Canadian patent for an improved telephone signalling system. He moved to Britain and joined the Peel Works and improved the quality of the telephones produced there. Among his British patents are:

1909 An interlocking system for banks of switches that reset all switches once another key was pressed.
1909 A call counter for telephone exchanges.
1910 An improved design for the bell receiver, incorporating better magnetic field location and better rigidity of construction.
1910 Further construction improvements to the receiver.
1910 A method to quickly coat wire with paint or other preservative.
1910 and 1912 A way to feed local power to an extension phone while it is connected to an exchange line, reducing the volume drop. This also allowed a bell to ring when the extension phone was hung up, so the switchboard operator could clear the line and extension. Another signal was sent to the public exchange to allow the operator there to clear the exchange end of the call.
1917 Further improvements to the magnet construction and layout in the telephone receiver.
1917 An improvement to the Solid Back transmitter to prevent distortion of the diaphragm during assembly.
1913 An improved two-piece switchhook that reduced the problem of sticking of single-piece switchhooks in desk phones.
1913 A rotary switch using ball bearings for the moving contacts. This proved more electrically reliable and less prone to wear than fixed metal wiper-style contacts.
1912 An automatically-resetting indicator for annunciators.


Many of these were patented in conjunction with other engineers at the Works, and many (such as the call counter) went on to become standard equipment in the telephony industry. These inventions highlight two points - just how inventive Conner was, and also that the industry had now settled down to a level of steady improvement rather than major inventions.

There were other inventions, such as the stamping and folding of steel sheet to form the lamp holders for switchboards, rather than assembly of each one from brass tube. These were production improvements that made the factory more efficient and gave them a competitive edge over the older hand-assembly methods.

Conner also designed magnetos and ignition equipment for GEC under the Conner Magneto and Ignition Ltd, which was part of GEC name.

He eventually returned to the United States, where the 1930 U.S. Census records him as living in New York State.

Peel-Conner Telephone Works Ltd

On 24th December 1910 GEC incorporated the factory as a separate company, employing a thousand workers. In the Report in the Electrical Review of GEC's annual dinner in 1910, Hugo Hirst said that as regards unemployment, when Mr Conner advertised for two improvers he had to get the police to clear the streets.

The "Electrical Review" noted that the company had been formed to adopt an agreement between GEC and Conner to take over the Peel Works' telephone manufacturing. Conner's importance to the company was acknowledged by his nomination to the Board of the new company. The other board members were: Directors G Byng and H Hirst (the founders of GEC), and J Fraser, E G Byng, and P P Kipping, the company Secretary. Each held 500 shares. Unfortunately by the incorporation of the company, Gustav Binswanger (G Byng - he anglicized his name) had died.

The new company made only telephones and parts. The 1910 Annual Report notes "Switchgear, arc lamps, fans and small motors departments have now been moved from Salford to Witton. Peel Works is now entirely devoted to telephone and telegraphic apparatus. The Directors have thought it desirable to carry on these departments as a subsidiary company".

Their first exchanges were at Glasgow (10,000 lines expandable to 14,400) and Willesden. Conner and Hugo Hirst were pictured in The Times of 20th September 1910 inspecting the Glasgow exchange. Export markets were actively sought. The new company made its first export sale to Australia in 1911. It sold the PMG Department 8000 lines for the Adelaide area comprising exchanges at Central, Prospect, Glenelg, Brighton, Henley and Woodfield.

In the 1912 GEC catalogue the company notes that it "holds the sole right of sale to the trade of the products of the Peel-Conner Telephone Works Ltd." In addition, GEC sold telephones from L M Ericsson (telephones and parts), Alfred Graham (ships phones), Fox-Pearson (fire alarms), Sinclair (insulators) and many others. They were also making Western Electric-pattern telephones and parts for the British Post Office under the BPO's contract-sharing arrangements, designed to support local manufacturers.

It appears that Peel-Conner never published a catalogue of its own. Its phones are listed only in GEC catalogues. There seems to have been an attempt to keep up a pretence of separation of the two companies. The BPO allocated a separate manufacturers code to Peel-Conner (AK) , and GEC listed Peel-Conner telephones under the PC brand, but both companies used the magnet logo and it is unlikely that the pretence fooled anyone.


The telephone industry changed after World War 1. Magneto exchanges were being dropped in favour of the more efficient CB exchanges. Increasingly, automatic exchanges were being introduced, something Peel-Conner had not developed into. The British Post Office standardized on a few designs of telephone and the specialised telephones market was contracting. Bakelite moulding was introduced, and this required redesign of the phones and investment in chemical equipment and high-pressure presses for the new medium. This investment was put into the new GEC Coventry works. In 1921 GEC liquidated the Peel-Conner company and moved all its manufacture to Coventry. It continued to use the name Peel Conner Telephone Works for Coventry, but the phones were soon rebranded GEC. Eventually the PC name fell into disuse as the GEC conglomerate branched out into many other areas.

Peel-Conner Telephones

Like other companies of the period, Peel-Conner bought in many parts from other manufacturers. Some telephones were bought complete, and some were finished with P-C modified parts. Many of their component ranges came from L M Ericsson, and other parts came from Western Electric or were manufactured under licence. The most distinctive P-C parts are the pedestal top, which is a grooved drum shape, and the modified Ericsson handset which contains a stepped transmitter housing to hold the Western Electric inset transmitter capsule.

The transmitter range comprised WE's Solid Back transmitter (still under patent to WE at this time) on either a knuckle joint or a long arm, the Hunningscone-Deckert and Manchester Shot carbon granule transmitters, and the early "capsule" or "inset" WE transmitter for handsets.


The "Little Geeko" range used a handset with the capsule transmitter, suspended from a bell-push mounting. The K7765 was similar, but used an Ericsson handset. These were internal intercoms ("Direct Working Telephones") with main to extension signalling.

"Bothcall" range
The "Both-Call" range had two-way signaling as standard, and consisted of two wooden wall phones, a suspended handset, and a desk handset phone.

"Reply and Call" phones.
These were what we would now call extension telephones, designed to be controlled by a master switchboard.

"Battery Call" phones were longer-distance intercoms (up to half a mile) with an induction coil built in to boost the signal. There were three wooden wall phones and a sloping-front desk phone. Strangely, almost none of these were fitted with a handset, using watchcase receivers instead. Two larger models, the K7842 and K7843, had bell receivers instead of watchcase receivers, and the K7845 wall phone and K7850 had handsets.

Large Intercoms

Model K7865 had a Manchester Shot transmitter and watchcase receiver. The others came with handsets or the Hunningscone Deckert transmitter. They used the older rotary switch.


Magneto Exchange Phones

Magneto exchange phones were either the now-conventional small wooden wall box with Hunningscone-Deckert transmitters, or the older Western Electric-style twin box wall phones fitted with Solid Back transmitters and Bell receivers. Handsets versions were available in either style. The Ericsson skeletal was also part of this range, heavily modified by P-C. They fitted many of their own parts including the top of the pillar, the gearwheel, and fittings for an extra earpiece in the centre of one side rather than on the end. Previously GEC had imported and sold unmodified skeletals.

The K8080 "Strong-Phone" was a fairly standard WE Model 85 magneto wall phone.

CB telephones were a fairly new field, and the PC range was smaller than their other ranges. "…under all conditions… both transmitting and receiving are fully equal in every respect to the best Instruments of a more complicated and expensive design, and vastly superior to the majority of them".

There were no automatic phones in the P-C range. Although the earliest British automatic switch dates back to 1898, it and the ones that followed it were primitive and limited, needing a lot more work to become practical. It was not until 1908 that Automatic Electric's newest Strowger-based system was demonstrated in Britain. The rights to the system were bought by the British Insulated and Helsby Company. It was some years before they started manufacture in Britain, and some years further before the British Post Office adopted automatic telephony as the way of the future.

The First World War intervened, and by the time the BPO started contracting out the manufacture of automatic phones, Peel-Conner had been reabsorbed into GEC. The Coventry factory built dial phones under the Peel-Conner name briefly until the firm renamed all their range GEC.

References:

Allan Gall is researching the history of the GEC company and has generously made his information on Peel-Conner and GEC available to telephone collectors. He has been able to research local resources such as newspapers of the time, and GEC reports.
Other information has come from the British Patent Office and from GEC catalogues.


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