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British Industrial History

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British Electric Traction Co

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of Donington House, Norfolk Street, Strand, London

British Electric Traction Company started with interests in electrification, especially trams, and electricity generation and transmission. It later moved into buses and then became a trust; it was renamed BET plc in 1985, by which time it was a large British industrial conglomerate. It was acquired by Rentokil in 1996; the merged company is now known as Rentokil Initial. [1]

1895 Emile Garcke, managing director of the Electric Construction Co was a strong supporter of electric traction and set up another company, with the help of his fellow directors, British Electric Traction Pioneer Company[2] with Sir Charles Rivers Wilson as chairman, and Emile Garcke as managing director. It was involved in the electrification of tramways in British towns and cities.

1896 A new company British Electric Traction Co (BET), was registered to take over the business of the British Electric Traction (Pioneer) Company.

1897 Moved into offices at Donington House, Norfolk St, Strand, London

1898 An agreement between Electric Construction Co and South Staffordshire Tramways Co (June 1897) had been reassigned to British Electric Traction Co[3].

1898 British Electric Traction Co and Brush Electrical Engineering Co established the Electrical Power Distribution Co to provide electricity supply in municipal areas to a range of users who would otherwise obtain supplies from different sources. This would thereby effect economies of operation. British Electric Traction Co would take its supplies from the Electrical Power Distribution Cowherever possible[4].

1900 James S. Critchley joined the company

1900 Public offer of shares in Electrical Power Distribution Co guaranteed by British Electric Traction Co and Brush Electrical Engineering Co[5].

1903 From operating trams, BET moved on to manufacturing them with the purchase of Brush Electrical Engineering Co by exchange of shares, one BET share for 12 in Brush[6]. The company became the principal shareholder in Brush.

1903 The company acquired the undertaking of the Electrical Power Distribution Co which had been set up in 1898 by British Electric Traction Co and Brush Electrical Engineering Co.

1904 The company was still of the opinion that the purchase of Brush would turn out be a good investment[7].

1905 a subsidiary was formed to operate motor buses, British Automobile Traction Co, which became increasingly important to the group as many municipalities were compulsorily acquiring company-owned tram networks in their areas.

By 1906 the company was responsible for operating 15 per cent of the tramways in the United Kingdom

1908 The company owned or possessed a controlling interest in 50 tramways, operating about 387 miles of line, and 54 miles of omnibus routes. [8]

1911 A Capital reorganisation was needed because of poor returns from the tramways that the company operated (despite being a pioneer in electric traction in the UK); the average return on capital earned by the company was 2.7%; fares had fallen so much that some tramways had to be subsidised by the municipalities in which they operated[9].

1912 City of Birmingham Tramways Co Ltd, which was controlled by British Electric Traction Co, was voluntarily liquidated after its leases reverted to the municipality; the assets were sold to a new company, Electrical and Industrial Finance Co Ltd, which would assist in the development of electrical undertakings. BET would implement the proposal and subscribe for shares in the new company which also had Emile Garcke as managing director[10].

1913 the London and Suburban Traction Co (LSTC), mainly owned by Underground Electric Railways Co and British Electric Traction Co, took over the London United Tramways and Metropolitan Electric Tramways companies. Six months later LSTC acquired the other privately operated tram company in London, South Metropolitan Electric Tramways.

1916 Reduction in share capital of the company to reflect the fall in value of its assets.

1920 The main activities of the company were ownership of subsidiary companies that operated tramways and motor buses, and electricity supply undertakings. The profitability of transport activities, especially in London, was poor and improvements were only achieved by greater volumes. Gradual sale of the transport enterprises to municipalities would free up some capital. Decided to diversify into cinema film making (Stoll Picture Productions Ltd) and other ways of investing the funds[11].

1921 The nature of the business had changed - no longer was it the construction for sale or operation of electrical undertakings as this was not profitable; rather the company managed the undertakings it controlled and financed them[12].

1924 Together with Thomas Tilling Ltd, the company owned 70% of the shares in British Automobile Traction Co[13].

1928 Having sold its interests in British Automobile Traction Co, BET now owned a considerable shareholding in Tilling and British Automobile Traction Co[14].

1929 Further sale of large shareholdings in London and Suburban Traction Company, and Shropshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire Power Company.

1930 Purchased interests in several gas companies[15] and acquired the National Electric Construction Company which had similar business interests[16].

1934 Recognition by the chairman that the company was effectively a trust company but one with the unique feature that it was involved in the management of its subsidiaries. Had proved impossible to acquire further gas assets, so gas had been "dropped". Made exploratory investment in laundry, to see whether could develop a service that would be attractive to customers[17]. Guaranteed the increase in capital of Advance Laundries Ltd, and would take up entitlement[18]. B.E.T. Electricity Supply Co was registered as a public company to take over the company's electricity supply interests.

1935 Interested in 54 omnibus or tramway undertakings, which collected fares that were greater than those of 3 of the 4 main railway companies.

1936 Laundry Services Ltd was registered as a public company; shares offered to the public; BET controlled the company[19].

1942 The shareholders of Tilling and British Automobile Traction Co agreed to split the company into 2, owned by the major shareholders. These would be named B.E.T. Omnibus Services Ltd (to be owned by British Electric Traction Co) and Tilling Motor Services Ltd (to be owned by Thomas Tilling). Tilling and British Automobile Traction Co would then be liquidated[20].

1944 Now owned 8500 buses operating throughout the provinces.

1947 Electricity generation and distribution had been an important part of the company's early activities but these operations were nationalised in 1947. Following nationalisation, BET was left with its portfolio of bus companies, a number of miscellaneous investments, and a cash pile. The company embarked on a programme of acquisitions, with particular emphasis on transport, leisure and entertainment, printing and publishing, construction and plant hire, textile maintenance and waste management. It also invested in a trust company in South Africa[21].

1947 BET acquired a substantial minority interest in Broadcast Relay Service Ltd, which traded as Rediffusion, which distributed radio and television signals though wired relay networks.

1949 BET went into plant hire in 1949 when it acquired Eddison Plant Ltd.

1951 The last BET tram ran on August 4, when the Gateshead and District Tramways Company replaced their trams with motor omnibuses.

1954 Acquired 22 per cent of the shares in Initial Services Limited.

1955 When commercial televison started in the UK in 1955, Rediffusion, with BET's financial backing, formed Associated-Rediffusion with Associated Newspapers, and won the coveted London weekday ITV broadcast franchise.

1956 BET acquired a 20% interest in United Transport Co, the rump of the old Red and White company, increased to 100% in 1971. United Transport continued with its freight road haulage business (Bulwark Transport Ltd), and also moved into shipping, particularly containers and tank containers.

1966 Acquired The Argus Press Group greatly extending its interests in printing and publishing.

1967 BET continued to own a major part of the UK bus industry. In late 1967, BET sold its UK bus interests to the Transport Holding Co to become part of the National Bus Company[22]

1967 BET acquired a controlling interest in Rediffusion

1968 Increased interest in equipment hire together with diversification into construction following the sale of the bus interests, including acquisition of Boulton and Paul Ltd, Grayston Ltd, Murphy Brothers[23] and J. D. White Ltd. Acquired Biffa Ltd (industrial waste and household refuse disposal) and Re-Chem International Ltd (processing toxic industrial waste). Joined a consortium to search for oil in the North Sea.

1971 BET increased its interests in United Transport Company to 100%.

By 1983 BET had increased its holding in Initial to 42 per cent. The Managing Director of BET was the Chairman of Initial. Acquired the remaining 36 percent of the equity of Rediffusion.

1984 Sold the Rediffusion television rental business to Granada; Granada agreed to take the majority of its television needs from BET[24]

1985 BET acquired Initial

1996 BET was acquired by the much smaller Rentokil, after a hostile take-over bid. The merged company was named Rentokil Initial, thus including the name of one of BET's main subsidiaries.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] Wikipedia
  2. The Times, 15 November 1930
  3. The Times, 3 June 1898
  4. The Times, 6 November 1900
  5. The Times, 6 November 1900
  6. The Times, 7 April 1903
  7. The Times, 12 July 1904
  8. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  9. The Times, 5 August 1911
  10. The Times, 15 May 1912
  11. The Times, 3 July 1920
  12. The Times, 25 June 1921
  13. The Times, 7 July 1924
  14. The Times, 27 March 1928
  15. The Times, 19 November 1930
  16. The Times, 24 June 1931
  17. The Times, 16 June 1934
  18. The Times, 18 September 1934
  19. The Times, 13 July 1936
  20. The Times, 20 June 1942
  21. The Times, 21 June 1948
  22. The Times, Jul 05, 1968
  23. The Times Oct. 22, 1968
  24. The Times May 31, 1984
  • Competition Commission report [2]
  • Competition Commission report [3]