Wilhelm Siemens left Germany for London in 1843. Aged 19, he had trained as a mechanical engineer. He had little money but a head full of half-formulated inventions.
His brothers had got off to a good start. Werner Siemens had set up the first company in Germany to make electrical telegraphs. Carl Siemens went off to build a telegraph network in Russia.
Wilhelm opened a branch of brother Werner’s company, Siemens & Halske in England. He prospered. By the age of 40, there was no going back. He fell in love with a Scotswoman called Anne Gordon. He married her and became a naturalised Englishman known as William.
In 1863, Wilhelm opened the Siemens Telegraph works in Woolwich, south-east London. Here they made cables and developed gas engines. Their factory and the number of workers it employed grew and grew.
They later built a special cable-laying ship called CS Faraday. They named it to honour Michael Faraday, William’s mentor. They laid telegraph lines from Prussia to Tehran. In 1881, they built a new electric generator. This was to power the world’s first electric street lighting. They also demonstrated the first electric indoor lighting in London’s Savoy Theatre.
William Siemens died in 1883, just after Queen Victoria honoured him with a knighthood.
The Siemens company continued to flourish. They laid the first telephone cable across the English Channel in 1891 so London and Paris could talk to each other. They built the telephone system for the General Post Office. They set up the cable for the outside radio broadcast of 1937 Coronation of King George VI.
the war caused problems for german company siemens in london
The onset of war caused problems. The company was still in German ownership, so their power was taken away and held in trust throughout World War One.
This happened again in World War Two. Siemens Brothers, which employed 9000 workers in the Woolwich factories, was put in trust. They supplied cables and equipment to develop radar. Several factory buildings in were bombed.
Although Associated Electrical Industries bought the British company of Siemens Brothers and Co. Ltd in 1955, Siemens still operates today as a multinational conglomerate.
The Woolwich business closed in 1968. Many of the factories and warehouses still exist. The buildings have been let out for various industrial purposes. But now plans are afoot to redevelop the whole site. There will be apartment blocks, studios and workshops for start-up companies.
When Rev R.W. Hardy from Canada turned up at the Queen’s House in Greenwich he was not looking for ghosts. He was here for the Tulip Stairs – the first supported spiral staircase in the country. It was 1966 and he’d read in his guidebook that Inigo Jones had built this architectural marvel in 1635.
We must take a photograph to show the folks back home, he said to his wife. We’ll wait until no-one’s around. And did you know that they named it wrongly? Those wrought iron flowers in the railings are actually fleur-de-lys. The Rev liked to know something that others didn’t.
Back in Canada, he eagerly collected the developed photos, only to reel back in shock. The photo had two weird ghostly figures that he didn’t see at the time.
He sent a copy of the photo by airmail to the Queen’s House. Astonished, they arranged for investigators from the Ghost Club to hunt down any roaming spirits. Alas, they found none, and the spooky photo has been lost.
But some visitors to the house report a definite chill in the air when they climb those Tulip Stairs.
Many people, especially men, get very emotional about their ships. They refer to them as women, and perform a birthing ceremony to mark their arrival in this world.
When the MV Royal Iris was launched in Dumbarton, Scotland on 8 December 1950 they knew she was special. The first diesel-electric ferry boat they’d made.
They would have wet their baby’s head. I doubt if these frugal Scots smashed a bottle of champers on the bow. But surely they sacrificed a bottle of Ballantine’s Finest Scotch whiskey from the local distillery? Or at least a wee bottle of Irn-Bru?
The Royal Iris had two jobs
The Royal Iris soon made its way to Liverpool. Her job was to ferry over 2000 passengers at a time across the River Mersey. She also moonlighted as a cruise ship. Her passengers could play snooker, eat fish and chips and drink in the bar.
The drinking bit was very popular. In those days, you couldn’t buy an alcoholic drink in the middle of the afternoon or after 11pm. But the bar on the Royal Iris stayed open. One day, some police officers joined the beer-swilling passengers. Chief Inspector Jones marched to the Captain’s cabin. He accused him of allowing illegal drinking on board. In fact, the licensee was the Chief Steward. The Captain wasn’t taking any nonsense; he was the master of his own ship. He arrested the police inspector in his cabin until arriving on shore.
A court case ensued. The Mersey Ferries were now permitted to serve alcohol while the boat was afloat.
There was live music to entertain the cruise passengers. Between 1961 and 1962 the Beatles played four times. In 1965, Mersey beat group, Gerry & The Pacemakers made a film called Ferry Cross the Mersey. Although this wasn’t actually filmed on the Royal Iris. The title song was a hit in the UK and US. Watch the film trailer here.
In 1971, the Royal Iris had a style makeover. Tarted up in her new blue and white livery, she offered her passengers steak instead of fish with their chips. In 1977, still looking classy, she hosted Queen Elizabeth during her Silver Jubilee.
In 1985 they sent her on a grand tour around the south coast of England to promote Merseyside business. Arriving in London, she motored under Tower Bridge and docked next to HMS Belfast. All decked out in her red, blue and white livery, shining and proud.
Things started to go wrong
By 1991, things started to wrong. There were plans to make use of this now rather doddery old dear. A floating nightclub was a popular idea. They shunted her from river to river. She said her last goodbye to the River Mersey in August 1993 and showed her displeasure by smashing into the dock wall.
In 2002 she arrived on the River Thames, next to the Thames Barrier. She’s been abandoned and lies here, rotting and sinking.