History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

Johnson and Phillips
Cable gear suppliers

JOHNSON AND PHILLIPS LTD.

This 1917 advertisement from the back pages of a cable textbook shows the Eastern Telegraph Company’s CS Restorer, fitted with Johnson and Phillips cable gear. The ship is pictured on the River Thames.

Founded in 1875 and located in Charlton, south-east London, not far from the hub of the cable industry in Greenwich, the company offered: “Complete equipments of cable machinery, accessories and stores for cable laying and repairing steamers.”

Their products at that time also included: “Telegraph, telephone and insulated electric cable of all kinds” and “Machinery and plant for electric cable manufacture”.

Brief biographies of W.C. Johnson and S.E. Phillips, the partners in the firm, are given in The Electricians’ Directory with Handbook for 1885:

Johnson, W[alter] C[laude]
(of the firm of Johnson and Phillips).
Educated at Victoria College, in the island of Jersey.

When about seventeen years of age Mr. Johnson became an articled pupil to Mr. W.F. Gooch, at the Vulcan Foundry in Lancashire, where he remained for five years. Failing, however, to find work that was congenial to his tastes, and after declining with considerable hesitation the offer of an appointment in a drawing office at the rate of £50 per annum, he resolved to join the applied sciences department, King’s College, London, for a year, and on the completion of this term he was engaged as a draughtsman by Mr. H. Clifford, the engineer of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company’s works.

It was here, in working out designs for improved cable machinery, under the immediate supervision of Mr. Clifford, that he obtained a clear insight into the most advanced form and construction of this important branch of engineering, and his keen observation had ample scope, not only in the direction to which his abilities so conspicuously tend, viz., in the design and construction of machinery, but also in the laying of all the original cables of the Eastern and Eastern Extension Telegraph systems.

He was appointed chief engineer in the laying of the British Australasian cable, the expedition being commanded by Captain Halpin. He left the works of the Telegraph Construction Company to join Mr. S.E. Phillips in establishing a business of their own.

The History of Johnson and Phillips by Collin Brooks, 1950, notes that “In the October of 1876 he ended his attachment with T.C. and M, the family jotting diary cheefully noting that he had been ‘sacked’.”


Phillips, S[amuel] E[dmund]

Samuel Edmund Phillips
c. 1890

Mr. Phillips, when a boy, was brought into contact with telegraphy, his father being at that time engaged with Dr. Whitehouse in carrying out experimental work in connection with the first Atlantic cable. He subsequently accompanied his father in the first Malta and Alexandria cable expedition; and he became a member of the staff which Colonel Stewart formed to go out with the Persian Gulf cable, remaining at Bushire as a junior clerk.

At the end of three years’ service he returned to England, and obtained an appointment on the electrical staff of Messrs. Latimer Clark, Ford and Co., leaving these gentlemen to become electrician to Mr. W.T. Henley, and in whose service he remained for ten years.

At Mr. Henley’s works he was appointed manager of the cable department, and occasionally he accompanied some of the cable expeditions as the head of the electrical department. As an inventor Mr. Phillips has given us a fluid insulator, which has been largely adopted in India. In 1875 he joined Mr. W.C. Johnson in partnership, and a small works was established at Charlton.. This formed the nucleus of the present extensive range of factories.


The address of the firm was given in 1885 as 14, Union-court, Old Broad-street, E.C., and Victoria Works, Charlton, S.E.

In 1872, Phillips’s father, Samuel Elkins Phillips, collaborated with Wildman Whitehouse on GB patent 1872 / 3,016 “Recording fares in public vehicles”. The elder Phillips had been associated with Whitehouse since the early days of the first Atlantic cable project in the 1850s.

Oil painting of the Works in 1877 by Walter Claude Johnson

Samuel Phillips died at the age of 45 on 22 July 1893, and it was left to Claude Johnson to continue the company, which he did with great success.

In 1895 The Electrician published this expanded biography of Johnson:

Johnson, W[alter] Claude, M.I.C.E., at the age of seventeen was articled to Mr. W.F. Gooch, C.E., serving five years’ apprenticeship in the locomotive works of the Vulcan Foundry, after which he studied at King’s College, London. From 1869 to 1875 he was with the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, and acted in various capacities both at the works and in cable-laying expeditions. Here he became thoroughly conversant with the requirements of cable laying and picking up; indeed, so close was his study of the subject that he soon became recognised as the leading authority dealing with such apparatus. Hence, when in 1875 he joined Mr. S.E. Phillips, to form the firm of Johnson and Phillips, that firm took a commanding position in the manufacture of all cable apparatus, and from that time to this the firm has probably designed, or, we should say, Mr. Claude Johnson has designed, and the firm constructed, the largest part of the cable machinery existing.

Mr. Claude Johnson controls Charlton Works, which have steadily increased in size, and are still being added to. These works now cover an area of seven acres, and employ about 500 men. Latterly, the developments of electric lighting have overshadowed those of cable work, and the larger part of the works is devoted to lighting requirements, although just at present they are busy with cable machines designed for M. Grammont’s factory in France, and other work for the Eastern Telegraph Company. It speaks much for the capacity of Mr. Claude Johnson as an engineer and as an organiser to see the admirable way in which those works are conducted. He has had the great advantage of being well supported by his scientific partner, Mr. S.E. Phillips.

Literary and professional men are generally supposed to owe much to having sat at the feet of some Gamaliel, till it seems a pity that it was not fashionable for a successful business man to be surrounded with a bevy of learners. Of this firm it might be said that it pursues the only true course to ensure permanent success: it undertakes nothing it cannot perform, and is satisfied with none but the very best workmanship and materials. This speaks volumes for the heads and hearts that guide the venture.

Johnson & Phillips logo
from the
1962 Annual Report

Ships fitted out with cable machinery by Johnson & Phillips
1882 Viking (1) Western & Brazilian Telegraph Company
1883 HMTS Monarch (2) GPO
1883 Volta Eastern Telegraph Company
1884 Electra Eastern Telegraph Company
1884 Magneta Eastern Extension, Australasia & China Telegraph Company
1886 Citta di Milano (1) Italian Government
1889 Chiltern Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company
1889 Relay Central & South American Telegraph Company
1889 John Pender (1) Eastern Telegraph Company
1892 Great Northern Eastern & South African Telegraph Company
1895 Okinawa Maru Japanese Government
1896 Admiral Caubet French Government
1896 Tutanekai New Zealand Government
1898 Von Podbielski Norddeutsche Seekabelwerke
1901 Viking (2) Amazon Telegraph Company
1901 Lady Laurier Canadian Government
1902 Pacific Great Northern Telegraph Company
1903 Patrol Eastern Extension, Australasia & China Telegraph Company
1903 Restorer Eastern Extension, Australasia & China Telegraph Company
1905 Ogasawara Maru Japanese Government
1905 Burnside United States Army
1907 Guardian Central & South American Telegraph Company
1909 ? Australian Government
1911 Ramos Amazon Telegraph Company
1912 Edouard Jeramec La Compagnie Française des Câbles Télégraphiques
1913 Princess Louise Canadian Government
1914 Transmitter Eastern Telegraph Company
1915 Hodder GPO
1920 Edouard Suenson Great Northern Telegraph Company
1921 Store Nordiske Great Northern Telegraph Company
1921 ? Japanese Government
1922 Kilmun Admiralty Cable Service
1922 Dellwood United States Army
1923 Silvergray India Rubber, Gutta Percha & Telegraph Works Company
1923 Nanyo Maru Japanese Government
1923 Mirror (2) Eastern Telegraph Company
1923 Norseman (4) Western Telegraph Company
1924 Cable Enterprise (1) Western Telegraph Company
1924 Zuiderkruis Dutch East Indies Government
1937 Lasso Admiralty Cable Service
1939 Mernoo Australian Government
1939 HMTS Ariel GPO
1940 HMTS Iris (2) GPO
1940 Bullfinch Admiralty Cable Service
1940 Straide Admiralty Cable Service
1940 Dunavon Admiralty Cable Service
1940 Castlerock Admiralty Cable Service
1940 ? Admiralty (Singapore)
1940 Cecile Mapleson Admiralty Cable Service
1942 Holdfast Admiralty Cable Service (Pluto)
1942 HMS Retriever Admiralty Cable Service (Pluto)
1942 Bulan Admiralty Cable Service
1942 Sprayville Admiralty Cable Service
1942 Castillo Olmedo Spanish Government
1943 St Margarets Admiralty Cable Service
1943 Bullfrog Admiralty Cable Service
1943 Bullhead Admiralty Cable Service
1943 Algerian Admiralty Cable Service (Pluto)
1943 Sancroft Admiralty Cable Service (Pluto)
1943 Latimer Admiralty Cable Service (Pluto)
1944 ? Australian Government
1946 Edward Wilshaw Cable & Wireless Ltd
1947 Sørkabel Norwegian Government
1948 Nordkabel Norwegian Government
1948 Poolster (2) Netherlands Government
1952 Stanley Angwin Cable & Wireless Ltd
1953 Ocean Layer Submarine Cables Ltd.
1955 Recorder (3) Cable & Wireless Ltd
1957 Telekabel Norwegian Government
1961 Retriever (5) Cable & Wireless Ltd
1962 Mercury Cable & Wireless Ltd
1964 Cable Enterprise (2) Cable & Wireless Ltd
Thanks to Bill Glover for researching this list

Johnson & Phillips advertisement from the 1885 Electricans' Directory

Advertisement from
The Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review
26 December 1890

1949 Letterhead
Image courtesy of Brenda Batho

1961 Letterhead
Image courtesy of Ian Merry

1960s staff photograph outside the main entrance of the factory
Image courtesy of Brenda Batho, whose father (front row left)
worked at J&P from 1947 until the late 1960s

S.E. Phillips Memorial - July 2008

In Memoriam Samuel Edmund Phillips
Born April 9th 1848. Died July 22nd 1893
"Write me as one who loves his fellow men"

The memorial is located on the south side of
Shooters Hill on the western slope of the hill.
Photograph courtesy of John Poulton,
licensed under Creative Commons.

Site visitor Dave Webb shares these memories of the firm:

Johnson and Phillips was always a family business. Fathers, sons, uncles, aunts – whole generations of families worked there. My father (Frederick Ernest Webb) worked for them from the thirties until he was made redundant in the late 60s. He worked in the testing department in the paper cable factory (the largest one on site) based at the north end of the plant in Charlton. His service was only interrupted by war service in the forties. He loved the job, the company and the relationships he formed with many other employees. Like many other redundant workers he found it hard to settle into other jobs after. I can remember going to the children’s Christmas parties there as a child.

 I joined the company on September 1st 1965 as a trade apprentice. I spent a year in the apprentice workshop run by Jock Craigie and Joe Lower. I then went into the maintenance department. In 1967 the change in accounting techniques meant that companies were closing everywhere. J&P sold the paper cable plant and the New Cross factory, just keeping the rubber cable factory. I moved into the top yard, still in the maintenance department. There were many changes of names. Enfield Standard Power Cables, Enfield Cables, Delta Cables. After completing my apprenticeship in the drawing office, I left in 1972. A long and happy time, and I am still working with another old J&P guy!


The Greenwich Industrial Heritage Society's website has some reminiscences from a J&P employee who started with the company in 1929. The article notes that the firm was taken over by Enfield Cables and then Delta Metal.

Details of the later history of the various parts of Johnson & Phillips are hard to find. For example, the 100th anniversary book on electrical manufacture MEM mentions that Delta Metal acquired Johnson & Phillips (Capacitors) in 1967, and in 2003 Delta's Electrical Division was acquired by Eaton Corporation, but no further details are given on J&P.

As Dave Webb notes above, Johnson & Phillips traded into the 1970s but is no longer in business. If any site visitor can provide further details of the company's last years, please email me.

—Bill Burns  

Last revised: 2 January, 2015

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