VIDEO: Name for Huntingdon’s new £10 million link road to draw on town’s musical past

09:00 02 April 2014

Edison Bell collector David Cozens.

Edison Bell collector David Cozens.

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Huntingdon’s new £10million link road will be called Edison Bell Way, it has been revealed.

Named after Edison Bell Limited London & Huntingdon, the road is due to open on Tuesday (April 8), connecting Ermine Street and George Street with the aim of removing some traffic from the town’s ring road.

Edison Bell made gramophones and records – the last records were issued in January 1935 before the company went bust.

Until last week the new name of the road had been kept under wraps, and despite numerous attempts by The Hunts Post and its readers to guess the name, we fell well short of the mark.

However, we did manage to track down one of the gramophones that the company was famous for producing.

It is still in brilliant working order and belongs to proud owner David Cozens, former chairman of the Huntingdonshire Local History Society.

He discovered it in a cupboard at Edward House, Mill Common, when it ceased to be a base for guides and brownies three decades ago. The house, dating from 1905, is now in private occupation but was originally donated to the town by the Earl of Sandwich as a home for boys.

Mr Cozens, who lives in Bury, said he had long been interested in the history of Edison Bell, the pioneers of gramophones.

Since buying the gramophone he has built up a collection of more than 50 records that were produced in Huntingdon. One of which dating from 1931, he played for us, Falling in Love Again sung by Terence O’Neil.

“I am absolutely delighted that the road is going to be named after Edison Bell, as they played such a significant role in the development of sound,” said Mr Cozens. “The gramophone I have still produces a beautiful sound and the beauty of it is I could just take it out into a field and play it if I wanted to as it needs no electricity or batteries.”

Mr Cozens does take the gramophone and his collection, which includes information about the company, photographs, original catalogue listings of the records, supplements and newspaper clippings, around to interested groups. He plays the music and gives a talk about the company.

Edison Bell set up in Huntingdon in 1924 and operated from the site later occupied by Silent Channel and now the link road. It employed more than 300 people who worked a 49-hour week.

But it was back in 1890 that Edison Bell Phonograph Corporation was first established. The company acquired the patent rights for Edison & Graphophone for the UK.

Eventually Edison Bell joined forces with the Edisonia company, headed by James Hough. He acquired another company which had a recording of the voice of Florence Nightingale, which is now in the British Library. During the First World War he sent thousands of records to the troops and supported the families of those who joined up.

It was Mr Hough and his son, who became the managing director, who brought the company to Huntingdon. Here they manufactured machines, parts, radios and pressed records for the company’s record label, Winner Records. The company was very supportive of its staff, had a canteen where employees could “heat their own food”, a social room with a piano for dances, as well as football and cycle clubs and an annual outing to Skegness.

The arrival of the company was heralded in The Hunts Post with photographs of the enormous 30-ton boilers, which Edison Bell used, being transported from the railway station to the factory.

A terrible fire razed the factory to the ground in 1928, but the business survived on into the early 1930s, when it later became absorbed into Decca Records.

Ramsey Rural museum also has a gramophone made by Edison Bell, and a recording with the voice of Mr Hough from 1925. In it he delivers a speech to local tradesmen of the town on the qualities of being a good businessman. The disc was presented to the museum by Ernest Phipps, of Fenstanton, whose grandfather Alfred Wilson, worked for Mr Hough.

He tells the tradesmen: “The best advice I can give you fellow traders is always to play the game and play clean, and if you have to fight, and you sometimes will, hit straight and never below the belt. Business, especially gramophones, records, and radios, is no featherbed occupation. It demands all your virility, resourcefulness and courage, and if you will only take the trouble to generously yield those manly qualities, success is a matter of certainty.”

The phonograph, the fore-runner to the gramophone, was invented by Thomas Alva Edison in the US in 1877. He predicted great uses for his invention: dictaphone, talking book for the blind, recording music, and eminent voices, musical toys, speaking clocks, distance learning and telephone answering machines.

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