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Alfred William Beuttell (1880-1965)

Alfred Beuttell was the founder of Linolite, which was an important local employer in Malmesbury from 1941 until he retired as Governing Director at the age of 80 in 1960. The company finally closed, after several mergers, in 1993.

As he was over 60 when he arrived in Malmesbury, he clearly had a lengthy career behind him, so what brought him here? 

Alfred William Beuttell was born in London on April 2, 1880, about the same time that Edison and Swan had produced the first incandescent electric lamps.

He was one of a family of three boys and four girls. His father, Henry Beuttell, was an agent for John Crossley and Sons, at that time, the largest carpet manufacturers in the world. (Photograph shows him in the centre, aged about six)

He was educated at Eastbourne College (Which has subsequently given us Michael Fish and Eddie Izzard) where he was more interested in sport than academic studies. 

After a gap-year in France, he announced that he did not wish to enter the carpet business. His father was horrified but eventually capitulated and Alfred – still unqualified - became a wireman with an electrical contractor.

He was clearly a technical prodigy because in 1901 he invented and patented the tubular electric lamp which he had manufactured in quantity by Ediswan, and registered as the “Linolite”.

The first application was to illuminate the lavishly decorated windows of two major tobacconists’ chains. A victim of its own success; the bright displays became a target for Suffragettes!

Feeling the need for qualifications, he enrolled at Faraday House, a pioneering Technical College, on a sort of sandwich course which left him free to pursue prestigious installations for his Linolites – recruiting his fellow students to help where necessary!
On completion of the course, and still in his mid-20s, he moved to North Wales initially as Assistant Engineer to Bruce Peebles and then Chief Engineer to the North Wales Power and Traction Company.

Meanwhile, his father and brothers were doing very well in the USA with the carpet business, so he followed them out to try his chances with his tubular lamps. Sadly, they did not take off as they had in Britain so, for a princely £1000 p.a. royalties, he sold his interests to Westinghouse, who promptly buried them!

Returning to Europe, with £1000 pa money-for-nothing in his pockets, he enjoyed a bachelor life: gambling (with his own scientific system!) at Monte Carlo and joining the prestigious Royal Thames Yacht Club. All in all, a highly clubbable man-about-town! He did not, however, ignore his business interests, he filed several more patents, expanded the Linolite business and was elected a full member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

During this period, he met two people important in his life: Leon Gaster, founder of the Illuminating Engineering Society. Alfred would serve as President of the Society in 1935 would receive Honorary Membership in 1959 in recognition of his lifetime achievement.

No less important, just before the outbreak of WW 1 in 1914, he married Ida Augustus Locke.

Alfred and Ida had two sons, Victor and Gerard. Victor would succeed his father as head of Linolite, but Gerard was tragically lost over the Atlantic during WW II. Ida sadly died in 1932; Alfred remarried in 1941, to Jessie Moreton.

He clearly made other influential contacts for when war came, he was seconded to Government work, co-ordinating munitions production and taking over running one of the factories in the western suburbs of London. With a carefully written contract, he placed Linolite in the safe hands of his friends at Ediswan for the duration of the war.

After the war, he regained control of Linolite, his business flourished, and inventions poured from his fertile imagination, such as the K-Ray (One of his favourites). This gave uniform illumination of a display by reflecting light from a concealed source from the ingeniously curved cover glass.

We don’t know how many were made but one was outside the Old Bell in 1951 showing the menu for the celebration dinner to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Linolite patent!

In 1925, presumably having a bit of spare production capacity, Beuttell bought the rights for a patented hose-clip. These low-tech but high-integrity components link hydraulics, coolants and fuel systems everywhere… particularly in aircraft. 

Was he prescient? When WW II came, the blitz and blackout made illuminated shop-signs somewhat redundant and Linolite’s factory in Victoria, London was turned over entirely to hose-clip production. Danger from air-raids prompted the Ministry of Aircraft Production to order its relocation to somewhere safer… Malmesbury!

Alfred became a prominent member of Malmesbury’s social scene, notably as President of the Bowls Club, for whom he generously bought the freehold of their land in 1960. 

This contrasts with Malmesbury’s other wartime factory boss, Michael Lipman, head of Ekco, who remained somewhat aloof and once described the Town Council as “Something out of a Charles Dickens story”. (He may say that; I could not possibly comment!)
But time catches up with everyone and at the age of 80, he retired as Governing Director of Linolite, handing over to his son, Victor but remained as Chairman until his death, five years later, on the 5th June 1965.

His obituary in the local press read: “In his last years at Malmesbury, he was engaged in as any local activities as could be reconciled with a retiring nature. He lived in an era of great development to which he contributed, but above all he will be remembered for his quiet smile and humour, and for his soft words of wisdom which emanated as shy but positive suggestions.”
More than fifty years later, he and his factory are remembered with fondness in the town.

For a full biography, click on the link.