The Secret History Of: The Anglepoise lamp

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The Independent Online

A staple of the student bedroom and a design that has been relentlessly copied over the years, the real Anglepoise was, like many of the greatest inventions, designed by accident.

Back in the Thirties, George Carwardine owned a factory in Bath that designed vehicle suspensions. He loved messing about in his workshop, even on his days off, and in the course of one such happy morning came up with a spring that could be moved easily in every direction, but would also remain strong when straight.

So far so brilliant. But Carwardine had no idea what to do with his clever thing. More tinkering followed, and eventually he came up with a lamp that could be angled in every direction to focus on the job in hand. He built a heavy base so it wouldn't topple over, and a shade to concentrate the beam.

At first he thought it would be mainly used by the factory workers as they built his suspension systems, but he soon realised it would make a great task-light for a desk.

He took his idea to Herbert Terry & Sons, a company in Redditch, Worcestershire that manufactured springs, and the first Anglepoise lamp was launched. Cawardine's first choice of name, Equipoise, was rejected by the Patent Office on the grounds that it already existed as a word, so he and Terry came up with the name Anglepoise. The first lamp was produced in 1934 and a domestic version followed two years later.

Simon Terry, the great great grandson of Herbert and managing director at Anglepoise Ltd, is the fifth generation of the family at the company, which is still creating new designs (Anglepoise.com).

"At first it was seen very much as an industrial tool – apparently there was some concern that the springs might catch in ladies' hair – but they altered the design for the domestic market and it has been popular ever since," he says. "The retro look is fashionable at the moment, but its enduring popularity is not about fashion. It's a design that works; in chrome it reflects the environment around it. But I have to say I try not to have too many of them at home, even though I love them.

"I'm very proud to be associated with something that is such a part of the British landscape," he adds. "Last year, its 75th anniversary, it was put on the Royal Mail stamps alongside the Mini and the Spitfire."

The company is not resting on its laurels though – an LED version is in the pipeline and is scheduled to go into production later this year.

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