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British Industrial History

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Negretti and Zambra: Some Historical Landmarks

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Enrico Angelo Ludovico Negretti and Joseph Warren Zambra
Vice Admiral Sir Robert Fitzroy RN
James Glaisher – Royal Meteorologist.
1855 Showroom at Crystal Palace.
122 Regent Street circa 1870 – Prior to alteration of facades as seen today 2010
Holborn Viaduct under construction in 1867 with Negretti & Zambra’s 1, Hatton Garden premises on the left. This was also numbered 107 Holborn Hill.
The opening of Holborn Viaduct in 1869 showing the firms new corner premises at No.38.
H. P. J. Negretti, J. C. Zambra and M. W. Zambra, Senior.
H. N. Negretti, P. E. Negretti and M. W. Zambra, Junior.
The new Half Moon Works circa 1911. The young gentleman in the centre wearing a straw hat is Percy Partridge who was still in the employ of the company up to the 1960s. The horse and cart is the company’s first transport. A later photo shows the arrival of a motor van.
1926. A rare photograph taken at Half Moon Works of 7 long service employees. Back Row L/R Mr. Wright, Mr. Cuthbertson, Mr. Pither. Front Row L/R Mr. Jackson, Mr. Barnet, Mr. Ronketti*, Mr. Parker. *This Mr. Ronketti may be a relation of John Ronketti who was in partership with Henry Negretti in 1840.
Hitler passed this way – The devastation of the City of London – St.Paul’s sits proud.
P. A. Negretti and P. N. Negretti.
The assembled company at Portland Works Chesterfield. As well as employees who moved from Half Moon Works in London there were many local Chesterfield workers.
S. H. Pitt and H. W. Ibbott.

Note this is a sub-section of Negretti and Zambra


Negretti and Zambra: Some Historical Landmarks.[1]

1818 Enrico Angelo Ludovico (Henry) Negretti Born in Como, Italy The family immigrates to England in 1828, making the journey from Como on foot. Henry Negretti is aged 10.

1822 Joseph Warren Zambra born in Saffron Walden Essex

1836 Henry Negretti becomes journeyman glassblower for Francis Augustus Pizzala at Charles Street, Hatton Garden.

1840 Henry Negretti begins trading probably in conjunction with John Ronketti in Leather Lane possibly No.19. Another address for H.Negretti & Co around this time was 9 Hatton Garden. He also appears to have been in some partnership with Pizzala at these addresses but the records are not clear.

1840 Joseph Zambra is also believed to be in partnership for some time with a Mr.Tagliabue.

1850 April 24th. Partnership established between Henry Negretti and Joseph Zambra at 11 Hatton Garden London. They occupy various premises in London in the ensuing years (see attached list). Their most famous was No.38 Holborn Viaduct, opened by Queen Victoria in November 1869, occupied until destroyed by incendiaries in 1941. They moved to 122 Regent Street, which they had bought from James Newman in 1862 as a second office and occupied that until 1964. The partnership became world famous for meteorological instruments (originally named Philosophical Instruments), photographic, optical, mathematical and scientific apparatus.

1851 They exhibit at The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851 and win the only Gold Medal for Meteorological Instrurments.

They developed the famous Fitzroy Storm Barometer for Vice Admiral Sir Robert Fitzroy R.N. President of the Board of Trade and former Captain of the Beagle in which Charles Darwin sailed. They also developed the Fitzroy Marine Gun Barometer, which did not shatter during gunfire. Numerous other inventions, innovations and improvements were made in the ensuing years and the company’s famous Encyclopaedic Catalogue, originally compiled by Richard Willats, published in several editions over the years, enumerate these. (see following list). Interestingly, the catalogue advises readers to avoid the purchase of “worthless imitations” of the Fitzroy Storm Barometer. Many Fitzroy Storm Barometers were placed at coastal locations by the Duke of Cumberland. Several are still in place today.

Henry Negretti becomes a leader of the Italian community in London and achieves a historic first by bringing a successful private prosecution for murder, thereby ensuring a pardon for an innocent man. He also provides hospitality for Garibaldi during his period in England and is presented with one of Garibaldi’s famous silver topped canes. In association with Mr.Henry Coxwell a pioneering balloonist, Henry Negretti was the first person to attempt aerial photography. In an experiment, they ascended from Sydenham Gas Works to a considerable height and Henry Negretti took several photographs using the wet collodion system. Unfortunately the results were

The Royal Meteorologist James Glaisher was another important associate with Negretti & Zambra and he issued various reports over several years on the inventions and improvements made by them.

1855 Following the rebuilding of Paxton’s Great Exhibition Hall at Sydenham where it is popularly called The Crystal Palace, the company establishes a photographic studio and is appointed official photographer. They are also appointed Opticians and Scientific Instrument Makers to Queen Victoria and Prince Edward, The Prince of Wales.

1859 Richard Willats compiles the first Enyclopaedic Catalogue published in about the September of 1859. Four other editions were published in 1865, 1873, 1879 and 1886. A terse handwritten entry in the 1873 editions notes “21st July 1886 R. Willats resigns”.

1862 The 122 Regent Street premises and effects of J.Newman are purchased.

1869 38 Holborn Viaduct occupied. Queen Victoria officiates at the opening ceremony of the viaduct.

1888 J. W. Zambra retires in the September and M. W. Zambra joined his brother J. C. Zambra and H. P. J. Negretti in the partnership.

1892 J. C. Zambra dies in the September and H. P. J. Negretti and M. W. Zambra carry on in partnership.

1897 Joseph Zambra dies, having outlived his son J. C. Zambra.

1901 Company buys the Barnsbury, Islington premises of Captain Hammersley, an eccentric local telescope and surveying instrument maker.

1909 M. W. Zambra retires and a new partnership is formed between H. P. J. Negretti and his sons H. N. Negretti and P. E. Negretti and M. W. Zambra Junior.

1911 The Company demolishes the Hammersley factory and build their equally famous Half Moon Works located in Half Moon Crescent off Carnegie Street, near to the Caledonian Road in Barnsbury.

1914-18 Company performs much work for Ministry of Munitions during the 1st World War and develops various innovations including early aviation instruments. A catalogue shows the effects of trench warfare with trench periscopes offered for sale.

1919 H. P. J. Negretti dies in January and G. Zambra joins H. N. Negretti, P. E. Negretti and M. W. Zambra Junior in the partnership.

1921 G. Zambra retires and H.N.Negretti, P.E.Negretti and M.W.Zambra continue the partnership.

1930s The company perfects the Mercury-in-Steel System for industrial temperature measurement and control through the innovations of Harold William Ibbott who joins the company from the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. The emphasis begins to shift from Meteorological Instruments to Industrial Instruments. Harold Ibbott is credited with being the first person to add a flashing light to the stroboscope.

1936 Marcus Zambra Junior retires. The Zambra family no longer has involvement in company. (Author's Note: Joseph Zambra does not figure much at all in the available company history and it is likely that Henry Negretti was the more forceful partner. Further, since Mark Zambra Jnr retired from the partnership in 1936, the Zambra connection sadly was not considered worthy of much mention by the time the company's centenary brochure was published in 1950.)

1941-1945 38 Holborn Viaduct is destroyed by incendiaries after the 2 nights of intensive bombing of the City of London by the Luftwaffe on 20th and 21st May 1941. All effects that can be salvaged are moved to 122 Regent Street which now becomes the Head Office. The company occupies a satellite factory in Chesterfield to manufacture Engine Thermometers and Boost Gauges for the Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster - all using Rolls Royce Merlin engines. This was considered a safe area away from London. On leaving Chesterfield after the war the company established a factory at The Grange, Chobham, Surrey for the manufacture of aero engine instruments,

1942 The sons of P. E. Negretti, P. A. Negretti and P. N. Negretti are admitted into partnership.

1945 H. N. Negretti dies.

1946 Negretti & Zambra becomes Private Company for family reasons.

1948 Negretti & Zambra becomes a Limited Company but family own a majority of the shares.

1949 The company buys the Aylesbury Site in Stocklake as a result of the LCC policy for de-centralising London based industry, the intention being eventually to move the complete company to Aylesbury. The site was formerly owned by a Mr. Murad who designed and built his own automobile there. Aylesbury was chosen due to its proximity to both London and the Midlands and London Heathrow Airport. 2nd runner was Crawley New Town.

Post War expansion sees the establishment of Negretti & Zambra (Benelux), in Zeist, Holland and also other overseas offices in South Africa, Canada and Australia.

1950 The Company celebrates its 100th Anniversary. A Centenary Brochure is produced by P.E. (Paul Ernest) Negretti. A glaring error claims that the firms instruments were carried aboard the Beagle that took Charles Darwin on the famous voyage. Since the Beagle sailed in 1836, 14 years before the founding of the company this was an impossible claim. It appears that no one dared mention this to PEN.

1949-56 The company moves some employees to existing buildings on the Stocklake site and also builds a housing estate for employees moving from London. Three streets are named following a staff competition - Barnsbury Avenue, Como Road and Henry Road. A new Assembly Building is completed in 1956 and included marble mosaic flooring imported from Henry Negretti's birthplace Como. Pneumatic Controllers and Electrical Instruments and Electrical Temperature Sensors are the first products to be made on the site. A few years pass before the next phase begins.

1954 P. E. Negretti dies. S. H. Pitt and H. W. Ibbot the first non-family members are appointed to the board. Stuart Pitt is the Company Solicitor and Harold Ibbott is promoted by way of recognition for all of the innovations and improvement to the company’s industrial product range.

1963 LCC funds Aylesbury Borough Council towards the building of council houses some of which are to accommodate the remainder of employees moving from London. The two major estates are Elmhurst and Quarrendon.

1964 Various staff complete the second phase move to Aylesbury from Half Moon Works and 122 Regent Street (only 6 staff move from Regent Street). Staff are located in temporary offices until a new Head Office Block is completed fronting Stocklake. It features a giant thermometer on the front wall. The building is formally opened by Sir Spencer Summers, MP for Aylesbury.

1966 All of the company's major operations finally leave London and the company’s other factory at Chobham in Surrey which manufactured Aero Engine Instruments. The exception are Meteorological Instruments which were moved to the Gordon House Road, Kentish Town premises of the old Wilson,Warden & Co. Peripheral companies such as the spectacle frame makers S.C.Howard are disposed of. Cost of move estimated a £1M with subsequent damage to profits. On recommendation of consultants, Peter Noel Negretti stands down as Managing Director and hands over to Jeff Samson former MD of his family food business. Half Moon Works is due for demolishing, 122 Regent Street is closed and temporary offices for remaining staff are located across the road at 133. The famous retail shop at 122 Regent Street is relocated to 15 New Bond Street W1 and due to a legal technicality the Opticians business is transferred to 15C Clifford Street W1.

1967 Company acquires Mechanism of Croydon who specialise in Aircraft Instrumentation and Williamson Manufacturing Co. of Willesden who make Aerial Cameras and Film Processing Equipment and their odd subsidiary company Willesden Engineering a car body repair shop. The Negretti & Zambra Group is formed. Company now employs over 1000 with agents all over the world. The last of the Meteorological Instruments will eventually be transferred from Kentish Town to the Williamson factory.

1968 Approx. Jeff Samson sells the whole of the Negretti Stocklake site to Aylesbury Borough Council and leases it back. The original site occupied a piece of land from Askey’s boundary to Rayner’s Garage in Stocklake and from the frontage on Stocklake right back to the Aylesbury arm of the Grand Union Canal. The company's prestige offices opened in 1964 fronting Stocklake are sub-leased to Bucks County Council as an overflow from Fred's Fort. N&Z staff who occupy this building are fitted in all around the various other buildings on the site. Several rounds of redundancies begin.

1970 Having reduced the company's workforce from over 1000 employees in 1964 by at least 400, Jeff Samson leaves, eventually to become CE of Hotpoint. Silas Fletcher is appointed CEO. His claims to have been a WW2 pilot and involvement with the design of the Land Rover are somewhat tenuous.

1971 John Odle of Williamsons becomes Chairman of Negretti & Zambra Group after Paul Anthony (Tony) Negretti stands down. Negretti Family no longer have executive control of the company founded by their Great Grandfather.

1972 Bucks County Council quits the front building and Negretti Staff re-occupy it

1974 The company launches MPC80, the first all-British programmable process control system at the newly opened National Exhibition Centre.

1978 National Enterprise Board buys 30% of the company. There is a boardroom row with the ICFC who took earlier stake in the 1970s together with ECI because they were not approached.

The effects of Negretti & Zambra Aylesbury Aero Engine Instrument Division together with 100 employees are transferred to the control of the former Mechanism Co. now renamed Negretti & Zambra Aviation Ltd. The Negretti & Zambra Industrial Instrument Company is down to under 500 employees.

1979 AUEW goes on strike for 21% pay rise. The Company pays up.

1980 Negretti & Zambra sell all of their traditional industrial instrument range to the British Rototherm Company of South Wales for an estimated knock-down price of £1.5M and make over 400 employees redundant. Company is left to sell Microprocessor Systems and Diesel Engine Thermometers and Thermocouples only. Only 80 staff remain. The Company adopts the name Negretti Automation although remaining officially Negretti & Zambra Ltd.

All of the buildings except those occupied by staff working for Negretti Aviation are vacated and Negretti Automation moves all remaining staff and manufacturing into the front building.

1981 Newly founded investment group, Western Scientific Instruments buy Negretti & Zambra Group (i.e. both Industrial side and Aviation side) for £8M. Negretti Family, NEB and ICFC all sell. Negretti Family no longer has any part in the company. Over next few years all of the old buildings are demolished and a property developer builds Aylesbury Vale Industrial Park. Negretti Aviation take over Units 1 & 16 and Negretti Automation remain in the original front building.

1982 Western Scientific acquire for Negretti Automation the Industrial Weighing Division of Fisher Controls which Fishers had acquired from GEC Elliott which was part of the old Elliott Bothers.

1985 Western Scientific sells Negretti & Zambra Group to Meggitt PLC for £16M. Meggitt was a machine tool company purchased by Ken Coates and Kevin McCorkhill, former directors of Flight Refuelling of Wimbourne. Their avowed intention is to form an aerospace conglomerate. The Aviation side of Negretti is now big business and the original Negretti & Zambra Industrial Instrument makers, now officially renamed Negretti Automation Ltd. is reduced to approximately 70 employees. Meggitt Executives admit that they did not realise that Negretti Automation existed. They were only interested in the Aviation business.

1985 Company acquires The Rubber & Polymer Test products of SPRI (Sondes Place Research Institute) making “Mooney Viscometers” and other equipment and then Rotheroe & Mitchell Ltd. of Ruislip who manufacture Air Sampling Equipment for Health & Safety at Work purposes. Neither product ranges seem particularly relevant to the activities of Negretti Automation’s Process Control & Weighing business.

1992 After several unsuccessful attempts to convince Meggitt to invest in the Industrial business it is decided that Meggitt will agree to sell Negretti Automation to its directors plus additional investment by a Holding Company Tuncove Ltd. The books show a price of £430,000. Part of the arrangement meant that the company was able to move from its expensive site in Stocklake to two cheaper units in Bicester Road, Aylesbury.

1993 Meggitt finally move all of the old Aviation business to its new premises in Fareham, Hants. Only one employee is transferred, all of the rest are made redundant. Following problems with servicing MOD orders due to the move and the loss of key employees, Meggitt changes the name Negretti Aviation to Meggitt Avionics. Negretti Automation is now the only company left in UK bearing the old name. Due to the deal with Meggitt it may even have to drop this eventually. It now employs approximately 50 people.

Jan 1997 Negretti Automation sells remnants of Diesel Engine Indicator and Thermocouple Business to The Brearley Group of Sheffield severing links with last of traditional range

Nov 1997 Negretti Automation sells MPC and Software Business to two employees who register new Company - Negretti Systems. Five other employees move over to new company. This severs links with last of the original Negretti products, apart from Industrial Weighing business, which only goes back to the purchase from Fisher Controls in 1982. Negretti Automation now employs less than 35 people. Shortly after, the Load Cell part of the Weighing business is sold to Veccer. Also part of the remaining Rubber and Polymer Test Equipment is sold off.

July 1999 – Negretti Automation sells Environmental Monitoring business to The Munro Group of Woodford Green, Essex for an estimated price of £450,000. Munro is an old established company manufacturing meteorological instruments much like the old Negretti & Zambra. Two persons transfer under TUPE one of whom had worked for Negretti & Zambra for 43 years.

April 2000 – Negretti Automation applies for a CVA (Company Voluntary Agreement) with debts of £1.5M of which £445K is owed to the pension fund. Major creditors refuse to accept CVA and company goes into liquidation, however, the name is changed to Zambra Ltd a few days before liquidation and a new company formed with the same name, Negretti Automation Ltd., thus the name Negretti Automation is apparently still free to trade without a debt showing. Liquidator sells remnants of the weighing business to Procon Engineering/Defiant for undisclosed sum. To all extents and purposes Negretti ceases to exist after 150 years. A search of the internet reveals that the name Negretti Automation is now associated with Procon. The Pension fund was wound up in severe deficit and retiring employees are left with barely a third of their entitlement. A once proud company submerges to oblivion.

May 2009 – Negretti Systems – formed in 1997 is forced to call in the receiver. Thus the name Negretti finally ceases to be used as a trading name anywhere since 24th April 1850 apart for the tenuous connection with Procon.

Inventions and Improvements

Listed by Negretti & Zambra in their Encyclopaedic Catalogues from 1864, 1873 and 1886 with additions by M. W. Zambra Jnr. up to 1911.

1. Enamelling the backs of glass thermometers rendering them more readable and thus permitting the glass tube to have a much finer bore with finer dividing. This improvement circa 1862 claimed to make thermometers twenty times more sensitive

2. Patent Self Registering Maximum Thermometer.

3. The application of Porcelain and Enamelled White Glass to Barometers and Thermometers

4. The Patent Mercurial Minimum Thermometer.

5. Patent Self Registering Maximum Thermometer, specially arranged for obtaining underground temperatures in Mines, Springs and for Marine purposes and Solar Observations.

6. Fitzroy’s Gun Barometer specially commissioned by Vice Admiral Sir Robert Fitzroy R.N. The Barometer with special mounts to avoid damage during gunfire.

7. Fitzroy’s Storm or Life Boat Service Barometer.

8. Pocket and Watch sized Aneroid Barometers. The first Pocket Aneroid was produced by Negretti & Zambra for the late Admiral Fitzroy.

9. The Double Bulb Deep Sea Thermometer, first constructed and supplied to Her Majesty’s Navy by Negretti & Zambra in 1862.

10. Improved Standard Mercurial Deep-Sea Thermometers, the only Instrument capable of giving correct temperatures of the bottom or any intermediate depth of the sea.

11. Negretti & Zambra’s Patent Strengthened Glass Hydrometer.

12. A Portable form of the Open Range Glycerine Barometer.

13. Self Recording Aneroid Barometers with various improvements.

14. Improved Self-Recording Barographs, Thermographs, Hygrometers.

15. Negretti & Zambra’s Patent Apparatus for recording Hourly Temperatures.

16. Recording Anemometers, Electrical. Various arrangements constructed by Negretti & Zambra.

17. Negretti & Zambra Recording Rain Gauge on the suggestion of Mr.G.Symons.

18. A Hyetograph

19. Anemo Biagraph 1910

20. Wind Direction Recorder.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. David Day. Mon 11/06/2018