In the Spotlight | Anglepoise

The unique spring system that gave rise to the icon Anglepoise lamp was invented 80 years ago this year. Yvonne Courtney sheds light on the story behind the bright British brand.

For design-led businesses, innovation is about more than simply bringing out new products, and it is a credit to Anglepoise that it continues to stand out in today’s competitive lighting market. It hasn’t always been an easy ride. But, for decades, the unassuming lamps have been working consistently hard, casting their yellow glow over many a creative’s desk or technician’s bench.

Synonymous with precision engineering and timeless design, the Anglepoise lamp was, in fact, created by accident. British car designer George Carwardine was always testing springs for use in suspension systems. In 1932 he developed an “equipoising” system of four springs that could hold itself rigid when moved into different positions. This system then became the key component in ultra-practical “task lights” he devised for the engineers in his own workshop.

As interest and demand grew, Carwardine licensed Redditch manufacturer Herbert Terry & Sons (whose London office was in EC1) to produce his industrial design. The first model, the four-spring 1208, came out in 1934. It proved so popular that a domestic version, the three-spring 1227, was launched the following year. Its advertising campaign claimed that a 25 watt bulb in an Anglepoise was as efficient as a 60 watt bulb in an alternative light.

Further models ensued (including the revised 1227 of 1939, which is considered to be “the classic”) and production continued through the decades. When war was declared, the Telegraph told its readers that the Anglepoise made the “ideal black-out lamp”. The BBC equipped its offices with Anglepoises – although in 1949 it issued a memo to staff forbidding their use unless other lights in the room were also on. This was down to a belief that working in a confined space with only the light from a low-wattage lamp would nurture furtive ideas and produce degenerate material.

By the 1990s, Anglepoise was under increasing pressure from cheaper imports. By 2001, the company, now run by fifth-generation father and son John and Simon Terry, realised something drastic had to be done. Looking through the archives, Simon came across a quote from the Eighties from legendary designer Kenneth Grange: “The Anglepoise is a minor miracle of balance – a quality in life that we do not value as we should.” Grange was immediately appointed design director and tasked with overhauling the company. Key to this was rejuvenating some of the original models.

Grange’s magic has ensured the continued success of the brand, which is being celebrated locally this May as part of Clerkenwell Design Week. For the festival, it is bringing its range to the Farmiloe Building, where it will also be launching new models. Tried and tested for what is now nearly a century, the Anglepoise lamp has proved hard to beat, making it a true design icon.

Yvonne Courtney is a design consultant, media broker and writer. Email her at [email protected]