Thorn Lighting

Thorn Lighting Ltd, a subsidiary of the Austrian company Zumtobel Group, is a global supplier of both outdoor and indoor luminaires and integrated controls.

Thorn Lighting Ltd.
Founded29 March 1928[1]
FounderSir Jules Thorn
Area served
ProductsProfessional luminaires and controls
Revenue€869 million EUR (£728.3 million GBP) (2012)[2]
Number of employees
7,814 (Zumtobel Group)[2]
ParentZumtobel Group

Thorn was founded when Sir Jules Thorn started The Electric Lamp Service Company Ltd, in 1928, dealing in incandescent filament lamps. In 1936, renamed Thorn Electrical Industries Ltd, the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange. Continuous post-war expansion followed and the organisation seized a variety of lighting, engineering and consumer electronics businesses, merging with EMI in 1979 to create Thorn EMI, which itself demerged in the mid-1990s.

In 1994, following a leveraged management buy-out, Thorn Lighting Ltd floated on the London Stock Exchange as TLG plc (the Thorn Lighting Group) until it was acquired by Wassall plc four years later. In 2000, Wassall plc was purchased in order to merge TLG with the luminaire business of the Zumtobel Group, an acquisition financed with the assistance of private equity firm KKR who subsequently reduced its position. Thorn is now fully owned by the Zumtobel Group.


Birth of the companyEdit

The Thorn brand started life as the Electric Lamp Service Company Limited, established by Sir Jules Thorn on 29 March 1928, importing incandescent filament lamps and radio valves from the continent. Faced with increased import duties,[3] introduced to aid British manufacturing, Jules Thorn bought his first lighting factory, the Atlas Lamp Works Ltd in Edmonton, north London in 1932. In 1936 the company went public as Thorn Electrical Industries.

1940s and 1950sEdit

The lamp businesses prospered until 1939 when production was geared to military needs. When war broke out a second lamp site, run by the Vale Royal Electric Lamp Company, was bought in nearby Tottenham - in case Edmonton was bombed.

When the war ended, Jules Thorn continued expansion through investing in new plants, partnerships and acquisitions, including the opening of an incandescent lamp operation in Merthyr Tydfil,[4][5] South Wales in 1947; a technology transfer with Sylvania Electric Products Inc. to mass-produce tubular fluorescent lamps in Enfield, north London and taking over 51% of Ekco-Ensign Electric (Ekco) in 1950, which added a further incandescent lamp factory – in Preston,[6] Lancashire.

In 1951, Thorn took over Smart & Brown (Engineers) Ltd's luminaire factory at Spennymoor,[7] near Durham. In the mid-1950s specialist incandescent lamp factories were opened in Buckie,[8][9] Scotland and in Wimbledon, London (the Omega Electric Lamp Works Ltd).[10]

Between 1952 and 1964 Thorn established additional overseas connections, including a controlling interest in an Italian lamp manufacturer (SIVI Illuminazione SpA) and plants in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, followed by agencies in the Middle East and Hong Kong, the latter with Jardine Pacific.

In September 1959 a new London-based HQ was opened. Thorn House, designed by Sir Basil Spence, was at the time England's tallest office block.


In 1964, driven by the need to compete more effectively in world markets, Thorn merged its lighting interests with those of Associated Electrical Industries (AEI)[11] to form British Lighting Industries Ltd,[12] taking a controlling 65% share (the remaining 35% being acquired three years later). AEI Lamp and Lighting brought to the BLI group three significant lighting interests: The British Thompson-Houston Co Ltd (BTH) which owned major factories, especially at Leicester[13] in the East Midlands of England (producing discharge lamps) and in Hereford, near the Welsh border (making luminaires), and sold lamps under the ‘Mazda’ brand;[14] the Metropolitan-Vickers Electric Co Ltd (MV) which drew supplies from the BTH factories, selling them under the 'Metrovick' brand; and the Edison Swan Electric Co. Ltd (Ediswan), which had recently transferred its factory at Ponders End[15] and ‘Royal Ediswan’ brand over to BTH.

Within a year of its formation BLI reorganised - consolidating laboratories, factories, and selling functions - to operate under just three main brands: Atlas, Mazda and Ekco (the remaining 49% interest in Ekco-Ensign being secured in 1966). Once complete, in 1969, the BLI name was changed to Thorn Lighting Ltd and subsequently the Ekco and Atlas brand names were replaced by the Thorn name.

Substantial export growth followed, quickly earning a Queen's Award for Export Achievement, in 1968, and five years later Romford Export Centre opened, stocking over 10,000 items.

1970s and 1980sEdit

Indeed, by 1976 over 50% of sales were from outside the United Kingdom. 1979 saw Thorn acquire Gebr Kaiser GmbH & Co. Leuchten K.G, a West German manufacturer of lighting fittings, and two years later close the Tottenham lamp factory.

In 1987 the purchase of the Jarnkonst group of Nordic light fitting companies and closure of the Buckie lamp factory signalled a new drive by parent Thorn EMI to trade an export and ‘colonies’ mentality for a multi-cultural, international outlook, one that took account of the forthcoming Single European Act. Gaining critical mass in lighting fixtures – defined as 10% market share in any one county – was identified as a priority.

In 1988 Thorn EMI bought the French group Holophane to gain access to its luminaire subsidiary, Europhane. The Jardine relationship in Asia was developed into an 18-year joint-venture, and the lighting brands of Sydney-based Howard Smith were acquired.


On 14 November 1990, Thorn announced that it had agreed to sell its principal light source interests to GE of the US. Under the agreement, GE acquired the lamp plants at Enfield, Leicester[16] and Wimbledon, as well as Thorn's 51% in SIVI Illuminazione in Italy and 100% holding in Gluhlampenfabrik Jahn, a small specialist manufacturer in Germany. Thorn subsequently closed its Merthyr Tydfil lamp factory, consolidated its UK distribution centres and sold its South African business. In 1991, Thorn won Management Today's Business in Europe Award.[17]

Using Hong Kong as a platform, the company entered Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea and Japan, while additional offices and agents were established in Eastern Europe. In 1992, placing staff in Jardine offices throughout mainland China secured more projects[18] (at £35m Chek Lap Kok airport became, and remains today, Thorn's largest ever contract) and laid the groundwork for local manufacturing. The Guangzhou fluorescent fittings factory opened in 1996 and Tianjin followed a year later, making road and tunnel luminaires. That same year, an interest in Thorn India was established. European activities centred on the purchase of Jakobsson in Denmark.

On-going consolidation in the late 1990s saw the closure of the Hereford factory and luminaire production transfer from the Kaiser Leuchten factory to other sites.


The new millennium marked a new beginning as the Zumtobel Group invested heavily in Thorn, particularly in technological innovation, and consolidating the former regionally structured production operations of Zumtobel and Thorn into a single worldwide supply chain. It also sought organic growth in clearly defined regions and market sectors.[citation needed]

In 2006, the Zumtobel Group sold Thorn's airfield ground lighting activities (Thorn AFL) to the Swedish airport specialist Safegate,[19] and two years later merged two former luminaire production facilities to form a new plant at Wetherill Park, New South Wales, near Sydney.

In 2009, Thorn invested in a new factory, laboratory and training and exhibition complex (the Thorn Academy of Light) in Spennymoor.[20] The Distribution Centre at the former site nearby was retained. The plant was named UK Factory of the Year for 2009.[21] This year also saw Thorn and Hess AG of Germany enter into a long-term sales partnership for outdoor lighting products.[22] Initially, activity centred on Germany, where Hess’ subsidiary, Vulkan, marketed Thorn's range, but further agreements were reached in 2011, extending Thorn rights to Hess products in France, East and Southeast Europe, and the UK and Ireland.

Product innovation timelineEdit

Year Innovation
1948 Become the first British lighting company to mass-produce fluorescent tubes. One of the first installations of Atlas fluorescent lamps was in the Westminster City Library,[23] London, opened in July.
1952 Chief Chemist Dr Peter Ranby developed a new range of phosphors which led to the introduction of the White “3500K” lamp with a colour appearance midway between daylight and warm white.
1954 Introduced its flagship product, the Atlas Popular Pack – the first mass-produced fitting to be sold complete with its tube as a single package.
1955 Launched the Alpha One lantern,[24] the first hermetically sealed and injection moulded optical system for road lighting. Designer: Richard Stevens.[25]
1957 Introduced a new form of entertainment at Woburn Abbey, the Atlas Aurama[26] system. This advanced Son et Lumiere show was controlled by electronic dimming.
1962 Introduced the VASI (visual approach slope indicator), developed in conjunction with the Royal Aircraft Establishment, to aid aircraft landing.
1963 Developed the electroluminescent Image Retaining Panel[27] for X-ray screens and radar scanning.
1964 Introduced Q-File, the electronic lighting control system, designed in conjunction with the BBC, to improve theatre and TV lighting.
1965 Mass-produced Flashcubes for photography, developed in association with Sylvania and Kodak.
1967 Launched the first twin-filament tungsten halogen car headlamp, allowing drivers to use either full beam or dipped lights (given an AA National Motoring Award for road safety) and manufactured high pressure sodium lamps. Supplied lighting for Britain's new motorways, a section of the M4 near Heathrow with 140 W SLI/H lamps in Alpha 6 lanterns.
1970 Developed Magicube X with Kodak, a photographic flash cube not requiring a battery and the CSI (compact source iodide) lamp for floodlighting, outside filming and studio work.
1972 Became the first lighting company to win the Queen's Award to Industry for Technical Innovation (developing halogen lamps). Also the first manufacturer to offer a complete integrated lighting, heating and ventilation system with the introduction of ‘Arena’ – a new concept in commercial architecture.
1976 Introduced the 70 W high pressure sodium lamp.
1981 Launched two major improvements in fluorescent lighting: an energy saving replacement for the ordinary light bulb (the 2D compact fluorescent lamp) and the high frequency electronic ballast (exhibited at Hanover Fair, Germany).
1984 Developed the Haloheat cooker hob with halogen heat lamps.
1987 Manufactured a range of low wattage single ended metal halide and dichroic tungsten halogen lamps and fittings.
1988 Developed the C-VAS lighting management system for offices.
1989 The Aria spotlight and Modulight fluorescent win Die gute Industrieform design awards at the Hannover Fair, Germany.
1991 Launched Sensa, the first independent, intelligent lighting management fitting for offices.
2000 The Sensa 2 intelligent luminaire was voted a Millennium Product by the Design Council.
2006 Introduced the Orus low-level road lantern, which won an NICEIC award for best electrical product innovation.[28]
2010 The StyLED road lantern won a “Label del’Observeur du design 11” award[29] given by the French Agency for the Promotion of Industrial Creation (APIC) and the new PopPack was voted Innovative Lighting Product of the Year by Electrical Times.[30] Thorn, together with Cambridge Display Technology and Durham University, won a Technology & Innovation Award,[31] for addressing fundamental issues over the performance and production of light emitting polymers.


  1. ^ "THORN Lighting [HISTORY]". Thorn Lighting Ltd. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  2. ^ a b "Annual Financial Report 2010/11" (PDF). Zumtobel Group. 27 June 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  3. ^ Rubython, Tom (April 1999). "Sir Jules Thorn". Business Age.
  4. ^ "Historical Photographs of Thorn Electrical Industries Ltd. Merthyr Tydfil". Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  5. ^ " - Factory Profiles - Merthyr Tydfil". Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  6. ^ " - Factory Profiles - Preston, Kent Street". Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  7. ^ "History of Spennymoor". Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  8. ^ Crawford, John; Stewart, Ron (2008). "The Bulb Factory": The Light of our Lives: The story of Thorn Lighting Works, Buckie 1956-1987. Buckie: BPR Publishers. ISBN 0-9556241-2-6.
  9. ^ " - Factory Profiles - Buckie". Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  10. ^ " - Factory Profiles - Rodney". Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  11. ^ The Monopolies Commission (2 December 1968). "Electric lamps: second report on the supply of electric lamps" (PDF). HMSO. pp. 237–240. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  12. ^ "In Our Own Light - British Lighting Industries". c. 1960s. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  13. ^ " - Factory Profiles - Leicester". Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  14. ^ "Lighting to Measure (Mazda UK bulb ad)". c. 1950s. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  15. ^ " - Factory Profiles - Ponders End". Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  16. ^ "Lights finally dim as iconic Thorn factory bites the dust". 11 May 2011. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  17. ^ "UK: Business in Europe Awards 1991". Management Today. 1 January 1991. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  18. ^ Ma, Adela (26 June 1995). "Thorn Lighting plans three joint ventures for mainland". South China Morning Post.
  19. ^ "Zumtobel Group sells Thorn Airfield Lighting to the Safegate Group". Zumtobel Group. 3 November 2006. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  20. ^ "Opening of £28m lighting factory". BBC News. 6 February 2009. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  21. ^ "Lighting firm crowned Britain's Best Factory". Works Management. 18 September 2009. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  22. ^ "Vulkan to handle sales of Thorn outdoor lighting products in Germany". Zumtobel Group. 22 June 2009. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  23. ^ "RIBA Library Photographs Collection". Westminster City Lending Library. 1948. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  24. ^ "Atlas Catalogue: Alpha One Sodium Lantern". c. 1965. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  25. ^ "Obituary: Richard Stevens". The Independent. 29 May 1997. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  26. ^ "The Story of Woburn". Gramophone magazine. 29 September 1957. p. 16. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  27. ^ Ardran, G. M.; Crooks, H. E.; Ranby, P. W. (1 December 1963). "The Thorn Electroluminescent Image Retaining Panel: its X-ray Response with Particular Reference to Medical Radiology". British Journal of Radiology. 36 (432): 927–931. doi:10.1259/0007-1285-36-432-927.
  28. ^ "Thorn clears up at NICEIC awards". 2006. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  29. ^ "StyLED, luminaire d'éclairage routier à technologie LED". APCI. 2010. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  30. ^ "Electrical Industry winners announced". Electrical Times. 22 October 2010. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  31. ^ "Technology and Innovation award winners revealed". The Engineer. 2010. Retrieved 22 February 2012.