Chelmsford Museum’s new Bright Sparks Exhibition gives a fascinating insight into the achievements of the late 19th century industrial pioneers Guglielmo Marconi, R.E.B.Crompton and the Hoffmann Manufacturing Company who created global industries in the town. New hands-on exhibits vividly demonstrate the scientific principles involved. These inventors and technology pioneers put Chelmsford on the world map as the birthplace of radio telecommunications, electrical engineering and precision bearing manufacture. Crompton, established 1878, pioneered electric street lighting and Marconi opened the world’s first radio factory here in 1899. Both firms expanded rapidly into new factories in the early 20th century. Hoffmans constructed the UK’s first precision ball bearing factory in Chelmsford in 1898.
Chelmsford had remained an agricultural market town until 1797, when the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation opened bringing cheap coal and iron to the town. A final transformation came in 1843 with the construction of the Eastern Counties Railway, one of the world’s first mainline railways. With a rapidly-developing engineering tradition, Chelmsford was the location of choice for the new industrialists who emerged in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
Three railway viaducts dating from 1843 provide a dramatic background to Chelmsford’s industrial tradition.