Truly Enlightened

After more than 80 years, the Anglepoise Lamp remains a British design classic: a familiar and much-loved object whose perfect combination of form and function gives it a universal appeal.

For us, one of the best bits of a Pixar movie is the opening sequence. You’ve probably seen it: an animated lamp bounces up and down, squeaking and chuckling to itself, on the letter ‘i’ in the company name, until it flattens it. The lamp swivels its head briefly, and somewhat sheepishly, towards the audience, then flicks itself off. It’s a brilliant piece of work, giving real character and personality to a familiar but otherwise inanimate object.

The object in question is, of course, an Anglepoise lamp. And it’s revealing that the world’s most technologically advanced animation studio should choose a humble domestic appliance dating back more than 80 years as one of its most recognised characters. What’s more, the origins of the Anglepoise lie a long way from the glitz and glamour of Silicon Valley.

In fact, it was invented in a garden shed in Bath, by British industrial engineer George Carwardine. A specialist in vehicle suspension systems, Carwardine was fascinated by springs, cranks and levers, and developed a theoretical concept that used them to balance weights. His model depended on special ‘constant-tension’ springs, made exclusively by Herbert Terry & Sons in Redditch, a town known mainly for producing needles, fishing tackle and (another favourite design icon of ours) Royal Enfield motorcycles.

Carwardine realised that, through his research, he had inadvertently created the ideal mechanism for a work lamp. Its articulated design gave it amazing freedom of movement, while the constant-tension springs ensured it was always in perfect balance. In 1932 he filed a patent, and a year later launched his first four-spring lamp these details. It caused a sensation. Demand rapidly overwhelmed Carwardine’s limited supply, and in 1934, he licensed the design to Terry & Sons, who launched volume production under the Anglepoise name.

They quickly identified that the four-spring design, while perfect for workshops and drawing offices, was a bit too ‘industrial’ for home use. In 1935, they introduced a three-spring lamp, known as the Original 1227 – a design that, with only slight refinements, has remained in continuous production ever since. And although Anglepoise is a registered trademark, it’s become a generic term for everything that’s followed it, like ‘Hoover’ for ‘vacuum cleaner’ – which is surely one of the greatest accolades any design can receive.

There have been many variants over the years, for use everywhere from operating theatres to military aircraft. (A navigator’s Anglepoise was found in the wreckage of a World War Two Wellington bomber raised from Loch Ness in the 1980s. It still worked.) But the Original 1227, as brought to life by Pixar, is still the definitive article.

For discerning creatives like us, the Anglepoise remains a must-have item; a totem of our craft – so much so, we recently contributed to The Design Museum’s ‘adopt-an-object’ fund to help it acquire one for its collection.

We have a deep affection for it, and a real respect for it as an iconic piece of British design. Rather like the bicycle, which we’ve discussed elsewhere in these pages, its appeal lies in its simplicity, purity and sense of purpose – and the fact that it was basically ‘right first time’ and has proved essentially beyond improvement since it first appeared. And that’s surely the kind of work we all aspire to create.

  • Anglepoise Lamp
  • George Carwardine
  • Pixar logo