A BRIEF HISTORY OF BROOKES AND GATEHOUSE LTD.

Major R.N. Gatehouse, founder of the electronics firm Brookes and Gatehouse Ltd., designers and makers of navigational equipment, was born in Reading on 19th May 1918, the son of Brigadier Gatehouse. As a boy he was fascinated by electronics, worked first for Marconi, and later served as a radio officer on South American shipping routes. He was at sea when war broke out, but he served in the Royal Artillery engaged in perfecting radar. In 1955, he left the Army to form a partnership with Ronald Brookes to develop and manufacture a new radio direction-finder for accurate navigation. He was interested in flying, held a pilot’s licence, and enjoyed sailing small yachts. He took part in the Junior Offshore Group races and his interest in navigation developed from racing and cruising the yacht’Electron’.

He became a fellow of the Institute of Navigation and was awarded their gold medal in 1975 for his outstanding contributions to the improvement of small craft navigation. Not long before he died, he kindly prepared the following notes on the history of the Company, which are set out as he wrote them.

1955 During the first year of its life the Brookes and Gatehouse partnership operated rented accommodation at Selsey in Sussex. Points of particular interest were the location of Company’s premises right on the tip of Selsey Bill with an unobstructed view over the water of the Nab Tower. This was an ideal situation for testing the accuracy of the Heron DF aerial during is development, taking advantage of the radio beacon installed on the Nab. The Company designed and built some special short-wave versions of the Heron for use by Dr Vivian Fuchs trans-antarctic expedition. These enabled sledging parties to home in on to Base. Production of the standard long-wave marine Heron was started in February 1955.

The partnership became incorporated as a Limited Company in 1956, shortly after having moved to Shirley Holms, near Lymington. Here the ‘Homer’ receiver was developed; reputedly, the first transistorised DF set to appear for sale on the world’s marine market.

1957 The Company moved to an ancient building, once believed to have been a small village or “Dame’s” school in the garden of the Gatehouse’s home at 5 Captain’s Row, Lymington. Richard and Penelope Gatehouse were joined by a cousin, Major Peter Bailward, who also had recently retired from the Army. The production of the Homer receiver was started.

1958 The Hecta echo sounder went into production. This was the first transistorised echo sounder to appear on the market and, as with Homer, it was powered by four miniature torch battery cells. Both instruments were housed in the same grey nylon-coated metal case, which afforded complete protection against moisture and spray. The bulk of the production work was carried out by a “cottage industry”, largely comprising friends scattered about the Southern Counties and working in their spare time. The majority were already skilled craftsmen and craftswomen who required no training in electronics assembly technique.

1960 The Hermes speedometer went to production. This was novel at the time in that it used a diminutive nylon impeller driven by the water flow beneath the hull and could be withdrawn into the hull for cleaning. Another retired Army friend, Lt. Col. John N W Hearn joined the Company to look after production and sales, and in the autumn of 1960, the Company moved into comparatively spacious premises in Bath Road, Lymington. The building resembled an aircraft hangar and was said to have been built in the 1930s by Messrs. Walls for use as an ice-cream storage depot, Offices and workshops were built on the 3000 sq. ft of floor space by stages as the business expanded. The “cottage industry” continued to play an important role.

1963 The Harrier combined log and speedometer went into production. This used the same little nylon impeller as Hermes and was housed in the same grey metal case as Homer and Hecta. As with other instruments it was powered by four miniature
torch cells. Harrier proved to be the most popular instrument manufactured by the Company. John Hearn joined the board. The staff at that time numbered about 20. There followed a period of consolidation and the up-dating of designs to take advantage of the silicon transistor, which has many advantages over the germanium type. Another floor was built inside the factory, literally by raising the roof, and this had to be done without
interfering with the business of the company! Half an acre of land immediately to the rear of the building was bought for further expansion.

1965 A subsidiary company, Brookes and Gatehouse Inc., was established at Larchmont New York for marketing and servicing the Company’s products in the USA.

1966 Gypsy Moth IV was fully equipped with Brookes and Gatehouse’s instruments for Francis (later Sir Francis) Chichester’s single-handed circumnavigation. These are on permanent exhibition at the Science Museum, London.

1968 The Hestia electronic course indicator went to production. This was a form of transmitting compass in which the navigator dialled the desired heading and the helmsman simply had to steer the boat in such a way as to keep the pointer of a meter in its upright or vertical position. It incorporated an off-course alarm that enabled the skipper to take the helmsman to task if ever he should take ‘forty winks’ and allow the boat to wander!

1970 Donald J. Mudie joined the board. A house called ‘Four Shells’ in Queen Katherine Road was purchased for the Accounts Department. The garden of this house bordered on to the Company’s Bath Road property so that the site now had entrances in both roads.

1971 Production of the Hadrian distance-off-course computer began. Hadrian accepted data from the Hestia compass and the Harrier log and displayed the distance by which the boat had wandered from the specified track due to errors in steering. From this data, and the distance run from Harrier, it is possible for the navigator at any time to plot the boat’s DR position. Hadrian was probably the world’s first marine DR computer. A new stores building of 3200 sq. ft was constructed and in the same year, a machine shop of 3500 sq. ft was purchased as a going concern. This is near the railway station in Waterloo Road, Lymington.

1972 Production of the Horatio sailing performance computer began. The development of Horatio, which was carried out in collaboration with Southampton University, took several years to complete and was believed to be the first instrument of its kind to be manufactured commercially. As with the Hadrian, its use while racing under RORC rules was banned by a special regulation.

1975 The Halcyon electronic compass went to production. It was probably the first compass ever designed that sensed the magnetic field of the earth directly, without having to make use of a pivoted magnet system.

1978 Commander J.R.C. Turner joined the board of Brookes & Gatehouse Ltd. as technical director, on his return to the UK having held the post of Executive vice-president of Brookes & Gatehouse Inc. for three years. In July, Unitech Ltd., a public company purchased the Brookes & Gatehouse Group. Messrs. P.A.M. Curry, Chairman of Unitech, and P.J. Price, Group Executive, joined the board. At this time, the strength of the Company had risen to just over 100.

1979 In January the 200 metres range Hecta echo sounder went to production. This instrument provided a digital display on the instrument case and an analogue display for use in the cockpit. In May Messrs A.C.P. Gale, C.C. Kirkman, and P.S. Thomas were appointed to the board. Richard Gatehouse resigned as Chairman and Managing Director, and was appointed President. P.J. Price was appointed Chairman and J.R.C. Turner was appointed Managing Director. J.N.W. Hearn became Deputy Managing Director.

1980 In January, the Hercules multi-function data computer was demonstrated at the London Boat Show. Using a microprocessor, an LSI chip and other up-to-the-minute technology, the arrival in the market of Hercules was a major milepost in the history of the Company.

1981 The firm was awarded a Design Council Award for their Hercules electronic data system, which introduced computers to every-day boating.

1982 The Company received a second Design Council Award, this time for the Homer 5 marine radio receiver. This was the first time ever that a marine electronics firm had received two awards. Prince Phillip presented the latter award at a ceremony in London only hours before the death of Major Gatehouse on 28th April 1982, at the age of 63. In his obituary in the Daily Telegraph the following day, he was described as “a navigational pioneer whose inventions over the past 25 years revolutionised small boat sailing”. As a navigator, one could hardly have had a finer epitaph than that.

1983 B&G accepted their first major order for a non-marine product. This followed receipt of a development contract for an Energy Management system for the monitoring and control of heating and ventilating systems in large buildings. Many systems were installed and a programme of development continued.

1984 After several years of intensive research and development the Company launched Sonic Speed, a new concept in water speed measurement, having no moving parts and being unaffected by normal marine growth. When linked into the Hercules System it provided a degree of accuracy over the whole range of boat speeds previously unobtainable.

1985 The Company is currently engaged in developing products for new markets, utilising the expertise acquired in maintaining its position as a leading innovator of electronic navigation equipment.

1986 B&G was purchased from Unitech by Lewmar PLC, a company based in Havant specializing in engineering products for the marine leisure market. Their products included winches, hatches, portlights and rod-rigging. Together with Lewmar, B&G began developing an autopilot

1987 Lewmar was acquired by the Benjamin Priest Group PLC, a West Midlands engineering company, whothen became the ultimate parent company of B&G. Myles Witt was recruited to the Service Department and factory trained for later deployment to B&G Inc. Rhode Island USA.

1988 B&G Helmstar 740 autopilot launched. Myles Witt assumes role as National Service Manager B&G Inc.

1990 In December, the Benjamin Priest Group was acquired by IMI – International Marine Industries Inc.based in Connecticut USA.  B&G Inc., at that time located in Fort Lauderdale Florida, was relocated to CT.  Myles opened Myles Electronics Inc. in Jan 1991 to continue giving service support to customers and dealers in the Florida area.

B&G was installed on 90% of the 1990 Whitbread Boats, including the outright winner Steinlager II, skippered by Sir Peter Blake, and on Tracy Edward’s Maiden. B&G also had a string of power boat 1st place race successes, including 1st for Paul Picot of Guernsey and a 1st for Mariner Magazine in the Cowes/Torquay.

1992 The company moved from two sites in Lymington, one in Bath Road and one in Waterloo Road, to Abbey Park, Romsey where B&G is still located.

1998 Yeoman Group PLC purchased B&G to complement its existing stable of innovative technology.

2002 Saw many new products continue to be developed and produced at B&G. The h1000 range aimed at the medium sized sail and power boats, and its philosophy of “simplicity” is supported by innovative technology which is derived from mobile phone user logic for full system control and ease of use.

2003 On October 13th, Marine electronics manufacturer Simrad, acquired B&G Ltd (Brookes and Gatehouse), from Yeoman Group Plc, in a move to expand its interests in the sailing market in which B&G holds a prestigious position. This acquisition enabled Simrad to further consolidate its position as a premium brand manufacturer and provide access to additional technologies. B&G benefits from greater exposure to worldwide markets through an extensive marketing program.

2004 In February, Richard Acland an experienced yachtsman with significant business expertise, was appointed MD of B&G. Commenting on his appointment, Richard said, “I am delighted to be joining a company with such a prestigious history and am particularly encouraged by Simrad’s commitment to the B&G brand and to investing in its future. This will help us improve and develop our product range and meet the technical challenges of the future. B&G was in profit for the last quarter and I am confident that we have the technology and distribution network to ensure that we can look forward to continued growth.”

RemoteVision, a handheld, wireless instrument and pilot controller for h2000 was B&G’s first new product since being acquired by Simrad. It was developed in collaboration with Mike Golding and Ellen MacArthur and was successfully launched by Mike at the Southampton Boat Show. The system quickly gained a strong following with solo yachtsmen and serious teams, and in November 2004 it was chosen as joint winner in the Marine Electronics category at the METS Design Awards (DAME), Amsterdam.

September saw the acquisition of British company Sailmath, giving B&G and Simrad access to the high end technologies of WTP and Deckman. B&G has since further developed both products. In November, Ellen MacArthur set off to break the fastest solo circumnavigation record, with a full complement of B&G equipment onboard the stunning B&Q tri-maran.

2005 B&G sponsored the Gipsy Moth restoration project. Updated versions of the classic B&G instruments were supplied and installed onboard Sir Francis Chichester’s famous yacht for its official relaunch on 20th June 2005.

Fantastic results in the Vendée Globe for B&G equipped boats (nearly half the field were fitted with B&G equipment) were a pre-cursor to Ellen MacArthur’s success in February. The declaration of “My autopilots were awesome,” told the world that B&G equipment can take on and succeed in the toughest of challenges. In July, B&G announced the ‘coup of the century’ – B&G equipment has been confirmed on every single Volvo Ocean race and America’s Cup boat.

In October, Kongsberg Maritime, sold the parts of Simrad that manufacture and market to the yachting and professional markets, including B&G, to the Nordic Private Investment company Altor, in order to concentrate on its core activities of commercial marine and offshore. Altor plans to invest heavily in Simrad, making B&G’s 50th anniversary year a very exciting prospect.