Pye Unicam Story

The Pye Scientific Instrument Centre in York Street, Cambridge

Early Days of the Company

The first Pye Company was founded by William George Pye in 1896 making scientific instruments for schools and universities.

Sidney William John Stubbens (a foreman at Cambridge Instrument Company) formed Unicam Instruments Ltd at Arbury Road, Cambridge in 1934 specialising in spectroscopic and optical instruments.

The two companies designed and manufactured many types of scientific instruments including the famous Scalamp and Interval Timer.

WG Pye & Co Ltd

Unicam Instruments Ltd

Pye Unicam had the distinction of having a direct link with the original WG Pye company and also the original Unicam Instruments company.

After CO Stanley acquired the original Pye Radio company, WG Pye, and his son Harold, left Haig Road and continued their scientific instrument business at 80 Newmarket Road, Cambridge.

In this photograph we see John Stubbens, one of the three Stubbens brothers who started the Unicam Instrument company on Arbury Road in Cambridge.

John Stubbens

Some pages from the WG Pye Company catalogue of products for sale can be viewed in the document here.

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WGP Catalogue J.pdf
WGP Stopclock.pdf

The brochure for one of WG Pye's most iconic products - the laboratory stop clock

North Gate of the Pye York Street site

Here we see a Pye TVT Outside Broadcast vehicle leaving the nearby York Street, Cambridge site by the North Gate.

In the background are the original buildings of what, after development in 1962, would become the Pye Scientific Instrument Centre and subsequently Pye Unicam (see below). However, at this time it was used for OB vehicle assembly.

In the aerial site photograph below, this older part of the factory is clearly visible as the darker areas, nearer the camera.

The Times - April 13 1962

Pye Ltd re-acquired the W.G. Pye business in 1946 and shortly afterwards in 1947 also purchased the Unicam Instruments company.

Now as part of Pye Ltd, the two companies moved into a newly built facility - the Pye Scientific Instrument Centre in York Street, Cambridge during 1962 .

However for the next six years the two companies operated quite separately.

Finally, in 1968, the two companies at York Street merged to form Pye Unicam Ltd.

Focussed on the design and manufacture of spectroscopic and chromatographic instruments, their aim was to help solve a host of problems requiring analysis of materials.

Pye Unicam Ltd, York Street site.

Company Open Day - 21st September 1985

(showing factory layout at that time)

Commemorative Items and Celebrations

Often commemorative gifts were manufactured by the company's model shop.

Here is an example - a small model of the SP500 spectrophotometer converted with a built-in alarm clock.

This was presented to Dick Fearn on his retirement with the inscription reading

From the Directors of Pye Unicam

to Dick Fearn in recognition

of 37 years of loyal service.

And here's Norman Hobbs with the new automatic zinc plating machine that he persuaded the company required! Norman was responsible for the plating, painting and fettling shops.

His retirement presentation piece was an Atomic Absorption Graphite Furnace Head, suitably mounted and inscribed. This celebrated his time with the company from 1964 to 1991.

In addition Long Service Award Dinners and official company gifts were presented.

Two photographs taken at the 1973 Awards Dinner.

The photographs kindly supplied by Dawn Mabbutt who married the late John Mabbutt in 1982

Future Direction

The York Street site thrived, concentrating on Chromatography and Spectrophotometry.

Acquired by Philips in 1967, and at its peak employing 1500 people, it was the UK’s largest manufacturer of analytical equipment.

During 1991 it was divested to ATI (Analytical Technologies Inc) and subsequently in 1995 to the Thermo Electron Corporation, both of the USA.

In 2009 the company collected its third Queen’s Award, this time for Innovation.

Five years later the final factory site in Cambridge closed and the business transferred to Germany and China.

A Personal Account of Pye Unicam's History - By Stan Harrison & David Jamson

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