The history of WT Henley, who founded the company that bore his name, began in 1837 in a workshop in London, where he manufactured covered wires. Henley progressed at an impressive rate and pioneered the submarine cable field with the vision of linking the world telegraphically. In 1859 he spent £8,000 constructing a factory in North Woolwich. WT Henley soon be synonymous with submarine telegraph cables, a success story that culminated in 1863 with the laying of the Persian Gulf telegraph cable for the Indian Government that was 1615 miles long. By the end of 1873, the Henley site had spread to cover some 16 acres and Henley owned three cable laying ships and a 400 foot wharf to allow 500 ton ships to load and unload. In 1906 work was completed on the new factory by the Thames in Gravesend, which like the North Woolwich factory included wharf facilities but, perhaps more impressively, purpose built research laboratories. For more information and photographs for both factories, visit Atlantic Cables
The Second World War saw Henley’s company winning praise for various tasks performed for the Government, especially its contribution to ‘Operation Pluto’, the system of petrol pipelines across the English Channel. Due to the important work for the Government the company was allowed to extend the factory at Gravesend during, or after, World War II (the exact extension date is unclear). The next door Rosherville Gardens was requisitioned to allow for this expansion. The main Henley factory at North Woolwich, however, suffered repeated damage during the war years that led to the decision to build and relocate production to a purpose-built factory at Birtley in the North East, completed in 1950. The Gravesend site was finally closed to production in 2008 and was demolished in 2012.
The company which built the factory extension at Gravesend also built a modern air-raid shelter under London Road,it had ventilation and lighting and could hold approximately 2,000 people. Tthe tunnels were built into old Caves within the Rosherville gardens that occupied the land between the cable works and the cliff face. It is unclear if the tunnels were built by the cable works, or for public use, as it is unclear when the Factory took over the Rosherville Gardens. The shelter was built with six entrances and of a reinforces concrete structure; it includes a first aid post, central ventilation and other amenities,