The first ever Wharfedale loudspeaker was built in the cellar of Gilbert Briggs’ home in 1932. From the very first speaker until today the brand’s main goal has always been an endless pursuit for better sound and quality. In 1933 Gilbert started a small factory near Bradford to manufacture loudspeaker units.
In the cellar of a house in Ilkley, Yorkshire, 1932. Music enthusiast and audio experimenter, Gilbert Briggs, is building his first loudspeaker units. Briggs was one of the new breed of amateur electronics engineers, experimenting with what was, at the time, cutting edge technology.
Briggs’ endeavours, however, proved to be far from amateurish, and no doubt aided by a musical ear, Briggs’ hobby of audio experimentation was about to explode beyond the confines of that cellar, and create a reputation which would quickly spread far and wide.
Gilbert Briggs’ house was located in Ilkley, Yorkshire, in the valley of Wharfe, an area known, to this day, as ‘Wharfedale’; and so, it was to be that the name of his home area, became the brand with which Gilbert Briggs was to change the face of Hi-Fi.
The onset of WW2 saw Wharfedale handling a huge amount of sub-contract work for Marconi. Thankfully, Wharfedale moved to new premises just before the outbreak of war, buoyed by increased demand for their loudspeakers.
Post-War, both at home and in America, wartime developments in electronics had sparked a nascent interest into ‘High Fidelity Audio’. Wharfedale seized upon this interest and used a number of technological developments to put them squarely in the ‘Hi-Fi Limelight’.
Two-way and multi-component loudspeaker systems had been attempted in the 1930s; they were however solely the reserve of cinemas and theatres, due to their size. In 1945 Wharfedale launched a two-way loudspeaker system, small enough to fit in a family home, even if the external crossover did require two people to lift it!
It seems fair then, to say that Wharfedale invented the domestic speaker as we know it. Famous demonstrations involving Wharfedale loudspeakers with Quad and Leak amplification took place at London’s Festival Hall, and at Carnegie Hall. There, the audience had to decide if they were hearing live music from live musicians, or recorded music from the Wharfedale speakers.
These demonstrations cemented global recognition of Wharfedale as a manufacturer of outstanding loudspeaker systems. Gilbert Briggs also published a guide entitled ‘Loudspeakers: The Why and How of Good Reproduction’. It was a sensation, being reprinted numerous times and spreading Gilbert Briggs’ fame worldwide.
At the tail end of the 1950s, Wharfedale was sold to entertainments giant, The Rank Organisation. Two major innovations occurred in the Rank era: Wharfedale pioneered the use of ceramic magnets, and at a similar time, introduced the ‘roll surround’ on speaker cones.
Demand was increasing such that a move to a larger production facility was necessary, and so in 1967, Wharfedale moved to new premises on Bradford Road. Times were changing, and a new breed of customer was developing out of the ‘baby-boomer’ generation.
Young, upwardly mobile professionals desired equipment which not only sounded good but looked good in their homes, too. This was the era of the Bookshelf Speaker, and models such the Linton and Denton were soon to define the future output of Wharfedale.