Historical information

Siebe Gorman & Company Ltd was a British company that developed diving equipment and breathing equipment and worked on commercial diving and marine salvage projects. The company advertised itself as 'Submarine Engineers'. It was founded by Augustus Siebe, a German-born British engineer chiefly known for his contributions to diving equipment.
Siebe Gorman traded as an engineering firm for over 180 years from 1819 to 1999. The early success of the business was due to its founder, the Prussian immigrant Christian 'Augustus' Siebe (1788-1872). For business reasons, he applied for and was granted British citizenship in 1856. He was a gifted engineer who was able to translate theoretical problems into practical, working products. During the industrial Victorian period, the business traded as 'A. Siebe' at 145 High Street Holborn London, but in 1828 new premises were acquired at 5 Denmark Street, Soho. The family firm produced a wide range of manufactured goods including paper-making machinery, measuring machinery, water pumps, refrigeration equipment, and diving apparatus. Augustus Siebe specialised in submarine engineering early on and the company gained a reputation for the manufacture of safe, reliable diving apparatus. Augustus Siebe is best remembered for the development and manufacture of the ‘closed’ Diving Dress based on the ideas of Charles and John Deane, George Edwards, and Charles Pasley. Apart from some small modifications to valves and diver communications, the basic 12 bolt ‘closed’ diving dress remained relatively unchanged after the 1870s.

Later company successes were also based on innovation, with new products that could be successfully developed and manufactured to high standards. This was largely attributed to the inventive nature, foresight, engineering, and entrepreneurial skills of Robert Henry Davis (1870-1965). In 1882, RH Davis joined the company of 'Siebe & Gorman' as a young 11-year-old office boy and he was to remain with the company until he died in 1965. Augustus Siebe retired in 1869 and handed over the company to a new partnership of Henry H. Siebe (1830-1885) and William A. O'Gorman (1834-1904). The new firm traded as 'Siebe & Gorman' (1870-1879) from premises in and around Mason Street, Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth, London. The two partners soon recognised the potential of R.H. Davis and in 1894, aged 24, he became General Manager of Siebe & Gorman. Davis increasingly ran the company until the surviving partner (W.A. Gorman) died in 1904. The firm was disposed of to the Vickers (armaments) family and a new company 'Siebe Gorman & Co. Ltd.' (1905-1998) was formed.
Under the chairmanship of Albert Vickers, R.H. Davis was kept on as Managing Director, and the company forged ahead. However, after WW1, the Great Depression caused manufacturing output and share prices to slump. In 1924 Robert Davis made a deal with the Vickers Board and acquired control of the company through majority shares. Under his leadership, the Siebe Gorman Company flourished and within time, four of his sons also joined the firm. The company gained a worldwide reputation for the manufacture of diving apparatus, decompression and observation chambers, and safety breathing apparatus of all types for use on the land, in the air, and under the sea (including mine rescue, tunneling, aircraft, diving, submarine escape and in other hazardous environments). Close research and development links with the MOD (especially the Admiralty), also provided a lucrative outlet for the company products. In 1932, Robert Davis was knighted by King George V, principally for his invention of the ‘Davis Submerged Escape Apparatus’ (D.S.E.A.).

Siebe Gorman essentially remained a family firm from the beginning (under A.Siebe) until it became a public company for the first time in 1952. However, following WW2, British manufacturing stagnated through stifled investment and post-war austerity, and there was little innovation. Siebe Gorman's fortunes began to decline as an aging Sir Robert Davis failed to invest, or change the company's business and management practices. In 1959, Siebe Gorman was acquired by the “Fairy Group” and the ailing Sir Robert was made Life President. Consequently, nothing changed and the slow decline continued until Sir Robert's death in March 1965. Around 1960, Siebe Gorman acquired the diving apparatus manufacturer C E Heinke, and for a brief period, it manufactured some diving equipment under the combined name of Siebe Heinke. Around 1964, Mr E. 'Barry' Stephens was appointed as the new Managing Director to modernise Siebe Gorman. Changes were made, including a move to a new factory in Wales in 1975. The new company concentrated on fire-fighting breathing apparatus and escape equipment, and the move coincided with the loss of many of the older, traditional craft skills. Between 1985 and 1998, Siebe expanded through acquisitions, and several other companies were acquired.

The Siebe Gorman (diving apparatus) company has therefore traded as A. Siebe (1819-1870); Siebe & Gorman (1870-1879); Siebe Gorman & Co (1880-1904); Siebe Gorman & Co. Ltd (1905-1998).

(For information regards the diving helmet & Frank King see Notes Section at the end of this document)


The items are very significant as a snapshot into marine history and the development of diving equipment generally especially that used for salvage operations before and during WW2. The company that made the equipment was a leading inventor,developer and innovator of marine equipment with its early helmets and other items eagerly sought after today for collections around the world. The items in the Flagstaff Hill collection give us an insight as to how divers operated and the dangers they faced doing a very necessary and dangerous job.

Physical description

Frank Kings' diving helmet and compressor (communication pipe stored separately). Compressor is hand cranked. US Navy diving helmet, Mark V. Two maker's plates attached. Made in 1944.

Inscriptions & markings

On front 'PATENT" "
Logo: Images (Lion, Crown, Horse, Shield within an oval)