IT’S the place where the bar code was invented, where Ernie the premium bond machine was born and where traffic signals for many of the world’s major cities were developed.

The Siemens factory, formerly Plessey, at Sopers Lane, Poole, has been designing and manufacturing telecommunications and electronic equipment for 50 years.

And among the thousands of seriously clever people to have worked there over the years was the future inventor of the worldwide web, Tim Berners-Lee.

The Sopers Lane site opened as a munitions factory in May 13, 1940. There were still firing ranges there until the 1950s, when the government began making the site available for other uses.

In 1966, the Plessey Company took on the site and began designing and developing its products there.

Its best-known product probably remains the traffic lights that have been developed in Poole throughout its 50 years.

In that time, traffic signals have gone from lights triggered by clockwork to massively sophisticated systems operated from remote control rooms. The site pioneered “variable messaging” technology on motorways, starting with the M25. And it is responsible for the signs that tell you how many spaces there will be in your chosen car park by the time you get there.

But Plessey and Siemens have been responsible for a lot more technology, much of it in widespread use today.

This is where the bar code was invented. Plessey also developed light pens and bar code readers which were used by Sainsbury’s for early electronic stock control and by libraries for logging out books.

Ernie, the machine that picks the premium bond numbers, was developed here. The name stood for Electronic Random Number Indicating Equipment.

Poole also gave the nation the machines that sorted the Royal Mail automatically by postcode.

Telex transmission equipment was developed on the site.

Plessey produced radiation meters for detecting nuclear fallout. In the 1980s, it won a £4million government contract to develop meters that could be operated by survivors of a nuclear attack. There are still radiation-proof concrete buildings on the site.

Today, Siemens’ technology from Poole is used in some of the UK’s biggest cities. Its systems make London’s congestion charge possible and it is involved in trials which could see driverless cars introduced to British roads. Meanwhile, every railway cab in Britain has one of Siemens’ radios in it.

The company occupies a 28-acre site at Sopers Lane which was originally served by the Creekmoor Halt railway station. Its own narrow gauge railway brought supplies into the factory.

At its biggest, the staff headcount numbered 3,000, large enough for the site to warrant its own branch of NatWest on site, as well as to support a busy sports and social scene.

In the 1960s and 70s, the legacy of Ministry of Defence days was reflected in the fact that the management still had their own ‘mess’ – a segregated restaurant with silver service. The site also boasted a helicopter landing pad for visiting company bosses.

Many of the staff were among the brightest people from local schools and from universities nationwide. An Echo report in the 1980s, when the workforce stood at 1,700 people, noted that were 500 professional or graduate engineers and 400 were qualified technicians.

While countless innovations have come out of the site, it is also known for something that wasn’t invented there – the worldwide web.

Tim Berners-Lee, who took giant strides towards making the internet possible in 1989, was a graduate trainee at Plessey in the 1970s.

Former colleague Rik Ravado later wrote in a blog post at HubPages: “He and his then wife Jane joined Plessey Telecommunications in Poole in 1976 and, despite a first from Oxford in Physics, Tim was refreshingly down-to-earth in manner and appearance.”

He recalled the pay being “modest” but Tim and Jane fitting in well in the “thriving Plessey social scene”.

Rik remains grateful that his wife held on to his Plessey leaving card, in which, among 50 or so signatures, is the message “Good luck! Tim and Jane Berners-Lee.”

He said: “It's a shame that even software superstars seem to struggle to find anything significant to write on a leaving card.”

Siemens and GEC took over Plessey in 1988, with Siemens taking on the avionics, radar and traffic control parts of the business. The deal secured the future of the Poole factory, which continued its innovative work.

The 50th anniversary of Siemens in Poole is being celebrated at the site on Friday, September 16, and the festivities are being combined with the company’s summer fete. Restrictions on numbers have made it impossible to issue an open invitation to ex-staff, but retirees have been sent individual invitations.

Meanwhile a group of Siemens staff from Poole and all over the world are cycling 1,500 miles from Lisbon to Poole on a charity mission which coincides with the anniversary. They set off on September 2 and are visiting 15 Siemens sites before arriving at Poole on September 16.

Their efforts will raise money for Alzheimer’s Disease International, Worldwide Cancer Research fund and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, with a target of £45,000. Sponsorship is still welcome, as are raffle prizes from local businesses, with details at