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British Industrial History

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Alfred Penny

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Alfred Penny (1811-1890) of the Wenlock Ironworks

1890 Obituary [1] [2]

ALFRED PENNY, who came of a Somersetshire family, was born in London on the 11th of October, 1811. Not much is known of his early career, but it is believed that his engineering experience dates from 1844, when he became a partner in an establishment for the manufacture of machinery for paper-making, steam-engines, &c. In this venture Mr. Penny was not successful, and in 1849 he was agent for James Oakes and Co, ironmasters of Alfreton, Derbyshire, in which capacity he was brought into contact with numerous provincial gas companies, and persons interested in gas.

In 1850 he began business on his own account as a gas engineer, and for a time also as contractor, having established the Wenlock Ironworks, in the Wharf Road, City Road. Here he constructed gas-holders and general gas-plant for gas-works in different parts of the country. In these enterprises he was associated with all the pioneers of the gas industry, whose names are now almost forgotten.

From building small works, Mr. Penny became lessee of undertakings of his own creation, and also of larger ones-including the works at Whitehaven, Portsmouth and Oporto. In this way Mr. Penny made a reputation as an expert in gas management, which led to appointments in a consultative capacity for many gas companies and corporations in Parliament, and for general purposes. He established his reputation in the committee rooms in connection with the Dundee Bill ; and from 1865 onward, for twenty years, he was a leader in this branch of the profession, and was always engaged in important cases. His integrity was universally recognized ; and his kindliness and willingness to help those who came to him for advice and assistance were conspicuous.

He was a hard and conscientious worker, never failing to satisfy his numerous clients that the best had been done for them, even when their case happened to be unsuccessful. Of late years his tall slightly-bent figure was less frequently to be seen in the corridors of the Houses of Parliament; but he did not relinquish the practice of his profession until October 1887, when he had attained the age of seventy-six. Until then he had enjoyed almost uninterrupted good health, but at that time he contracted a severe illness from which he never quite recovered, dying on the 4th of March, 1890.

Mr. Penny was never a self-assertive man, and his work being done he dropped out of the ranks quietly. He was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 24th ,of May in 1859, and was transferred to full Membership on the 30th of October, 1877.

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