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Frank Clarke Hills

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Frank Clarke Hills (1807-1892), owner of Deptford Chemical Works and inventor

1807 Born in West Ham, Essex, brother of Henry Hills

1838 Frank set up as a manufacturing chemist at Deptford, making sulphuric acid as the principal product.

1844 he opened a second factory downstream at Greenwich

For the next half century the firm prospered, owning also a flour mill and chemical manure works at the Greenwich site.

1837 Both Frank and Henry lived at Battersea Fields where they operated a chemical works, as well as the works at Deptford[1]

1841 Advertised Hills's Patent Steam Coach from Deptford to Sevenoaks on Mondays and Thursdays. For tickets apply to Mr. Hill, Chemical Works, Creek Street, Deptford [2]

1846 Hills patented a method for removing ammonia from coal-gas. He sold the process to the Phoenix Gas Co. of Rotherhithe, receiving all the ammonia they extracted, which he no doubt used for his 'chemical manures'.

1847 Married Ann Ellen Rawlings

1849 Frank Clarke Hills, of Deptford, gained a patent on improved method of manufacturing gas[3]

1853 Patent for improvements in purifying gas, to Frank Clarke Hills, of Deptford[4]

Hills made a fortune from his chemical works

1861 Manufacturing chemist, living in Lambeth with wife Ann Ellen, Frank E. (age 9), Ellen Marianne (age 7), Edward H (age 6), Constance (age 4), Arnold Frank (age 4), 6 servants and a governess[5]

1871 Manufacturing chemist, living in Brixton, Lambeth, with Ann E Hills 55 and Ellen M Hills 17[6]

1871 Frank Clark (sic) Hills bought a controlling interest in the Thames Ironworks; he was also involved in the gas industry[7]

1872 Peter Rolt and Frank Clarke Hills, contributories of the Thames Iron Works and Ship Building Co, applied for the company to be wound up[8]

1874 Hill's Patent Vertical Boiler was shown at Manchester[9] - is this the same Hills?

1891 Living at Penshurst with several members of his family and 11 servants and nurses;son Edward Henry Hills was a chemical engineer and manufacturer[10]

1892 Death of Frank Clarke Hills, age 84[11], leaving nearly £2 million. His firm survived him to about the end of the century.

1895 One of his sons, Edward Henry Hills, of the Chemical Works, Deptford, died[12]

1896 Death of another son, Frank Ernest Hills

1898 A third son, Arnold Frank Hills, was described as a shipbuilder, running the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Co. at Canning Town; a nephew, Arnold Edward Hills, started a successful cycle tube manufacturing works in Birmingham[13]


Extracted from Steam Locomotion on Common Roads by William Fletcher. Published 1891.

Mr. F. Hill, of the Deptford Chemical Works, must be classed among the successful steam road locomotionists. We meet with him first in 1839 among the distinguished passengers who accompanied Mr. Hancock in one of his latest trips with the Automaton from London to Cambridge and back.

Mr. Hill was doubtless taking a lesson in steam carriage construction during the journey. In after years he devoted much time and attention to the subject, and was very successful in his carriage experiments.

In 1840, Mr. Hill made repeated trips to Sevenoaks, Tunbridge Wells, &c., with satisfactory results. He also ran on the Brighton road, up steep hills, with the carriage fully loaded, at twelve miles an hour, and on the level at sixteen miles an hour. We find that Mr. Hill used the compensating gear among his steam carriage improvements, a device invented by Mr. Richard Roberts, of Manchester.

One of the difficulties attending the construction of steam carriages was the connection of the driving wheels with the machinery, so as to obtain the full adhesion of the wheels, and at the same time to allow facility in turning sharp corners. James, as we have noticed, fixed each driving wheel upon a separate axle. Hancock and others employed only three wheels in their carriages, and applied the power to the front wheel, which ran in advance of and between the tracks of the other two. The most common plan, however, was to have only one wheel keyed to the driving axle, while the other was connected when required by a sliding clutch, which was anything but a convenient arrangement. But in the patent compensating gear used by Roberts, Hill and others, shown in Fig. 50, all these objectionable plans were obviated; and this simple and efficient gearing, introduced sixty years ago, is in regular use on every road engine built at the present time. Upon examining the illustration it will be seen that so long as the driving wheels continue to run in a straight line, the tubes do not revolve upon the axle, but turn round with it, and carry round the wheels as if they were fixed to the axle ; but when any deviation from the straight line takes place, the wheels, while advancing with the axle, revolve more or less upon the axle in contrary directions, so that the advance of the outer driving wheel exceeds that of the inner wheel by as much as the length of the outside curve exceeds that of the inner curve, and thus skidding is prevented by this ingenious arrangement. Fig. 51 shows the compensating gear as applied to a modern road locomotive; here one bevel wheel is bolted to the right hand side travel- ling wheel boss, while the other is keyed on the axle, and the left hand side driving wheel is likewise keyed to the axle. The full power of the engine is transmitted through the two bevel pinions, and both travelling wheels act as drivers, whether going in a straight line or not.

In August, 1841, the General Steam Carriage Co was formed for working Hill's patents. It was urged by the promoters that the demand for additional accommodation on some roads really existed, because it was desirable that road locomotion should counteract the exorbitant charges made by the gigantic railway monopoly for conveying goods short distances. The company state in their prospectus "that while they confidently believe the improved steam coach which they have engaged and propose to employ in the first instance to be the most perfect now known in England, they do not bind themselves to adhere to any particular invention, but will avail themselves of every discovery to promote steam coach conveyance."

Instead of making short and showy trips on good suburban roads, Mr. Hill selected for his curriculum those roads which, from the peculiar difficulties they presented, were likely to point out every variety of provision that need be made, or circumstances that were to be guarded against. The Windsor, Brighton, Hastings, and similar roads, had been traversed with uniform success. Perhaps no more satisfactory performance could be cited of a common road steam carriage making a trip to Hastings and back, a distance of 128 miles, which was performed in one day, it being accomplished in half the time occupied by the stage coaches.

The Editor of the Mechanics' Magazine said: "We accompanied Hill, about a year ago, in a short run up and down the hills about Blackheath, Bromley, and neighbourhood ; and we had again the pleasure of accompanying him in a delightful trip, on the Hastings Road, as far as Tunbridge and back. The manner in which his carriage took all the hills, both in the ascent and the descent, proved how completely every difficulty on this head had been surmounted 5 Quarry Hill rises 1 in 13, River Hill, said by coachmen to be the worst hill in the country, rises 1 in 12."

We illustrate Hill's steam carriage by figure 52. It will be seen from the engraving that the whole of the coach and machinery were erected upon a strong frame mounted upon substantial springs ; the hinder part was occupied by the boiler, furnace, and water tanks, with a place for the engineer and stoker. In front of these was a coach body capable of holding six people inside, three on the box, and the conductor in front. The front part of the carriage was suspended upon springs also, making the motion delightfully easy and agreeable. The carriage was propelled by a pair of loin cylinders and pistons, lying horizontally beneath the carriage, which acted upon two 9in. cranks, which were coupled to the main axle through the compensating gear already referred to; the two 6ft. 6in. diameter driving wheels, had the full power of the engines passed through them, yet in case of any differential velocity required by either wheel when turning corners, the compensating bevel wheels revolved and thus allowed the engine to turn about any way.

The weight of the boiler when empty was 23 cwt. When filled it held about sixty gallons of water, and one hundred gallons more were contained in the tanks which surrounded it. The quantity of water taken in at each of the stations (which were arranged as nearly as possible in eight-mile stages) was about eighty gallons. The total weight of the carriage, including water, coke, and twelve passengers, was less than four tons. When working on heavy and rough roads the steam pressure was seventy pounds per square inch, but on good roads sixty pounds was amply sufficient. The average travelling speed was sixteen miles an hour; on a level road the speed of twenty miles an hour has been realised. In long journeys, however, on public roads, the speed was regulated more by the casual obstructions arising from the ordinary traffic than by the power of steam.

Mr. Hill's long experience proved to him that passengers could be conveyed by steam coaches at half the expense, and at double the speed of the stage coaches.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command, Volume 18, Part 2
  2. The Times, Saturday, Sep 11, 1841
  3. The Times, Jan 06, 1863
  4. Manchester Times, February 23, 1853
  5. 1861 census
  6. 1871 census
  7. Newham Story [1]
  8. London Gazette 14 May 1872
  9. The Engineer 1874/01/30
  10. 1891 census
  11. The Times May 05, 1892
  12. The Times, Feb 19, 1896
  13. The Morning Post, July 23, 1898
  • Archives of the British chemical industry, 1750-1914: a handlist. By Peter J. T. Morris and Colin A. Russell. Edited by John Graham Smith. 1988.