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British Industrial History

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Frederick Henry Varley

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Frederick Henry Varley (1842–1916), electrical, civil and mechanical engineer

1842 Born at 1 Charles Street, Somers Town, London, on 18 December, the youngest of 7 sons of Cornelius Varley and his wife, Elizabeth Livermore Straker. Amongst his brothers were other engineers of telegraph systems Cromwell Fleetwood Varley and Samuel Alfred Varley

Educated privately in Islington

1859 Frederick joined the family firm, Varley and Son, in Stoke Newington, which made telegraph components and testing apparatus.

1865 Was involved in tests on the Atlantic telegraph cable

1868 Assistant engineer on the Lowestoft–Nordeney section of the Reuters cable.

He and his brother Octavius went into business as consulting engineers and manufacturers of cable testing equipment.

1871 Octavius died but Varley used the title O. and F. H. Varley until the 1880s.

During his career Varley took out several patents for telegraph apparatus including double current galvanometers and keys, ink-writing Morse instruments, and a system of block signalling for railways.

1871 Patent to Theophilus Varley (12 Barclay Road, Leytonstone), telegraphic engineer, and Frederick Henry Varley (Mildmay Park Works, Stoke Newington) for improvements in electric telegraphs[1]

1873 Patent to Frederick Henry Varley (Mildmay Park Works, Stoke Newington) civil and mechanical engineer, and Edward Furness, civil engineer, for couplings for imparting motion or braking rotating shafts[2]

Late 1870s produced flexible carbons for arc lamps, which he patented

Produced a lamp in which light was produced by passing electricity through a constantly falling stream of powdered carbon.

Later developed an incandescent lamp filament by soaking fibres in compounds of boron but this was not competitive. He also produced and patented batteries and electric motors.

1881 helped his brother C. F. Varley with improvements to the cymaphen.

Developed porous stone wicks for oil and petroleum lamps

1890 patented photographic apparatus.

Before WWI: Varley was working on A. T. Johnson's tuned reed wireless system.

1916 Died at 82 Newington Green Road, on 12 March.


1916 Obituary [3]

FREDERICK HENRY VARLEY died in London on the 12th March, 1916, at the age of 74 years.

He was the youngest son of Cornelius Varley - scientist and artist and one of the founders of both the Microscopical and Water Colour Societies.

With his brother Octavius, Mr. F. H. Varley fairly early in his career became a manufacturer and patentee of various electrical appliances. Together they produced cable-testing, A. B. C, needle, and other telegraph instruments, whilst carrying out for the late C. F. Varley (an elder brother) a considerable amount of special experimental work, notably the "musical telephone" and various electrical meters.

An interesting patent was taken out about this time by Mr. F. H. Varley for a statical apparatus in compact form for the production of sparks for gas lighting or amusement, described as the "electric wand." This apparatus seems to have sold in considerable numbers and probably was a forerunner of modern electrostatic gas lighters.

The firm became contractors for the postal telegraph services, during this period manufacturing such articles as double-current keys and galvanometers, whilst Mr. F. H. Varley devised and patented a railway block signalling system which found favour with several railway companies.

The style "O. & F. H. Varley" was maintained by Mr. Frederick Varley for a long time after his brother's decease.

He spent some time upon an electrical target apparatus - a French patent - for indicating the result of scores instantaneously at the firing point and obviating the employment of a marker in the danger zone. Practical tests were carried out at Northwood at a range of 1,000 yards with satisfactory results, but for some reason or other, possibly the complicated wiring necessary, the invention did not secure permanent military attention.

About the year 1884 he introduced and patented the use of flexible carbon - a woven fibre specially treated and carbonized - at that time considered to be a step in advance towards the better distribution and maintenance of arc lighting. Its special convenience lay in the fact that it could be produced in considerable lengths and wound on spools. Its character admitted of low-amperage lighting and long running without renewal in the special lamp designed by Mr. F. H. Varley for its consumption. Electric filament lamps of the same material and known as the "Varley diaphanous filament" lamp were also introduced, but unfortunately certain indispensable details of the manufacture of glow lamps were then covered by other patentees and, although useful results were secured, the new lamp had to be abandoned.

So far as can be remembered, Mr. F. H. Varley's inventions and patents include the use of carbon pencils ‘in vacuo’ for arc lighting; variable carbon resistances both of flexible and solid carbon plates or discs; primary and secondary batteries with porous carbon electrodes; an alternating and direct-current motor combination for mixed traction systems; various types of telephones and wireless telegraph apparatus. Recently he devoted himself to the commercial development of the tuned reed wireless system of Mr. A. T. Johnson, which he assisted to bring to a practical stage some time before the great war cut short all private enterprise in this direction.

He was a constant attendant at the meetings of the Institution, of which he became a Member in 1872.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. London Gazette 10 November 1871
  2. London Gazette 18 July 1873
  3. 1916 Institution of Electrical Engineers: Obituaries