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George Frederick Deacon

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George Frederick Deacon (1843-1909)

The Henderson stoker, which incorporated George Frederick Deacon additions, contains still further improvements on that invented by Dillwyn Smith and the two interests are now merged in the Mechanical Stoker Co. [1]


1909 Obituary [2]

GEORGE FREDERICK DEACON was born at Bridgwater, Somersetshire, in July, 1843, and had thus nearly reached the age of 66 at the time of his sudden death, which occurred on the 17th June, 1909, whilst he was at work in his office at Westminster.

He was the eldest son of the late Mr. Frederick Deacon (who practised as a Solicitor in Bridgwater and afterwards in Preston, and was at one time Sheriff of the County Palatine) and grandson of William Charlton, the artist-poet, whose talents he inherited.

He was educated at Heversham Grammar School, and in 1860 entered the works of Messrs. Robert Napier and Sons, Glasgow, as an apprentice. While in Glasgow, Mr. Deacon attended the classes of the late Professor W. J. Macquorn Rankine, and Professor William Thomson, afterwards Lord Kelvin.

Five years later he was appointed Assistant Engineer to Mr. Varley, the Engineer to the Atlantic Telegraph Company, and was engaged on the Great Eastern steamship during the laying of the second Atlantic cable, Lord Kelvin being the scientific referee of the expedition. It was during this expedition that his life-long friendship with Lord Kelvin commenced.

The cable was lost off the coast of Newfoundland, and upon the return of the 'Great Eastern,' Mr. Deacon was occupied for the Company for some months, in London, considering the various schemes for the recovery of the cable, and the means to be adopted to ensure the success of a subsequent expedition.

Towards the end of 1865 Mr. Deacon commenced practice in Liverpool as a Consulting Engineer, and during the period which elapsed between this date and his appointment as Borough and Water Engineer of Liverpool he did much important work. He also made a special study of the estuary of the Mersey, and subsequently became an accepted authority on the subject.

He was appointed in 1870 lecturer on Civil Engineering and Mechanics at Queen’s College, Liverpool. In the same year he read a Paper before the British Association on 'The Efficiency of Furnaces.'

In 1871, at the early age of 28 years, Mr. Deacon was appointed Borough and Water Engineer to the Corporation of Liverpool, and held the dual appointment for 8 years. During that period he carried out the construction and reconstruction of about 70 miles of the sewerage system. He also introduced impervious pavements, and constructed the first wood pavement in Liverpool. Although not the inventor of impervious pavements, he did more than any other engineer to systematize the construction of thoroughly sound set pavements, combining the advantages of strong concrete foundations with an impervious and very lasting surface.

In 1879 he presented to The Institution a Paper on this subject, for which he was awarded a Watt Medal and a Telford Premium, He laid the inner circle tramway rails in 1877 according to his own system, and after 20 years' working these rails were still in use.

In 1872 Mr. Deacon employed destructors for the disposal of refuse, and later, owing to the large quantities to be dealt with, he introduced hopper barges to carry the refuse out to sea.

The Rivington Water Works, for the supply of Liverpool, were opened in 1857, and in a very few years the supply was found to be inadequate to the requirements of the inhabitants, who suffered from a restricted and intermittent supply, due mainly to excessive waste through defective pipes and fittings, although concurrently there was a large growth of population. Mr. Deacon, with great vigour, set himself to consider whether some better means could not be adopted for reducing the waste of water than the cumbrous method of house-to-house inspection, or, what was more serious still, the drastic and costly renewal, in a large measure, of mains, services and fittings. He felt that it must be possible to devise some means by which leaks could be localized, and the volume of water passing through to waste be measured, thus ensuring to the authorities complete control over the whole area of distribution.

His investigations finally resulted in his invention in 1873 of the waste-water meter which bears his name. Mr. F. Bramwell (afterwards Sir Frederick Bramwell, Bart.), having been consulted by the Corporation, strongly advised its adoption throughout the whole area of the Liverpool Water Supply. Within a very short time after his recommendation this was carried into effect; constant service was completely restored and practically maintained until the Vyrnwy supply was introduced, and concurrently there was a very material reduction in the death-rate. So important has this invention proved itself, that it has gradually effected a complete change throughout the country in the management of waterworks, and it is now known a11 over the world. For his Paper on Constant and Intermittent Supply of Water, read before The Institution in 1879, Mr. Deacon received a Telford Medal and Premium.

The population of Liverpool at this time was growing very rapidly, and although the systematic dealing with waste had relieved the Corporation of much difficulty, it was foreseen that, sooner or later, a new supply would be needed. Mr. Deacon was therefore instructed to make investigations with a view to the provision of a supply sufficient to meet the requirements of Liverpool for many years to come. He examined and reported upon two schemes, one the Haweswater, and the other the Vyrnwy. These were submitted to Mr. J. F. Latrobe Bateman and Mr. Thomas Hawksley, who reported separately. They both reported in favour of the Vyrnwy scheme as propounded by Mr. Deacon, and in 1879 the Liverpool Corporation decided to obtain Parliamentary powers to construct the Vyrnwy works. These powers having been obtained in 1880 the Corporation at once decided to proceed with the construction of the works. Mr. Deacon then resigned his office of Borough Engineer, retaining that of Water Engineer.

The Vyrnwy undertaking - his greatest work - was for the first 5 years carried out by him in conjunction with the late Mr. Thomas Hawksley, and on the resignation of Mr. Hawksley, Mr. Deacon successfully' completed the work as Engineer-in-Chief. The Vyrnwy Water Works are too well known to need description here; but they will always remain a monument of Mr. Deacon's profound ability. For the account of the works which he presented to The Institution in 1895, he was awarded the George Stephenson Medal and a Telford premium.

In 1890 Mr. Deacon commenced practice in Westminster as a Consulting Engineer. Amongst other important matters on which he was engaged may be mentioned his report to the International Niagara Commissioners upon the utilization of the Niagara Falls, and an enquiry occupying 21 days relating to alterations of boundaries in the neighbourhood of Pontypridd. His recommendations were in due course approved by the Glamorgan County Council and adopted. He also carried out important works of water-supply for Kendal, Merthyr Tydvil, Todmorden and Biggleswade.

In 1904 he reported to the Birkenhead Corporation upon a new supply of water which he proposed should be obtained from the River Alwen in North Wales. He subsequently prepared the parliamentary plans, and the Act authorizing the scheme was obtained in the session of 1907. At the time of his death he was engaged upon the preparation of plans and estimates for these works, as well as in the construction of new works of water-supply for Ebbw Vale. He was also frequently consulted by the Colonial Governments on hydraulic matters.

He served the office of President of the Liverpool Polytechnic Society in 1878, that of the Incorporated Association of Municipal and County Engineers in 1879, and that of the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers in 1908.

In 1897 he occupied the chair of the Mechanical Science section of the British Association at the Toronto meeting.

In 1902 he received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Glasgow University. He was twice married ; first, to Emily Zoe, eldest daughter of the late Mr. Peter Thomson, of Bombay, and secondly, to Ada Emma, eldest daughter of the late Mr. Robert Pearce, of Bury St. Edmunds, who survives him.

Dr. Deacon had considerable artistic talent, and in all his works of construction he endeavoured to combine utility with beauty, and to design his work in such a manner as to bring it into harmony with the surrounding features of the landscape. As showing the bent of his mind it may be mentioned that in 1869 he read a Paper before the Liverpool Architectural and Archeological Society, on “The Aesthetics of Construction.”

An original thinker, he worked everything out patiently and assiduously by his own methods. As a parliamentary witness he was in frequent request : he took great pains completely to master his subject, and his evidence carried much weight with it. Stern of purpose, he was an indefatigable worker. He had, too, the power of getting the best work from his assistants, but he never spared himself and never expected his subordinates to do what he was not prepared himself to undertake.

Dr. Deacon was elected an Associate of The Institution on the 3rd December, 1872, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 6th January, 1874.

In November, 1900, he was elected a member of council and served continuously on that body until his death.


1909 Obituary [3]

Dr. GEORGE FREDERICK DEACON was born at Bridgwater, Somersetshire, on 26th July 1843.

His education was received at Heversham Grammar School, Westmorland, and then he entered the marine-engine works of Messrs. Robert Napier and Sons, on the Clyde. There he passed through the various departments, devoting his spare time to the study of chemistry and mathematics.

When twenty years of age he entered Glasgow University as a student of civil engineering, under Professor Macquorn Rankine, and at the same time attended the classes and laboratory of Lord Kelvin (then Professor William Thomson).

As he was entering upon the second year's course at the University he was offered the appointment of assistant-engineer to the Atlantic Telegraph Co., on the recommendation of Lord Kelvin.

He became assistant to Mr. Varley, and formed a member of the 1865 Great Eastern expedition, which made au unsuccessful attempt to lay the Atlantic cable, which was lost off the coast of Newfoundland.

Later in the same year he commenced practice as a consulting engineer in Liverpool, and undertook a considerable variety of work, both of civil and mechanical engineering.

In 1870 he was appointed lecturer on engineering at Queen's College, Liverpool, now the Victoria University, and in the following year he became borough and water engineer of Liverpool, which post he held for eight years. During this time he constructed, or reconstructed, thirty-five miles of new or old sewers, and repaired forty-one miles of existing sewers.

In 1872 he applied destructors for the disposal of refuse; but, owing to the large quantity to be dealt with, he subsequently introduced hopper-barges, which carried the refuse out to sea. His greatest service to Liverpool, however, was in connection with the water-supply of the city. The Rivington Works, opened in 1858, failed in 1865 to meet the requirements of the inhabitants, not so much from inadequacy of quantity as from waste owing to defective pipes and fittings. After thorough investigation of the matter, he brought out his waste-water meter, which was so successful in detecting the causes and localities of the waste that the water used in Liverpool was reduced almost by one-third of that consumed prior to the introduction of is constant supply with waste-water meters.

In a Paper read before the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1874 he gave a complete description of the system, and was awarded the Telford Medal and Premium. Notwithstanding the efficiency of the system for reducing waste it became recognized that new sources of supply were necessary, and in 1876 and 1877 he made investigations concerning valleys and lakes in North Wales, Cumberland, and the River Vyrnwy in Montgomeryshire. Finally, it was decided to adopt the Vyrnwy scheme, and the Act of Parliament for this purpose was passed in 1880. During the passage of the Bill through Parliament Mr. Thomas Hawksley acted jointly with him in its promotion.

In 1885 Mr. Hawksley retired from the work, and the undivided responsibility fell upon Mr. Deacon, who carried it to a successful completion in 1892. Shortly before this he removed to Westminster, and since then has carried out many important works, among which may be mentioned water-supply works for Kendal, Merthyr Tydfil, Todmorden, Biggleswade, and at the time of his death be was engaged on the schemes for Ebbw Vale and Birkenhead.

He was frequently engaged in arbitration cases, and was almost invariably retained by the London County Council in their water campaigns, and he acted for the Metropolitan Water Board in connection with the purchase of the various water companies' works.

He was a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and served continuously on its Council from 1900. He was President of the Mechanical Science Section at the Toronto Meeting of the British Association in 1897, and was chairman of the Engineering and Architectural Section of the Congress of the Sanitary Institute in 1894. He was also President of the Smeatonian Society for this year. He became a Member of this Institution in 1874. In 1903 the University of Glasgow conferred upon him the honorary degree of LL.D.

His death took place suddenly in his office at Westminster on 17th June 1909, in his sixty-sixth year.


1909 Obituary 1909 [4]

. . . connected with the scheme for taking water to Liverpool from Lake Vyrnwy . . [much more]


1909 Obituary [5]

GEORGE FREDERICK DEACON died suddenly on June 17, 1909, in his sixty-sixth year. He was born at Bridgwater on July 26, 1843, and at an early age displayed a taste for science and mathematics which marked him out for the engineering profession.

After receiving his early training, he studied engineering science at Glasgow University, where he came in contact with Sir William Thomson (afterwards Lord Kelvin), who was then Scientific Referee to the Atlantic Telegraph Company; and through his recommendation he obtained, at the age of twenty-one, an appointment with that company.

He subsequently commenced practice in Liverpool as a consulting mechanical engineer, and later accompanied Lord Kelvin on the Great Eastern when, in 1865, an unsuccessful attempt was made to lay an Atlantic cable.

On his return he continued his practice in Liverpool until 1871, when he was appointed borough and water engineer to that city. Soon after taking up office, the deficiency in the water supply of the city became a very urgent question. He determined, therefore, to ascertain whether an economical use was being made of the supply at command; and be subsequently invented and brought into use a waste-recording instrument, by means of which great saving was effected. During the years 1876-1877 he was engaged in the discovery of a source from which Liverpool could augment its water supply, and eventually he determined to utilise the river Vyrnwy. In order, therefore, to devote his energies to the perfection of this scheme, he resigned the position of Borough Engineer in 1879. The work was completed in 1892, at a cost of two and a half million pounds sterling.

In 1891 he commenced practice as a consulting engineer in London, and since then carried out many important works. In 1897 he reported, jointly with the late Sir Benjamin Baker, upon the water supply of London. He was the author of the article "Water Supply" in the supplement to the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He was a Member of Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and a Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society. From the first-named body he received the Telford, the Watt, and the George Stephenson awards. He was President of the Association of Municipal and County Engineers in 1878; of the Engineering Section of the Sanitary Institute in 1894; of the Mechanical Science Section of the British Association at the meeting in Toronto in 1897; and of the Engineering Section of the Royal Institute of Public Health at the meeting in Liverpool in 1903. The honorary degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him in the same year by the Glasgow University.

He was elected a member of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1887.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1877/03/16
  2. 1909 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  3. 1909 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  4. The Engineer 1909/06/25
  5. 1909 Iron and Steel Institute: Obituaries