Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,480 pages of information and 245,913 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Henry Hunnings

From Graces Guide

Henry Hunnings (1842-1886) was a British clergyman and inventor.

Born in Tottenham on 25th July 1842, Henry Hunnings worked as a Printer until, aged 25, he became a student at St Edmund Hall, Oxford.

In 1870 he joined the Clergy and between 1874 and 1880 was a Curate at All Saints, Bolton Percy near York.

During this time Henry created his own telephone transmitter device which he patented in the UK on 16 September 1878, the secret being the use of carbon granules behind the diaphragm that produced a clearer, stronger voice signal than any other at that time.

With the help of Edward Cox-Walker, manager of Cooke's in York, they transformed the patent into a manufactured product at a factory set up in Darlington in 1880. A public demonstration of the Hunnings Micro-telephone was given before the Cleveland Institution of Engineers after the system had been tested over 45 miles between the railway stations at York and Darlington.

It was also at Bolton Percy that Henry met Margaret Ann Ridley. Margaret lived with her family in one of the cottages adjacent to the Church and in 1880 at the ages of 37 and 19 respectively Henry and Margaret were married. They subsequently had two children together; William Butters and Katherine Mary.

1882 The United Telephone Co sued Harrison Cox-Walker Ltd for infringement of the Bell Edison patents it held but it was decided that the Cox-Walker receiver was a copy of the Edison design. After much legal wrangling the Hunnings patent was sold to UTC for £1,000. It was not then clear what role the carbon microphone would play in the development of the telephone but, with slight modifications to avoid packing of the granules, the Hunnings design emerged as the dominant form of telephone transmitter for 100 years. It was used around the world for generations and was only phased out by the British GPO in the 1980s.

Henry left Bolton Percy with his family in 1880 taking other Curate’s positions in Rothwell (Leeds), Ryde (Isle of Wight) and Eling (Hampshire) before securing his final role in November 1885 as Chaplain of Royal South Hants Infirmary. However, by this time he was in poor health and in fear of losing his job he took his own life on 4 May 1886.

The post mortem held later that month gave a verdict of “Suicide in an unsound state of mind”. On his death Henry left an estate valued at £1222, 12s, 6d.

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