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Mark Heaton Robinson

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Mark Heaton Robinson (1844-1923) of Willans and Robinson


1923 Obituary [1]

MARK HEATON ROBINSON was born in 1844, being the son of Commander Edward Robinson, R.N.

He received his early education at the Royal Naval School, New Cross, and at the age of seventeen entered the administrative branch of the Admiralty, where he remained thirteen years and then became manager of the Watney Brewery, Pimlico.

This appointment he relinquished in 1881, when he joined the late Mr. P. W. Willans as partner in the firm of Willans and Robinson, Thames Ditton.

Ultimately the firm moved to Rugby, and Mr. Robinson became chairman on the death of Mr. Willans, and held that position until 1909, when the state of his health obliged him to relinquish it. He brought out many inventions, among which was a boat disengaging gear, long used exclusively by the Royal Navy.

In conjunction with Mr. Willans he patented many improvements connected with single-acting high-speed steam-engines, the chief of which perhaps was the cushioning by compressed air. Since 1909 he was connected with various other companies, particularly with the Pioneer Company, which was formed to develop Sandwich Haven, and of which he was chairman. The work of development was stopped by the War, and eventually the undertaking was assumed by the Government and became well known under the name of Richborough. One of the principal points of the scheme was the formation of a new entrance channel seawards by dredging between training walls or piers, and thus preventing the channel from being filled up.

He became a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1893, but he was probably better known to members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, of which he became a Member in 1894.

He took a very active interest in the affairs of this Institution, and was a Member of Council from 1902 to 1913, when he became a Vice-President. This office he held until 1920, when under the, new rules he was appointed a Past-Vice-President. Had his health not broken down, there is little doubt but that he might have been President. For many years he was chairman of the Finance Committee of the Institution, and was mainly responsible for the details of the scheme for the Sinking Fund, etc. Mr. Robinson was also a Member of the Institution of Naval Architects and of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

His death took place at his residence at Kingston-on-Thames on 2nd February 1923, in his seventy-ninth year.


1923 Obituary [2]

MARK HEATON ROBINSON, who died on the 2nd February, 1923, was born in 1844, the son of Commander Edward Robinson, R.N., and was educated at the Royal Naval College, New Cross.

As a young man he entered the Admiralty, where he served for 13 years.

In 1880 he entered into partnership with the late Mr. Peter Willans and they were successful in producing a high-speed engine suitable for launches, etc., and established a small works at Thames Ditton.

About this time Robinson improved the high-speed engine by employing an independent air buffer for correctly cushioning the reciprocating piston independently of the load, and shortly afterwards Willans designed the celebrated central-valve high-speed engine, which was at once adopted by Crompton and others for direct coupling to dynamo-electric machines, for which purpose it was a brilliant success.

A very large business rapidly developed. The construction of this engine required a degree of accuracy and interchangeability which at that time was not being achieved in any engineering works in this country, and Willans and Mark Robinson threw themselves whole-heartedty into the new problem of production on a commercial scale, with what were then considered to be extraordinary fine limits of accuracy. The works at Thames Ditton became an object lesson and the centre of ceaseless visits of engineers, where the new procedure, with tool rooms nearly as large as the works in the first instance, was a revelation to the then engineering experts.

Willans's sudden and untimely death, whilst it was a tremendous loss to the engineering world, did not stop the success or progress of this remarkable business, and in the year 1897 new works on a large scale were planned and built at Rugby, Mark Robinson, who was then chairman of the company, taking the leading part in this great expansion. The check to the prosperity, and the vicissitudes, financial and other, that fell upon the business, need not here be recounted, but there is no doubt that they were an immense strain on Mark Robinson's health, and in the year 1909 he retired from active participation in the work of the company.

In later years he was occupied in London in work with the Kent coal field, and more particularly with Sandwich Haven, afterwards known as Richborough Port. The designs for' this port were practically identical with those he originally put on paper. He was a well-known figure in engineering circles and engineering gatherings until a few months ago. He was elected a Member of the Institution in 1888, and served on the Council from 1901 to 1903.

In 1895 he read a paper before the Institution on " Recent Development of the Single-Acting High-Speed Engine for Central-Station Work," for which paper he was awarded the Institution Premium in 1895 and the Willans Premium two years later.

He married in 1864 and had eight sons and eight daughters.



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Sources of Information

  1. 1923 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  2. 1923 Institution of Electrical Engineers: Obituaries