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British Industrial History

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Sarah Guppy

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Sarah Guppy, née Beach (1770–1852) was an English inventor

1770 Sarah Beach was born in Birmingham, England.

She was a wealthy woman due to her family’s estates in the West Indies.

In 1811 she patented the first of her inventions, a method of making safe piling for bridges. Thomas Telford asked her for permission to use her patented design for suspension bridge foundations, and she granted it to him free of charge.

As a friend of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his family she became involved in the Great Western Railway, writing to the directors with ideas and giving her support.

In 1841 she wrote a letter recommending planting willows and poplars to stabilise embankments. She continued to offer technical advice despite the fact that, as she wrote, ‘it is unpleasant to speak of oneself, — it may seem boastful particularly in a woman’.

The family took out 10 patents in the first half of the nineteenth century, including a method of keeping ships free of barnacles that led to a government contract worth £40,000. Other inventions included a bed with built-in exercise equipment, a device for a tea or coffee urn which would cook eggs in the steam as well as having a small dish to keep toast warm and a device for "improvements in caulking ships, boats and other vessels."

In later life she wrote 'The Cottagers and Labourers Friend' and 'Dialogues for Children', invented the fire hood or Cook’s Comforter, and patented a new type of candlestick that enabled candles to burn longer.

She married Bristol merchant Samuel Guppy and lived in Queen Square and Prince Street, a leading light of the Bristol and Clifton social scene. The couple had six children, including Thomas Richard Guppy, Grace and Sarah.

In 1837 the widowed Sarah, now 67, married Richard Eyre-Coote, 28 years her junior. For a while they lived at Arnos Court, Brislington, but Richard ran through his rich wife's money at a rapid rate, spending on horses and neglecting her. Sarah moved into 7 Richmond Hill, Clifton in 1842.

She bought the land opposite the house for the benefit of Clifton residents and it still remains green space

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