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British Industrial History

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Thomas Parker

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1881. Steam fire pump, Parker & Weston's patent
1895.
August 1899.

Thomas Parker (1843-1915) of Elwell-Parker and Thomas Parker Co, inventor and businessman.

1843 born at Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, on 22nd December, the eldest child of Thomas Wheatley Parker (1822-1901) and Anne Parker (nee Fletcher) (1818-1905). They had eight children, half of whom died young. His father worked at the Coalbrookdale Co's ironworks as a moulder.

1853 At age of nine and a half, Thomas started work in the foundry, lighting fires and preparing for the foundry men. Later he became a moulder.

1857 He made a small steam engine.

1859 He made a violin which he subsequently learnt to play.

By 1862 his weekly wage had increased to a sovereign[1]. He was one of 4 chosen to represent the Coalbrookdale Co on their stand at the International Exhibition because he had helped produce some of the exhibits. Later that year he moved to Birmingham to gain more experience as a moulder.

c.1866 Married Jane Gibbons (1848-1921) in Stoke-on-Trent. Thomas worked in the Potteries as a moulder and then moved to Manchester where he attended chemistry lectures at Hulme Town Hall.

1866 First child, Ellen, born at Dudley. Eventually they had 12 children, 9 of whom survived (in 1911)[2]. His eldest surviving sons were Thomas Hugh Parker (born c.1872) and Charles Henry Parker (born c.1874).

1867 Returned to Coalbrookdale Co; became a manager and then chemist in the bronzing and electroplating department.

1876 Thomas Parker, moulder, and Philip Weston, machinist, of Coalbrookdale, gained a patent on improvements in direct acting steam pumps and steam engines [3].

1878 Designed and built a dynamo for the electro-plating department, to replace the use of accumulators.

1882 The company received a Silver Medal at the 1881 Smoke Abatement Exhibition for his invention of the Kyrle Grate, for which he had gained a patent. Involved in the development of the electric tramway at Portrush in Northern Ireland, the first to be powered by hydro-electricity.

1882 Thomas Parker (Coalbrookdale) gave a lecture at which he demonstrated the Swan and the Edison lamps illuminated with current from 2 storage batteries constructed on the principles of Plante's invention[4]

1882 Thomas Parker and Paul Elwell of the Patent Tip and Horseshoe Co in Wolverhampton patented an improved lead-acid accumulator. They also patented improvements in the dynamo and in electric lighting apparatus. In October Parker left Coalbrookdale to move to Wolverhampton to set up a company which later became the Elwell-Parker company.

1884 Developed his first electric car which was followed by several more designs over the years.

1885 Parker was lauded in the Royal Society of Arts Journal for leading the way in developing the electricity industry in the U.K. Elected a member of the IEE[5].

1887 Parker developed a process to extract phosphorus and chlorate of soda by electrolysis which was much cheaper than existing processes[6].

1889 Became a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers.

1889 Elwell-Parker incorporated in Electric Construction Corporation, which later became Electric Construction Co.

1894 Parker left the Electric Construction Co and set up his own electrical manufacturing company Thomas Parker Co Ltd of Wolverhampton. A number of ex-Elwell-Parker employees, who greatly respected Parker, both as an employer and an engineer, formed the engineering backbone of the company and also invested in it. Parker was described as FRSE, MICE, MIME, MIEE[7]

1897 Formation of the Midland Electric Corporation to distribute electricity in South Staffordshire, as result of initiative of Thomas Parker. The M.E.C. was the first company to get statutory powers to distribute electricity over a large and varied area. A power station was built at Ocker Hill with sub-stations were built at Bilston, Brierley Hill, Darlaston, Old Hill, Tipton and Wednesbury.

1899 Parker stepped down as MD of Thomas Parker Co but remained a director and consulting engineer to the company. Took on position as consulting engineer to the Metropolitan Railway company; supervised the design and construction of the first electric engine for the railway.

Early 1900s: Parker tried to promote a decimal system of weights and measures including coinage (based on the £), length (based on the inch) and weight (based on the quarter of a grain). Sample boxes of weights could be obtained from him at Ironbridge [8].

1904 On completion of his 10 year contract, Parker left Thomas Parker Co Ltd and moved to London where he joined the board of the Metropolitan Railway company.

1904 Invented Coalite a smokeless fuel product and designed the retorts to produce it.

1908 Parker continued to live in London until his retirement when he returned to Coalbrookdale [9].

1908 Coalite reported that Thomas Parker was improving its process and had found a way around the problem of casting the retorts experienced by other foundries by constructing a foundry at Wednesfield [10].

1910 Parker purchased the ironworks on the Madeley Court site; set up Court Works Ltd [11]. Intended to work on improved methods of producing wrought iron.

1913 Developed a perpetual sundial which was manufactured by Court Works[12].

One of his last projects was the design and construction of a shallow draft motor boat for use on the River Severn at Ironbridge.

Died 5th December 1915. His wife Jane died in 1921.

1936 The Smoke Abatement Society awarded Thomas Parker a posthumous gold medal for the invention of Coalite


1916 Obituary [13]

THOMAS PARKER was born at Iron-Bridge, Shropshire, on 22nd December 1843.

He received his early education at the Quakers' School at Coalbrookdale, and at the age of nine and a half years entered the works of the Coalbrookdale Co., where his talent for engineering revealed itself while he was yet a boy. He was a regular attendant at the evening classes provided by the Company for the benefit of employees. At the age of nineteen he undertook work in Birmingham, where he continued to attend evening classes.

In 1866 he went to Manchester for further scientific study, and then returned to Coalbrookdale, where he re-entered the employ of the Company. In 1876 he was put in charge of the chemical and electro-depositing departments of the Company's works; during this period he built a dynamo, brought out a steam-pump, and designed the "Kyrle" grate, for which he was awarded a medal at the Smoke Abatement Exhibition held in 1880. He was subsequently appointed manager of the engineering department of the works.

In 1882 he and Mr. Elwell entered into a partnership in Wolverhampton which in 1884 developed into the firm of Elwell, Parker and Co., Ltd. They produced accumulators, dynamos and electrical plant in general; several of Mr. Parker's inventions were brought out by the firm and enjoyed a deserved success.

In 1889 this Company was merged in the Electric Construction Co., Ltd., to which he was appointed engineer and manager. During the five years he remained with this firm he planned and erected the works at Bushbury for the manufacture of heavy electrical plant, and carried out numerous important works in electrical lighting and electric traction at various places. Among these may be mentioned the Liverpool Overhead Railway, electric lighting installations for Oxford and Burnley, and a traction system in South Staffordshire.

On leaving the Company he practised for some time as a private consulting engineer. Perhaps his most important work was the electrification of the Metropolitan Railway, completed in 1905.

He was a strong advocate of the decimal system, but maintained that the metre and the decimetre were both too large as units of measurement, while the centimetre and millimetre were too small. In his opinion, the ideal unit of measurement was the inch, and this view was supported by his discovery that a cubic inch of water at 122° F. weighs exactly 250 grains, so that 4 cubic inches weigh 1,000 grains.

He died at Iron-Bridge on 5th December 1915, in his seventy-second year.

He was elected a Member of this Institution in 1891. He was also a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Governor of Birmingham University, and a Justice of the Peace for the County of Shropshire and the Borough of Wolverhampton.


1916 Obituary [14]

THOMAS PARKER, born on the 22nd December, 1843, died at Ironbridge, Salop, on the 5th December, 1915.

His early career was passed at he Coalbrookdale Ironworks, Vulcan Foundry, Birmingham, and other works. Returning to Coalbrookdale in 1873, he became manager of the foundry and subsequently of the engineering works and electro-chemical department.

In 1882 he started business in Wolverhampton, the firm being Elwell-Parker, Limited, which was later converted into the Electric Construction Company, Limited, Mr. Parker becoming Engineer and Manager.

He designed and constructed the works and carried out many large electrical and other contracts, including the Liverpool Overhead Railway and various tramway, power and lighting installations.

In 1894 he founded the firm of Thomas Parker, Limited, Wolverhampton, and subsequently carried out the electrification of the Metropolitan Railway and other works. He also patented numerous inventions.

He was elected a Member on the 3rd December, 1889.


1916 Obituary [15]

THOMAS PARKER was born in December 1843, and died on the 5th December, 1915.

He entered the service of the Coalbrookdale Company at an early age and remained with them for 10 years.

The next 14 years were spent in Birmingham and Manchester, where the evening classes and lectures enabled him to supplement his earlier education and to study scientific and technical subjects.

He returned to the Coalbrookdale Company about 1876, and for six years occupied positions of increasing responsibility; during this period he had for a time charge of the company's electro-depositing department and built his first dynamo, which was used for electroplating.

In 1882 he met and entered into partnership with the late Mr. Paul Bedford Elwell, their intention being to manufacture accumulators, with which Mr. Parker had been experimenting for some time. The manufacture of dynamos was soon added, and in 1884 the firm of Elwell-Parker, Limited, was registered, and took over the business.

At this period he designed and built a multi-phase alternator with a stationary armature and revolving field of the salient-pole type, each phase being intended to supply a Jablochkoff candle. The general design was practically the same as that of the modern alternator.

In 1884 the electric generating plant and car equipments for the Blackpool tramways were built.

The firm's works continued to extend, and in 1889 became merged in the Electric Construction Corporation, of which Mr. Parker was the works' director and chief engineer for the next five years.

At the beginning of this period the works at Bushbury, Wolverhampton, were established, and a large number of contracts were undertaken for the equipment of electricity supply stations. Electric traction also claimed much attention; during these years the Bournbrook section of the Birmingham tramways was equipped with accumulator cars, the first section of the South Staffordshire tramways was electrified on the overhead trolley system, and the Liverpool Overhead Electric Railway was built.

He always took a keen interest in electrochemistry and electrometallurgy. When the Cowles process for the manufacture of aluminium bronze was first brought out, he considered the use of continuous current to be a mistake, and designed an alternating-current furnace; this was tried and proved a success. Later on he used the alternating-current furnace for the manufacture of phosphorus, and, in conjunction with Dr. Readman, worked out a commercial process which soon displaced the older methods of phosphorus manufacture.

He became managing director of Thomas Parker, Limited, in 1894, and held that position for some four or five years. Afterwards he engaged in consulting practice, his principal work being the electrification of the Metropolitan Railway, he having previously acted as one of the two assessors in the tribunal appointed by the Board of Trade to decide upon the system to be adopted. He was a director of the Metropolitan Railway Company for some years.

He was elected a Member of the Institution in 1885.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Engineer's Romantic Career. Foundry lad electrifies the Metropolitan Railway, Tit-Bits magazine, 18th February, 1905, p.538
  2. 1911 census
  3. London Gazette 7 July 1876
  4. The Electrician, vol. 8, 1882
  5. Elwell Parker [1]
  6. Elwell Parker [2]
  7. Birmingham Daily Post, May 23, 1894
  8. Weights and Measures[3]
  9. Metropolitan Railway [4]
  10. The Times, 16 December 1908
  11. Court Works[5]
  12. Court Works [6]
  13. 1916 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  14. 1916 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  15. 1916 Institution of Electrical Engineers: Obituaries