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British Industrial History

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Thomas Summers

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Thomas Summers (1825-1889)

William Summers and his wife Sarah Rayner (m.1765) of Kirkton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire had sons Samuel (the father of Thomas Summers) and Joseph (the father of William Alltoft Summers). Both Samuel and Joseph were Tailors / Drapers by profession and followed the Quaker religion.

1825 August 5th. Thomas Summers born at Bridge House Place, Southwark the son of Samuel Summers (1789-1869), a Tailor, and his wife Elizabeth Copeland (Quaker birth registration)

Educated at a Quaker school.[1]

1841 Living at Bridge House Place, Southwark: Samuel Summers (age c50), Tailor. With his wife Elizabeth Summers (age c50) and their children Samuel Summers (age c20); Sarah Summers (age c15); Mary Summers (age c15); Thomas Summers (age c13); Eliza Summers (age c11); and Susan Summers (age c60).[2]

1855 Birth of son Thomas Summers

c1860 Birth of son William Summers

1861 Living at 3 Lower Chambers, Lagne Place, Southampton: Thomas Summers (age 35 born Southwark), Civil Engineer. With his wife Elizabeth Summers (age 32 born Hull) and their children; Joseph Summers (age 10 born Southampton); Laura Summers (age 9 born Southampton); Alice Summers (age 7 born Southampton); Thomas Summers (age 5 born Southampton); Florence Summers (age 3 born Southampton); and William Summers (age 1 born Southampton). Two servants.[3]

1871 Living at 3 Lower Chambers Place, Southampton: Thomas Summers (age 45 born Southwark), Civil Engineer. With his wife Elizabeth Summers (age 42 born Hull) and their children; Joseph Summers (age 20 born Southampton), Apprentice; Lizzie Summers (age 19 born Southampton); Alice Summers (age 17 born Southampton); William Summers (age 11 born Southampton); and Frank Summers (age 2 born Southampton). Three servants.[4]

1881 Living at 3 Lower Chambers Place, Southampton: Thomas Sumner (age 55 born Middlesex), Engineer. With his wife Elizabeth Sumner (age 52 born Hull) and their children; Florence Sumner (age 23 born Southampton); and Frank Sumner (age 12 born Southampton). Three servants.[5]


1889 Obituary [6]

THOMAS SUMMERS was born in London on the 5th of August, 1825.

He was educated at private schools and at the London University School, and in 1841 was apprenticed to Mr. John Hague, a well-known mechanical engineer of that day, who had works on the Thames at Millwall.

In 1843 young Summers was transferred to his cousin Mr. W. Altoft Summers, at whose works at Southampton he completed his time. At that period Mr. Altoft Summers was in partnership with Mr. C. A. Day under the name of Summers and Day, at the Northam Ironworks, and the subject of this memoir became successively chief draughtsman and manager of this important undertaking, which at intervals employed more than two thousand men.

Mr. Altoft Summers retired about the year 1868, and some years after Mr. Thomas Summers became a partner, the style of the firm being altered to Day, Summers and Company, and being destined to achieve a worldwide reputation. Mr. Thomas Summers had previously become well known in engineering circles by his contributions to the professional magazines, and had been invited by the Turkish and some other foreign governments to take pupils for training in marine engineering. He accepted these offers to a limited extent, particularly favouring Turkish pupils. He afterwards constructed the engines of several Turkish gunboats, as well as several lots of propelling-machinery for the Egyptian and other governments.

He also designed and constructed the engines of some British gunboats, among them the 'Pandora,' which was afterward purchased by Mr. (now Sir) Allen Young, for the purpose of arctic exploration. On this occasion the 'Pandora' was put into Mr. Summers’s hands for a complete re-equipment for arctic work.

Mr. Summers played an important part in connection with ocean steam-navigation, particularly as regards the Peninsular and Oriental, the West India, the Union, the Hamburgh American and the North German Lloyd Companies. He built steamers for the three first-named companies and engined many vessels for all of them, besides doing a large amount of work for the British and foreign governments, and for private owners.

Among the fine mail steamers built at Northam were the 'Nile,' 'Allemania,' 'Surat,' 'Syria,' and 'Hindostan'; while the 800 HP. engines of the West Indian mail steamer 'Seine' were, when they were constructed some thirty years ago, considered to be of the first importance.

At the commencement of his career the 'Great Eastern' was found to be deficient in a number of minor details of machinery, &c., and was put under Mr. Summers’s charge for alterations, during a period of six months, while in Southampton Water. When the compound-marine engine was brought into practical use, Mr. Summers urged upon the before mentioned companies the advisability of converting their existing machinery to the compound system, and scores of engines averaging 3,000 HP. were altered by him to the then new and economical system. He was very successful in this description of work, and the repute of the Northam Ironworks has been maintained in later years in the process of converting compound into triple-expansion engines.

Mr. Summers took great interest in the form of the screw propeller, and where circumstances permitted would chip and file a propeller until it attained to a true helix with a smooth surface. The Peninsular and Oriental, and other large companies, recognising the value of his form of propeller, ordered many of the Southampton firm.

His solicitude for details and for scientific principles becoming known in the United States, Messrs. Winans, about the year 1874, entrusted him with the building of the machinery of their two 'Cigar Ships,' which were designed to cross the Atlantic in six days. Special machinery of the most efficient kind was put in these vessels, and they obtained, for those days, very promising results. The owners, however, for ulterior reasons maintained secrecy as to the vessels, and in the meantime the pioneer 'Greyhounds of the Atlantic,' such as the 'Arizona' made their appearance with their equally high speed and comfortable deck cabins, which were wanting in the cigars hips. The latter are still afloat in Southampton Water, awaiting their opportunity. It is interesting to note that their designers and owners were very sensible of the importance of surface-friction, and in addition to chipping and filing the propellers, the same process was applied to the entire submerged hulls of the vessels, which were flush-built and afterwards coated with black lead.

In the earlier part of his career, Mr. Summers invented and patented a steam-pressure gauge, of which he made a sufficient number to more than pay the expenses of patenting; but the appearance of Bourdon’s gauge for higher pressures rendered Mr. Summers’s instrument obsolete.

Later, he patented his well-known sheer-legs for lifting very heavy weights; these speedily came into universal favour, and he constructed them for every civilized government in the world, as well as for private dock companies. Some of these were sufficiently powerful to lift the complete turret out of a ship of war.

In the early days of surface-condensation, when the Peninsular and Oriental Company had abandoned it on account of the effect of the fatty acids on the brass tubes, Mr. Summers introduced the plan of tinning the tubes, which was immediately resorted to, and has since been followed with complete success. It is unknown whether Mr. Summers was the actual inventor of this process, but in any case considerable credit is due to him for his efforts to promote its introduction.

As an instance of the confidence felt in Mr. Summers’s strict integrity, it may be recorded that when he was on the point of retiring from business, he was asked by the Peninsular and Oriental Company to look at the boilers of the newest addition to their fleet, which had failed on the vessel’s maiden-trip from the builder’s yard to London. By the same post he received an invitation from the builders to act in a similar capacity on their behalf. On informing the parties that he had been engaged by both, he at once received a reply from each to the effect that they would accept his decision, and begging him to act for both sides. Inspection of the boilers revealed the fact that the high pressure had caused leaks in nearly every part. Thereupon Mr. Summers rendered his decision against the builders and prescribed the alterations to be carried out. The award was cheerfully accepted, although it involved a cost to the builders amounting to the supply of almost entirely new boiler-shells.

In 1884 Mr. Summers retired from business, and thereafter occupied himself in various less exacting avocations. He became a director of the Southampton Floating-Bridge Company, of the Southampton and Isle of Wight Steam Packet Company, of the South Hants Waterworks Company, of the Southampton Chamber of Commerce, and a Governor of the Royal South Hants Infirmary.

He was elected a Member of the Institution on the 1st of March, 1864, and was also a member of the Institution of Naval Architects.

With rare professional attainments Mr. Summers united an amiability and kindness of heart that rendered intercourse with him a real pleasure. This typical Englishman died on the 22nd of March 1889, and his funeral was a quasi public one, at which all the more prominent of his fellow-citizens were represented.


1889 Obituary [7]




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