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William Bridges Adams

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William Bridges Adams (1797–1872) was an author, inventor and locomotive engineer. He is best known for his patented Adams Axle — a successful radial axle design in use on railways in Britain until the end of steam traction in 1968 — and the railway fish-plate. His writings, including "English Pleasure Carriages" (1837) and "Roads and Rails" (1862), were concerned with every form of land transport. He was also a noted writer on political reform, under the pen name Junius Redivivus (Junius reborn); a reference to a political letter writer of the previous century.

1797 Born in Westminster, son of William and Mary Adams; William Adams was a coach maker[1] [2][3]

Adams was apprenticed to the coach-making firm of Baxter and Pierce of Long Acre, London - during his time with the company, Napoleon's travelling carriage was brought in, after the battle of Waterloo, and Adams made a drawing of it.

1818 Married Elizabeth Place, the daughter of Francis Place, the social reformer.

1820 Together they set out on a voyage to find their fortunes in a warmer climate. They left for Valparaiso in Chile. In Valparaiso Adams was employed to manage Lord Cochrane's estate, for a salary of £200 per year.

1821 Birth of son William Alexander Adams. The family survived the earthquake in Valparaiso of 19 November 1822.

1823 Elizabeth died on 8 August 1823, giving birth to a second child, who also died. Following this tragedy Adams return to England, with his son, by a long trek over the Andes to Buenos Aires and by ship back to London, via Falmouth, in 1826.

After a further trip to USA, Adams settled in London and took a position in the firm of Hobson and Co, coachmakers.

He became a partner in his father's London coach building business, and was for a time pupil to the engineer John Farey (John Farey?)[4]

1834 Married Sarah Fuller Flower in Hackney[5] - she was known under her married name as Sarah Fuller Flower Adams, a poet; they lived happily for many years at the now demolished Sunnybank in Loughton, where there is a blue plaque to the couple jointly.

1848 After Sarah's death in 1848, Adams remarried, to Ellen Kendall, with whom he would have one daughter, Hope Bridges Adams.

1858 Adams had a second son Walter Bridges Adams, who died 1900 aged 42.[6][7]

1872 July 23rd. Died in Broadstairs.


1872 Obituary [8]



1872 Obituary [9]



Railway engineering

Bridges Adams patented an improved carriage spring, which he called "bow springs". These could also be used on railway carriages. Manufacturing was set up in the Currier Factory in Drury Lane and Parker Street, Soho. The business, which proved profitable, was carried out in the name of Samuel Adams, Bridges Adams's uncle.

In 1842 the factory moved from its small premises to three acres of land adjoining the Eastern Counties Railway at Fair Field, Bow. The company now traded as Adams and Co.

1843 He founded the Fairfield Works, Bow (51°31′52″N 0°01′19″W) where he specialized in light engines, steam railcars (or railmotors) and inspection trolleys. These were sold in small numbers to railways all over Britain and Ireland, including the Fairfield steam carriage for the broad gauge Bristol and Exeter Railway and the Enfield for his most important customer, the Eastern Counties Railway, with its headquarters at nearby Stratford.

Dissatisfied with the scarf joints then in use for joining iron track, he invented the first railway fishplate, in the form of an unbolted wedge between adjoining chairs, in collaboration with Robert Richardson, a junior engineer under Peter Bruff on the Eastern Counties Railway. The two men patented the invention in 1847. Although the design was successful, with sales to the Eastern Counties Railway among others, financial difficulties forced Adams to relinquish the patent. This "wedge" version was soon overtaken by an improved, bolted design by James Samuel of the Eastern Counties Railway. Adams also supplied a 2-2-0 well tank to the Roman Railway.

Although Adams’s inventions and writings became well-known, the locomotives he produced made little impact. The engineering business failed some years later, although by this time Adams had expanded his interests to include clothing design and journalism.

1863 he introduced the first successful radial axle-box for railway locomotives, which eased movement around curves by allowing the axle and wheels a degree of lateral movement

Confusingly, one of the first railway companies to use his axle-box design widely was the London and South Western Railway where the Locomotive Superintendent, the creator of the Adams Bogie, was also named Adams. By further coincidence he too had formerly operated a locomotive works in Bow, but this was not a private concern but the depot of the North London Railway.

In 1865 the Society of Engineers, London, made direct comparison between the bogie with the india-rubber lateral bearing of William Adams and the radial axle box of William Bridges Adams: during trials on the North London Railway, the laterally sprung bogie was thought superior to the radial axle, but when William Adams moved to the LSWR he adopted the axle-box designed by his rival Bridges Adams. The locomotives now known as Adams Radials are named after the Locomotive Superintendent, but they are famous for the axle invented by William Bridges Adams.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. BMD
  2. 1871 census
  3. Biography of William Bridges Adams, ODNB
  4. Biography of William Bridges Adams, ODNB
  5. Pallot's Marriage Index
  6. The Engineer 1900/05/18, p516
  7. The Engineer 1872/07/26, p052.
  8. The Engineer 1872/07/26
  9. Engineering 1872 Jul-Dec: Index: General Index