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British Industrial History

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William Henry James

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1823. Patent means of propelling railway carriages.
Im201301-WHJames.jpg

William Henry James (1796-1873) of Winson Green and of Thavies Inn, Holborn 'a gentleman of superior mechanical talents' [1]

1796 March 18th. Baptised at Henley the son of William James and his wife Dinah.

1821 William James agreed that William Losh and George Stephenson could adopt any improvements in and the introduction of tubes to their boilers, as contained in the letters patent of William Henry James, in exchange for a quarter share in the patent of William Henry James[2]

1823 Patent for a steam engine boiler

1823 Patent for a Mode of Propelling Railway Carriages

1824 of Coburgh Place, Winson Green, Birmingham. Patent for constructing steam carriages [3]

1824 'Mr James, an engineer of Birmingham, has taken out a patent for a steam carriage for conveyance of persons or goods on highways or turn-pike roads without the aid of iron-railways.' [4] [5]

1824 Patent. 'To Mr. W. H. James, Cobourg Place, Winson Green, Birmingham, engineer: for an improved method for constructing steam carriages....'[6]

1824/5 W. H. James constructed a steam drag (an engine for pulling a coach on a roadway) which was powered by two separate small two-cylinder engines.

c1829 He built a coach seating 15 and weighing 3 tons with two boilers running at the high-pressure of 250 psi.

1829 March. 'Several successful experiments have been made a patent travelling carriage, the property of Sir James Anderson, Bart, and W. H. James, Esq. the cylinders and machinery of which occupy space inconceivably limited, the former being only 3.3 inches in diameter, and one foot stroke (or length). The failure which has hitherto been experienced in bringing steam carriages to perfection, is in the present instance entirely obviated, by the and simple adaptation of the machinery, and the novel construction of the boiler, which renders explosion impossible. On the 5th instant, a trial was made of this extraordinary vehicle in the neighbourhood of Wanstead, when it proceeded four miles across the forest, over heavy road, carrying twenty-four passengers, at the rate of 15 miles per hour, and returned the same distance with thirty-eight. It is guided with perfect facility, and its velocity can be regulated at pleasure.'[7]

1829 October. 'Steam Carriage. — A series of interesting experiments were made on Saturday, with a new Steam Carriage belonging to Sir James Anderson, Bart., and W. H. James, Esq. on the Vauxhall, Kennington, and Clapham roads, with the view of ascertaining the practical advantages of some perfectly novel apparatus attached to the engines; the results of which were so satisfactory, that the proprietors intend immediately establishing several stage coaches on the principle.'[8]

1829 November. Description of the carriage - William Henry James: 1829 Carriage Description

He set up an independent business as an engineer in Birmingham, where he produced experimental steam-driven road vehicles.

He took out patents for locomotives, steam engines, boilers, railway carriages, and diving apparatus and invented a multi-tubular boiler for steam engines, in which the tubes were filled with water.

1829 W. H. James constructed a car-automobile, that travelled at a speed of 2.5 kilometres per hour, transporting passengers.

He took part with his father in the survey of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

1832 He built a coach driven by a four-cylinder engine, each paired off so that a pair drove one of the driving wheels independently. It had a three speed variable gear and a sprung rear axle. W. H. James recognized the need for flexibility in a self-propelled vehicle and introduced a rudimentary three-speed transmission.

1832. Patent. To W. H. James, of Thavies Inn, London, engineer, for improvements in the construction of steam-carriages.[9]

1833 Partnership dissolved. '...the Partnership which late subsisted between William Henry James, of Birmingham, in the County of Warwick, Civil Engineer, and William Read, Esq. for taking out a Patent or Patents for certain improvements in the construction of Steam Carriages, and in the apparatus or machinery for propelling the same, part of which, improvements are applicable to other purposes, and for perfecting and working such Patent or Patents and Invention, was this day dissolved by mutual consent; and such Patent or Patents and Invention will in future be worked and carried on by the said William Henry James alone...'[10]

1833. 'New Patent Steam Boiler and Carriage. — We have this week seen at work, a small steam-engine, with a boiler upon an entirely new and improved principle, the invention of Mr. W. H. James, of this town, civil engineer. The engine has, through the kindness of Mr. James, been exhibited in the course of the last few weeks to many gentlemen of the town and neighbourhood, who expressed their entire approbation of its principles and operations. We understand there is an intention of speedily forming a public company for the manufacture of engines and boilers upon this principle, and suited to the several purposes we have enumerated. We should mention that Mr. James also showed to us a steam-carriage, which is in a state of forwardness, and which is intended to travel on the common roads. — Birmingham Journal.'[11]

1835 W. H. James and Sir J. Anderton journeyed in a horseless carriage at 12 mph with fifteen passengers

1845 'The Mechanics' Magazine, of Saturday last, has a notice of a new plan, invented by Mr. W. H. James, for the rapid transmission of letters and light dispatches through tubular passages, at certain intervals in which he proposes to place air-exhausting machines, which will establish a perpetual current or artificial hurricane, by means of which spherically-shaped elastic vehicles, or bags, will be blown at inconceivable speed from station to station. The first cost is estimated by Mr. James at £2,000 per mile, and the working expenses at from £300 to £500 per annum for every fifty miles. This system would enable us to transmit documentary intelligence at the rate of 7,200 miles a day.'[12] Mr. W. H. James, the son of the eminent person of the same name, who has so prominently identified himself with the railway system.[13]

Went to live in the USA.

1861 Living at 8 St Mary St., Old Kent Road, Peckham: William H. James (age 65 born Henley in Arden), a Civil Engineer (Retired). With his wife Mary Ann James (age 54 born Bath). Also his widowed sister Susannah Kiablan(?) (age 60 born London).[14]

1871 Living at 5 Dulwich College: William H. James (age 75 born Henley in Arden, Warwickshire), a Civil Engineer. With an adopted son William H. J. Mings (age 8 born Peckham).[15]

1873 December 16th. Died in the Dulwich College almshouses.


DNB First edition

William James' eldest son, WILLIAM HENRY JAMES (1796-1873), born at Henley-in-Arden in March 1796, assisted his father in his survey of the Liverpool and Manchester railway.

He subsequently commenced business as an engineer in Birmingham, where he made experiments upon steam locomotion on common roads. He took out patents for locomotives, steam-engines, boilers, railway carriages, diving apparatus, &c., and he is commonly stated to have anticipated Stephenson in the application of the tubular boiler to locomotives, but this is an error, James's boiler being what is known as a 'water-tube' boiler.

He died 16 Dec. 1873 in the Dulwich College Almshouses.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Steam Locomotion on Common Roads by William Fletcher. Published 1891.
  2. The Engineer 1867/03/08
  3. Mechanics Magazine 1824/06/19
  4. Berrow's Worcester Journal (Worcester, England), Thursday, July 08, 1824
  5. The Morning Post (London, England), Wednesday, December 26, 1827
  6. Hereford Journal - Wednesday 16 June 1824
  7. Worcester Herald - Saturday 21 March 1829
  8. Morning Post - Monday 12 October 1829
  9. Hereford Journal - Wednesday 19 September 1832
  10. The London Gazette Publication date:8 October 1833 Issue:19091 Page:1804
  11. Lancaster Gazette - Saturday 28 December 1833
  12. Blackburn Standard - Wednesday 16 April 1845
  13. Royal Cornwall Gazette - Friday 25 April 1845
  14. 1861 census
  15. 1871 census
  • Buses and Trolleybuses before 1919 by David Kaye. Published 1972
  • [1] History and Progress of the Steam Engine: With a Practical Investigation of ... By Elijah Galloway, Luke Hebert.
  • [2] The Life and Times of Sir Goldsworthy Gurney: Gentleman Scientist and ... By Dale H. Porter
  • DNB
  • Timothy Hackworth and the Locomotive by Robert Young. Published 1923.
  • Engineers and Mechanics Encyclopedia 1839: Railways: William Henry James