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George Arthur Biddell

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1858. Machine for Cutting Vegetable Substances.

George Arthur Biddell (1824-1901) of Ipswich

Second son of Arthur Biddell and his wife Jane (nee Ransome)

Died 1901 aged 78. [1]


1901 Obituary [2]

GEORGE ARTHUR BIDDELL, second son of Mr. Arthur Biddell, was born at Playford, near Ipswich, on the 28th January, 1824, and was educated at a private school at Grundisburgh, a village near Playford.

Having shown considerable aptitude for engineering he was apprenticed in 1840 for seven years to Ransomes and May, of the Orwell Works, Ipswich.

In 1846, while still an apprentice, he was sent by the firm to superintend the erection of a factory at Tours for the manufacture of compressed wedges and trenails for railways. His apprenticeship expired in 1847, but his services were so highly appreciated by the firm that he was engaged for a period of three years as sub-manager of the works.

In 1850 he was appointed assistant to Mr. Hensman, the Chief Engineer of the machinery department at the Great Exhibition of 1851, at the close of which a superintendent’s medal and diploma were awarded to him in recognition of his services at the Exhibition. Mr. Biddell invented a great number of labour saving appliances and agricultural implements, one of his most important inventions being the application of chilling to the manufacture of railway crossings.

He also invented a self-regulating gas-burner, which was manufactured at Ipswich.

At the close of the Great Exhibition Mr. Biddell accompanied his cousin, Sir George Biddell Airy, the late Astronomer Royal, on a trip into Wales, and on his return he was appointed head of one of the departments of the Orwell Works, subsequently becoming Chief Engineer of the works in 1853, which office he held until March 1876, when he retired from the service of the firm, at that time known as Ransomes, Sims and Head.

Mr. Biddell superintended the construction at the Orwell Works, and the subsequent erection at Greenwich in 1850, of the transit instrument for the Observatory. The transit instrument for the Cape Observatory was also constructed at the Orwell Works under his care in 1853, and in 1859 he made and fixed the great equatorial at Greenwich. Sir George Airy had a high opinion of him, and chose him as a companion in several scientific tours throughout the country.

On his retirement from Messrs. Ransomes, Sims and Head’s service Mr. Biddell undertook for a time consulting work, and was in much request in arbitration cases, but he gradually withdrew from this class of work and devoted himself to the study of astronomy, and to the improvement of his many and various patents. In the early sixties he patented a rifled shot, which was tried at Landguard Fort, and as late as October 1887 he took out a further patent for rifled shot.

In 1883 Mr. Biddell was invited to join the board of the Ipswich Gas Company, and entered with characteristic energy into the details of the working of the concern. In 1895 he was elected Chairman of the Company, and held that post until his death, which took place at his residence, Upland Gate, Bishop’s Hill, Ipswich, on the 23rd June, 1901. Mr. Biddell was a most lovable man, of high principles and sterling worth, and is greatly missed in the district in which he lived. He was for forty-six years Warden of Holy Trinity Church, Ipswich.

Mr. Biddell was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 6th March, 1849, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 17th April, 1877.


GEORGE ARTHUR BIDDELL was a member of a well-known Suffolk family. He was a grandson of the founder of the firm of Ransomes, of Ipswich, and inherited through his mother --Jane Ransome- a knowledge and inventive ability in the engineering industry which made him an outstanding man of his time.

He was apprenticed to Ransomes' works in 1840, and remained with the firm until 1876, when he retired from business, and devoted the rest of his life to good works in Ipswich and the neighbourhood. After his retirement George Biddell wrote reminscences. See Ransome and Son or The Engineer 1944/05/19 p 384.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1901/06/28, p669.
  2. 1901 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries