Monthly Archives: July 2020

John Henry Holmes: electrical leading light

Newcastle and Tyneside in general, is rightly famous for the inventions produced here.  From the railways to the hydraulic crane and from the first turbine driven ship to the electric light bulb (and many others besides), Tyneside was the home of some of the most important inventions in human history.  But the last invention mentioned above would be of little use to use without a switch to help us turn it on. Thankfully that was also invented.  And the place where it was invented?  Yes, Newcastle again, not far from Heaton, by a man with strong links to Heaton itself.

John Henry Holmes Copyright: Newcastle Libraries, Local Studies

That man was John Henry Holmes, an engineer, Quaker and inventor. Holmes was born in Newcastle on 6 June 1857 and grew up first of all in Gateshead and then in Jesmond. His father was a ‘paint and color manufacturer, glass and oil merchant’ with his own factory.  John attended the Friends School in Bootham, York, where he was taught the rudiments of science.  Holmes must have absorbed much of what he was taught as, at the age of 16, he won a place at the Durham College of Physical Science, later Armstrong College, now Newcastle University. Two years later, having completed his studies, Holmes was apprenticed to Head, Wrightson and Co of Stockton-on Tees. 

Light switch

It was at Head, Wrightson and Co that Holmes began to handle electrical apparatus. Then in August, 1881, Holmes became an electrical engineer, working for John S Raworth of Manchester.  His first work with Raworth was helping to fit out a new ship, City of Rome, built by Barrow Shipbuilders in 1881, with 16 arc lamps and 230 Swan lamps. 

In April 1883, John made a bold decision. Having built upon his successful work with City of Rome by continuing to install lamps both onshore and in ships, Holmes decided to establish his own company in Newcastle, along with his father and two elder brothers, Alfred and Theodore. So it was that an electrical engineering business under the name of J H Holmes was established.  The company was to last until 1928, fully 45 years, until their work was taken under the wings of  A Reyrolle and Co Ltd.  Consequently, the work initiated by Holmes went on for over 50 years under his supervision and in some respects continues to this day. 

It was the following year that Holmes invented his light switch, the first in the world, at his workshop on Portland Road, Shieldfield, just outside Heaton. This switch enabled electric light to be easily used. In1883, Holmes had installed electric lighting in ‘Wellburn’, the family home in Jesmond, which thus became the first house in Newcastle to be lit by electricity. This work caused Holmes to develop what is now the familiar quick break switch. He patented this invention in Great Britain and the United States in 1884.

Holmes’ light switch, the Discovery Museum

This was a huge breakthrough, in helping people to use electric lights. This new technology ensured that what was known as electric arcing was prevented, by causing the internal contacts to move apart quickly enough.  This was very important as electric arcing could cause fires or shorten the life span of a switch. You can still see Holmes’ original invention at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum.

Prolific inventor

Holmes didn’t restrict his work to this country.  The Suez Canal was opened in November 1869 and by the late 1880s had become an important transport artery for the British Empire, cutting travel time for ships between the Indian subcontinent and Britain.  In 1889, Holmes visited Egypt, where he studied the requirements of vessels traveling along the canal at night.  Subsequently, Holmes ‘designed and supplied portable lighting apparatus that effectively increased the capacity of the Canal by greatly extending its use in the dark hours’. 

Holmes then moved on to finding ways of lighting trains and producing electroplating dynamos. These are described as being, ‘designed for low potential and high current intensity. They are wound for low resistance, frequently several wires being used in parallel, or ribbon, bar or rectangular conductors being employed. They are of the direct current type. They should be shunt wound or they are liable to reverse. They are sometimes provided with resistance in the shunt, which is changed as desired to alter the electro-motive force.’ So there, now you know…  However you describe Holmes’ work, he was certainly developing a reputation for pioneering electrical engineering work.   

Holmes was indeed a prolific inventor. In 1897, Holmes commenced the sale of ‘Lundell’ motors under patent from the USA. This has been seen as a ‘pioneering step in the electric driving of industry’ and indeed one of the early and most interesting uses of this motor was in electric cabs.   

The following year Holmes was at it again! This time he invented something which would help the publishing industries, for it was in 1898 that the Holmes-Clatworthy 2-motor system was patented and this would go on to drive newspaper presses for many of the world’s most important newspapers.

As the twentieth century dawned, so the company continued to develop and Holmes remained involved.  It has been said of Holmes that his, ‘personal influence on its engineering side was invaluable because of his almost passionate love of good mechanical ideas’.

Holmes was known as a kindly man, with a reputation for having a quiet, retiring nature.  Indeed it has been said of him that his nature prompted Holmes to perform, ‘many kindly acts and caused him to take a particularly keen interest in young people, and his orderly mind compelled him to do his best in all that he undertook and enabled him to play a notable part in the spread of a new way of doing things’.

Holmes and Heaton

So we have learnt that John Henry Holmes invented the light switch very close to Heaton in neighbouring Shieldfield, but what links did he have to Heaton itself? 

Holmes had at least two close links with Heaton.  The 1901 census shows us that his brother Ellwood was living in High Heaton at ‘Wyncote’ on Jesmond Park East.  It describes him as being 35 years of age and an ‘employer’. He is described as an ‘Electrical Engineer and Paint and Colour Manufacturer.‘ He is evidently working in the family business. At this time, Ellwood has a 28 year-old wife called Edith, a son called Charles, aged three, and two sisters, Margaret and Ada, aged 30 and 24 respectively, living with his family.  In 1911, Ellwood was still on Jesmond Park East and had added ‘licensed methylator’ to his list of occupations. This is someone licensed to manufacture and sell methylated spirits.

In 1928, when John Henry Holmes was 71 years old,  his company, J H Holmes and Co,   was incorporated into A Reyrolle and Co in Hebburn as a wholly-owned subsidiary. So it was that six years later, in the last year of his life, Holmes’ work gained a direct Heaton connection.  It has been noted that, ‘A Reyrolle and Co established Parolle Electrical Plant Co Ltd as a private company for construction of electrical and other plant with the specific aim of acquiring shares in C A  Parsons and Co from the executors of the estate of the late Sir Charles Parsons. Two directors were appointed by Reyrolle and one by Parsons.’ So Holmes’ work became directly connected to Heaton’s most famous company.

Legacy

John Henry Holmes’ eventful life ended in 1935. He is buried in Old Jesmond Cemetery.

John Henry Holmes’ grave, Jesmond Old Cemetery Copyright: Janet Burn and Heaton History Group

As the saying goes, ‘if you want to see his legacy, look around you’.  If you are reading this somewhere indoors, it shouldn’t be too difficult to see an electric light switch. It has been noted that Holmes’ ‘quick break technology remains in use in domestic and industrial light switches modern times.’

Sources

‘A Fine and Private Place: Jesmond Old Cemetery‘ / by Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge, 2000. 1857951557

The Northumbrians: North-East England and Its People: a new history’ / by Dan Jackson; Hurst, 2019. 1787381943

Ancestry

Find My Past

https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/John_Henry_Holmes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Henry_Holmes

https://wikivisually.com/wiki/John_Henry_Holmes

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Peter Sagar, Heaton History Group with additional material by Arthur Andrews. Thank you to Newcastle Libraries for the image of John Henry Holmes.

Can you help?

If you know more about John Henry Holmes or anyone mentioned in the article or have photographs to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Arthur Edward George: aviation pioneer

Heaton, we know, was home to a number of clever, adventurous and brave young men who learnt to fly in the early days of aviation, mostly as a result of the first world war: William Douglass Horsley, who was to become chief electrical engineer at Parsons, was a founder member of the RAF, after being transferred from its predecessor, the Royal Flying Corps; Gladstone Adams, later to invent the windscreen wiper, was a reconnaissance photographer with the Royal Flying Corps – to him fell the task of photographing the body of Baron von Richthofen ‘The Red Baron’ to prove to the authorities back home that he was really dead; gifted young civil engineer, Henry Clifford Stroud, trying to intercept a German bomber at night in a an era before radar and radio, was killed in a collision with another British plane. And there were more. But noteworthy as their achievements were, only one man, a genuine pioneer, is remembered still for his contribution to aviation. That honour goes to Arthur Edward George, once of Jesmond Park West in Heaton.

Sportsman

Arthur was born in Fordington, Dorset on 17 June 1875. By the time he was five, his family had moved to Newcastle and were living in the west end. His father was a ‘house estate and insurance agent’. By the time of the 1891 census, Arthur, now 15, was serving his time as a mechanical engineering apprentice. Young Arthur was a talented sportsman. Local newspapers give testament to his cycling prowess. He was also a keen swimmer and predicted by some to be a future Olympian.

After qualifying as a mechanical engineer, Arthur went to South Africa, serving in the 2nd Boer War with the Cape Colony Cyclist Corps and also competing in cycling events there. He received the Queens South Africa Medal with three clasps.

In 1902, having returned to Newcastle,  Arthur first became connected with Heaton. He and business partner, 30 year old Robert Lee Jobling, ‘a mechanical engineer, motors and cycles’ (according to the census), who lived at 48 Sixth Avenue, founded George and Jobling. Their firm operated from the old Stephenson Locomotive Works in South Street, Newcastle for over 60 years.

They began by building bikes but soon began to concentrate on the motor trade – both repairs and sales. George and Jobling was a dealership for evocative names such as Argyll, Humber, Vauxhall, Wolseley, Darracq and Dodge. The partnership is credited with inventing the forerunner of the trolley-jack and the breakdown truck. Remember, this was at a time when all cars were hand-built, when both steam and electricity seemed viable candidates for powering them and two years before the historic meeting in Manchester between Charles Rolls and Henry Royce. The first all-British four-wheel car was built by Herbert Austin, manager of the Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Company in 1900. By 1904, there were about 23,000 cars on Britain’s roads, compared with around 38,300,000 now. 

Four years later, the Model T Ford became the world’s first mass-produced (and so affordable) car and, by 1910, car ownership in Britain had quadrupled. Arthur George and Robert Jobling were obviously good at what they did, innovative, prepared to take risks and with an eye for future trends. They soon had outlets as far afield as Glasgow, Leeds, Darlington, Hexham, Alnwick and Bowness on Windermere.

Arthur also raced cars and finished third in the 1908 RAC Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man. He competed on the track at Brooklands in Surrey, winning the All-Ford race with Henry Ford watching from the stands, as well as on Saltburn Sands.

Arthur George’s ‘The Golden Ford’

The Model T Ford he drove, with his own bespoke brass bodywork, was known as ‘The Golden Ford’. It survives and belongs to Tuckett’s of Buckinghamshire. It was the subject of Channel 4’s ‘The Salvage Squad’ in 2004. You might even have seen it: in 2017, it was brought back to Newcastle for the re-opening of the Stephenson Works as a music venue called ‘The Boiler Shop’. 

Aviation

Arthur became interested in flying after attending the world’s first international public flying event, la Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne, an eight day show held in Reims, France in August 1909. It was this historic meeting which confirmed the viability of heavier-than-air flight. Half a million people, including the French President, Armand Falliere, and future British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, attended and almost all  the prominent aviators of the time took part. Henri Farman, a Franco-British aviator, broke the world record for distance with a flight of 180 kilometres. On the final day, during a competition for the fastest flight, Louis Bleriot’s plane crashed and was destroyed in the resulting fire.

Nevertheless Arthur was inspired and he returned to Newcastle to design and build his own bi-plane at the South Street works. Just six months later, in March 1910, the plane was shown at George and Jobling stand at the London Olympia Aero and Motor Boat Exhibition.

It featured a unique ‘triplicate control column’ to simplify the handling of the aircraft and which many aviation experts consider to be the first ever joy stick. This remarkable piece of equipment can still be seen at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum.

On 6 September 1910, Arthur George became the 19th person to obtain his Royal Aero Club Pilot’s Licence in a plane, ‘Bird of Passage’ that he bought from JTC Moore-Brabazon, the very first person to obtain the licence just six months earlier.

Sadly, before the year had ended, Arthur had crashed the George and Jobling plane at Northumberland Golf Club in Gosforth Park and no bank would lend him money to enable the prototype to go into production, believing it to be too risky a venture.

In WWI, Arthur served in the Northumberland Motor Volunteer Corps as a temporary Major. He hadn’t given up flying, however, and in 1925 became a founding member of Newcastle Aero Club and became a member of its executive council. Older Heatonians might recognise another well known local name, that of Doctor Eric Dagger, who practised in Heaton, as did his son.

Newcastle Aero Club executive council, including Arthur George

By 1929, Arthur and his second wife, Monica, were living at ‘The Haven’, 93 Jesmond Park West, High Heaton.

‘The Haven’ Jesmond Park West, Arthur George’s High Heaton home

In the second world war, he served first of all as Honorary Chief Wing Commander of 131 Tyneside Squadron Air Defence Cadet Corps and then in the Home Guard.

(Incidentally, Arthur’s son, Lieutenant A E George Jnr of the Australian Army was awarded the Military Cross for special work behind Japanese lines. He attended both the RGS in Newcastle and Durham School as well as playing rugby for Gosforth Nomads.)

In 1951, just three months after he flew an aircraft for the last time on his 75th birthday, Arthur Edward George died while visiting his daughter in Bingley, Yorkshire. His funeral, back in Newcastle, was attended not only by friends and family but also by business partner, Heaton’s Robert Jobling, and by officials and members of Newcastle Aero Club. There was a fly past by two Tiger Moths, which dipped their wings out of respect.

A posthumous award of the Royal Aero Club’s silver medal for ‘services to aviation for over 50 years’ followed.

Acknowledgements

Researched and written by Arthur Andrews, with additional material by Chris Jackson, both of Heaton History Group. Copyright: Arthur Andrews and Heaton History Group.

Sources

Ancestry

British Newspaper Archive

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/history/over-100-years-after-built-12160961

Findmypast Graces Guide

70 Years of Flying 1923-1995’ – by John Sleight

Wikipedia

Can you help?

If you know more about Arthur Edward George, Robert Lee Jobling or anyone mentioned in the article or have photographs to share, we’d love to hear from you. You can contact us either through this website by clicking on the link immediately below the article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org