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John Henry Holmes

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John Henry Holmes (1857-1935) of J. H. Holmes and Co

1935 Obituary.[1]

JOHN HENRY HOLMES, who was elected a Member of the Institution in 1892, was born on the 6th June, 1857, and died on the 27th April, 1935. His death severed one of the few remaining links with the early days of our profession and industry, when an electrical engineer had to be rather a universalist than a specialist. It is true that the range of subjects was less than now; but knowledge was also restricted. Much of the procedure was by rule of thumb, and anything that threw light on methods of predicting results was hailed as truly epoch-making.

Some of his school-years were spent at the Friends School at Bootham, York, where the rudiments of science were included in the ordinary course, and where he also had leisure-time opportunities of gaining experience in the use of tools. At the age of 16 he went with an entrance exhibition to the Durham College of Science (now Armstrong College), where the only professors were those of mathematics, geology, physics, and chemistry; and two years later he was apprenticed to Head, Wrightson and Co., of Stockton-on Tees. There he began to handle electrical apparatus: an arc light was installed in the Bridge Yard, and the dynamo to work it was Siemens and Halske's No. 61. In August, 1881, after time spent in various capacities with John Abbot and Co., of Gateshead, Thomas and Charles Hawksley, of Westminster, and Clarke Chapman and Gurney, of Gateshead, Mr. Holmes entered the service of Mr. John S. Raworth, of Manchester, and so became an electrical engineer. His duties began with a share in the lighting of the new ship City of Rome with 16 arc lamps and 230 Swan lamps, and continued in many other installations, both in ships and ashore, until April, 1883, when he left Mr. Raworth and, in partnership with his father and two elder brothers, established an electrical engineering business in Newcastle-on-Tyne under the name of J. H. Holmes and Co. The undertaking so founded went on as a partnership for 45 years until 1928, after which the established goodwill and traditions of the firm were continued by A. Reyrolle and Co., Ltd., under the style of J. H. Holmes and Co., Ltd., so that at the time of Mr. Holmes's death the work he initiated had gone on for over half a century, under his own care for most of the time, and even now it has not ceased.

The first Holmes dynamo was built in 1884, and in the same year Mr. Holmes invented the quick break switch. In 1889 he visited Egypt to study the requirements of vessels passing through the Suez Canal by night, and afterwards designed and supplied portable lighting apparatus that effectively increased the capacity of the Canal by greatly extending its use in the dark hours. Train-lighting and electroplating dynamos were also produced; and in 1897 the commencement of the sale of " Lundell " motors, under patent rights from, America, was a pioneering step in the application of electric driving in industry. One of the interesting uses of these motors in 1897 was for the propulsion of electric cabs. In 1898 the patented Holmes-Clatworthy 2-motor system of driving newspaper-presses was introduced, and many of the world's most important newspapers have been printed by its agency. The firm continued to develop as general manufacturing electrical engineers, and Mr. Holmes's personal influence on its engineering side was invaluable because of his almost passionate love of good mechanical ideas. His friends who used to see him in his workshop (now transferred practically intact to the Newcastle-on-Tyne Municipal Museum of Science and Industry) will need no further reminder of his fine workmanship.

Those who knew John Henry Holmes personally will remember him as a man of a rather retiring nature. He had a heart that prompted him to 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.

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