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John Phanuel Roe

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John Phanuel Roe (c1814-1888)

1842 John Phanuel Roe, Resident Engineer of the Rhymney Iron Works, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1889 Obituary [2]

JOHN PHANUEL ROE was born in Ireland, where his father, Mr. Peter Roe, was a merchant and landowner; but late in life, meeting with reverses, he came to England, when the subject of this notice was a lad of fifteen.

Mr. J. P. Roe was educated at Salisbury, his studies being directed with a view to his entering the medical profession, but a strong liking for mechanics led him to abandon that idea. In the result, he was, articled to Mr. William Llewellyn, public-works and mining engineer, of Pontypool.

On the expiration of his pupilage, in 1835, he entered the Dowlais Ironworks as a draughtsman and assistant engineer, being afterwards advanced to the charge of some of the mines. He next engaged with the Rhymney Iron Co as assistant engineer, under Mr. Richards, and on the death of that gentleman, shortly after the works were commenced, succeeded to him as Chief Engineer, completing the undertaking, and building five blast-furnaces, with blowing-engines ; also designing and erecting pumping- and mining-machinery of various kinds, together with extensive rolling-mill machinery.

He organized a locomotive line between Rhymney and the shipping berths at Newport, besides largely introducing locomotive haulage in other directions, notably upon the Company’s limestone road, previously worked by horses, where, after bettering some of the curves and steeper portions, suitable locomotives were successfully worked on grades of 1 in 28; shoe or skid brakes, acting on the rails, were used.

Mr. Roe, about the year 1845, designed and constructed, to the best of his own belief, the first eight-wheeled double-bogie locomotive to haul heavy traffic. The engines had an intermediate shaft, which was connected to the bogies, so as to allow of freedom of movement.

From Rhymney Mr. Roe went to the Nantyglo and Beaufort Ironworks, as Chief Engineer, under the late Crawshay Bailey; and from there to the late William Crawshay, as Chief Engineer to his works and mines at Cyfarthfa, Treforest, and Newbridge (South Wales). Here again he had to do with the designing, erection, and maintenance of blast-furnace, mill, mining, and pumping plant.

While at Cyfarthfa he designed and applied a travelling steam-racking engine for discharging an extensive installation of coke ovens, and about the year 1855 introduced trip-expansion gear to one of the blast-engines. This gear was probably the first of a general type that has since been developed and largely used in various forms.

During Mr. Roe’s Cyfarthfa engagement, he was consulted by the Llynvi Iron Co, for whom he afterwards became General Manager and Engineer, designing and erecting at the works mining, furnace, mill, and other machinery, and generally remodelling the plant. Here, also, he devised and put to work with great success probably the first direct-acting mill engine, driving the roll train without the intervention of spur-wheels. This mill, when rolling small rods, worked at 400 revolutions per minute, and, in spite of the comparatively limited choice of material at the designer's command in those days for such speeds, the mill was in 1887 still working satisfactorily. When at Llynvi, he built also branch lines and several bridges to connect the works with the Llynvi Valley Railway.

In 1867 Mr. Roe went into business at Cardiff as a consulting and general engineer and iron-founder, where he designed and built a quantity of mining, hydraulic, and mill plant. But his commercial instinct was not on a par with his engineering abilities, and he lost a large sum of money in this venture, which he subsequently abandoned, and went to the West Cumberland Works at Workington. There he put up extensive steel-making plant, and remodelled portions of the older parts of the ironworks.

From Cumberland Mr. Roe went to the Consett Company, County Durham, as Chief Engineer, where he remained for the rest of his life, engaged in the designing and laying out of the most modern and powerful iron and steel manufacturing plant of various kinds. He rearranged parts of the works, railways, and other means of communication, and designed and constructed one of the most powerful and, of its kind, complete steel plants, embracing several new departures in the direction of economy of working.

He, at Consett, also designed and put up very extensive brickmaking works, possessing several new features, which have produced very satisfactory results as to economy and quality of work done. Among these is the utilization of otherwise waste heat from batteries of coke-ovens built in conjunction with the brickmaking-works, whereby the use or" outside fuel for drying and burning the bricks is reduced to a nominal quantity.

While with the Consett firm Mr. Roe advised the Orconera Iron Ore Company, of Bilbao, as to its appliances, and designed the large shipping-staithes at Luchana, with telescopic shoots and other devices for rapidly loading large craft under the special local conditions and requirements. He also acted as consulting engineer in reference to the heavy curved gravity incline, and various transport, mining, and other plant, designed chiefly in Spain, by his son, Mr. Pearce Roe, who was the Company's Resident Engineer. He was still fully engaged in professional matters when he died, on the 8th of September, 1888, in his seventy-fourth year.

From the above record it will be seen that Mr. Roe was an active worker for nearly sixty years. He was a man of great breadth of reading and general knowledge, and an ardent lover of Nature, whose lessons, as applied to engineering, he was never tired of learning. He was very inventive, and schemed a great variety of appliances of all kinds in connection with the manufacture of iron and steel ; but, owing to a naturally retiring nature, he never published his doings. He was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 1st of February, 1842, and though long since qualified for full membership, never cared to fulfil the formalities necessary for his transfer to the higher grade.


1888 Obituary [3]



1889 Obituary [4]

JOHN PHANUEL ROE, who died on September 9th last, at his residence, Consett House, at the advanced age of seventy-three years, was the chief engineer of the Consett Iron Company. He was born in Ireland, in January 1815. At the age of fourteen he removed to South Wales, with the mining and metallurgical industries of which he was for many years afterwards prominently connected.

Having expressed a preference for mechanical engineering as a profession, Mr. Roe was in due course apprenticed to the late Mr. Llewellyn of the Pontypool Works, whence he afterwards removed to the Works of Dowlais. Here he was employed as assistant-engineer, first at the ironstone mines, and afterwards he became the mechanical engineer of the ironworks.

From Dowlais Mr. Roe proceeded to the Rhymney Ironworks, also in South Wales. Here in his capacity of chief engineer he introduced on a mineral line of railway locomotives to work gradients of 1 in 28, which in those days was considered rather a daring venture. He also constructed at Rhymney a large double bogey engine for working the heavy traffic on the Rhymney and Newport line. This was probably one of the first bogey locomotives made.

The late Mr. Robert Crawshay having had Mr. Roe's work brought under his notice, offered him the post of engineer at Cyfarthfa. This position Mr. Roe accepted, and filled for some time satisfactorily, introducing, among other improvements at Cyfarthfa, an arrangement for discharging coke ovens by a steam-engine. From Cyfarthfa Mr. Roe proceeded to the works of the Llynvi and Tondu Company, where he remodelled the rolling-mills, and substituted for the old system of spur-gearing, a direct-acting engine working up to about 400 revolutions per minute.

From Llynvi Mr. Roe proceeded to Cardiff, where he went into business as an engine and iron founder and engine-maker.

From Cardiff he went to West Cumberland Works for a time, and thence proceeded to Consett as chief engineer, where he was many years engaged in connection with the most modern iron and steel manufacturing plant of various kinds, having recently designed and put to work the new and heavy steel-making plant there, embracing several new features applied with a view to economy of fuel and labour.

He also designed and carried out the new brickworks at Consett, where a great saving of fuel has been effected by utilising the waste heat from coke ovens, besides embracing various other departures from ordinary practice.

While at Consett Mr. Roe designed for the Orconera Iron Ore Company their shipping plant, and acted as consulting engineer during the progress of constructive work, such as the heavy incline and other plant designed and erected by Mr. Pearce Roe, who was then resident engineer.

Mr. Roe was a man who was known to his friends as possessing great breadth of knowledge and research. He was of a kindly, but somewhat retiring disposition, and a great lover of Nature. At the time of his death he was one of the oldest members of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

He became a member of the Institute in 1875.


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