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Samuel Clegg

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Samuel Clegg (1781-1861)

One of the employees at the Soho Foundry, Samuel Clegg, saw the potential of gas as a new form of lighting. Clegg left his job to set up his own gas lighting business.

The man who first utilised the flammability of gas for lighting, was William Murdoch (sometimes spelt 'Murdock'), who worked for Matthew Boulton and James Watt at their Soho Foundry. Murdoch began experimenting with various types of gas in the early 1790s, finally settling on coal gas as the most effective. In 1798 he used gas to light the main building of the Soho Foundry and in 1802 lit the outside in a public display of gas lighting, the lights astonishing the local population.

Clegg witnessed many of William Murdoch's early experiments in the use of coal gas. He left in 1805 to set up as a gas engineer on his own account and was soon engaged by Henry Lodge to adapt a new gas lighting system to his cotton mills at Sowerby Bridge, near Halifax.

To purify gas Clegg developed a wet-liming process, which was widely used for some forty years.

1812 joined the newly founded Chartered Gas Co .

1813 Used gas to light Rudolph Ackermann's fine-art establishment in the Strand, London.

1814 was appointed engineer to the Chartered Gas Co

1817 Left the company after a dispute over pay

1817 With Frederick Accum, installed gas at the Royal Mint, incorporating a self-activating wet meter of his own design.

For some years he was engaged in the construction of gasworks, or in advising on the formation of new gas companies.

1828 Patent sealed: 'To Samuel Clegg, of Chapel-walks, Liverpool, civil engineer, for certain improvements in the construction of steam-engines, steam-boilers, and generators.— 20th March: six months.'[1]

1829 Samuel Clegg, Imperial Gas Works, Engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[2]

Joined an engineering firm at Liverpool but lost everything he owned.

1836, with his son, Samuel, he was employed by the Portuguese government as an engineer. In that capacity he reconstructed the mint at Lisbon, and executed several other public works.

Worked with Jacob Samuda on an atmospheric railway.

Appointed by the government as one of the surveying officers for conducting preliminary inquiries on applications for new gas bills, and he contributed to the exhaustive treatise on the manufacture of coal gas published by his son in 1850.

1861 died at home on 8 January 1861


1862 Obituary [3]

Samuel Clegg was born at Manchester, on the 2nd of March, 1781, and after receiving at that place a good education, he enjoyed the advantage of the scientific instruction of Dr. Dalton.

He was then apprenticed to Boulton and Watt, and at the Soho factory he fully availed himself of the practical instruction and the example of Murdoch and the other able men who at that time, under the supervision of James Watt, directed the great works undertaken by the firm.

At that period Murdoch was practically adapting for public use his invention of lighting by gas. Mr. Clegg followed these experiments and attempts with much interest, and profited so well by the experience he gained, that he was soon practically enraged to adapt the system for lighting the Cotton Mill of Henry Lodge, at Sowerby Bridge, near Halifax.

At that place he early perceived the necessity for some simple process for purifying the gas, and his chemical knowledge readily indicated lime as the best purifying medium, and after much perseverance in modifying the details of the apparatus, he succeeded in producing the Lime Purifiers which, with hut little alteration, remain in use at the present time.

At that period Winsor was making an energetic struggle against prejudice and private interest for the introduction of Gas Lighting into London; and Mr. Clegg, perceiving an opening, came to the metropolis.

His first active occupation was in lighting, in 1813, the establishment of Mr. Ackermann, in the Strand, which was so successful as to bring him prominently forward, and in 1814 he became the Engineer of the Chartered Gas Company, whose works much needed the direction of a skilful man; his exertions were speedily successful, and Mr. Clegg’s reputation was made.

He soon became aware of the disadvantage of payment for gas being made by time, and by the nominal consumption of different kinds of burners, and he directed his attention to a means of measuring the actual consumption. After many attempts to construct a dry meter, which would register satisfactorily, he, in 1816, contrived and patented a Water Meter which has been the basis of all the subsequent improvements in the methods of measuring gas.

For some years he continued to be actively engaged in the construction of Gas Works; or in advising on the formation of new Gas Companies, then springing up in all directions; but in an evil hour he was induced to join an engineering establishment at Liverpool, which was not successful, and giving up all to the creditors of the firm, he had to commence the world afresh.

It must he recorded, to his honour, that although he never was an opulent man, he could not rest until he had paid in full all that was due to the creditors of the firm of which he had been a partner.

He was afterwards appointed by the Portuguese Government to an Engineering position of importance, and in that capacity he reconstructed the Mint at Lisbon, and executed several public works, some of which are mentioned in a Paper presented to the Institution of Civil Engineers by the late Mr. S. Clegg, jun.

The Railway epoch opened a new field for Mr. Clegg, and on his return from Portugal, he directed his attention to the question of traction; unfortunately he was fascinated with the Atmospheric system, at the introduction of which he laboured very hard, and he attempted with much ingenuity to overcome the inherent defects of the system. Its failure was a great blow to him, and he never after took any very active part in public affairs.

He was appointed by the Government one of the surveying officers for conducting preliminary inquiries on applications for new Gas R..ls, and he occupied his spare time chiefly in contributing to the elaborate History of Gas Lighting published by his son: and he devised a new Gas Meter, which exhibited much ingenuity, but the idea was not fully carried out.

It has been truly written of Mr. Clegg, by a professional friend who knew him well:- 'Samuel Clegg earned for himself a world-wide reputation as the founder of a system of artificial lighting that completely revolutionised former methods of illumination, and which, among the many inventions of the present century, yields only to railways and to the electric telegraph in its influence on the social and economic condition of society. Of the importance of this system - which, if not invented, was at least first successfully established by the efforts of Samuel Clegg - some idea may be formed from the amount of capital and labour employed in its operation. In this country alone the capital invested in gas-works is estimated at not less than £30,000,000, in addition to the sums employed in the various trades associated with the supply of gas, including ironfounders, fire-brick makers, tubemakers, brsssfounders, meter manufacturers, gas-fitters, &c. It is no small consideration also that all the apparatus employed is of native manufacture, and that every shilling expended is applied in employing the labour of our countrymen.

The value of the gas annually consumed in the United Kingdom is estimated at £5,000,000, and the coal used in the manufacture amounts yearly to the enormous quantity of 3,500,000 tons. Nor is the influence of gas lighting on the capital and labour of this country limited to those sums, prodigious as they seem, for the coal and iron used in foreign gas-works are principally derived from England.

Such is a brief outline of the extent and influence of the new industry that was mainly created by Samuel Clegg. Winsor, the two Crosleys, John Malam, and many other of his coadjutors in the great work, have long preceded him to the grave; but we have yet left among us Lowe, Neilson, G. H. Palmer, and Grafton, as connecting links with the past - men who strenuously laboured with him whose death we now mourn, in overcoming the obstacles that stood in the way of the success which they ultimately accomplished.'

Mr. Clegg was a very old member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, which he joined in 1829: in the early and struggling days of the Society he was a constant attendant at the meetings, frequently joining in the discussions; and he never ceased to take a lively interest in the proceedings, and to come among his professional brethren, by whom he was universally respected and esteemed.

In private life, his natural reserve and diffidence prevented Mr. Clegg from being known and appreciated to the extent which his genius and acquirements would otherwise have commanded; but to his intimate friends he was endeared and respected by his sterling integrity of character, by his affectionate disposition, and, by a happy flow of spirits, which he retained to the last.

His was not a death of disease and pain: it was the wasting away of the lamp of life, which, after having, during a long career, shone brightly on the world, flickered and expired on the eighth day of January, 1861, at the mature age of seventy-nine years.



See Also

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Sources of Information

  • Biography, ODNB [1]