Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 149,755 pages of information and 235,473 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Walter Gordon Wilson

From Graces Guide

Major Walter Gordon Wilson engineer (1874-1957), with William Tritton developed the tank.

1874 April 21st. Born at Blackrock, Dublin, son of George Orr Wilson who died in 1902 leaving an estate of c.£120,000 (worth about £6 Million in today's money)[1]

Educated at HMS Britannia and King's College, Cambridge.

Through Lord Braye, Wilson was introduced to Percy Pilcher, a lecturer in naval architecture and a keen gliding enthusiast. Wilson observed Pilcher's gliding activities with a profound technical interest and soon became enthused with the possibilities of powered flight.

1897/8 Founded a company with Percy Pilcher[2] which built some experimental gliders, but also had the objective of building what might have been the world's first (combustion) aero-engine.

By 1899 Wilson had designed a prototype engine but before it could be built Pilcher was killed in a gliding accident.

The shock put an end to Wilson's plans for powered flight and he looked instead at the "horseless carriage". In new premises in Westminster he created the Wilson-Pilcher motor car embodying epicyclic gears and some remarkable new features which in later years came to be regarded as the hallmark of good design in motor cars of quality

Managing director of the firm of Wilson-Pilcher, engineers and motor-car builders, of Westminster, pioneers of motor car construction.[3]

1904 Married Ethel Crommelin; 3 sons.

1904 The firm was acquired by Armstrong Whitworth; Wilson went to Newcastle to head the motor department of that firm until the end of 1907.

Experimented with the combustion of heavy oil

1909 Asked by Messrs J. and E. Hall of Dartford to manage their motor department which he did until 1911.

1911 Consulting engineer automobiles, gas and oil engines, living in Farningham, with Ethel Crommelin Wilson 32, Andrew Gordon Wilson 5, Edward Brian Wilson 3[4]

WWI: Lieutenant in the Armoured Car Squadron, helped in the construction of these cars.

1915 Supervised experiments on landships at Burton-on-Trent.

1915 Made many visits to see William Tritton at William Foster and Co in attempt to develop machine to meet War Office requirements.

1916 War Office requirements changed so an entirely new machine had to be developed, which eventually became known as "Mother", that could cross a 5 ft trench, with 4 ft 6 in parapet. Secret trial at Hatfield House in February 1916. This was the first tank.

1917 Conferred C.M.G.

1919 the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors awarded Tritton and Wilson together £15,000[5]

Later developed the self-changing gearbox; founded Self-Changing Gears of Coventry.

1957 Obituary [6]

THE death occurred on Sunday, June 30, of Major W. G. Wilson, C.M.G., B.A., M.I.C.E., M.I.Mech.E.

Walter Gordon Wilson was born in 1874 and educated in H.M.S. "Britannia" and at King's College, Cambridge.

In the early years of this century he took part in the design and manufacture of the Wilson and Pilcher car, which was notable for a particularly advanced transmission. Four ratios were obtained from a pair of epicyclic gears of different ratios, even as in the "Hydramatic" transmission, which has enjoyed decades of success in the U.S.A. The two planetary units were driven respectively by the sun wheel and the annulus and were therefore able to utilise many similar parts despite their differing ratios. The gear engaging clutches were operated by the driver through a single lever. Forward or reverse were selected on the final drive.

During the first world war he participated in the construction of the prototype British armoured fighting vehicle or "tank." For his services in the war Major Wilson was granted £10,000 and appointed Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.

The gearbox which to-day bears his name incorporates a different principle, having one epicyclic for every indirect ratio, although compounding in the original manner is used to obtain a full eight speeds. Self-Changing Gears, Ltd., was founded by Major Wilson, and has produced gearboxes not only for automobiles but also for rail vehicles and motor vessels.

1957 Obituary [7]

Major Walter Gordon Wilson, C.M.G., who had been an Honorary Member of the Institution since 1947, died on 1st July 1957.

He gained the degree of B.A. with first class honours in mechanical science and in 1898-1904 was with Wilson Pilcher engaged on design and management, and in 1904-08 with Armstrong Whitworth on design.

He worked for J. and E. Hall on commercial design from 1909 to 1914 when he became Chief of Design, Mechanical Warfare, War Office. From 1920 to 1939 he was in business as a Consulting Engineer.

Major Wilson became a Member of the Institution of Automobile Engineers in 1916, and a Member as well as an Honorary Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1947. In 1938 he was awarded a George Stephenson Prize.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. National Probate Calendar
  2. Proposal to Inst Civil Engineers 1912
  3. Cambridge University Alumni
  4. 1911 census
  5. The Times, Nov 28, 1919
  6. The Engineer 1957/07/12
  7. 1957 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  • Obituary: The Times, 2 July 1957
  • Biography, ODNB