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William Henry Patchell

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1924. William Henry Patchell (1862-1932).
1932. William Henry Patchell (1862-1932).

William Henry Patchell (1862-1932)

1862 Born in Lincolnshire.

He served a five-year apprenticeship with Robey and Co.

1881 he was sent to take charge of seven compound Robey steam engines which were being exhibited at the Paris Exhibition. He later became Robey's representative in Spain, and was responsible for the installation of electric lighting plant at Barcelona, Cordova, Madrid and Valencia.

1886 he was appointed manager of the Millwall Works of the Electrical Power Storage Co, and was involved with the development of public and private electric supply plant.

1893 he was appointed engineer-in-chief of the Charing Cross and Strand Electric Supply Company and was responsible for the design and construction of the new works at Lambeth, which opened in 1896. He was also responsible for the design of the new station at Bow in 1902.

1906, he resigned and established a consulting engineering practice, specializing in electric generation and the electrification of mines. He was appointed a member of the Home Office Committee on Electricity in mines in 1904.

1924 He was President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers from 1924-1925.

1932 He died at the age of 70 years on 24 November 1932.


1932 Obituary [1]

WILLIAM HENRY PATCHELL was President of the Institution during the session 1924-1925, and served on the Council and many important committees with untiring energy for twenty-two years. The inauguration of the Local Branches in particular was largely due to him. He was elected this year an Honorary Life Member of the Institution.

He was born in Lincolnshire in 1862, and entered the works of Messrs. Robey and Company, with whom he served a five years' apprenticeship. In 1881 Mr. Patchell was sent by his firm to take charge of seven compound Robey steam-engines then being exhibited at the Paris Exhibition, and later he became their representative in Spain, and was responsible for the installation of electric lighting plant at Barcelona, Cordova, Madrid, and Valencia.

In 1886 he was appointed manager of the Millwall Works of the Electrical Power Storage Company, and during the succeeding eight years was engaged upon the development of public and private electric supply plant.

In 1893 he was appointed engineer-in-chief of the Charing Cross and Strand Electric Supply Company and was responsible for the design and construction of the new works at Lambeth opened in 1896. He overcame exceptional difficulties in connexion with the laying of cables for the Lambeth station, considerable lengths being carried across Hungerford Bridge to Charing Cross.

The opening of the new station at Bow in 1902 was a notable event in Mr. Patchell's career. He was responsible for the design of this station. The pair of upright boilers erected as one unit, steamed at the rate of 100,000 lb. per hour.

In 1906 Mr. Patchell resigned his appointment and established a consulting engineering practice, specializing in electric generation and the electrification of mines, in which he was a recognized authority. He was appointed a member of the Home Office Committee on Electricity in Mines in 1904. His most noteworthy achievement in this sphere was the complete electrification of the Ferndale Collieries in South Wales, where the erection of a power house and the installation of upwards of 8,000 h.p. of motors, including 2,500 h.p. winding engines, were involved.

Mr. Patchell also did valuable work as chairman of the Heat Engine Trials Committee and the Standing Committee appointed later to deal with any matters arising in the future. He was also chairman of the Steam-Nozzles Research Committee, and took an active part in the Marine Oil-Engine Trials Committee of the Institution. He also served on the British National Committee of the World Power Conference.

Mr. Patchell represented the British interests of the Detroit and Boston power companies and was engaged upon a number of important arbitrations. He was a special lecturer in the University of London during 1911-1912 and published a book on "Electricity in Mines and Heavy Industries." He was awarded the Ayrton Premium for his paper "A By-product Producer Gas Plant for Power and Heating," read before the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

His other notable papers included "Steam Superheating," delivered in 1896 at the Institution, and his Presidential Address on "Station Practice and Progress " which attracted much attention.

Mr. Patchell had been a Member of the Institution since 1896. He was a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and had served two terms as Vice-President of the latter Institution.

He was 70 years of age at the time of his death, which occurred on 24th November 1932.


1932 Obituary[2]

"THE LATE MR. W. H. PATCHELL.

Readers of Engineering will learn with, great regret of the death of Mr. W. H. Patchell, which occurred at Beckenham on Thursday, November 24, at the age of 70. Mr. Patchell’s Standing as an engineer may, perhaps, be best described by alluding to a mild passage of arms which once occurred between himself and the late Captain H. Riall Sankey. In seconding the vote of thanks to Mr. Patchell for his Presidential Address to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Captain Sankey recalled that he had been the contractor who was responsible for the installation of the Willans engines in the Maiden Lane generating station, engines, the governors of which had just been stigmatised by the President as hopeless, and which he himself admitted were not “ very good.” In fact, in those days, he added, a governor was an extra. In reply, Mr. Patchell remarked that he had in truth been the poor operating engineer, who had had to live with what Captain Sankey’s firm had put on to him. This statement may be taken as his epitaph, for in the development of engineering, men with all kinds of different qualities and capabilities can play their part. And while Patchell was not, like Parsons, a great inventor, nor, like Ferranti, a man who dreamt'dreams of the future and strove to make them come true, still he acted successfully the important, and very useful, role of ensuring that plant, which might embody the ideas of genius, performed the duty that was demanded of it from day to day. In other words, by constant attention to detail and by careful organisation he did his best, and that was a great deal, to keep the machine going. Moreover, when at a subsequent period of his career he was occupying a position of greater freedom and less responsibility, he was able, by the close touch he kept with what was going on and by the advice he was always ready to give, to stimulate those who were assisting to bring the work of the pioneers to" a fuller fruition.

In many respects the career of William Henry Patehell followed common form. He was born at Gedney, in Lincolnshire, on February 21, 1862, and was educated at the King Edward VI Grammar School, Louth, and by private tuition. At the age of sixteen he was articled to Messrs. Robey and Company, Lincoln, and served a full five years apprenticeship with them in the shops, finding time, in spite of a 54-hour week, to study machine drawing and attend to the acquirement of theoretical knowledge. At that period, Messrs. Robey were introducing roller flour mills into this country and were also manufacturing compound steam engines for agricultural purposes. These engines were employed for driving the arc lighting machines on the stand of the Anglo-American Brush Co at the Paris Electrical Exhibition of 1881, and for a time Patchell was placed in charge of this plant, which consisted of horizontal semi-fixed engines, supplied with steam from a locomotive boiler at a pressure of * 80 lb. per square inch, and driving dynamos with outputs from 12 kw. to 40 kw. through belts and countershafting. At the close of the exhibition he became Messrs. Robey’s representative in Spain, and installed electric lighting plant at Barcelona, Cordova, Madrid, and Valencia, thus beginning a connection with a branch of engineering which existed more or less closely for the rest of his life.

In 1886 he was appointed manager of the Millwall works of the Electrical Power Storage Co, a firm which had been founded four years earlier to work the patents relating to secondary batteries of Faure, Sellon, and Swan. At that time the development of public electricity supply in this country had been much restricted by the provisions of the first Electric Lighting Act, and private plants, of which storage batteries formed a part, were therefore being installed fairly freely in mansions and office buildings, as well as for the temporary lighting of large private houses when balls and other functions took place.

A few years later, more enlightened ideas on the subject of electricity supply led to the central station field being also opened to battery manufacturers, and at the same time the use of batteries for driving tramcars and launches was developed. Besides the batteries the company manufactured lighting plants, which were run both by town gas engines and by the earlier Priestman and Homsby-Ackroyd oil engines then developing.

In 1893, Mr. Patchell left the manufacturing side of the industry on being appointed engineer-inchief of the Charing Cross and Strand Electric Supply Co, whose generating station was then in Maiden-lane, adjacent to the Vaudeville Theatre. This station, to which reference has already been made, was designed by John Hopkin-son, and was equipped with water-tube boilers, which were placed under a steel-legged structure with a concrete top which carried the dynamos and building above. Its total capacity was 230 kw. Partly for the reason that it soon became inadequate to meet the load, and partly for other obvious reasons connected with its siting, this plant was soon replaced by a station at Lambeth, which was designed by Mr. Patchell himself and was opened in 1896. To begin with, this was equipped with marine-type boilers, though Hornsby water-tube units were afterwards installed, the steam conditions being 160 lb. per square inch and 500 deg. F. The generating plant consisted of Beiliss double-acting engines of various outputs, and energy was transmitted on the direct-current system at 1,100 volts to sub-stations in the Strand area. Much diplomacy had to be exercised in laying the connecting cables from this station through an area which, owing to the disorganisation of London’s electricity supply in those days, was in the hands of a competitor. A considerable length of the cable was carried on the Hungerford Bridge of the South Eastern Railway Co at Charing Cross.

The increase of the company’s area of supply, owing to the acquirement of the Holborn and St. Giles and the City of London lighting orders, before long again necessitated a further increase of generating plant. It was therefore decided to build a station at Bow, outside the London County Council area, where freedom from that body’s regulations would be secured. Mr. Patchell was also responsible for the design of this station, and its opening in 1902 was an interesting historical event. Bow was a confirmation after many years of Ferranti’s idea that a supply of electricity to large towns can best be given from large plants in industrial districts properly sited with regard to coal and water facilities. It was a pioneer in its time in the use of large steam-raising units with combustion chambers of comparable size and in the employment of the three-phase system at 11,000 volts for transmission purposes, though it was a little early for the installation of steam turbines to be considered a practical proposition. The plant, therefore, originally consisted of 800-kw. Beiliss and Morcom triple-expansion engines and of 1,800-kw. Sulzer cross-compound machines running at 84 r.p.m., the load factor and the price of coal not being regarded as being such as to justify the installation of four-cylinder, horizontal triple-expansion sets, in spite of their higher steam economy. Later on, Sulzer compound vertical, slow-speed engines were added. Since its opening the station has, of course, been extended and modernised, and though it has now descended to the level of a peak-load plant, it was in its time an installation of which its engineer might well be proud.

In 1906, Mr. Patchell resigned his position with the Charing Cross company and commenced practice as a consulting engineer. He specialised particularly in the use of electricity in mines, carrying out the complete electrification of the Ferndale Collieries in South Wales, where he installed a powerhouse and upwards of 8,000 h.p. of motors, including a 2,500-h.p. winding engine. He was also responsible for many other smaller conversions. This activity naturally arose out of his membership of the Home Office Committee on Electricity in Mines, to which he was appointed in 1904. He also acted in a number of important arbitrations, while his services were in great request as an expert witness, a part which he played with considerable success. In more recent years he represented the interests of the Detroit and Boston Edison Companies in this country and performed the useful duty of making British engineers better acquainted with the advances taking place in the design and construction of power plant in the United States. The conditions under which electricity supply stations are erected in this country mitigated against his experience in that field being utilised to any great extent.

In 1925, Mr. Patchell was appointed chairman of the Heat Engines Trials Committee of the Institution of Civil Engineers, in succession to Captain H. Riall Sankey, and for two years successfully directed its work of preparing codes for tabulating the results of trials of steam generating plant, heat engines, and air compressors. When its work was completed and its report published in 1927, it was decided that a Standing Committee should be formed to deal with any matters, which might arise from time to time in connection with the subject matter, and Mr. Patchell was appointed its chairman. In co-operation with the British Engineering Standards Association, this body considered the proposals made by the International Electrotechnical Commission to establish an international code for steam turbines. This code was accepted as a British standard, and was also submitted for adoption as an international standard. Such matters as the grading of the sizes of sieves and screens, the standardisation of methods of coal analysis and the preparation of standards for determining smoke intensities also received its attention. Mr. Patchell also succeeded Captain Sankey as chairman of the Steam Nozzles Research Committee of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and was responsible for the preparation of the fifth and sixth, and final, reports of that body. The first of these documents contained accounts of tests that had been made on convergent impulse nozzles with a normal angle of 20 deg., discharging against a pressure of 60 lb. per square inch, the initial pressure being adjusted to give steam velocities at the exit up to the velocity of sound in steam. A number of subsidiary investigations were also described. In the Final Report, which was issued in 1930, the proceedings of the Committee since it started work in 1921 were reviewed and the opinion was expressed that its chief objectives, the measurement of the efficiencies of nozzles of practical form and the investigation of the way in which this efficiency was affected by changes in the shape of the nozzle and in the steam conditions, had been attained.

Mr. Patchell became a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1896 and served as president in 1924-25. In his presidential address, to which reference has been made above, he sketched the developments that had taken place since the early days in the design of power stations and referred to certain lines along which progress might be expected to occur. In the short period which has elapsed since that date he had the satisfaction of seeing many of his prophecies realised. He was elected an honorary life member of the Institution this year. He was elected a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1898 and of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1891, serving two terms as vice-president on the council of the latter body. He was also a Fellow of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, a member of many societies connected with mining, and a past-president of the Association of Engineers-in-Charge. His publications included a book on “Electricity in Mines and Heavy Industries” and papers on “Steam Superheating” before the Institution of Civil Engineers, on “The Electrification of the Ferndale Collieries” before the South Wales Institute of Engineers, and on “The Charing Cross Company’s City of London Works” and on “A By-product Producer Gas Plant for Power and Heating” before the Institution of Electrical Engineers. For the last of these he was awarded the Ayrton Premium. He was a special lecturer in the University of London in 1911-12 and a member of the jury at the Brussels International Exhibition, 1910."


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Sources of Information

  • [1] Institution of Mechanical Engineers