Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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William Richards (1816-1893)

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1816 Born in Shoreditch

Worked for the Chartered Gas Co (Gas Light and Coke Co). At Brick Lane gasworks he worked for Alexander Angus Croll as Mechanical Inspector.

1843 & 1844 Richards and Croll filed patents for improvements in gas manufacture and metering. An important contribution by Richards was the development of the DRY GAS METER.

1844 Richards and Croll left the GL&C Co to produce dry gas meters, founding Richards and Co. at St. James's Walk, Clerkenwell.

1845 The business did not flourish, and the partnership was dissolved. Croll continued in the dry gas meter business in partnership with Thomas Glover (1809-1868) as Croll and Glover.

From 1848 until 1861 Richards had important roles in the Spanish gas industry. He was employed by the Sociedad Catalina para el Alumbrado de Gas - Catalan Society for Gas Lighting - as Technical Director, but in parallel he was an entrpreneur in the gas industry. In 1855 he took out his first Spanish patent. His ventures in Spain included the gas meter-making business 'Richards, D.G.', based in Barcelona. Later he was responsible for constructing gasworks and the distribution of gas in a number of towns, building gasworks at Sabadell, Villanova, Reus, Tarragona and Manresa.

1859 Reference to 'William Richards, of the Gas Works, Barcelona, in the Kingdom of Spain, Engineer, but now of Harpur-street, Red-lion-square',in the context of Patent No. 2692[1]

1860 US Patent No. US27567 for a wet gas meter[2].

By 1861 Richards had permanently returned to Britain, and recommenced making gas meters in London.

1862 Business address: Crawford Passage, Coppice Row, Clerkenwell. His advertisements stated that he was the sole inventor and first manufacturer of dry gas meters, and reflected his annoyance at claims made by others.

1864 Declared bankrupt.

1865 Bankruptcy discharged.

Richards continued as a consulting engineer and wrote a number of influential books on the gas industry.

1893 Died at home in Herne Hill on 12th May.

Except where stated, the forgoing information as been condensed from a Paper by Florentino Moyano Jiménez & Russell Thomas[3]

Note: The dry gas meter is also known as the diaphragm displacement meter. It was developed to address problems inherent in the wet meter design, principally their susceptibility to fraud (under-metering the amount of gas used, simply by tilting the meter) and to freezing.

Although Thomas Glover improved upon Richards' dry meter design, Glover was wrongly credited with the first displacement diaphragm meter, and it came to be known as the Glover two-diaphragm, slide-valve, meter.[4]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. [1] London Gazette, 29 March 1859
  2. [2] US Patent No. US27567
  3. 'William Richards and the Unrecorded Success Abroad: A British Engineer in the Spanish Gas Industry in the Nineteenth Century' by Florentino Moyano Jiménez & Russell Thomas, The International Journal for the History of Engineering & Technology Volume 86, 2016 - Issue 2
  4. [3] 'Fundamental Principles of Diaphragm Meters' by Nicole Ford