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British Industrial History

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James Pilbrow

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Diagram of steam turbine [1]

James Pilbrow (1813-1894)

1813 Born the son of Edward L. Pilbrow.

1843 Patent No. 9658 for an impulse steam turbine with contra-rotating bladed wheels (see illustration)[2].

Pilbrow's steam turbine was described in a somewhat sneering article in 'The Artizan' in 1843. Pilbrow had clearly anticipated the need to accommodate the expansion of steam over a series of stages, in order to avoid excessive rotational speed[3]. See also illustrations here and here [4]

James Nielson, writing in 1903, described and illustrated features of Pilbrow's turbine designs.[5]. It is clear that Pilbrow had given much thought to the subject, and carried out interesting experiments. Importantly, he appreciated the need to expand the steam in a series of stages in order to improve efficiency without resorting to excessive speeds.

1845 September 19th. Married in Tottenham to Eliza Bloomfield. James is an Engineer.

1891 Living at Belpi, Rowland's Road, Heene, Sussex: James Pilbrow (age 78 born Stratford, Essex), Civil Engineer Retired - Widower. With his daughter Eliza B. Pilbrow (age 42 born Tottenham Green). One servant.[6]

1894 Obituary [7]

JAMES PILBROW, born at Stratford, Essex, on the 16th of February, 1813, was educated at Chertsey in Surrey, and at Lynsted in Kent.

Early in life he was entrusted by his father with the superintendence of two quarries near Maidstone. He was then engaged for about nine years on surveys, chiefly in connection with railway and canal work.

As the result of experiments on the behaviour of steam under various pressures Mr. Pilbrow took out between the years 1840 and 1843 several patents for improvements in steam-engines.

In 1846 he patented 'certain improvements in propelling on land and water' in connection with the atmospheric railway. This invention attracted considerable attention at the time, but the demand for it ceased to exist with the atmospheric system.

In 1848 he took out a patent for a method of propulsion on canals, by means of water forced under pressure through a tube, in which at certain intervals were fixed nozzle-pipes.

After the passing of the Public Health Act of 1848 Mr. Pilbrow turned his attention to sanitary engineering. One of the first districts to take action was that of Tottenham in Middlesex. A local Board of Health having been formed, Mr. Pilbrow was appointed engineer and surveyor in 1850. He at once made a survey of the district and designed a drainage scheme on the separate system which was carried out under his direction in 1851- 52. Many years later he presented a description of these works to the Institution. Tottenham was one of the first places where water was used at fires direct from the mains without the intervention of an engine ; Mr. Pilbrow had a truck made to carry the hose and hydrants as stand-pipes, and during the time of his connection with that district several fires were thus extinguished.

The success of the Tottenham works led to the requisition of Mr. Pilbrow’s services by other towns. Amongst the Local Boards for which he carried out drainage or water-supply works between the years 1852 and 1868 may be mentioned Bridgnorth, Watford, Uxbridge, Enfield, Gosport, Brompton near Chatham, Beaconsfield, Canterbury, Guildford, Rochester, Maidstone and Saffron Walden. In 1852 he patented a water-waste preventer which was in use for some years.

Mr. Pilbrow did very little active work after 1868. He lived in retirement and amused himself with painting and photography.

The last years of his life were spent at Worthing, where he died from failure of the heart’s action-due to advanced age-on the 27th of February, 1894. He was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 20th of May, 1856, and was transferred to the class of Member on the 17th of January, 1860.

1894 Obituary [8]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 'Steam Turbines: Their Design and Construction' by Rankin Kennedy, Whittaker & Co, 1910
  2. 'Steam Turbines: Their Design and Construction' by Rankin Kennedy, Whittaker & Co, 1910
  3. [1] 'The Artizan' May 1843
  4. [2] 'The Artizan' April 1843
  5. 'The Steam Turbine' by Robert M. Neilson, Longmans, Green & Co, 1903
  6. 1891 Census
  7. 1894 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  8. The Engineer 1894/03/02, p181.