Coalite, a School, and a Plaque

Thomas invented the smokeless fuel 'Coalite' in 1904, it was one of his most important inventions. Large quantities were sold, and the Low Temperature Carbonisation Company, which produced 'Coalite', was run by Thomas's son, Charles. On 14th January, 1936 Thomas was posthumously awarded a gold medal by the Smoke Abatement Society for his invention. The medal was presented to Charles, on his father's behalf, by Dr. H.A. des Voeux, president of the society, at a luncheon in London.

Thomas's posthumous medal.

The medal has now been lost, it was stolen from Thomas's daughter, Jessie, many years ago.

Although Thomas never made a penny from his invention, because it was ahead of its time, the Low Temperature Carbonisation Company was extremely successful after his death.

In 1906 production started at Wednesfield, and in 1908 patent rights were granted in a number of other countries. Thomas Parker had found a way around the problem of casting the retorts which had been experienced by other foundries.

In 1936 the company built a large factory at Bolsover, Derbyshire, which employed 1,000 men in the production of 'Coalite'.  The plant occupied 17 acres, had two miles of railway sidings and 288 retorts. The company signed a contract for 1,000,000 tons of coal for the new plant. Each ton of coal produced four gallons of petrol, 18 gallons of oil and 14cwt. of smokeless fuel. 12 squadrons of the Royal Air Force exclusively used petrol that was produced by the company and the Royal Navy purchased large quantities of oil. The company also produced a wide range of speciality chemicals and recycling solutions for waste.

Unfortunately in 2004 the company was in receivership and the production of Coalite ceased on June 10th. Its virtues were listed in a long article in The Times newspaper on 4th May, 1907, from which the following extracts were taken:

The career of Mr. Thomas Parker, J.P., M. Inst C.E., M. Inst. M.E., M. Inst. E.E, of Wolverhampton, the inventor of Coalite, is one of those of commercial and scientific activity which are rarely recorded until the subject of them has passed from out of our midst. It would be no excessive compliment to speak of Mr. Parker as an English Edison. Nearly a generation ago he invented a steam pump which took a medal at the Inventions Exhibition. About 1878 he was the first to design and build a dynamo for the deposition of metal from solutions to take the place of the huge cells then in vogue. In partnership with Mr. Bedford Elwell, the firm of Elwell-Parker, Limited became famous throughout the world, and one of its most notable performances was to design and construct the electrical plant for the first electrically driven tram system of any considerable size in this country. In 1888 the firm was absorbed into the Electric Construction Corporation, Limited, and many very noteworthy enterprises were successfully carried out by this Company under Mr. Parker's direct management, such, for instance, as the design and construction of the Liverpool Overhead Railway.

In the field of chemistry Mr. Parker's achievements are also remarkable. He it was who solved the problem of the successful pyro-electric extraction of phosphorus, and his patented processes are at present used in all the great phosphorus works. In 1900, Mr. Parker was called in by the Directors of the Metropolitan Railway to take charge of the contemplated electrification of the line, and from the results of his experiments the Directors caused specifications to be drawn up by Mr. Parker, and ultimately not only the Metropolitan but also the District Railway was electrified on almost identically the same principle as that employed in his construction of the Liverpool Overhead Railway. Something over 50 specifications stand to his credit in the Patent Office.

Mr. Parker has also written and spoken much upon the subject of the reform of Units of Measurement, and is one or the most active members of the British Weights and Measures Association, formed to oppose the introduction of the Metre and its derivatives into this country. He has pointed out, with all the weight of his long engineering experience behind him, that the inch forms in every way a more advantageous and practical unit than the metre.

Quite apart from the hygienic aspect of the smoke evil, Mr. Parker was deeply impressed by the enormous economic waste of which coal-smoke is merely the outward and visible sign. Before ever the Royal Commission on our coal supplies reported that, of the 150 millions of tons of coal annually used in this country, 60 millions are burnt to waste, Mr. Parker had recognized the facts and had realised the import of this gigantic loss and the consequences that are bound to ensue if the national resources continue to be squandered with this reckless and senseless prodigality. As early as 1881 a Gold Medal was awarded to Mr. Parker at the Smoke Abatement Exhibition for his invention of the "Kyrle" grate for the consumption of anthracite and other fuels. He soon realised, however, that what was needed was the production of a smokeless fuel, and not merely the provision of mechanical contrivances for economical consumption.

The fuel must be absolutely smokeless, and must be of such a nature that it cannot emit smoke. Unlike coke, the fuel must be capable of being readily lighted. It must be adapted for satisfactory consumption in any existing grate, stove, or kitchen range, and must provide the cheerful ore insisted upon by popular choice, and must emit neither unpleasant nor unhealthy fumes. It must be in other respects as convenient and relatively as cheap as the present alternative fuels.

In the midst of his busy life, Mr. Parker tried many extensive experiments with a view to eliminating the smoky gases from bituminous coal. In the end he discovered a process of treating coal of any size or quality in such a manner as to extract completely the whole of the smoke-producing elements, and at the same time to increase the calorific value of the resulting product.

Coalite is much more bulky, by reason of its porosity, than an equal weight of coal, and since it lasts much longer, radiates more heat, and burns more steadily than a coal fire, and is converted entirely into carbon dioxide (no loss occurring in the shape of smoke or of carbon monoxide), and since also, even at its present price, it is cheaper than coal, it may reasonably be expected before long to prove itself so very economical that its use will become universal, not perhaps so much from any urgent desire to assist in the promotion of smokeless London, as simply on the ground of the actual money - saving effected through its use. Coalite has triumphantly passed the ordeal of independent and searching tests made under the direction of the Coal Smoke Abatement Society, and has amply demonstrated its ability to meet the points already referred to as being essential in a perfect fuel.

Tests were conducted in rooms forming part of the large block of buildings situated at the corner of Great George Street, Westminster, now being constructed under the superintendence of Sir Henry Tanner, Chief Architect to H.M. Government. The trials, which extended over 13 days, were performed under conditions and regulations precisely similar to those issued for the grate tests held under the auspices of the same Society in July, 1905 (the Lancet of 19th May, 1906).

The tests of the sample submitted for examination have demonstrated that Coalite is easily lighted, and that it remains most of the day glowing and cheerful, with a yellow flame varying in size, while it emits no smoke. It further requires little or no attention, as it has no tendency to cake. No carbon monoxide was detected in the flue gases, indicating that practically perfect combustion had been secured. As with with good coal, Coalite maintains a more uniform fire and keeps the temperature of the room more steady. It does not die down into an inert looking mass, and deposits no soot.

The founders of the Coalite industry have no doubts about its successful future, and they are laying their plans upon a scale commensurate with the expected demand for a fuel which combines within itself all the qualities which have so long been vainly desiderated. A long frontage to the Thames, over a mile in length, together with some hundreds of acres of hinterland, have been secured, and works are being put down of a size sufficient to deal with from three to four millions of tons of coal annually. The plant used in the preparation of Coalite is entirely different from that used at present in the gas and coke manufacture. The stills are automatic and continuous in their action, and the coal fed in at the top emerges as Coalite at the bottom. As the apparatus undergoes no destructive high temperatures, the wear and tear is small, and the perpetual renewals common in gas making practice are rendered unnecessary.

Last, but not least, Coalite will bring to fruition the hopes of those who have written, preached, and striven for a cleaner life in a purer atmosphere. At last it will be possible for Londoners to breathe a wholesome air, uncontaminated with the smoke fumes and fogs they have so long endured. Every one will rejoice if the lives of our cathedrals and other national buildings may be lengthened, and if the beauty of our priceless treasures of art may be preserved. The flowers and trees in our parks and gardens will at last be able to grow with natural vigour; and, most important of all, we may rejoice in the thought that our children will not be handicapped by those abnormal and unhealthy conditions which the black smoke nuisance has too long imposed. They at least will see and enjoy the fulfilment of the long - cherished dream of A SMOKELESS LONDON.

On 10th October, 1972 a new school opened at Telford. It was called the Thomas Parker school in honour of Thomas. When opened, the school catered for 40 children with special needs.

Members of the Parker family attended the opening ceremony and a large framed photograph of Thomas Parker, complete with a list of his achievements, was presented to the school.

The school still exists today and is now called the Bridge School.

At long last Thomas is getting some well-deserved recognition in Wolverhampton. On 26th February, 2007 a new exhibition opened at Bantock House, featuring a number of important historical figures from the City's past. One of them is Thomas Parker.

In May 2007 a new artwork, in several parts, has been erected in Riches Street, celebrating Thomas and his works.

Part of the new plaque. Courtesy of John McKenna.

The reliefs were designed and cast in bronze by John McKenna, who has several other sculptures in the area. His works are designed and manufactured in his studio at Turnberry, Ayrshire, Scotland.

John McKenna and the reliefs that depict many of Thomas's achievements. Courtesy of John McKenna.
John was involved in the plaques at St. John's Retail Park in Wolverhampton that celebrate car makers Sunbeam and Star, and the Boulton Paul Defiant relief sculpture at Pendeford.

John's many local works include the 'Child At Play' steel railings features at Wednesbury, the Green Man Sculpture relief for the Green Man Passage in Dudley, way markers for the Midland Metro tram line along the length of a cycle path at West Bromwich, the 'Lucas Lion' stainless steel relief sculpture on the former Lucas Car parts production site at Newtown in Aston, Birmingham, the 'Genie of Industry' stainless steel artwork at Longbridge, Birmingham, the Colossus of Brownhills, the 12 metre high stainless steel statue of a coal miner that stands at Brownhills to celebrate the areas' former coal mining industry, the 'Needles' Canopy at Butlers Passage, Walsall, and the Palfrey Horse, which stands in Palfrey Park, Walsall.

Visit John's website:

John has a new and excellent website at It's certainly worth a visit.
The top relief shows an early tram, similar to the ones used on the Blackpool Tramway and the South Staffordshire Tramway. The text reads as follows:

1843 - 1915
Engineer & Scientist

Lived close to this site and worked on many of his inventions here in Wolverhampton, some of which are described on this plaque.


Responsible for the first electric tramway in the world at Portrush, Northern Ireland, powered by the first hydro electric generator.


Founded the first company in the Midlands to manufacture electrical equipment such as dynamos, motors, switchboards and transformers.

Another view of the reliefs. Courtesy of John McKenna.
The middle relief on the left shows the Wednesfield furnace and the text reads as follows:


Wednesfield Furnace. Invented the method of producing phosphorus and chlorate of soda by electricity.

The middle relief on the right shows a Parker dynamo and one of his early cars. The text is as follows:

Thomas Parker designed and built cars. Possibly the first motorist in Wolverhampton as he had an electrically operated vehicle as early as 1884.

The bottom but one relief on the left shows a Parker alternator and the text reads as follows:

Designed and built multi-phase alternators with stationary armatures and revolving fields, a very successful design for many years. He used the principal in alternating current furnaces for purifying metals and establishing a more efficient method of electrical distribution.

The bottom relief on the right shows a Kyrle grate and the text is as follows:

Awarded two gold medals by the smoke abatement society for perhaps his most important work against air pollution. One for his invention of the Kyrle fire grate and one for his invention of distillation of coal by low temperature method to produce a smokeless fuel - "Coalite".


John McKenna holding "Tom".
Courtesy of John McKenna.

An Elwell-Parker dynamo and a Parker car from about 1895.

The Kyrle grate produced by the Coalbrookdale Company from about 1880.

A Wednesfield furnace.


An early Parker tram.

A final view of the plaques. Courtesy of John McKenna.

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