Thomas Parker, Limited

The following is from an article in the Wolverhampton and South Staffordshire Illustrated, 1899. 

Electrical Engineers and Manufacturers, Wolverhampton

The remarkable discoveries in electrical science recorded in the last decade of the fast-expiring century have had a distinctly important bearing on the industrial development of Wolverhampton, the locality selected as the site of one of the largest engineering and manufacturing works of the kind in the Kingdom. The establishment owes its existence and its subsequent success to the indomitable energy of the founder, Mr. Thomas Parker, J.P., a brief biographical sketch of whose career may appropriately preface a description of the splendidly equipped works in Wednesfield Road, recently visited by our representative, by the courteous permission of the directors. 

Mr. Thomas Parker, J.P.

Quoting from an interesting article that appeared in The Electrician Electrical Trades Directory for 1897, we learn that Mr. Parker was born on December 22nd, 1843, at Ironbridge, where his father, and several generations of the family before him, had been employed in the great works of the Coalbrookdale Company.

At the age of 23, Mr. Parker migrated to Manchester, where, taking advantage of the facilities of the Free Library, and the science lectures at the Hulme Town Hall, he laid the foundation of a sound technical education, invaluable to him in his after career.

Returning to Coalbrookdale, he was engaged as foreman over a portion of the foundry, and shortly afterwards was promoted to more congenial employment in charge of the chemical and electro-depositing departments, and at this time constructed his first dynamo, which was used for that process.

About 1877, Mr. Parker obtained a patent for a steam pump, which was awarded a medal at the Inventions Exhibition, and is still made by the Coalbrookdale Company. This invention was succeeded by a design of grate manufactured by the Company under the designation of the "Kyrle" grate, for which he obtained a first medal at the Smoke Abatement Exhibition in London in 1880. About this time Mr. Parker was again promoted to the important position of manager of the engineering department of the Company's works, and in 1882 he showed Siemen's and Edison's incandescent lamps at a lecture table by the aid of secondary batteries of his own design. About this time he discovered the action of nitric acid as facilitating the formation of secondary batteries, and in conjunction with Mr. Elwell took out a patent in 1882, in which the novelty of this chemical agent was claimed. This patent, which was afterwards divided by the Solicitor General between M. Gaston Planté and Mr. Parker, also covered several of the most important forms of alternating current dynamos in use today. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Parker resigned his connection with the Coalbrookdale Company, and in partnership with Mr. Paul Bedford Elwell, commenced business in Wolverhampton as Elwell Parker. This was further developed in 1884 as Elwell-Parker, Limited, and in the same year he fulfilled the important contract for the installation of the electrical plant of the Blackpool Tramways Company, for which he remained consulting engineer until 1892. 
Since 1884, Mr. Parker has introduced several inventions, both by himself and in association with others, having also made the manufacture of phosphorus by electricity a success. At this period Mr. J. Oddie, who was travelling from Australia for information on electrical knowledge and its developments, found Mr. Parker, and was so impressed with him and his position in the developments of that time, that he paid the celebrated painter, Goodwyn Lewis, to paint a picture of Mr. Parker and his specialities at that time (1889). 

The Tool Bay.

This picture, 7ft. by 5ft., was exhibited in the Art Gallery at Wolverhampton, and was presented to the Art Gallery at Ballarat. Mr. Oddie was Ballarat’s first Chairman of the Municipal Council, from 1856 to 1858 and has been a great donor to that town.

In 1882 an amalgamation between Elwell-Parker, Limited, and other concerns was effected, under the title of the Electric Construction Corporation, Limited, of which he was appointed engineer and manager. In 1890 the premises occupied by the Corporation in Commercial Road became inadequate to the requirements of the rapidly expanding business, and Mr. Parker was deputed to lay out elaborate works at Bushbury just outside the town, and under his supervision the establishment was fitted with complete plant for the manufacture of heavy electrical machinery. 

During the term of his engagement with the Corporation Mr. Parker carried out many large installations in connection with electric traction, including the whole equipment of the Liverpool Overhead Railway, the overhead system in South Staffordshire, the lighting of the City of Oxford (the method is now known as the Oxford system, and has been largely adopted), and the installation at Burnley, etc., while more recently he has executed contracts for the supply of machinery for central station lighting, including plant for the Walsall Corporation (continuous- current, 2,000 Volts); Wolverhampton Corporation (extension, continuous-current, 2,000 volts); Shrewsbury Electric Lighting Company, Limited, Chester, Sunderland, Manchester Corporations, etc., and has lately completed contracts for central station electric lighting plant for Hull, Belfast, Morecambe, and several other towns.

The Winding Department.

Mr. Parker was admitted a member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1885, a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 1889; member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 1891; member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1892.

In 1892 Mr. Parker contested the county constituency of Kingswinford for Parliament against Mr. Staveley Hill, Q.C., and in 1893 he was made a Justice of the Peace for Wolverhampton.

In the Spring Session of 1894, Mr. Parker read a paper on the Liverpool Overhead Railway before the Institute of Civil Engineers, for which that body granted him a Stephenson Medal and the Telford Premium.

On the termination of his agreement with the Electric Construction Corporation, in April, 1894, Mr. Parker relinquished his connection with the concern, and established " Thomas Parker, Limited," of which he became managing director. From the first, the operations of the company have been crowned with notable success, as may be estimated from the fact that at the close of the financial year in April, 1896, a dividend of 5 per cent. was declared, and in the following year this was increased to 7 per cent. and in 1898, 8 per cent., the £10 shares now being quoted on the Birmingham Stock Exchange at 16. Possessing exceptional advantages in a practical experience of the organisation and fitting up of similar works, Mr. Parker was fully qualified to design the arrangement of the premises on the most efficient methods for the various departments of an engineering and electrical business, of which we may present the following details of the more salient points of interest observed in our tour of inspection. 

Situated opposite the goods depot of the Midland Railway, the works have an extensive and imposing frontage to Wednesfield Road, where the general and private offices, board room and drawing offices, are situated. The works proper cover a large area of ground, and comprise a range of commodious buildings, of which the principal structure occupies a floor space of 35,000 square feet, superficial. This immense shop is of lofty proportions, admirably lighted by the glass roof, well ventilated, and conveniently arranged for the accommodation of the several sections of the works, grouped in the building. 

At one end, a balcony reached by a staircase stretches across, in which a number of female hands are busily employed in the more delicate branches of the work, principally connected with the insulation process.

One side of the building is fitted with benches occupied by the operatives building and insulating blocks and preparing the cores for dynamos and motors, of which there were numbers in the course of construction from 10 to 2,500 volts pressure.

The Erection Bay.

Another department, screened off from the main portion, is also occupied by female workers, of whom about 120 are employed in the establishment. At the extreme end of the shop is the brass workers department, fitted with machines of various kinds for turning, polishing, and finishing component parts and accessories used in electrical construction. In the centre of the building, a large space is devoted to the different types of heavy machinery. These include drilling, milling, shaping, planing, slotting and other machine tools, embodying the latest improvements in mechanical science, specially designed to economise labour and time, and thus lessen the cost of production. In this class of machinery we observed some splendid specimens of engineering skill in the drills supplied by Muir and Co., Manchester; Campbell and Hunter, Leeds; Archdale and Co., Birmingham; plano-millers by Muir, Campbell and Hunter, and Tangye's; side planer by Hulse and Co., Manchester; the whole forming a complete plant of the most modern and approved description. 

The transport of heavy material and portions of machinery is facilitated by three large overhead travellers and three hand cranes, the former capable of lifting from 5 to 20 tons, by which articles can be conveyed from one end of the shop to the other, and tram lines are also laid down for bringing the castings from the adjacent foundries. The first of these used for brass casting is a large, lofty and well lighted building, fitted with all the requisites for moulding the patterns and melting the metal, and this description will equally apply to the iron foundry, a more extensive department, measuring 40 feet by 100 feet, and of corresponding height. This is furnished with a large oven for drying the cores, and a travelling crane capable of hoisting a weight of 10 tons. There is also a blower house, containing an electrical motor of 8h.p. Next to this is another spacious shop 80 feet by 40 feet, where the pattern making is carried out by the aid of improved wood-working machinery, and there is also a large store for the extensive stock of patterns required in the various manufactures turned out. All the machinery is driven by electrical power, the motors being fixed in various parts of the works, and are all of the firm's standard designs.

Every detail of the arrangements is characterised by the perfection of systematic order, and during a somewhat extensive experience of such establishments it has seldom fallen to our lot to meet with a more completely organised and ably administered concern. About seven hundred hands are employed in the several sections of the works; and we may mention that the gentlemen who have laboured with Mr. Parker in this enterprise as his staff, are mostly chosen from his pupils of years past. We have to acknowledge our indebtedness for the facilities afforded in the compilation of this necessarily abridged description of the business. 

In conclusion, we may add that the firm was awarded a gold medal for high-speed railway motors at the International Exhibition, held at Brussels, in 1897.

At the present time (March, 1899) the Directorate of the Company is composed as follows C. T. Mander, Esq., J.P. (Chairman); William Thomas, Esq., Richard Armistead, Esq., and Thomas Parker, Esq. (Managing Director).

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