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Lyon Playfair

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Lord Lyon Playfair (1818-1898), chemist and politician, responsible for many improvements in health and education

Lyon Playfair, 1st Baron Playfair GCB, PC, FRS (1818-1898) was a Scottish scientist and Liberal politician.

1818 May 1st. Born at Chunar, Bengal, the son of George Playfair, Inspector General of Hospitals in that region, and Janet, daughter of John Ross. He was named after his uncle, Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair

Educated at the University of St Andrews, the Andersonian Institute in Glasgow, and the University of Edinburgh.

After going to Calcutta at the end of 1837, he became private laboratory assistant to Thomas Graham at University College, London, and in 1839 went to work under Justus Liebig at the University of Giessen where he took a PhD in 1841. Later returned to Britain.

1841 Playfair became manager of a calico works in Primrose, near Clitheroe (one of the chemists at Thompson's[1] works at Clitheroe[2]).

1842 Foreseeing the imminent demise of luxury calico printing, Playfair resigned within a year.

1843 Appointed Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Manchester Institution, where he was assisted by Robert Angus Smith. Two years later, he was made chemist to the Geological Survey, and subsequently became Professor in the new School of Mines. Asked for advice on clean water supplies and ventilation of buildings.

1846 Married Margaret Eliza Oakes, daughter of James Oakes, in Riddings, Derbyshire[3]

1847 Wrote to James Young telling him of a petroleum spring yielding 300 gallons/day in the Riddings colliery near Alfreton, Derbyshire (on his brother-in-law's estate).

1848 Elected to the Royal Society,

1851 Special Commissioner and member of the executive committee of the Great Exhibition.

1855 His first wife died

1857-59 President of the Chemical Society. [4]

1857 Remarried

1858 Appointed Professor of Chemistry at Edinburgh

1867 Lobbied parliament for an investigation of the outcome of the Paris Universal Exhibition. Playfair succeeded in raising concern about technical education in Britain such that a select committee was set up to investigate under Bernhard Samuelson in 1868.

1868 Elected MP for the Scottish Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews; resigned his chair.

1877 Death of his second wife

1878 Married Edith Russell

1885 President of the British Association

1892 Created Baron Playfair of St Andrews; left the House of Commons

1898 May 29th. Died

See Also


Sources of Information

  • Biography of Baron Playfair, ODNB