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British Industrial History

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William Edmund Rich

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William Edmund Rich (1844-1886) of Easton and Anderson

1887 Obituary [1]

WILLIAM EDMUND RICH, a descendant of an old Wiltshire family, and son of Mr. Edmund Rich of Willesley near Tetbury, was born on 19th May 1844, commenced his education in a private school at Chippenham, and in 1858 was transferred to the Cheltenham Grammar School.

In October 1861 he became apprenticed to Messrs. Palmer of Jarrow, where he passed in the usual way through the shops and drawing offices; but having convinced himself by actual experience that exact scientific knowledge was indispensable to engineers, be gave up his immediate prospects of occupation and advancement, and enrolled himself in 1866 as a student in the engineering school of Glasgow University under Professor Rankine, through whose influence, in consideration of his talents and previous training, he was permitted to complete his course in one year instead of two.

Sir William Thomson, professor of natural philosophy, was equally interested in him; and both these eminent men continued to the last to take a lively interest in his career. While at Glasgow, be took the Walker prize in engineering, the second prize for natural philosophy, the prize for work in the physical laboratory, and the university medal for an essay on the doctrine of uniformity.

On leaving the University he became candidate for a chair of engineering, but fortunately abandoned his purpose in order to join the firm of Messrs. Easton and Anderson, as one of their assistant engineers. His connection with this firm lasted till his death. He soon became their chief engineer and scientific adviser, and in 1878 was received as a partner.

The duties he was engaged in were very varied. His extensive knowledge of geology, especially with reference to the water-bearing strata, found ample employment in the numerous water works for towns and domestic supplies on which his firm was continually engaged; among the more important of these may be mentioned Brighton, South Hants, Antwerp, Seville, and Littlehampton. Steam engines, especially those used in pumping operations, occupied a great deal of his attention; and as might be expected of a pupil of Rankine, his knowledge of them was accurately scientific.

As an assistant at the trials of the Royal Agricultural Society he brought to bear upon them the skill he had attained at Glasgow in manipulating various measuring instruments; and his knowledge of mathematics enabled him materially to improve the testing apparatus of the Society, on which he contributed a paper to this Institution in 1876 (Proceedings, page 199.)

In the construction of gun carriages also, especially those on the Moncrieff or disappearing principle, he showed much originality of method in solving the complicated problems involved. He was much engaged in the erection of hydraulic cranes and lifts, the last work of his life being the design and execution of the Mersey Tunnel lifts, the largest hitherto erected for passenger traffic. For a paper descriptive of these lifts he was awarded in 1886 the Telford premium of the Institution of Civil Engineers, of which he was a member. His work was distinguished by great originality and boldness, arising from the confidence he felt in the scientific basis on which he worked; few men were less guided by precedent, though he was by no means blind to the commercial advantages of establishing well considered standards.

His death took place from brain fever on 22nd December 1886 in his forty-third year.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1875.

1887 Obituary [2]

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