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Famous British personalities

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Elizabeth Fry

(1780 - 1845)
Profession: Humanitarian
English prison reformer, social reformer and philanthropist

She was the driving force in legislation to make the treatment of prisoners more humane.

She was supported in her efforts by a reigning monarch and has been depicted on the Bank of England 5 note.

Elizabeth Gurney Fry was born in Norwich, Norfolk, England to a Quaker family. Her family home as a child was Earlham Hall, Norwich, which is now part of the University of East Anglia. Her father, Joseph Gurney, was a partner in Gurney's bank. Her mother, Catherine, was a part of the Barclay family, who were among the founders of Barclays Bank. Elizabeth's mother died when she was only twelve years old. As one of the oldest girls in the family, she was partly responsible for the care and training of the younger children, including her brother Joseph John Gurney.
Prompted by a family friend, Stephen Grellet, Fry visited Newgate prison. The conditions she saw there horrified her. The women's section was overcrowded with women and children, some of whom had not even received a trial. They slept on the floor and did their own cooking and washing in the small cells in which they slept.

She returned the following day with food and clothes for some of the prisoners. She was unable to further her work for nearly 4 years because of difficulties within the Fry family, including financial difficulties in the Fry bank. Fry returned in 1816 and was eventually able to found a prison school for the children who were imprisoned with their parents. She began a system of supervision and required the women to sew and to read the Bible. In 1817 she helped found the Association for the Improvement of the Female Prisoners in Newgate.

Thomas Fowell Buxton, Fry's brother-in-law, was elected to Parliament for Weymouth and began to promote her work among his fellow MPs. In 1818 Fry gave evidence to a House of Commons committee on the conditions prevalent in British prisons, becoming the first woman to present evidence in Parliament.

Fry and her brother Joseph John Gurney took up the cause of abolishing capital punishment. At that time, people in England could be executed for over 200 crimes. Early appeals to the Home Secretary were all rejected, until Sir Robert Peel became the Home Secretary, they finally got a receptive audience. They persuaded Peel to introduce a series of prison reforms that included the Gaols Act 1823. Fry and Gurney went on a tour of the prisons in Great Britain. They published their findings of inhumane conditions in a book entitled Prisons in Scotland and the North of England.

Fry also helped the homeless, establishing a "nightly shelter" in London after seeing the body of a young boy in the winter of 1819/1820. In 1824, during a visit to Brighton, she instituted the Brighton District Visiting Society. The society arranged for volunteers to visit the homes of the poor and provide help and comfort to them. The plan was successful and was duplicated in other districts and towns across Britain.

After her husband went bankrupt in 1828, Fry's brother became her business manager and benefactor. Thanks to him her work went on and expanded.

In 1840 Fry opened a training school for nurses. Her programme inspired Florence Nightingale who took a team of Fry's nurses to assist wounded soldiers in the Crimean War.

George Stephenson

(1781 - 1848)
Profession: Engineer
British inventor and engineer, who built the first practical railroad locomotive. Stephenson was born in Wylam, near Newcastle. During his youth he worked as a fireman and later as an engineer in the coal mines of Newcastle. He devised one of the first miner's safety lamps but shared credit for this invention with the British inventor Sir Humphry Davy, who developed a similar lamp at about the same time. Stephenson's early efforts in locomotive design were confined to constructing locomotives to haul loads in coal mines, and in 1823 he established a factory at Newcastle for their manufacture. In 1829 he designed a locomotive known as the Rocket, which hauled both freight and passengers at a greater speed than had any locomotive constructed up to that time. The success of the Rocket greatly stimulated the subsequent construction of locomotives and the laying of railroad lines.

Timothy Hackworth

(1786 - 1850)
Profession: Engineer
Originally a blacksmith but he became involved in locomotive production when he was recruited by Christopher Blackett in 1808 to work at Wylam Colliery. At Wylam Hackworth helped William Hedley produce the locomotive Puffing Billy.

In 1824 Edward Pease, George Stephenson and his son Robert Stephenson, formed a company in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to make the locomotives for the Stockton & Darlington line. George Stephenson knew of Hackworth's work on the Puffing Billy and recruited him as superintendent of locomotive engine production. Hackworth worked with George Stephenson on Locomotion and was on board when it made its first public journey on 27th September, 1825.

In 1828 the boiler of the Locomotion exploded, killing the driver. She was rebuilt but did not perform well. The main problem was its inability to produce enough steam for a twenty-mile run. Timothy Hackworth took over responsibility for the Locomotion and enlarged the boiler and installed a return fire tube. This improved the performance of the locomotive but in 1827 was replaced by Hackworth's new locomotive, the Royal George. Hackworth's locomotive was mounted on six wheels, the cylinders were vertical, inverted and outside the boiler, and pistons and connecting rods drove the rear wheels.

In 1833 Hackworth decided to leave to form his own Soho locomotive building company at Shildon. The company was very successful and Hackworth lived in a fine house facing the Shildon. Railway Station (now the Timothy Hackworth Museum). Considered to be now an old fashioned designer, Hackworth concentrated on building slow, heavy freight locomotives.

George Gordon (Lord Byron)

(1788 - 1824)
Profession: Writer
The son of Captain John Byron and Catherine Gordon, was born in London in 1788. Born with a club-foot, he spent the first ten years in his mother's lodgings in Aberdeen. Although originally a rich women, her fortune had been squandered by her husband.

In 1798 George succeeded to the title, Baron Byron of Rochdale, on the death of his great-uncle. Money was now available to provide Lord Byron with an education at Harrow School and Trinty College, Cambridge.

Lord Byron's first collection of poems, Hours of Idleness, appeared in 1807. The poems were savagely attacked by Henry Brougham in the Edinburgh Review. Byron replied with the publication of his satire, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809).

In 1809 Byron set on his grand tour where he visited Spain, Malta, Albania and Greece. His poetical account of this grand tour, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812) established Byron as one of England's leading poets.

Byron attending the House of Lords where he became a strong advocate of social reform. In 1811 he was one of the few men in Parliament to defend the actions of the Luddites and the following year spoke against the Frame Breaking Bill, by which the government intended to apply the death-penalty to Luddites. Byron's political views influenced the subject matter of his poems. Important examples include Song for the Luddites (1816) and The Landlords' Interest (1823). Byron also attacked his political opponents such as the Duke of Wellington and Lord Castlereagh in Wellington: The Best of the Cut-Throats (1819) and the The Intellectual Eunuch Castlereagh (1818).

In 1815 Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke but the relationship came to an end the following year. Byron moved to Venice where he met the Countess Teresa Guiccioli, who became his mistress. Some of Byron's best known work belongs to this period including Don Juan. The last cantos of Don Juan is a satirical description of social conditions in England and includes attacks on leading Tory politicians.

In 1822 Byron, Leigh Hunt, and Percy Bysshe Shelley travelled to Italy where the three men published the political journal, The Liberal. By publishing in Italy they remained free from the fear of being prosecuted by the British authorities. The first edition was mainly written by Leigh Hunt but also included work by William Hazlitt, Mary Shelley and Byron's Vision of Judgement sold 4,000 copies. Three more editions were published but after the death of Shelley in August, 1822, the Liberal came to an end.

For a long time Lord Byron had supported attempts by the Greek people to free themselves from Turkish rule. This included writing poems such as The Maid of Athens (1810). In 1823 he formed the Byron Brigade and joined the Greek insurgents who had risen against the Turks. However, in April, 1824, Lord Byron died of marsh fever in Missolonghi before he saw any military action.

Sir George Everest

(1790 - 1866)
Profession: Scientist
Welsh surveyor.

Colonel Sir George Everest (July 4, 1790 December 1, 1866) was a Welsh surveyor, geographer and Surveyor-General of India from 1830 to 1843.

He was largely responsible for completing the section of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India along the meridian arc from the south of India extending north to Nepal, a distance of approximately 2400 kilometres. The survey was started by William Lambton in 1806 and lasted several decades. Mount Everest was surveyed by his successor Andrew Waugh.

Everest was born at Gwernvale Manor near Crickhowell, in Powys, Wales. He was baptised at St Alfege's Church, Greenwich on January 27, 1791. After attending the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, where he excelled at mathematics, he travelled to India in 1806 as a cadet in the Bengal Artillery. There he was selected by Sir Stamford Raffles to take part in the reconnaissance of Java between 1814 and 1816.

In 1818, Everest was appointed as assistant to Colonel Lambton, who had started the Great Trigonometrical Survey of the sub-continent in 1806. On Lambton's death in 1823, he succeeded to the post of superintendent of the survey and in 1830 was appointed Surveyor-General of India.

Everest retired in 1843 and returned to live in England, where he became a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was knighted in 1861 and in 1862 he was elected Vice-President of the Royal Geographical Society. He died at Greenwich in 1866 and is buried in St. Andrews Church, Hove, near Brighton. His niece, Mary Everest, married mathematician George Boole.

Michael Faraday

(1791 - 1867)
Profession: Scientist
British physicist and chemist, best known for his discoveries of electromagnetic induction and of the laws of electrolysis. Faraday was born on September 22, 1791, in Newington, Surrey, England. He was the son of a blacksmith and received little formal education. While apprenticed to a bookbinder in London, he read books on scientific subjects and experimented with electricity. In 1812 he attended a series of lectures given by the British chemist Sir Humphry Davy and forwarded the notes he took at these lectures to Davy, together with a request for employment. Davy employed Faraday as an assistant in his chemical laboratory at the Royal Institution and in 1813 took Faraday with him on an extended tour of Europe. Faraday was elected to the Royal Society in 1824 and the following year was appointed director of the laboratory of the Royal Institution. In 1833 he succeeded Davy as professor of chemistry at the institution. Two years later he was given a pension of 300 pounds per year for life. Faraday was the recipient of many scientific honors, including the Royal and Rumford medals of the Royal Society; he was also offered the presidency of the society but declined the honor. He died on August 25, 1867, near Hampton Court, Surrey.

Faraday's earliest researches were in the field of chemistry, following the lead of Davy. A study of chlorine, which Faraday included in his researches, led to the discovery of two new chlorides of carbon. He also discovered benzene. Faraday investigated a number of new varieties of optical glass. In a series of experiments he was successful in liquefying a number of common gases.

The research that established Faraday as the foremost experimental scientist of his day was, however, in the fields of electricity and magnetism. In 1821 he plotted the magnetic field around a conductor carrying an electric current. In 1831 Faraday followed this accomplishment with the discovery of electromagnetic induction and in the same year demonstrated the induction of one electric current by another. During this same period of research he investigated the phenomena of electrolysis and discovered two fundamental laws: that the amount of chemical action produced by an electrical current in an electrolyte is proportional to the amount of electricity passing through the electrolyte; and that the amount of a substance deposited from an electrolyte by the action of a current is proportional to the chemical equivalent weight of the substance.In experimenting with magnetism, Faraday made two discoveries of great importance; one was the existence of diamagnetism, and the other was the fact that a magnetic field has the power to rotate the plane of polarized light passing through certain types of glass.

In addition to a number of papers for learned journals, Faraday wrote Chemical Manipulation (1827), Experimental Researches in Electricity (1844-55), and Experimental Researches in Chemistry and Physics (1859).

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

(1797 - 1851)
Profession: Writer
Author of Frankenstein

Daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. In 1814 she fell in love with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, accompanied him abroad, and after the death of his first wife in 1816 was married to him. Her most notable contribution to literature is her novel of terror, Frankenstein, published in 1818. It is the story of a German student who learns the secret of infusing life into inanimate matter and creates a monster that ultimately destroys him.

Included among her other novels are Valperga (1823), The Last Man (1826), and the partly autobiographical Lodore (1835). After Shelley's death in 1822, she devoted herself to caring for her aged .father and educating her only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley. In 183940 she edited her husband's works. See her journal (ed. by F. L. Jones, 1947); her letters (ed. by M. Spark and D. Stamford, 1953); biographies by M. Spark (1951, repr. 1988), N. B. Gerson (1973), and M. Seymour (2001); studies by W. A. Walling (1972) and E. Sunstein (1989)

Sir Joseph Paxton

(1801 - 1865)
Profession: Architect
Sir Joseph Paxton (18031865) was an English gardener and architect of The Crystal Palace.

He was born on 3 August 1803, the seventh son of a farming family, at Milton Bryan, Bedfordshire. (Some references, incorrectly, list his birth date as 3 August 1801. This is, as he admitted in later life, a result of misinformation he provided in his teens, which enabled him to enrol at Chiswick Gardens.)

He became a garden boy at the age of fifteen for Sir Gregory Page-Turner at Battlesden Park, near Woburn. After several moves, he obtained a position in 1823 at the Horticultural Society's Chiswick Gardens. These were close to the gardens of William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire at Chiswick House. The latter would frequently meet the young gardener as he strolled in his gardens and became impressed witth his skill and enthusiasm. The Duke offered the 23-year-old Paxton the position of Head Gardener at Chatsworth, which was considered one of the finest landscaped gardens of the time.

Although the Duke was in Russia at the time, Paxton set off for Chatsworth on the Chesterfield coach forthwith, arriving at Chatsworth at half past four in the morning. By his account he had explored the gardens, scaling the kitchen garden wall in the process, and set the staff to work, then ate breakfast with the housekeeper and met his future wife, Sarah Bown, the housekeeper's niece, as he later put it, completing his first morning's work before nine o'clock. They later married, and she proved to be supremely capable of managing his affairs, leaving him free to pursue his ideas.

He enjoyed a very friendly relationship with his employer who recognised his diverse talents and facilitated his rise to prominence.

One of his first projects was to redesign the garden around the new north wing of the house and to set up a 'pinetum', a collection of conifers which developed into a forty acre arboretum which still exists. In the process he became skilled in moving even mature trees. The largest, weighing about eight tons, was moved from Kedleston Road in Derby. Among several other large projects at Chatsworth, such as the Rock Garden, the Emperor Fountain and the rebuilding of Edensor village, he is best remembered for his glass houses.

Born into poverty, Paxton left school when he was fifteen to work at his brother's farm. Starved and beaten, he eventually ran away. He found employment as a gardener in Woburn and became an expert botanist. His date of birth in 1801 is still controversial as he may have lied about his age to get the job. By 1824 he was foreman at Chiswick Gardens Arboretum, leased by the Horticultural Society from the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Their paths crossed, and in 1826 he was appointed superintendent at Chatsworth House.

Here he built enormous fountains - one twice the height of Nelson's Column - as well as an arboretum, a 300ft conservatory, and a model village. In 1837 he secured a cutting of a new lily found in Guyana, and designed a heated pool that enabled him to breed the lily successfully: within three months its leaves were almost twelve feet wide.

However, the lily was too big for any normal conservatory. Inspired by the huge leaves of the lily - 'a natural feat of engineering' - and tested by floating his daughter Annie on one leaf, he found his structure. The secret was in the rigidity provided by the radiating ribs connecting with flexible cross-ribs. Constant experimentation over a number of years led him to devise his glasshouse design that inspired the Crystal Palace.

With a cheap and light wooden frame, the conservatory design had a ridge-and-furrow roof to let in more light and drain rainwater away. Cunningly, Paxton used hollow pillars to double up as drain pipes and designed a special rafter that also acted as an internal and external gutter. All of these elements were pre-fabricated and, like modular buildings, could be produced in vast numbers and assembled into buildings of varied design.

By the age of forty he was a close friend of the Duke and was making a fortune as manager of his six estates and as a director of several rail companies. In his spare time he set up the Daily News, appointing Charles Dickens as editor, and accompanied the Duke around the world. However, real fame came with the 1851 Great Exhibition. Every one of the 245 plans for the Exhibition Hall had been examined and rejected, and the Committee's own design had met with public disdain. Paxton thought he could do better, and delivered his design - a vastly magnified version of his lily house at Chatsworth - within nine days. It was cheap, simple to erect and remove, ready for immediate use, and would not scar the Park.

Its novelty was its revolutionary modular, prefabricated design, and use of glass. Glazing was carried out from special trolleys, and was fast: one man managed to fix 108 panes in a single day. The Palace was 1 848 feet long, 408 feet wide and 108 feet high. It required 4 500 tons of iron, 60 000 cubic feet of timber and needed over 293 000 panes of glass. Yet it took 2 000 men just eight months to build, and cost just 79 800.

Although the Crystal Palace was initially the Millennium Dome of its time, attracting widespread cynicism from the public and the press, when it opened the Exhibition was an enormous success, the Palace a major attraction, and Paxton was knighted.

Joseph Paxton was born in Milton Bryan, England in 1801. A farmer's son, he was apprenticed as a gardener to the Chatsworth estate where he eventually attained the position of head gardener. In 1832,

Paxton developed an interest in glasshouses at Chatsworth where he designed a series of buildings with "forcing frames" for espalier trees. Generally considered a landscape gardener, Paxton's superiority in conservatory design earned him recognition as an innovative architect. His position in the House of Commons as MP for the Coventry allowed Paxton to dedicate his later years to urban planning projects.

Sir Joseph Whitworth

(1803 - 1887)
Profession: Engineer
The son of a Congregational minister, was born in Stockport in 1803. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to a Derbyshire cotton-spinner. Whitworth studied the machinery in the factory and was critical of the poor standards of workmanship and this inspired him to become an engineer.

In 1821 Whitworth moved to Manchester where he found work as a mechanic. Four years later he moved to London where he trained under Henry Maudslay. After returning to Manchester in 1833 he set up his own machine shop. Over the next few years he built a successful knitting machine (1835) and a horse-drawn mechanical roadsweeper (1842). Probably his most important innovation was to devised a machine capable of measuring to an accuracy of one hundredth-thousandth of an inch.

By the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851 Whitworth had acquired a world-wide reputation of producing machines of unrivaled quality and precision. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, each workshop used its own sizes for the equipment it made. By 1860 Whitworth's specifications for sizes of screw threads was generally accepted throughout Britain.

Whitworth was deeply concerned with working class poverty and donating large sums of money to educational organisations. He also supplied the funds for engineering scholarships research at technical colleges.

Benjamin Disraeli

(1804 - 1881)
Profession: Statesman
Disraeli was born in London, son of an Anglicized Jew, baptized in 1817. He made his early reputation as a novelist, and later became leader of the 'Young England' movement. He opposed Peel's free trade policies, especially after the later repealed the Corn Laws in order to relieve the famine in Ireland.

Leader of the Conservatives, after Peel's followers left the Party, Disraeli became Chancellor of the Exchequer in Derby's minority governments. He became prime minister on Derby's resignation in 1868, but was defeated soon afterwards in the general election.
For seventeen years public attention was concentrated on the rivalry between Disraeli and the Liberal leader Gladstone when the nation was governed by these two men. Generally, Disraeli supported reform at home and imperialism abroad.

During his 2nd administration (1874--80) Britain became half-owner of the Suez Canal, and the queen assumed the title Empress of India (1876). Disraeli's diplomacy at the Congress of Berlin (1878) helped to preserve European peace after the conflict between Russia and Turkey in the Balkans. Defeated in 1880 by Gladstone and the Liberals, he then retired.

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