Oldham, John (1779-1840) (DNB00)

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OLDHAM, JOHN (1779–1840), engineer, born in 1779 in Dublin, was apprenticed to an engraver there, but subsequently became a miniature-painter. Having a strong inclination for mechanics, he invented a numbering machine, which in 1809 he unsuccessfully offered to the bank of Newry for numbering their bank-notes. In 1812 the machine was adopted by the Bank of Ireland, and he received the appointment of engineer and chief engraver. In 1837 he entered the service of the Bank of England, where he introduced many improvements in the machinery for printing and numbering banknotes. This machinery continued in use until 1852–3, when the system of surface-printing was adopted. He paid much attention to marine propulsion, and in 1817 he obtained a patent (No. 4169) for propelling ships by means of paddles worked by a steam-engine, an endeavour being made to imitate the motion of a paddle when used in the ordinary way. In 1820 he patented a further improvement (No. 4249), the paddles being placed on a shaft across the ship, and caused to revolve, being feathered by an adaptation of the gearing used in the former patent. Though a very imperfect contrivance, it has an interest from the fact that it was used in the Aaron Manby, the first seagoing iron ship ever constructed [see Manby, Aaron]. A further development of the idea resulted in the construction of a feathering paddle-wheel, which was patented in 1827 (No. 5455). His system of warming buildings, introduced into the Bank of Ireland, and subsequently into the Bank of England, is described in the ‘Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal,’ 1839, p. 96. He died at his house in Montagu Street, Russell Square, on 14 Feb. 1840, leaving, it is said, a family of seventeen children.

His eldest son, Thomas Oldham (1801–1851), succeeded to his father's place at the bank. He was elected an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers on 2 March 1841, and in 1842 he read a paper ‘On the Introduction of Letterpress Printing for numbering and dating the Notes of the Bank of England’ (Proceedings, 1842, p. 166), and in the following year he contributed ‘A Description of the Automatic Balance at the Bank of England invented by W. Cotton’ (ib. 1843, p. 121). For the latter he received a Telford medal. He died at Brussels on 7 Nov. 1851.

[Mechanics' Magazine, xxxii. 400; Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 1841, p. 14; Francis's History of the Bank of England, ii. 232.]

R. B. P.