Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Newsham, Richard

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NEWSHAM, RICHARD (d. 1743), maker of fire-engines, was originally a pearl-button maker, carrying on business in the city of London. He obtained patents for improvements in fire-engines in 1721 and 1725 (Nos. 439 and 479), but the specifications contain only a meagre account of the machine. His engines are, however, fully described and illustrated in Desaguliers's ‘Experimental Philosophy,’ 1744, ii. 505, where they are very highly spoken of. They were made long and narrow, so as to pass through an ordinary doorway, the pumps being actuated by levers worked by men at each side. At one end treadles were provided in connection with the levers, to enable several men to assist by standing with one foot on each, throwing their weight upon each treadle alternately. The engine was fitted with an air-vessel—but Newsham was not the inventor of that contrivance, as is sometimes said—and by a particular conformation of the nozzle he was enabled to deliver a jet of water at a very high velocity, and powerful enough to break windows. In the ‘Daily Journal’ for 7 April 1726 there is an account of a trial of one of his engines which threw water as high as the grasshopper on the Royal Exchange, or about 160 feet from the ground. He carried on business at the Cloth Fair, Smithfield, and his advertisements, some of which contain minute descriptions of the mechanism of the engines, are occasionally met with in the newspapers of the day (cf. Daily Post, 30 July and 6 Aug. 1729; Daily Journal, 1 Aug. 1729; London Evening Post, 12–14 May 1730). He states that he has supplied engines to many of the fire-insurance companies and to the chief provincial towns. An example, presented by the corporation of Dartmouth, is preserved in the machinery and inventions department of the South Kensington Museum. The pump-barrels are 4½ inches diameter, and the stroke is 8½ inches. The engine is in good working order, and it has the original paper of instructions, protected by a plate of horn, still attached. An illustrated broadside relating to Newsham's engines is in the Guildhall Library.

He died in April 1743, his will, dated 2 Sept. 1741, having been proved on 29 April 1743 in the prerogative court of Canterbury. He left the business to his son Laurence, who died in April 1744. Laurence, by his will, dated 3 April and proved on 23 April, bequeathed the business to his wife and to his cousin George Ragg; and the firm ‘Newsham & Ragg, engine-makers, Cloth Fair,’ appears in the ‘London Directory’ down to 1765. The account-books of the Navy Board (now at the Public Record Office) contain many entries relating to fire-engines supplied by Newsham & Ragg to the ships of the Royal Navy.

[Authorities cited.]

R. B. P.