Winsor, Frederick Albert (DNB00)

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WINSOR, FREDERICK ALBERT (1763–1830), one of the pioneers of gas-lighting, son of Friedrich Albrecht Winzer, was born in Brunswick in 1763. There is some reason to suppose that he was educated in Hamburg, where he early acquired English, and he seems to have resided in England before 1799. He appears to have been primarily a company-promoting ‘expert,’ but he was specially interested in the question of economic fuel, and in 1802, being then in Frankfort, he made a visit to Paris expressly to investigate the thermo-lamps which Philippe Lebon (d. 1804) had first exhibited in 1786, and for which he had obtained a brevet in 1799. William Murdock [q. v.] had been working in England upon somewhat similar lines (traced in the first instance, he admits, ‘by Dr. John Clayton, as far back as 1739’), and his experiments first yielded gas as a practical illuminant between 1792 and 1798, when he erected gasworks at the well-known Soho manufactory of Boulton & Watt, near Birmingham. A like project had been entertained by Archibald Cochrane, ninth earl of Dundonald [q. v.], in 1782–3; but, except in the case of Murdock and Lebon, experiments in gas-lighting had not progressed further than ‘philosophical fireworks,’ such as were exhibited by a German named Diller (d. 1789) in London. Diller appears to have taken his ‘fireworks’ to Paris and exhibited them to the Académie des Sciences (see Journal de Physique, September 1787). Similar ‘fireworks’ were exhibited by Cartwright at the Lyceum Theatre in May 1800 (Times, 17 May). The inhabitants of London were, nevertheless, extremely sceptical as to the feasibility of gas-lighting when Winsor returned to England at the close of 1803 and commenced a series of lectures at the Lyceum Theatre (for an advertisement of the lectures see Times, 21 Sept. 1804). He kept secret as a profound mystery his method of procuring and purifying the gas; but he showed the method of conveying it to the different rooms of a house. He exhibited a chandelier ‘in the form of a long flexible tube suspended from the ceiling communicating at the end with a burner, designed with much taste, being a cupid grasping a torch with one hand and holding the tube with the other.’ He explained how the form of the flame could be modified, and demonstrated that the flame was not liable to be extinguished by wind or rain, that it produced no smoke, and did not scatter dangerous sparks. His perseverance and sanguine temper are said to have been of the greatest service in making the matter known to the public, but he was deficient both in chemical knowledge and in mechanical skill. He obtained a hold over the mind of a retired coach-maker named Kenzie, who lived in Queen Street, Hyde Park, and this patron lent him his premises for gasworks. On 18 May 1804, being then ‘of Cheapside, merchant,’ Winsor obtained a patent (No. 2764) for an ‘improved oven, stove, or apparatus for the purpose of extracting inflammable air, oil, pitch, tar, and acids, and reducing into coke and charcoal all kinds of fuel’ (Ann. Reg. 1804, p. 825). Towards the close of 1806 Winsor removed his exhibition to 97 Pall Mall, where early in 1807 he ‘lighted up a part of one side of the street, which was the first instance of this kind of light being applied to such a purpose in London’ (Matthew, Hist. Sketch of Gas-Lighting, 1827). His gas was sneered at as offensive, dangerous, expensive, and unmanageable, but Winsor was not deterred from his purpose. Besides a number of bombastic pamphlets and advertisements, he issued at the close of 1807 a flaming prospectus of ‘The New Patriotic Imperial and National Light and Heat Company.’ He calculated that if the operations which he proposed were properly conducted the net annual profits would amount to over 229,000,000l., and that after giving over nine-tenths of that sum towards the redemption of the National Debt, there would still remain a total profit of 570l. to be paid to the subscribers for every 5l. of deposit. Winsor is said to have raised nearly 50,000l. by subscription, but, large as was the amount, he was not enriched by it, for the whole was expended upon his projects. The retort in which he distilled was ‘an iron vessel, similar to a pot with a lid, well fitted and luted to the top of it. To the centre of the lid a pipe was fixed to convey the gas to his condensing vessel, which was a circular cistern, made of a conical form, broader at the bottom than at the top; it was divided into two or three separate compartments, and the plates that formed the division were perforated with a great number of holes, in order to spread the gas as it passed through them, to purify it from the sulphuretted hydrogen and ammonia.’ But this operation was very imperfectly performed, and the gas, being burnt in an extremely impure state, emitted a pungent smell. To improve this he had recourse to lime as a purifier, with moderately successful results. His pipes were mostly of lead, only those parts which connected them with the burners being made of copper, and his burners were argands, jets, and bats-wings. On 20 Feb. 1807 Winsor obtained a second patent (No. 3016) for a new gas furnace and purifier; his later patents (Nos. 3113 and 3200) for refining the gas so as to deprive it of all disagreeable odour during combustion are dated 3 March 1808 and 7 Feb. 1809. On 3 Aug. 1809 he obtained a patent (No. 3253) for ‘a fixed and moveable telegraphic lighthouse, for signals of intelligence in rain, storm, and darkness.’

In 1809, after having moderated the terms of his prospectus, Winsor supported the Light and Heat Company's application to parliament for a charter. The application was opposed by William Murdock and James Watt the younger. Henry Brougham on their behalf launched the shafts of his ridicule against the financial side of the scheme as expounded in Winsor's advertisements, and Walter Scott wrote that he must be a madman who proposed to light London with smoke. The bill was thrown out, but the ‘Westminster Gas Light and Coke Company,’ as the corporation now termed themselves, obtained their act on 9 June 1810. They were henceforth advised, not by Winsor, but by Samuel Clegg [q. v.], an old disciple of Murdock.

Winsor proceeded to Paris in 1815, his ‘brevet d'importation’ being dated 1 Dec. 1815, and he set to work at once to found a gas-lighting company in that city. In order to conciliate French opinion, he stated that in 1802 he had been one of the first to render tribute to Lebon as the original inventor of the gas oven (Journal des Débats, 9 July 1823). In January 1817 he lit up the Passage des Panoramas with gas, which he applied next to the Luxembourg and the Odéon arcade, but his company made small progress and was liquidated in 1819. Little further advance seems to have been made in Paris until the formation of the Manby-Wilson company about 1828. With this firm Winsor is not known to have been connected. He died at Paris on 11 May 1830 (Times, 17 May), and was buried in the cemetery of Père la Chaise. A cenotaph was erected to his memory in Kensal Green cemetery with the inscription, ‘At evening time it shall be light.—Zach. xiv. 7.’

A son, Frederick Albert Winsor, ‘junior’ (1797–1874), of Shooter's Hill, born at Vienna in 1797, married, in June 1819, Catherine Hunter of Brunswick Square, London (Monthly Mag. xlvii. 564). He was called to the bar from the Middle Temple on 31 Jan. 1840, and obtained a patent (No. 9600) for the ‘production of light’ as late as January 1843. An excellent linguist, he was for many years director and secretary of the French Protestant Hospital. He died on 7 June 1874, aged 77 (Law Times, 18 July).

Winsor's publications include: 1. ‘Description of the Thermo-lamp invented by Lebon of Paris, published with remarks by F. A. W—— of London,’ in parallel columns of English, French, and German, Brunswick, 1802, 4to; dedicated to Charles William Ferdinand, duke of Brunswick. This was reissued in English alone with some additions in 1804 as ‘Account of the most ingenious and important National Discovery for some Ages.’

  • ‘The Superiority of the New Patent Coke over the use of Coals in Family Concerns, displayed every Evening, at the Large Theatre, Lyceum, Strand, by the New Imperial Patent Light Stove (F. A. Winsor, patentee),’ [1806].
  • ‘Analogy between Animal and Vegetable Life. Demonstrating the beneficial application of the Patent Light Stoves to all Green and Hot Houses,’ 1807. Winsor here calls himself ‘Inventor and patentee of the gas lights.’
  • ‘National Deposit Bank; or the Bulwark of British Security, Credit, and Commerce, in all times of Difficulty, Changes, and Revolutions,’ 1807.
  • ‘Mr. W. Nicholson's Attack in his “Philosophical Journal” on Mr. Winsor and the National Light and Heat Company, with Mr. Winsor's Defence; also a short History of some Piratical Attempts to infringe his Patent Right,’ 1807.

    Some further pamphlets of minor importance are enumerated in the Patent Office Library catalogue.

    [Matthews's Historical Sketch of the Origin, Progress, and Present State of Gas-Lighting, 1827, chap. iv. and Appendix; Annual Biogr. and Obituary, 1831, p. 508; Gent. Mag. 1830, ii. 89; The Report of Jas. Lud. Grant and trustees of the fund for assisting Mr. Winsor in his experiments, May 1808; John Taylor's Memoirs of my Life, 1832, i. 41; Croft's Kensal Green Cemetery, p. 20; Smiles's Invention and Industry, pp. 142–3; A Letter to a Member of Parliament from Mr. William Murdock, 1809, ed. Prosser, 1892; Samuel Clegg's Coal Gas, 1841, introduction; Gas Journal, 1883, xlii. 489 sq.; Nicholson's Journal, 1 Jan. 1807, p. 73; Ann. Reg. 1804 p. 825, 1807 p. 855, 1808 ii. 134; Chambers's Book of Days, i. 178; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. x. 206, xii. 494, 8th ser. ii. 85; London Magazine, December 1827; All the Year Round, 5 Oct. 1867; New York Engineering Magazine, vi. 223; Rees's Cyclopædia, 1819, art. ‘Gas;’ Penny Cyclopedia, xi. 86; Grande Encyclopédie, art. ‘Éclairage;’ notes kindly furnished by R. B. Prosser, esq.]

    T. S.