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Wellington Celebrate Thomas Parker, inventor of the electric car

Wellington, although a proud market town since 1244, is now situated in Telford. The area that comprises Telford was home to myriad inventors, many of whom are celebrated in Telford’s Ironbridge Gorge Museums.  The museum’s tag line is now “valley of invention”.  So, when Wellington was planning their 2022 walking festival, which always coincides with Heritage Open Days, they thought it would be sensible to include an event showcasing one of Telford’s  inventors.

As electric cars are now in most people’s consciousness it seemed appropriate to celebrate one of Telford’s lesser-known inventors – Thomas Parker.  Little did they know the museum trust had the same idea- and are also showcasing Thomas Parker, making two of their Coalbrookdale sites free on September 17th and 18th.  Rather than clashing, the two events complement each other nicely.

Thomas Parker was born in Coalbrookdale in 1843, the son of a moulder.  Thomas also worked in the Coalbrookdale Ironworks, starting as a young child while attending school.  In 1862 he too became a moulder. His horizons were broadened by a visit to the 1862 International Exhibition in London where he saw, among other technology, the wet battery. 

Spells in Birmingham and Manchester followed, but he returned to Coalbrookdale in 1867, first as a foreman then as a chemist in the electro plating department.  While working in Coalbrookdale he made his name, not for electricity, but first for co-creating in 1876 a new and improved steam pump The “Parker and Weston’s Patent Pump” which would later be awarded a medal at the International Inventions Exhibition of 1885.

To show the breadth of his invention, in 1880 the Kyrle Society increased awareness about the negative effects of coal smoke in cities.  In response Parker invented the “Kyrle Grate,” which was designed to allow anthracite coal to be burned inside of it. His grate won a silver medal at the Smoke Abatement Exhibition in 1881, He would later, in 1904, invent Coalite. 

Still at Coalbrookdale, Parker also improved the electroplating process by adding a dynamo that he built himself.  He then became in effect an electrical engineer, working on projects that were at the cutting edge of technology. In 1882 he moved to Wolverhampton to co-found, with Paul-Bedford Elwell, the first company in the Midlands to manufacture electrical equipment. It was whilst there that he made, and used, electric cars.

After working in London for a spell, where he was responsible for the electrification of much of the underground, he returned to Coalbrookdale in 1907 to retire.  He bought and lived in Severn House in Ironbridge, now the Best Western Valley Hotel.  He was still very active as he purchased and ran the Court Iron Works in Madeley as well as giving lectures at the Quaker Meeting House in Coalbrookdale.  He died (aged 72) in 1915 from a brain tumour.

Wellington’s event is a 7.5-mile walk on 15th September. The walk will start in Madeley and go first to Thomas Parker Drive (named in his honour on the centenary of his death), the Court Iron Works (still remembered by many in Telford), before going to various sites in Coalbrookdale, where he lived and worked, then returning to Madeley, via Madeley Parish church where he was buried in the Fletcher (his mother’s) family vault.  See details here on the HODS site.

The photo shows the Thomas Parker electric car. Thomas Parker is in the middle of this photograph.

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