Saturday 20 June 2015

Men of Yore: James Simpson

This is intended to be a series of posts about men from history who have either achieved great things in one form or another by pushing boundaries: either in themselves or in society or science or exploration of some form. Boundary pushing and growth is what men do, it's their nature: to grow and push outwards. We, as men, are the frontiers men, the first to discover/uncover new territory, in a metaphysical sense (i.e. including both material and the immaterial) that is later colonised and 'civilised' by the rest of humanity.

James Simpson

James Simpson (1799–1869) was a British civil engineer. He was president of the Institution of Civil Engineers from January 1853 to January 1855.[1]

James Simpson was the fourth son of Thomas Simpson, engineer of the Chelsea Waterworks. James succeeded his father in both this post and that of engineer of the Lambeth Waterworks Company. It was under Simpson's instruction that the Chelsea Waterworks became the first in the country to install a slow sand filtration system to purify the water they were drawing from the River Thames.[2] This filter consisted of successive beds of loose brick, gravel and sand to remove solids from the water.[3]

He also designed waterworks at Windsor Castle and Bristol as well as The Wooden Pier at Southend on Sea.[4] James Simpson established J. Simpson & Co., a manufacturer of steam engines and pumps. He made several improvements to the design of these machines.[5]



Timeline of Simpson and Thompson and James Simpson and Co, waterworks and manufacturing engineer.

1799 Born in London on 25 July in the engineer's residence at the Chelsea waterworks where his father, Thomas Simpson was engineer; Thomas was later engineer of Lambeth water company too.
James Simpson worked and learned under his father's direction
1823 He inherited the position of chief engineer to both the Chelsea and Lambeth companies on his father's death.
1825 James Simpson, Civil Engineer, Chelsea Waterworks, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]
1825 Partnership with George Thompson, engine maker, as Simpson and Thompson, engine makers and vendors[2].
1827 Simpson toured the water filtration operations at Glasgow and at industrial sites near Manchester and elsewhere in Lancashire.
1829 After more than a year of experiments with prototype filter beds, he completed a 1 acre filter bed at the Chelsea works.
Simpson trained his younger brother William Simpson (1809-1864) in engineering and aided him in the operation of a steam engine company in Pimlico, London, [3], Simpson and Co at Grosvenor Engine Works.
He provided a water supply for Windsor Castle and other royal palaces and was called on as expert to report on schemes for improvement of London's sewers.
1851 Simpson completed a gravity-fed water supply for Bristol, piping water over 10 miles.
1852 Moved Lambeth Water Company's works to Seething Wells, Kingston upon Thames. This works used four 600 horse-power steam engines to pump ten million gallons from its filter beds to London.
Involved in waterworks for Cambridge, Cardiff, Carlisle, Exeter, London, York, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and elsewhere from the 1840s through the 1860s.
1856 York Water Co: note in archives suggests that James Simpson was asked to advise on method of operating the Beam engines; James Simpson (presumably the company) was ordered to remove the beam engines for scrap in 1918[4].
James had three sons, James and Arthur who were connected with engineering or engine manufacturing, and John who was an artist.[5]. At least four of his grandsons were engineers involved with waterworks.
1862 The partnership of James Simpson, William Simpson and James Simpson, Junior carrying on business as manufacturing engineers as Simpson and Co and William Simpson and Co at Grosvenor Rd, Pimlico, and Cubitt Town, Poplar, was dissolved. James Simpson would carry on the business[6].
1869 Died at his home, Westfield Lodge, Portsmouth Road, Kingston upon Thames on 4 March.


Basic infrastructure and civil engineering is something that many of us take for granted, something that we don't pay much attention to because it isn't emotionally charged and is a tad, dare I say, boring; but it does an essential job and without it we'd have mortality rates like back in Victorian-era London along with all manner of nasty water-bourne diseases.  It's because of men like James Simpson that we have healthy lives and can drink clean water. 

In fact our water is so clean that even the water used to flush the toilets is cleaner than the drinking water of Victorian-era Londoners!  That's what you call progress.


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