Crompton, Rookes Evelyn Bell (1845-1940), engineer, was born at Sion Hill, near Thirsk, 31 May 1845, the fourth son and youngest child of Joshua Samuel Crompton, by his first wife, Mary, daughter of Sir Claud Alexander and a friend and pupil of Mendelssohn. The names Rookes Evelyn record his kinship through the Rookes, his grandmother's family, with the diarist John Evelyn.
During the Crimean war Crompton was allowed to accompany Captain (Sir) William Houston Stewart, his mother's cousin, commander of the Dragon; and was officially enrolled as a naval cadet. He visited his elder brother in the trenches and actually came under fire; thus at the age of eleven he had the Crimean medal and Sebastopol clasp.
School at Elstree prepared Crompton for Harrow (1858-1860). During his holidays he built, in a workshop at home, a full-size steam-driven road engine; but before his true engineering career began he served for four years in India (1864-1868) as an ensign in the Rifle Brigade. Even there, however, he equipped a travelling workshop and had his machine tools sent out from England. His strong views on the inefficiency and slowness of the bullock trains impressed R. S. Bourke, Earl of Mayo, then viceroy, and within a short time Crompton introduced steam road-haulage, receiving a government grant of £500 for his services.
Returning in 1875, Crompton left the army and bought a partnership in a Chelmsford engineering firm, and, when adviser at the Stanton iron-works belonging to the Derbyshire branch of his family, purchased some of the new Gramme dynamos in order to improve the lighting of the foundry. Their success provided a turning-point; from that date (1878) electricity and engineering became for him almost inseparable. Co-operating with Emil Burgin, of Basle, who was then working on dynamo design, Crompton obtained the rights of manufacture and sale of Burgin's machine, improved it, and developed it to commercial success. He began making electric light plant, and carried out many installations, those at the Mansion House and the Law Courts in London and the Ring Theatre in Vienna being especially notable. In 1881 the firm of Crompton's was awarded the first gold medal ever given for electric lighting plant.
Towards the end of 1886 Crompton formed the Kensington Court Company, financed by a few friends, for electricity supply to neighbouring premises. This pioneer enterprise, one of the first of its kind, became the Kensington and Knightsbridge Electric Supply Company. Crompton advocated the direct current system; S. Z. de Ferranti, engineer of the London Electric Supply Corporation, believed in alternating current and led the opposing school. The resulting ‘battle of the systems’, with these two as friendly antagonists, has its place in electrical history.
Between 1890 and 1899 Crompton revisited India, advising the government on electrical projects. On his return he took charge of a volunteer corps of Electrical Engineers, and by May 1900 was in South Africa with his men, whose efficiency in maintaining communications and skill in emergencies won high praise. Crompton had gone out as captain: on his return, later that year, he was promoted lieutenant-colonel, appointed C.B., and retained as consultant to the War Office on the development of mechanical transport.
Although electrical matters still claimed much of his time, Crompton became increasingly occupied with road transport. He had been a founder-member of the Royal Automobile Club in 1896, and was one of the judges in 1903 at the first motor show; as engineer-member of the Road Board appointed by the government in 1910, he improved road construction practice and materials. In the early part of the war of 1914-1918 Mr. Churchill consulted Crompton upon the design of an armoured vehicle capable of crossing trenches, and he was responsible for producing a type of landship, which later evolved, under various hands, into the tank.
In his laboratory at 'Thriplands', his Kensington home, Crompton spent many hours at research. He served on the committee of the National Physical Laboratory, and his advocacy of a closer understanding between all countries on electrical affairs resulted in the founding of the International Electrotechnical Commission in 1906, of which he was the first secretary.
In 1927 the firm of Crompton's became merged with another under the title of Crompton, Parkinson, & Company, Limited. 'The Colonel' was then over eighty, but still active, and he retained a directorship in the new concern. A dinner in his honour, held in London in 1931, was attended by probably the largest gathering of distinguished scientists and engineers ever recorded at a personal function. Each of the three principal engineering bodies, the Civil, Mechanical, and Electrical, made him an honorary member; he was twice president of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, in 1895 and again in 1908. He was awarded the Faraday medal in 1926 and was elected FRS in 1933. His ninetieth year was celebrated by another banquet, at which Sir James Swinburne presented him with his portrait by George Harcourt, which is now in the possession of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.
Professionally, Crompton was the expert, commanding respect and admiration; socially, a host of friends regarded him with affection. Young men benefited by his cheerful attitude to life, his resource and originality, and often by his generous help.
Crompton married in 1871 Elizabeth Gertrude (died 1939), daughter of George Clarke, of Tanfield, near Ripon, his father's other estate in Yorkshire; they had two sons, one of whom predeceased his father, and three daughters. His wife was his constant companion, keenly interested in all his enterprises. He died at Azerley Chase, Ripon, 15 February 1940.
Coveted plaque unveiled in outside engineer's old London base by Alison Lewis
A THIRSK man who helped bring electric light to London has been honoured with a coveted English Heritage plaque.
One of the famous blue plaques, recording the work of Colonel Rookes Evelyn Bell Crompton has been unveiled at Kensington Court in the capital.
Col Crompton was born in Thirsk in 1845, his father was Liberal MP for Ripon in 1832 and his mother was a talented amateur pianist.
He was educated at Harrow and was always interested in engineering, spending holidays in Thirsk making steam engines, carrying out small experiments and pestering local carpenters and blacksmiths to let him practise making things.
His family owned three estates, including Sion Hill Hall at Kirby Wiske, Kepwick Hall and Asenby near Thirsk.
Crompton's father had a lime quarry near the Kepwick estate and built the railway track from Kepwick to the Thirsk to Yarm Road, the remains of which can still be seen today.
The Kepwick and Sion Hill estates were sold, but Crompton retired to the Asenby estate where he died in 1940, aged 95.
The blue plaque was unveiled at Kensington Court in London by the president of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, Dr Malcolm Kennedy, at the building where Crompton's Kensington Court Lighting Company was based.
It began producing one of the capital's first practical electricity supplies in 1887 and was Crompton's London home for almost 50 years.
The generating station in Kensington Court is one of the oldest in London, but it ceased operation in 1900 when greater demand meant supply was taken over by the bigger Wood Lane power station.
He was the first major British manufacturer of electricity generators, with his being the most efficient design of the time and his company, Crompton and Co, also made some of the first domestic electric cookers.
The company kept the Crompton name until the 1960s when it was taken over by Hawker Siddley whose splinter company Brush are market leaders in generators today.
Crompton championed the use of electricity by taking portable generators to the Henley Regatta and Alexandra Palace where he astounded the public with spectacular electric demonstrations.
And in London his first street lighting installations included those for Kings Cross station and the Law Courts.
Abroad his ambitious lighting system for the Vienna Opera House covered a wider area than had ever been attempted before and people flocked to see the spectacle.
He continued to lead the field with his improvements to arc lamp design, which made his one of the best available with a new smooth mechanism that created a long, steady glow.
When Crompton led the Corps of Electrical Engineer RE Volunteers in the Boer war, he used this design to develop the military searchlight.
His other achievements include advising on the design and production of the military tank in World War One, and being made president of the Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1895.
He was also awarded the Faraday Medal in 1926 by the Institute of Electrical Engineers for notable scientific or industrial achievement in electrical engineering and conspicuous service rendered to the advancement of electrical science.
"Boer War Services of Military Officers" shows -
"(V) Crompton, R.E.B., (Lt. Col., Electrical Eng.) (Hon Major in army) S.African War, 1900. Despatches, London Gazette, 10 Sept 01. Queen's medal with three clasps. CB".
A very impressive Gentleman with many achievements in his life.
I wonder why "Services" did not show his Crimean service. At first, I thought it might have been because he served as a Naval cadet. However, the bio of Sir H.E.Wood, CB, shows that officer's (distinguished) Crimean service with the Naval Brigade. Does anyone have any ideas?