James Starley: Facts About the Victorian Inventor

Here are some facts about James Starley.

  • James Starley was born in the Sussex village, Albourne, in 1830.

  • When he was nine years old, he started to work on his father’s farm.
  • He invented ingenious ways of catching rats on the farm, using parts from an umbrella and willow branches.
  • When he was a teenager, he moved to Lewisham, London. He found work as a gardner, but made extra money by mending watches and inventing things to solve problems.
  • One of his early inventions was a device that allowed a duck to pass through a gap in a fence, but stopped rats from following it.
  • James Starley fixed his employers sewing machine and then improved its design, and this led to him getting a job with Josiah Turner, a partner of the men who had manufactured the sewing machine.
  • Around 1860, James Starley and Josiah Turner started their own company, the Coventry Sewing Machine Company.
  • By 1868, the company was producing bicycles. It soon became one of the key companies at the centre of the British bicycle industry.
  • With William Hardy, James Starley made a version of the penny-farthing.
  • The company’s most famous bike was the Ariel, made from all metal and released in 1870.
  • James Starley was constantly looking for ways to make his products better and more efficient. He invented the tangent spoke wheel, differential gears (used the manufacture of cars today) and he came up with ways to perfect the bicycle chain drive.
  • He married Jane Todd and they had a son called William Starley.
  • James Starley died in Coventry in 1881. He was 51 years old.
  • His son and nephew, John Kemp Starley, carried on making bicycles after James’ death. John Kemp Starley went on to make the Rover Safety Bicycle.
  • James Starely is sometimes known as “the father of the bicycle industry”.
  • Starley’s factory in Coventry is now home to the Museum of British Road Transport.
  • In a 1999 vote, James Whittle was voted the third most important person in Coventry’s history.
  • There is a statue of James Starley in Coventry.

What next? Discover facts about some other famous Victorians.

Penny Farthing: Facts and Information

Here are some interesting facts about the penny farthing.

  • The Penny Farthing was the first machine to be called a bicycle. Its name came from its large front wheel and smaller back wheel, which resembled the largest and smallest coins of the time.

  • It was popular in the late 19th century in Europe and the United States. Because the Penny Farthing, or high wheel bicycle, was expensive to make, it was usually only purchased by wealthy young men.
  • The front wheel often measured just over 2 metres in diameter. The machine had solid rubber tyres, a cast iron frame and pedals attached directly to the wheel hub.
  • The larger front wheel and small back wheel supposedly made the machine easier to ride. However, many riders found it difficult to get on and off the bicycle, and there were many injuries.
  • Some riders even died from falling off the bicycle, because of its height. When coasting downhill, riders had to take their feet off the pedals and put them over the handlebars.
  • The bicycle was designed by a British Victorian inventor, James Starley. In 1878, the Columbia bicycle factory opened in the United States, and the machine became popular there.

Penny Farthing

  • The Penny Farthing lost much of its popularity in the late 1880s when Starley’s nephew invented the Rover Safety Bicycle. Its most noticeable feature was a saddle much closer to the ground.
  • Around the same time, John Dunlop invented the pneumatic tyre. This new technology meant that smaller machines with smaller wheels could be ridden safely and comfortably.
  • Today, several US cities have the Penny Farthing bicycle as their symbol. It also featured in one of the most famous television shows ever, The Prisoner.
  • In 2006, Joff Summerfield spent over two years riding around the world on a Penny Farthing. The national Penny Farthing championship races are held every year in Tasmania, Australia.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Facts About the Creator of Sherlock Holmes

Here are some facts about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a Scottish writer and doctor, born in May 1859 in Edinburgh. He is best known for creating the world’s most famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes.

  • He studied medicine for several years at the University of Edinburgh. Doyle later worked as a doctor on a Greenland whaling ship and a surgeon on a ship sailing to West Africa.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle started writing short stories in his late teens.
  • The first Sherlock Holmes story,  A Study in Scarlet, was published in an 1886 magazine.
  • Sherlock Holmes, was based on a professor at Doyle’s university, Joseph Bell.
  • Doyle also wrote other books and short stories, including 3 Professor Challenger novels.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

  • Arthur Conan Doyle was more successful as a writer than as a doctor. His first medical partnership was a failure and when he set up his own eye care practice, he had no patients.
  • Doyle was interested in spiritualism and was a member of the ‘Ghost Club’. He believed that a photograph of fairies was real, and that the magician Houdini had supernatural powers.
  • He was a skilled golfer, footballer and cricketer. He was captain of his local golf club, and played in 10 first class matches for Marylebone Cricket Club.
  • Doyle twice ran for Parliament, but lost both times. He received a Knighthood for his writings on the Boer War, and he also helped to free two wrongly convicted men from prison.
  • At age 55, Doyle was too old to fight in World War I, so instead, he formed a battalion of volunteers. He also predicted the war with Germany several years before the war started.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died from a heart attack in July, 1930 and is buried in Minstead, Hampshire. There is a statue of Sherlock Holmes near his birthplace in Edinburgh.

What next? Discover some facts about other famous Victorians.

Louis Pasteur: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Louis Pasteur.

  • Louis Pasteur was a French biologist and chemist. He is best known for his research into the cause and prevention of various diseases, as well as finding vaccines for anthrax and rabies.

  • He was born in Dole, France in December 1822.
  • Before becoming interested in science, Pasteur studied painting and drawing.
  • He taught at a school in Dijon and in 1848 became professor of chemistry at Strasbourg University.
  • He married the daughter of the university’s principal, in 1849. They had 5 children, although 3 died at an early age and these losses were partly responsible for Pasteur becoming a scientist.
  • Louis Pasteur realized that tiny organisms, known as germs, carry bacteria and cause disease.
  • He helped the silk industry, by realising that microbes were destroying silkworms.
  • Louis Pasteur came up with the idea that a person must either be left or right handed.
  • He was a devout Catholic.
  • He invented the process of pasteurization, which is widely used today for milk and beer. The rapid heating process, which kills harmful germs, still bears his name.

Louis Pasteur

  • Pasteur invented the rabies vaccine after treating a boy bitten by a dog, and also came up with the word ‘vaccination’. He also devised vaccines for tuberculosis, cholera and yellow fever.
  • He was afraid of catching diseases from people and would never shake anyone’s hand. He also encouraged doctors to sanitize their equipment and wash their hands before surgery.
  • Pasteur was honoured by the London Royal Society and the French Academy of Sciences. He was awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, one of only 75 French citizens to receive the award.
  • Louis Pasteur died in 1895 from a stroke. He is buried in the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and his crypt is engraved with some of his research and findings.

What next? Learn more about Robert Koch and Joseph Lister, two other scientists who worked during the reign of Queen Victoria.

Prince Albert: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Prince Albert.

  • Prince Albert was the husband of Britain’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. They were married for 21 years until his death in 1861 at age 42.
  • Albert was born in Germany on August 26th, 1819 and studied music, art history, law and philosophy. It was decided he would make a suitable husband for Queen Victoria and they were married in 1840.

  • In 1841 he became chairman of the Royal Commission, set up to promote the arts. He became a successful art collector, buying valuable and quality paintings.
  • Albert was good with the Royal finances and by 1844 had enough money to buy a house on the Isle of Wight for the family. Osborne House was designed to look like an Italian villa.

Prince Albert

  • At first Prince Albert was not really poplar with the British people. He became the Queen’s private secretary after the death of the Prime Minister in 1848, and this helped to improve his public image.
  • Prince Albert helped to organize the Great Exhibition of 1851 to celebrate the might of the British Empire. He used money from the exhibition to build some of London’s museums.
  • The Victoria and Albert Museum was founded in 1852. It was originally referred to as the Museum of Manufactures, and then the South Kensington Museum before gaining it’s current name in 1899.
  • Albert also helped to address the problem of child labour in factories and workshops. He supported more modern universities and took an interest in science, the arts and industry.
  • Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were shot at several times by assassins. On one occasion, Albert his wife’s life by pushing her out of the path of the bullet.
  • Prince Albert died in December, 1861 after being ill for 2 years. He probably died from typhoid, although other historians suggest that he may have had cancer.
  • Despite Albert’s request that no statues of him be built, there are dozens including London’s Albert Memorial. The towns of Lake Albert in Africa and Price Albert in Canada are named after him.

What next? Discover more facts about the Victorians by visiting our Victorian resources page.

Rowland Hill: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Rowland Hill.

  • Rowland Hill was an English inventor, teacher and social reformer. He is famous for coming up with the idea for the basic postal service, including stamps.
  • He was born in 1795 in Kidderminster and at the age of 12 taught other students. In 1819 he opened a revolutionary new school which had heating, a science laboratory and a swimming pool.

  • Rowland Hill worked on a plan to colonize parts of Australia during the 1830s. The colony would have no convicts and would have all the good qualities of British society.

Rowland Hill

  • His interest in the postal service began when he was 8 years old. His family could not afford to pay the postage and sent Hill to sell his old clothes to afford it.
  • In the 1830s, postage was paid by the recipient, not the sender. Hill argued that there should be a better system and came up with a flat rate, regardless of distance.
  • Adhesive stamps were already being used to pay taxes and Hill felt they could be used to pay postage too. Hill presented all his ideas in a series of pamphlets.
  • The Penny Black was issued in May, 1840 and was the world’s first adhesive postage stamp. Today, an unused Penny Black stamp can be worth as much as £4,000.
  • In 1843, Hill became chairman of the London and Brighton Railway. He introduced many changes including comfortable trains and low fares and helped make Brighton a popular place to live.
  • Rowland Hill died in 1879, in Hampstead, London where a local street was named after him. He is buried in London’s Westminster Abbey and has a memorial in Highgate Cemetery.
  • Hill’s home town of Kidderminster has the Rowland Hill Shopping Centre. There is a statue of him in the town, as well as statues of him in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

What next? Discover some facts about other famous Victorians, or visit our Victorians resources page.

Michael Faraday: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Michael Faraday.

  • Michael Faraday was an English scientist, and one of the most important scientists of all time. He is known for his discoveries in chemistry, electricity and magnetism.
  • Faraday was born in 1791, just outside London. His first job was in a bookshop, allowing him to read lots of science books, and he later attended lectures at the Royal Society.

  • In 1825, Michael Faraday created the Christmas Lectures, hosting them 19 times. The talks still take place today and have been hosted by Carl Sagan and David Attenborough.
  • His work led to advances in many areas of science. Faraday helped to develop the use of electricity in technology, helped to create electric motors and discovered the laws of electrolysis.
  • Faraday began experimenting with electricity in the 1820s. He constructed the first dynamo and came up with important theories about gravity and light.
  • Michael Faraday also carried out research into chlorine and invented a simple Bunsen burner. He came up with several new words that are still used today, including ion, cathode and electrode.
  • He was concerned about the environment and investigated industrial pollution in South Wales. He also helped to plan the Great Exhibition of 1851, and advised the National Gallery about cleaning their paintings.

Michael Faraday

  • Faraday refused to accept a knighthood and turned down a request to become President of the Royal Society. He also refused to help the government create chemical weapons, on moral grounds.
  • A workshop used by Michael Faraday can still be seen today, next to the only lighthouse in London, at Trinity Buoy Wharf, in the heart of London’s Docklands.
  • Streets in London, Nottingham, Swindon and other UK cities are named after him, as well as streets in Paris. Many schools are named for him, as is a small park, Faraday Park, located close to his birthplace in London.

What next? Discover some facts about other famous Victorians, or visit our Victorians resources page.

George Stephenson: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about George Stephenson.

  • George Stephenson was an engineer who built the first public railway to use steam trains. He also devised the miner’s safety lamp and built several bridges.

  • Stephenson was born in 1781 in Northumberland and learned to read and write at night school. He became an expert with steam machinery after fixing the pumping device in a local mine.
  • His first job was keeping a herd of cows out of the way of a horse drawn wagon. He was later hired to build a 13 km mine railway in 1820, the world’s first that was not pulled by animals.

George Stephenson

  • George Stephenson also devised a safety lamp for miners that would burn without exploding. An inventor called Davy invented a lamp at the same time, causing arguments between the two men.
  • In 1829, George Stephenson and his son Robert designed their famous steam train, the Rocket. The Rocket was so successful that virtually all other steam trains were modeled after it.
  • The Rocket featured in the opening day celebrations of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. However, the celebrations were overshadowed by the death of a local MP in the world’s first railway accident.
  • Stephenson is also credited with inventing the standard gauge for rail tracks which is still used all over the world.

George Stephenson railway

  • The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was opened in 1830. It was the first railway in which all the trains operated to a timetable and all passengers bought a ticket.
  • George Stephenson also designed the first bridge to cross a railway line at an angle, for extra strength. The bridge was built in 1830 at Rainhill and is still used today.
  • George Stephenson died on 12th August 1848 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. He was 67 years old and was suffering with pleurisy, a lung infection.
  • Today, Stephenson’s birthplace is a museum, and there is a statue of him in Chesterfield Station. Several schools are named after him and he appeared on the 5 pound note between 1990 and 2003.

What next? Discover some facts about Isambard Kingdom Brunel, another famous engineer, or learn more about the Victorians by visiting our Victorians resources page.

Who was Elizabeth Fry? Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Elizabeth Fry, the English reformer.

  • Elizabeth Fry was born on 21st May 1780 in Norwich, England.
  • As a child she lived in Earlham Hall.

  • Her parents were very wealthy. Her father was associated with Gurney’s Bank and her mother was related to the founders of Barclays Bank.
  • When she was 18, Elizabeth was inspired by the American Quaker, William Savery. She began to become aware of the plight of prisoners, the poor, and the sick.

Elizabeth Fry

  • Elizabeth married Joseph Fry in 1800 and they had 11 children.
  • She visitied Newgate Prison and decided something must be done to improve the conditions for the women and children prisoners. She helped to set up the ‘Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners’ in Newgate, and in 1818 she gave evidence to the House of Commons.
  • She set up the Brighton District Visiting Society. The members visited poor families to offer support and charity.
  • In 1840 she started a nursing school. Apparently, she inspired Florence Nightingale, and some of the Fry nurses went with Florence Nightingale to help the wounded of the Crimean War.
  • Queen Victoria was impressed by Elizabeth Fry. She met with her on several occasions and provided funding for some of her causes.
  • Robert Peel was also a supporter of Elizabeth Fry.
  • Elizabeth Fry died on 12th October 1845. She suffered a stroke. She is buried in Ramsgate in a private burial ground.
  • Elizabeth Fry has appeared on the back of £5 notes.

Elizabeth Fry £5 note

What next? Discover some facts about other famous Victorians, or visit our Victorians resources page.

David Livingstone: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about David Livingstone, the famous missionary, explorer and hero of Victorian Britain.

  • David Livingstone was born on 19th March 1813 in Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, Scotland.

  • From the age of ten, Livingstone worked in the local cotton mill. He started off as a ‘piecer’, tying together broken threads of cotton) and then he worked as ‘spinner’.
  • His parents were very religious. His father, Neil, was a Sunday School teacher and he often read books Christian theology.
  • Livingstone’s parents were very keen for David to receive a good education. After working for 14 hours in the mill, he attended Balntyre village school. Hw was encouraged to read at home.

David Livingstone

  • David Livingstone wanted to become a Christian missionary. He attended Anderson’s College in Glasgow in 1836, and he studied Greek and theology classes at the University of Glasgow. He attended the London Missionary School in the late 1830s and he started to study medicine.
  • In 1840, David Livingstone set sail for South Africa as a Christian missionary.
  • During the 1840s, Livingstone made several expeditions from the mission base in Kuruman. He founded a mission at Mabotsa.
  • In 1855, David Livingstone was the first European to see the Mosi-oa-Tunya waterfalls, which he renamed Victoria Falls after Queen Victoria.
  • Livingstone came to believe that his role on Earth was to explore Africa in order to discover routes for commercial trade. He believed that commerce would provide an alternative to the slave trade and would promote civilization and Christianity.
  • He resigned from the London Missionary School in 1857 (they wanted him to do more preaching and less exploring) and he became Royal Consul for the East Coast of Africa.
  • From 1858 to 1864, David Livingstone led the Zambezi Expedition. The aim was to open up a route into Africa’s interior. Unfortunately, the expedition was a failure. The Zambezi River proved impassable and Livingstone’s leadership qualities were called into question.
  • In 1866 Livingstone set out to discover the source of the Nile River. During this journey, he became the first European to see Lake Bangweulu and Lake Ngami.
  • During his journey to find the source of the Nile, David Livingstone completely lost contact with the ‘outside’ world. He was severely ill – suffering from cholera and ulcers.
  • The New York Herald newspaper sent Henry Morton Stanley to find David Livingstone. He found him on 10th November 1871 and apparently greeted him by saying, “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”.
  • Stanley tried to convince Livingstone to return to England, but Livingstone was determined to carry on his explorations of Africa.
  • David Livingstone died on 1st May 1873 from malaria and dysentery in present-day Zambia. His body and his personal journal were shipped back to England by Chuma and Susi, his longstanding attendants. His body was buried in Westminster Abbey, London.
  • David Livingstone married Mary Moffat in January 1845. They had six children, two of which were delivered by David Livingstone during his journey across the Kalahari Desert.
  • Mary died of malaria at the mouth of the Zambezi River on 27th April 1862.
  • Only two of Livingstone’s children married and had their own children.

What next? Discover more facts about other famous Victorians or visit our Victorians resources page.