Robert Applegarth
26 January 1834 - 13 July 1924

Robert Applegarth
Robert Applegarth
Image source Wikipedia

Particulars of Robert Applegarth's long and eventful life may be found in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessible via the Surrey Libraries website, and, with additional detail, in Robert Applegarth: Trade Unionist, Educationist, Reformer by Arthur Wilfrid Humphrey, pub. 1911.

This article focusses on his business activities including the period from 1890 to 1898 when he lived at Woodville, Upper Downs Road, re-named Burgh Heath Road, Epsom.

Robert Applegarth, had been Secretary of the Society of Amalgamated Carpenters, and the dominant figure in the Junta, the leadership of the London Trades Council, founded in 1860.

The second family

His first wife Mary, nee Longmoore, died in 1870 aged 33 [reg. Lambeth 12/1870]. A second marriage, as Robert George Applegarth, to Sophia Anne Huitson was registered at Kingston in the September Quarter of 1871. The births of two children from this union were recorded at Lambeth - 9/1872, Alfred Ernest, and 6/1874, Cecil Lisette. Tragically they survived only until 1875 but the birth of a sister, Grace Edith, was also recorded in the December Quarter of 1875.

Mr Applegarth stood for the London School Board, from Lambeth, unsuccessfully in 1870; and was invited to be a candidate for Parliament at Maidstone, but retired in favour of Sir John Lubbock. In 1871 he was appointed a member of the Royal Commission on the Contagious Diseases Act which led to his resignation from secretaryship of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners. Having entered journalism for a time, he was appointed foreman to a firm manufacturing engineering and diving apparatus, eventually becoming proprietor of the business.

The Rouquayrol-Denayrouze diving apparatus

With the French firm of Denayrouze he demonstrated and sold equipment for breathing in poisonous atmospheres, as described in Popular Science Monthly,Volume 7, June 1875: -
"A respirator, intended for the use of miners, firemen, and others, whose duties so often expose them to danger by the inhalation of deleterious gases, was recently tested at the Barclay & Perkins Brewery, London. The apparatus is the invention of a Frenchman, Denayrouze. It consists of a tube about an inch in diameter internally, made of flexible spiral wire and India-rubber, and so strong and well protected as to bear the weight of a heavy man without collapsing. The tube is attached to a belt which is firmly buckled to the waist of the operator. The mouthpiece is very ingeniously contrived for holding in the mouth with extreme tenacity and the minimum of inconvenience. There is a glazed eye-protector, which also closes the nostrils. Inspirations are taken through the tube, and the respired air is discharged through a valve half-way between the belt and the mouth-piece. By drawing a long breath through the tube and removing the mouth-piece a simple sentence can be loudly spoken, care being taken not to inhale without first restoring the mouth-piece. The tube is of sufficient length to communicate by one end with the outer air. A newly-emptied vat, of 1,000 barrels capacity, was selected for the scene of the experiment. Lighted candles, dipped one-eighth of an inch into the vat, were instantly extinguished without a flicker, thus showing that the air within was utterly irrespirable. The London agent of the patent, Mr. Applegarth, having put on the belt, and adjusted the mouth-piece and the eye-preservers, descended into the vat by a ladder, and, having reached the bottom, carried on a conversation with those outside, the tube serving as a speaking-trumpet."
Denayrouze diving apparatus c.1870
Denayrouze diving apparatus c.1870
Image Source Wikimedia Commons

One of the wonders of the Alexandra Palace, in 1875, was reported to have been the diving pavilion of Applegarth's firm

Voltaic Arc Lamps

Japlochkoff's Candle
Early in 1876, Denayrouze & Co of Paris acquired rights to an electric lighting system invented by a Russian, Paul Jablochkoff. As their agent in England, Applegarth also took out the British patent, No. 3552, for the Jablochkoff Candle, later voided for want of final specification.

Rapieff's Improvement
According to the Telegraphic Journal of the 1st November, 1878,
"Rapieff's system of electric lighting, introduced into England by E. J. Reed [Sir E J Reed KCB MP], under the direction of Applegarth, has given excellent results in the trials which have been made at Smithfield and at the establishment of the London Times. The compositors' room is now lighted by 18 Rapieff lamps, and 6 are appropriated to lighting the offices. 'The great advantage of this lamp', he says, 'is that it will go a whole night without a renewal of the carbons ; its intensity is always constant, even when the carbons are burned very low, and in this respect the lamp is preferable to the Jablochkoff candle, for in this the current increases in energy as the candle burns on account of the decrease in the length of carbon the current has to traverse,whilst in the Rapieff lamp that length is always the same'."
The Rapieff Electric Light
The Rapieff Electric Light
Image source The Graphic, 23 November 1878

Sudre's System
During 1879 it was reported that 'Mr Applegarth, who first introduced to London the Jablochkoff, and afterwards the Rapieff electric light, is now again to the front with a new system, viz.: one in which a thermo-pile is used, and which bears the name of its inventor, Mons. E Sudre'. Further particulars have not been traced.

Before 1881 there seems to have been an estrangement from his second wife, Sophia, because in the census for that year she appears as head of a household, with her daughter Grace, sharing premises at 268 South Lambeth Road. Her elderly parents, Richard and Sophia Huitson, lived nearby at 290 Lambeth Road.

In 1883, the business address of R. Applegarth & A Denayrouze was 10 Mansion House Chambers, 11 Queen Victoria Street, London E.C. Auguste Denayrouze died that year aged 57.

T E Stove then joined Robert Applegarth, in partnership, the firm practising as Applegarth and Stove, submarine engineers, but Stove retired from the firm in 1886.

Carbon Rod Manufacturer
J. A. Berly's Universal Electrical Directory and Advertiser, 1884, included: -

Manufacturer of Carbon Rods of every description. Hollow Carbons, Battery Plates, &c, Patentee and sole maker of the new corrugated carbon plate, by which nearly all the surface of an ordinary plate is retained.

Works: Wetter Street, Lambeth, S.E.
Mansion House Chambers, 11 Queen Victoria Street. London, E.C.
Electricians and inventors carbon specialities."

Alexander Login Lineff's Patents
British patent, 10,092, granted to Alexander Lineff of London in July 1888 was acquired by a newly formed company, Lineff Electric Traction and Lighting Syndicate Ltd with capital of £10,000. With others, shares had been taken by Robert Applegarth (Submarine engineer) in his own right, and Messrs R G Applegarth & A E Short (Engineers) in partnership - all of 11 Queen Victoria Street, London.

This system was described in Science, an illustrated journal, Volume XVI July-December 1890 : -
"The latest plan for connecting a moving tram-car to an underground conductor without a slot in the roadway is that of the Lineff Electric Traction and Lighting Syndicate, of 11 Queen Victoria Street, London. According to Engineering, the track consists of the usual grooved rails, and a third or contact rail between the others. This is flat-topped, and the surface lies flush with the roadway. It is formed in short lengths, about three feet, separated from each other by about half an inch of asphalt. These short rails are electrically insulated from each other, and the current is directed into each of them in succession as the car passes over them. This, as is well understood, is to prevent the excessive leakage that would take place if a long length of railwere in connection with a wet roadway, and also to prevent other vehicles making a short circuit between the contact rail and the return-current rail. The connection of the short rails with the copper conductor is made by a magnet on the car acting on a contact-maker under the rail, one end of this contact-maker being joined to the conductor. On the under side of the car is a very powerful electro-magnet about one and a half times the length of a rail. At each end it has a pole-piece, consisting of a roller running on the rail, and two blocks just clearing the rail. This magnet is energized by the main current, and consumes one hundred and twenty to one hundred and fifty watts, although sixty are said to be sufficient for the purpose, under favourable circumstances. The rail, which is five or six inches deep, stands on a longitudinal earthenware sleeper; and the whole is solidly embedded in a mass of asphalt, which extends below the sleeper. In a groove in the sleeper runs the conductor, and in a second groove is laid a strip of galvanized hoop iron. This strip is connected at one end to the conductor, and the other end is free. When the magnet passes over it, the rail attracts the iron, which rises, and makes contact with it. The current then flows from the conductor through the strip to the rail, and thence by a bush to the motor on the car. Neither the strip nor the rail has any special contact surfaces. They are both galvanized, and there is no other means provided to insure good connection. As soon as the magnet has passed, the rail ceases to be magnetic, the strip falls back, and that particular rail is again insulated, its office being taken by the one in front of it; and so on. The principal feature of novelty lies in the use of a second, or so-called 'hidden rail' placed alongside the contact rail underground, and, like it, embedded in the asphalt. This is also in short lengths, but it is disposed so as to break joint with the first rail, and thus reduce the resistance of the magnetic circuit. It is stated that by the use of this second rail a very much less powerful magnet is able to move the contacts. The inventor seems to have aimed at cheapness of construction ; and it is feared that difficulties will arise in practice from the crudeness of some of his arrangements, although a short experimental line in the yard of the West Metropolitan Tramway Company, Chiswick High-Road, works very well."

Residence in Epsom

Woodville, 3 Burgh Heath Road
'Woodville'is shown on the left with 'Ellerslie' (no.5) on the right
Image courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2013

For the 1891 Census Woodville Mr Applegarth's home in Epsom is shown occupied by his Scholfield nieces - he was enumerated at Haxells Hotel on Marine Parade , Brighton.

The following extract from Robert Applegarth: Trade Unionist, Educationist, Reformer explains how his presence came to be experienced locally: -
"In 1890 he went to live at Epsom. At Epsom there was no Co-operative society; so Robert Applegarth supplied the need. He gathered sympathisers round him and,in his own house, the Co-operative society now existing at [68 & 70 East Street,] Epsom was formed....

At Epsom, this tremendously all-round man learnt - that is to say, he taught himself - to ride, and became a fearless horseman. A cross- country gallop was a favourite form of exercise. Occasionally, he followed the hounds, and, his horse stumbling in a rabbit-hole, he was, on one occasion, heavily thrown, and broke his collar- bone. Experience on horse-back has led him to say there is nothing so good for keeping one's mind free from business worries as looking between a horse's ears to see where the animal is going.

His riding led to his defending the rights of the public against the attempted encroachments of that select body, the Grand Stand Association. He was riding on the Downs one day, and was asked to pay a guinea in recognition of the rights of the Grand Stand Association. He refused, and said he declined to turn a right into a privilege. He obtained the opinions of Mr. T. T. Bucknill, Q.C. (now Mr. Justice Bucknill), and the late Lord (then Sir Charles) Russell*. Mr. Bucknill had 'never heard of such a right' on the part of the Grand Stand Committee, to which the Lord of the Manor leased the Downs. He felt any inhabitant could ride, even on the tan gallop, 'by right if he chose' though, as a matter of equity, he might voluntarily contribute something towards the maintenance of the gallop. Sir Charles Russell agreed with Mr. Bucknill, and significantly added: 'It seems to me that if the Grand Stand Committee do not take care they will raise many questions about their own use of the Downs which it is to their interest to let sleep' The Grand Stand Association let the matter drop [This matter had been reported at some length in The Standard on17 January 1893].

That was in 1892, and a little while afterwards Applegarth ran as a candidate for the Local Board and came out top of the poll with 620 votes against 544 for Mr. H. M. Dorling, the secretary of the Grand Stand Association, who was second. A plank in Mr. Applegarth's election address was: 'The right of the people to the use of the Downs for healthful exercise, unquestioned by any self-constituted authority'.

There were many complaints at Epsom, at the time, of the lax administration of the sanitary laws, and, in his address, Applegarth stated that the best way to safeguard from infection the homes of the well-to-do was to make healthy the homes of the poor.

I once heard him asked whether the homes of the good were not worth keeping healthy for the sake of the poor themselves, apart from any consideration of the rich.

The old man spoke with vigour. 'Of course they are. But I knew I had to rely mainly on well-to-do people for votes and I knew the apathy of those who should have been ready to vote for me. I wanted the position because I felt I could do useful work. I didn't mind getting it in that way. If you argue in the abstract you can trip me up often enough'.

Such talk took one's mind back to the days of the Junta, with its capacity for getting what it wanted.

But a time arrived when Mr. Applegarth was told that he had done a fair share in the work of aiding human kind and that his place was that of a looker-on and his rightful portion rest. So, in 1898, he removed to Bexley, in Kent, taking half-an-acre of land with the right to roam over a five-acre field."
Applegarth and Ostlere Ltd, Submarine, mechanical & electrical engineers, formed 16 February 1904, took over his business and this company's name was changed to Applegarth Ltd on the following 13 September. He is reported, however, to have sold out and retired in 1907 but became heavily involved with the Industrial Education League. Four years later, when he was in failing health, a public appeal was launched for Robert Applegarth's benefit - his 'means straightened by expenditure occasioned by his enthusiastic devotion to work of a social and educational kind'.

Brian Bouchard

* Sir Charles Russell, PC, GCMG, DL, LL.D (TCD), QC, of Tadworth Court, Epsom, (1832-1900), a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, was created a Life Peer as Baron Russell of Killowen, Co. Down, 1894. Interred at Epsom Cemetery 14 August 1900.

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