Newcastle and also Tyneside in basic, is rightly renowned for the developments developed right here. From the railmeans to the hydraulic crane and from the first turbine moved ship to the electrical light bulb (and also many kind of others besides), Tyneside was the residence of some of the many important innovations in humale history. But the last innovation pointed out over would certainly be of bit use to use without a switch to help us turn it on. Thankcompletely that was likewise designed. And the area where it was invented? Yes, Newcastle aget, not much from Heaton, by a male with solid links to Heaton itself.

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That male was John Henry Holmes, an engineer, Quaker and also inventor. Holmes was born in Newcastle on 6 June 1857 and also prospered up first of all in Gateshead and then in Jesmond. His father was a ‘paint and also color manufacturer, glass and oil merchant’ through his own factory. John attended the Friends School in Bootham, York, wbelow he was taught the rudiments of scientific research. Holmes must have absorbed much of what he was taught as, at the age of 16, he won a place at the Durham College of Physical Science, later Armsolid College, currently Newcastle College. Two years later on, having completed his researches, Holmes was apprenticed to Head, Wrightson and Co of Stockton-on Tees.

Light switch

It was at Head, Wrightchild and Co that Holmes started to handle electrical apparatus. Then in August, 1881, Holmes became an electrical engineer, functioning for John S Raworth of Manchester. His initially work-related via Raworth was helping to fit out a new ship, City of Rome, developed by Barrow Shipcontractors in 1881, through 16 arc lamps and also 230 Swan lamps.

In April 1883, John made a bold decision. Having constructed upon his successful work via City of Rome by continuing to install lamps both onshore and in ships, Holmes determined to create his very own company in Newcastle, together with his father and two elder brothers, Alfred and also Theodore. So it was that an electrical engineering company under the name of J H Holmes was establimelted. The company wregarding last until 1928, fully 45 years, till their occupational was taken under the wings of A Reyrolle and Co Ltd. Consequently, the work-related initiated by Holmes went on for over 50 years under his supervision and also in some respects proceeds to today.

It was the adhering to year that Holmes created his light switch, the first in the world, at his workshop on Portland also Roadway, Shieldfield, simply outside Heaton. This switch permitted electric light to be easily used. In1883, Holmes had installed electric lighting in ‘Wellburn’, the family members home in Jesmond, which thus ended up being the first home in Newcastle to be lit by electrical energy. This occupational caused Holmes to construct what is now the familiar quick break switch. He patented this development in Great Britain and the United States in 1884.

Holmes’ light switch, the Discoextremely Museum

This was a vast breakwith, in helping civilization to usage electric lights. This new modern technology ensured that what was known as electrical arcing was prevented, by bring about the internal contacts to relocate apart easily sufficient. This was exceptionally crucial as electric arcing can reason fires or shorten the life span of a switch.You can still see Holmes’ original creation at Newcastle’s Discoincredibly Museum.

Prolific inventor

Holmes didn’t restrict his job-related to this nation. The Suez Canal was opened in November 1869 and also by the late 1880s had actually become a crucial transfer artery for the British Realm, cutting take a trip time for ships in between the Indian subcontinent and Britain. In 1889, Holmes saw Egypt, wright here he stupassed away the demands of vessels traveling alengthy the canal at night. Subsequently, Holmes ‘designed and also gave portable lighting apparatus that efficiently enhanced the capacity of the Canal by significantly extfinishing its use in the dark hours’.

Holmes then relocated on to finding means of lighting trains and developing electroplating dynamos. These are described as being, ‘designed for low potential and also high current intensity. They are wound for low resistance, frequently several wires being supplied in parallel, or ribbon, bar or rectangular conductors being employed. They are of the straight current type. They need to be shunt wound or they are liable to reverse. They are periodically provided through resistance in the shunt, which is changed as wanted to change the electro-motive pressure.’ So there, now you know… However before you describe Holmes’ work-related, he was certainly developing a reputation for pioneering electrical engineering work.

Holmes was indeed a prolific inventor. In 1897, Holmes commenced the sale of ‘Lundell’ motors under patent from the USA. This has actually been viewed as a ‘pioneering step in the electrical driving of industry’ and also indeed among the early on and most amazing offers of this motor was in electrical cabs.

The following year Holmes was at it again! This time he developed something which would help the publishing markets, for it was in 1898 that the Holmes-Clatworthy 2-motor device was patented and also this would certainly go on to drive newspaper presses for many type of of the world’s the majority of crucial newspapers.

As the twentieth century dawned, so the firm continued to develop and Holmes continued to be involved. It has been shelp of Holmes that his, ‘individual influence on its design side was inhandy because of his nearly passionate love of great mechanical ideas’.

Holmes was well-known as a kindly man, via a reputation for having actually a quiet, retiring nature. Certainly it has been shelp of him that his nature prompted Holmes to percreate, ‘many kindly acts and also resulted in him to take a specifically keen interemainder in young civilization, and also his orderly mind compelled him to perform his ideal in all that he embarked on and also allowed him to play a notable component in the spreview of a new way of doing things’.

Holmes and Heaton

So we have actually learnt that John Henry Holmes invented the light switch very close to Heaton in adjoining Shieldfield, yet what links did he need to Heaton itself?

Holmes had actually at least 2 cshed web links via Heaton. The 1901 census reflects us that his brother Elllumber was living in High Heaton at ‘Wyncote’ on Jesmond Park East. It defines him as being 35 years of age and an ‘employer’. He is explained as an ‘Electrical Engineer and Paint and also Colour Manufacturer.‘ He is evidently working in the family business. Right now, Ellwood has a 28 year-old wife dubbed Edith, a boy dubbed Charles, aged 3, and also two sisters, Margaret and Ada, aged 30 and 24 respectively, living via his family. In 1911, Elllumber was still on Jesmond Park East and also had actually included ‘licensed methylator’ to his list of occupations. This is someone licensed to manufacture and sell methylated spirits.

In 1928, once John Henry Holmes was 71 years old, his company, J H Holmes and also Co, was integrated right into A Reyrolle and also Co in Hebburn as a wholly-owned subsidiary. So it was that 6 years later, in the last year of his life, Holmes’ work-related acquired a direct Heaton connection. It has actually been noted that, ‘A Reyrolle and also Co establiburned Parolle Electrical Plant Co Ltd as a personal firm for building and construction of electrical and other plant through the certain aim of getting shares in C A Parsons and Co from the executors of the estate of the late Sir Charles Parsons. Two directors were appointed by Reyrolle and also one by Parsons.’ So Holmes’ occupational ended up being straight linked to Heaton’s the majority of renowned company.


John Henry Holmes’ eventful life finished in 1935.He is buried in Old Jesmond Cemetery.


As the saying goes, ‘if you desire to watch his legacy, look approximately you’.

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If you are analysis this somewbelow indoors, it shouldn’t be too tough to watch an electric light switch. It has actually been listed that Holmes’ ‘quick break innovation continues to be in use in domestic and also industrial light switches contemporary times.’


‘A Fine and Private Place: Jesmond Old Cemetery‘ / by Alan Morgan; Tyne Bridge, 2000. 1857951557

The Northumbrians: North-East England and Its People: a new history’ / by Dan Jackson; Hurst, 2019. 1787381943


Find My Past


Researched and written by Peter Sagar, Heaton History Group through added material by Arthur Andrews. Thank you to Newcastle Libraries for the picture of John Henry Holmes.

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