Percival Moses Parsons – with a foundry in Banning Street

On the 1867 map Thames Foundry is marked – and directories carry advertisements for the sale of ‘white brass’ a Thames Foundry, East Greenwich, the invention of a Mr.P.M. Parsons.

Neil Rhind says of Parsons – One of the most extraordinary industrial pioneers in our area was Percival Moses Parsons, first of No 44 in 1855, then to the brand new No 136 Shooters Hill Road. He invented manganese bronze in his back garden. His obituary in the Blackheath Local Guide (November 19 1892) was full.   Young Parsons, born in London in 1819, had shown a great interest in engineering, mechanics and invention from an early age. After an education at a private boys’ school in Blackheath (name not known) he worked from the age of 15 at the Portsmouth Dockyard and later on the Eastern County Railways until 1845. While with them he  invented switches and axle boxes.  In 1851 he married Anne Jane Rexford, of Greenwich, whose mother also Jane conducted a private school for girls in Greenwich South Street, and still standing.
In 1855 he achieved what seemed to be an undoubted technical and business success by contriving a system of converting useless cast iron guns into rifled guns by boring them out and inserting steel tubes.  In 1859 he suffered another disappointment, the failure of his plan (with others) to invest in the plans for the Central London Railway, where all the new railway lines coming into London would not finish at the various London termini – King’s Cross, Euston, Waterloo, Victoria etc.
In 1871 Parsons  was appointed Engineer to the Bessemer Steel & Ordnance Company and supervised the building of the whole of the Company’s new works at East Greenwich, a task which occupied him at least two years.
During his research into the re-boring  of guns his attention was turned to study of the use of metals generally;  and his experience with machinery had demonstrated to him the importance of the arrangement of shaft-bearings and other surfaces which rubbed together and for which ordinarily “gun metal” (an alloy of copper and tin) had been used.  Parsons was convinced that he could improve on this and installed a private mechanical laboratory at his house on Shooters Hill Road.  Here he experimented with all sorts of metals and, finally produced a better compound comprised of zinc and lead which he called “white b rass”.  It was another success and came to be used widely through the rest of 19th century especially in marine engines. By his death his invention was known to every engineer in the land as white brass.
More dramatic, perhaps, was his continued quest for a material which while as strong as steel should be free from the risk of corrosion which developed with all preparations which included iron.  After many years work he produced a dramatic result a material with the strength of steel and one that would not corrode. in his back garden furnace.
Parsons hit the jackpot once more with manganese bronze, a combination of ferro-manganese with bronze and brass alloys.  There was at first some difficulty in getting it known and introduced but it was taken up by a commercial company and in due course manganese bronze was fitted to virtually every vessel driven by a propeller.  By the end of 19th century it was in considerable use for the propellers of steamers and in other cases where strength and durability were required equally.
Parsons went on to develop  screw bolts for armour plating and other fixings including a tubular armour-plated bolt that the Russian government adopted with eagerness.

It also seems very likely that he had a foundry in what is now Chester Street, on the east side and the south corner with Derwent Street

Return to Lovells Wharf


One thought on “Percival Moses Parsons – with a foundry in Banning Street”

  1. I wonder if there is any connection with Stones on the Woolwich Road at Charlton, manufacturers of propellers and other marine equipment, much of it in Manganese Bronze. Indeed, I think that there was a major subsidiary Stones Manganese Bronze. I have an interest as I worked at the Woolwich Road works as a Metallurgy student, working mainly on Magnox alloys for the first wave of nuclear power stations.

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