Why Royal babies owe decades of comfort to a Wearside inventor...

Inventive bricks - and an inventor.
Inventive bricks - and an inventor.
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Several Sunderland inventors have made their mark on history, from Swan’s incandescent light bulbs to the Clanny Lamp and Mills Bomb.

But, as a new book reveals, many other Wearside entrepreneurs have had their own Eureka moment too – although they remain less well known.

“William Wilson, an inventor with 30 patents to his name, falls into the second category,” said Alan Brett, author of Sunderland At Work and Play Volume 5.

“Although he’s not really a household name in Sunderland, he actually set up the Silver Cross Works and created the first modern perambulator.”

William, son of labourer Alexander Wilson and his wife Elizabeth, was born in 1855 at Ferryhill, but moved to Sunderland with his parents as a child.

The family struggled for survival in the East End and, as Alexander couldn’t afford to send his son to school, William started work in a sawmill aged eight.

Six years later, after showing “determination and a strong work ethic”, the 14-year-old secured an apprenticeship as a plater in the shipyards.

Several years of training in technical innovation, design and production then followed – which helped provide the foundation for William’s later inventions.

And, after completing his apprenticeship, William moved down to Yorkshire, where he worked as a blacksmith before setting up the Silver Cross Works in Leeds.

“His inventiveness led to a spring suspension system, along with a reversible hood; creating the first modern perambulator,” said Alan.

“The company expanded and went on to provide prams to the Royal family.

“Indeed, his designs and method of production are still recognised to this day.

“In recognition of the role William played in developing the company, his name was finally added to the Silver Cross brand in 1957.”

Other inventors from Sunderland include James Hartley, of Wear Glass Works, who pioneered new ways of heating glass in the 1840s.

William Clanny won lasting fame for his invention of a safety lamp in 1812 as well, while William Mills’ hand grenade was widely used in World War One.

But Alfred Nasbet, a lawyer with a passion for inventing, has been missed out of most history books. He gets a glowing mention, however, in Alan’s new one.

“When not earning a living at his office in Frederick Street, Alfred enjoyed nothing better than coming up with new inventions,” said Alan.

“In the 1930s he patented a new type of brick, whose interlocking nature made walls built from them much stronger than traditional bricks.

“The director of housing at Glasgow Corporation, as well as an architect from London County Council, expressed interest in the new design.”

Alfred also invented an anti-crash device for cars, which involved the fitting of a compressed spring bumper that absorbed all impact in a collision.

The bumper was put through a series of test crashes by Mr T. Tallantire, of Roker Avenue, which left local MP Samuel Storey impressed enough to offer some help.

“Mr Storey got technical officers from the Ministry of Transport to inspect the bumper, and the Morris Motor Company showed interested too,” said Alan.

Alfred, however, did not stop there. Indeed, another device from his inventive mind involved a fin attachment for ships, which helped to increase speed.

“The curved nature of the fin directed water onto the propellor blades, transmitting power to the shaft,” said Alan.

“But the fact that the name of Alfred Nasbet has not joined the ranks of famous inventors suggests his numerous inventions did not prove commercially viable.”

** Read more about the rich and famous of Sunderland, as well as lost industries, sport and bygone buildings in Sunderland At Work & Play Volume 5, by Alan Brett. Published by Black Cat Publications at £9.99. Look out for one more story about the book next Monday.