Wilson Weatherley Phipson MICivilE
1838 - 1891
(Victorian Engineer Extraordinary)

the following webpages describe some
of this engineer's remarkable achievements

ICE Membership Certificates
List of Known Contracts
Selective Pictures of Major Contracts
Some photos of Contract Drawings
The Van Hecke Connection
Ventilation trial for Training Ship
Family Tree & Photos
Obituary Articles
Local Law Case

Researched,  written  and prepared by
F J Ferris for the Heritage Group of the
CIBSE  January  2003

          with acknowledgements to,
Mrs Elfreda Knapp (great-great-niece of Wilson Phipson)
Institution of Civil Engineers
The British Library
Birmingham Daily Mail Newspaper
The Builder Magazine
The Times Newspaper                                                                    

for their assistance and information.

Wilson Phipson born on the 30th August in 1838 the third son of six children of father Samuel Ryland Phipson and mother Ellen Emma Elizabeth Lambe, came from a well to do family who lived in the Ladywood area of Birmingham. His father due to the outcome of some bad investments was forced financially to move his family to Belgium where the cost of living and education was more affordable. On the families return to this country circa.1859 Wilson at the age of 22 started his own business looking for H&V work, but more about that later.

Unlike other well known H&V engineers of the Victorian period, strangely, nothing was
previously known about Wilson Phipson until an archive containing documents, papers and sketches was given to the CIBSE in the mid -1990’s.  Who left them is still unknown.

From the reading of these papers emerged an eminent and innovative Engineer whose contracts and achievements had been lost to time. During his productive period from the 1860's until his untimely early death in October 1891, he had been involved with a large number of prestigious building projects working with many distinguished architects including Digby Wyatt, Gilbert Scott, Verity, Pugin, Burges and many more.  The list of his projects is the evidence that speaks for itself.

How this engineer who was so well known during his adult life and directly involved with such an impressive list of contracts could just disappear from our pool of historical knowledge is most disheartening. This poses the question, how many other notable Victorian H&V engineers are there, still unknown to us.

To date the Heritage Group has been unable to find any likeness of Wilson Phipson. This is a great sadness, as not being able to see the person, is not possible to fully appreciate his achievements. All the details and facts we know about him do not fully fit together without an image of him to which we can relate. However, occasionally the Heritage Group do come across small snippets of information from his life like this book by Robert Mackenzie which Phipson has signed across the front cover. 

An obituary written about his father Samuel, who died in October 1887, states "his manly features and tall slim figure".  From his photograph now added to this Phipson webpage we now have an indication of the families facial characteristics. 

However not everything was lost. Research by the Heritage Group at the British Library brought to light a booklet titled "Wilson W Phipson. M Inst C E.  A Memoir". This booklet was printed and published in 1892 by an unnamed author. However, from the amount of historical family facts given in the booklet, it does seem most likely to have been written by a member of the Phipson family.

Wilson Phipson’s personal accomplishments were many and diverse. During his time on the continent he excelled musically at the piano, and had a splendid tenor voice. His other talents included composing and publishing several pieces of music.  The Phipson family were musically very talented and often gave concerts. His mother was an accomplished singer, his elder brother Thomas was a virtuosa violinist who gave concert performances in his own right.

He composed the Polka Mazurka in 1857 when only 19 years of age and dedicated the music to Princess Charlotte of Belgium who married in 1857 the Archduke Maximilian of Austria. It is most likely that the Polka was composed in celibration of her marriage. For a member of the Phipson family to be able to compose music for the Royal family of Belgium in whose country they were living indicates how very well connected they were within the Royal circle.


To listen to the music Carillon des Noces - Polka Mazurka  CLICK HERE

Wilson's untimely death in October 1891 at only 53 years of age seems to have simply closed the book on his lifetime of achievements. That these achievements have remained unknown for 100 years is a sad loss to our industry. However, the Heritage Group has corrected this omission, with the Chairman Brian Roberts recently written book in 2006 titled “Wilson Weatherley Phipson - Victorian Engineer Extraordinary”. The book is a definitive account of his life, which lists his many contracts and catalogues all the documents contained in the Phipson archive. The Heritage Group is also active in increasing the profile of this long forgotton H&V Engineer such that :-

  • The archive of Phipson documents has now been catalogued.
  • Papers have been included in the proceedings of the CIBSE.
  • Articles published in various trade magazines.
  • Lectures given to various CIBSE regions.

Wilson Phipson's application forms for membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers are copied below. It is noticeable that on his Associate form two of his proposers are, the well known engineer Joseph Bazalgette who designed and supervised the new sewerage system for London. Matthew Digby Wyatt was an eminent Architect from the Victorian era who was one of the panel of judges at The Great Exhibition of 1851.







1868    The Royal Albert Hall,  London

1872    The Natural History Museum,  London

1872    The Hull Dock Company Offices

1875     Aquarium  London

1879     Castell  Coch   Wales

1882     Royal Holloway College, Egham, 

1869    The University of Glasgow

1874    The second Alexandra Palace,  London

1875    Todmorden  Town Hall

1877     Mount Stuart  House  Scotland

1881      Cardiff Castle  Wales

Birmingham  Town Hall  

His contribution to the heating & ventilating of the Royal Albert Hall
is documented by the remarks written in the book printed in 1873
from the Corps of Royal Engineers titled
the page shown below from the book explains.

Six Selective Photos of his
Birmingham Contract Drawings
use this link to view them at a larger size


1862    Residence for Baron Rothschild
1864    Rothschild Bank, London
1864    Strand Music Hall, London
 -      The Institution of Civil Engineers
1865    Birmingham Exchange
 -      The University Medical Schools, Edinburgh
 -      The Law Courts, Birmingham
 -      The Town Hall, Birmingham
 -      The Guildhall, Gloucester
1865    Proposal for St Thomas's Hospital, Lambeth
1865    National Provincial Bank of England, London
1867    Marine Barracks, Woolwich
1868    Junior United Services Club. London
1869    The Birmingham & Midland Bank, Birmingham
1870    The University of Glasgow
1871    The Royal Albert Hall. London
1872    National Provincial Bank of England.Newcastle-upon-Tyne
1872    The Hull Dock Company's New Offices, Hull
1873    National Provincial Bank of England,Piccadilly, London
1874    The New Alexandra Palace. Muswell Hill. London
1874    The Criterion Restaurant, Piccadilly. London
1875    The Royal Aquarium. London
1875    Todmorden Town Hall. Yorkshire
1877    Merchant Taylors School. Charterhouse
1878    Design for the University of Leyden
1880    Natural History Museum. Kensington
1880    Mansion for the Marquis of Bute at Rothesay
1881    Cardiff Castle
1881    New Corn Exchange, Sheffield
1882    Exeter Asylum
1882    Royal Holloway College, Egham
1883    New Town Hall for Dover
1884    The Holloway Sanatorium, near Virginia Water
1886    Royal Infirmary, Liverpool
1887    The National Liberal Club
1887    The Jessop Hospital for Women, Sheffield
1888    New Sessions Court. Nottingham
1890    Empire Theatre, London
1890    Report on Central Station Heating & Power Supply, Boston, USA
1890    Prudential Assurance. High Holborn, London
1890    Proposals for Harrogate Baths
1890    Exeter Hall, London
1891    SKM Competition (South Kensington Museum)
1891    Baths at Halifax, Yorkshire
1891    Battersea Technical College, London
1891    Courts of Justice, Dublin
1891    National Hospital for Paraplegics

This colour denotes that original W W Phipson
contract drawings
still exist in various archives.

Wilson Phipson on his return to England c1859 from the continent, at the age of 21, was keen to extol the engineering importance of the new heating and ventilating system he had been associated with through his work with Van Hecke. He presented papers and made contact with the Admirality to set up a trial on board a ship to show how this new form of ventilation greatly improved the living conditions for the crew below decks and others on board.

The following webpages give an insight into his efforts to get this new ventilating arrangement accepted by the authorities. 

The Van Hecke Connection

For more detailed information about Phipson's involvement with the Van Hecke system of ventilation

Whilst his family were living in Brussels, Wilson Phipson was for a short time the friend and pupil of Dr Van Hecke, a gentleman who had discovered a new method for the heating and ventilation of hospitals, which had already given some very satisfactory results on the grounds of economy as well as efficiency.  When Wilson's studies at the French School of Engineering was completed he assisted Van Hecke in Paris where he ventilated and warmed the hospitals Necker and Beaujon, and accompanied him to Bordeaux and to Holland, where similar work was done on several Government buildings.

During his time in Belgium as a student-engineer he made the acquaintance of Prince George of Prussia who took a great interest in the new ventilation scheme of Van Hecke - a real enthusiast who exerted considerable influence in those early days on the young Wilson's future career.

When the Phipson family returned to London England c1859 Wilson tried introducing here the new system of heating and ventilation.  However the amount of prejudice and ignorance he had to overcome, both in the Medical world and among the Architects was quite astonishing. The art of ventilation was entirely in its infancy, and complaints about the impure atmospheres of the law courts, theatres, hospitals and other public buildings were of daily occurrence.

Wilson published an important paper showing the benefits of the new system which he read and discussed before the Medical Officers of Health who met at the Marylebone Court House.

Edited extracts from the "A Memoir"

The important paper prepared by Phipson outlining the benefits of the System Van Hecke is given in the article titled REMARKS ON VENTILATION - COMBINATION OF VENTILATION & WARMING.
The first two pages of the article which he presented to the METROPOLITAN ASSOCIATION OF THE MEDICAL OFFICERS OF HEALTH are shown below.



At the meeting of the above Association on the 16th November 1861
Mr W Weatherley Phipson C.E, read a paper entitled


The Author comparing the Van Hecke system with those already employed, arrives at the conclusion enunciated by Dr Pettenkofer of Berlin, and Drs Maximillien, Vernois and Grassi of Paris, that Dr Van Hecke's system is the only one which realises efficient ventilation and uniform warming combined with economy  in the first outlay and in annual maintenance. " The system of Van Hecke" says Dr Pettenkofer, in his recently published "Remarks on Warming and Ventilation" has completely upset all our ventilation traditions."  Mr Phipson shows that this result has been attained by the application of scientific principles and mathematical calculations, by means of which the supply of air and the heat are completely under control.  The author explained the whole principles of the system, illustrating it by plans of the Chamber of Representatives at the Hague (Holland), the Hospital Necker of Paris, the Asile Imperiale of the Verinat, and several 
other buildings warmed and ventilated on the Van Hecke principle, bringing forward at the same time abstracts from the French, Dutch and Barvarian Governments relative to the system in question. The system appears extremely simple, the success of the operation depending rather upon the manner in which it is disposed than upon the apparatus itself. The fresh air is propelled along an air channel by means of a perculiarly shaped fan (patented by Dr Van Hecke) into an air chamber containing  a warming apparatus, where it is warmed and moistened, and whence it is distributed over the building.  An anemometer and dynamometer, placed before the fan, indicate at any moment the amount of air supplied.  The amount in hospitals is 2200 cubic feet per hour per patient (minimum); but it is capable of being doubled if required.  This quantity of air is supplied without the least perceptible draft, and the thermometer indicating 60 Fahr. in all parts of the Wards.  The air is cooled in summer as it is warmed in winter.  The vitiated air escapes through flues constructed for that purpose, each having free access to the external air.  The Author in his description of the warming apparatus, showed that the waste heat of the smoke is completely utilized. The warm and vapour baths are also supplied by waste steam from the small engine working the fan.  To economise heat in winter, the vitiated air escapes from that part of the room at which the temperature is lowest. The heating chambers vary according to the requirements of the building.  Enclosed in each of these is the warming apparatus, consisting of a cast-iron cockle, from the summit of which issue a series of sheet-iron smoke flues, which circulating four times round the cockle in the shape of a square conduit, convey smoke to the chimney. To this is added a special vessel for moistening the air.

An animated and interesting discussion ensued, in which Mr Chadwick, Dr Sanderson, Dr Thompson, Dr Lankester, Dr Greenhow and others took part. Mr Phipson was congratulated upon having called the attention of the members to a system so valuable, and one that had already been tested by some of the ablest men of the day.
An admirable discourse was delivered by Dr Sanderson in which he stated that the proofs in favour of the system were so evident and from men so high an authority, that no doubts could be entertained as to the superiority of the system over all others in operation; and at his request a committee was now sitting at St Mary's Hospital with the intention of adopting the system of Van Hecke in that building.
After an address from the President, the thanks of the meeting were unanimously voted to Mr Phipson for his very able and valuable paper.          


The Times Newspaper article September 25th 1862

Wilson Weatherley Phipson CE

A trial by order of the Lords of the Admiralty is now being made on board the St. Vincent training ship at Portsmouth, of a plan introduced to the notice of their Lordships by Mr Phipson, CE. of London, for ventilating the ‘tweendecks’ of Her Majesty’s ships of war. The apparatus consists of an airshaft or cylinder, 4ft-3in. in diameter, continued in lengths from the upper deck to the lower decks. The first length from the upper deck, being made of sheet-iron, contains the fan, at a level with the ceiling of the upper deck, and the remainder of the lengths between each deck are of sail-cloth, so as to admit the whole being removed at any time to work the guns for any other reason. The fan is worked from the main deck by a small two-horse power vertical engine. The fan consists of two blades, set at an angle of about 50 deg, regulated by a spring placed on the spindle. Above the fan is placed a dial to indicate at any time the amount of air supplied to the decks below. The amount supplied by the apparatus on board the St Vincent is 503,000 cubic feet per hour. There is no perceptible draught produced, the inlet of pure, cold air below displacing and driving out the hot, impure air floating above. So far the experiment on board the St Vincent appears to have been perfectly successful, but the St Vincent is not a seagoing or even one of our efficient warships, being merely a harbour training ship, with a free communication fore and after lower deck, and without the machinery, stokeholes and compartments below of our iron ships. As we have said, so far the experiment appears to have been perfectly successful, but if only on account of this very success, it should be tried on board one of our iron ships. If these vessels which are divided into compartments below, the engine rooms and stokeholes, when the machinery is worked up to full power, become intolerably hot. As the Defence is now in dock at Portsmouth, she offers a capital opportunity  for testing the new apparatus.

The Times Newspaper article September 30th 1862

Wilson Weatherley Phipson CE

The training ship in Portsmouth harbour, which has been fitted with the patent ventilating apparatus by Mr Phipson CE. referred to in The Times of Thursday last, has been visited during the week by a number of naval officers and gentlemen interested in the question of ventilation, the majority of whom, it is stated by the officers of the St Vincent have expressed great satisfaction with the results. So many plans have been tried during the past few years for ventilating large public buildings, and have turned out in so many cases to be miserable failures, that every fresh scheme is viewed with distrust. The plan now introduced by Mr Phipson to the Admiralty has, however, been working successfully for several years in some of the French hospitals. To inform himself fully on the subject, our Portsmouth correspondent went on board the St Vincent at 9.30 pm on Friday, and was accompanied over the ship by Commander Lowther and his officers. The ship is intended to have 600 boys on board under training, who would hang their hammocks for sleeping on the middle and lower decks. At present she has only 375 on board, but the whole of these, together with 40 seamen, were sleeping on the lower deck, which although not at all crowded, was therefore sufficiently full to test the efficiency of the proposed system. The lower deck has a capacity of 70,000 cubic feet. The night was unusually oppressive, and it was a dead calm, thus affording an excellent opportunity for testing the apparatus in the severest manner.

Passing along the lower deck underneath the swing hammocks, the temperature was taken by a thermometer at various places. The maximum was found to be 72deg and the mean 68deg. At the mouth of the shaft which delivered the air from above, the current was felt with considerable force. A few yards from the shaft however, the flame of a naked candle was scarcely disturbed, and at the same time, clear forward, where there is no communication with the deck above, nor opening of any kind, the cool air could be perceptibly felt moving along underneath the line of hammocks, and this was further confirmed by the reading of the thermometers.  In measuring the force of the current over the fan in the cowl on deck with one of Biram’s patent anemometer it was found that 507,000 feet of air were then being thrown down upon the ship’s lower deck per hour, the engines working at three fourths of their power.

Mr Phipson believes that this large volume of air passes along in a continuous steady form, without draught, along the entire deck underneath the hammocks, and expels the foul air above at once where there is a hatchway of other outlet. Where there is no outlet, as in the fore part of the St Vincent’s lower deck, he thinks that the pure air ascends and rolls back to the hatchway the impure air floating over the faces of the men.  It is to be hoped that if the system should be found to possess all the merits claimed for it by the inventor other ships may enjoy its advantages, and that stokers, above all working in stagnant air with the thermometer at 146deg as was the case in the Resistance on Thursday last during her trial trip, may be allowed to share the benefits.  

The Times newspaper article January 17th 1863

Wilson Weatherley Phipson CE

The Ergmont storeship remains at Spithead for final orders. Capt. Crauford has applied to the Admiralty for Phipson’s ventilating apparatus to be fitted on board prior to the ship sailing for her destination. As it could be fitted in about five days, and has proved its merits in the most satisfactory manner during a lengthened trial on board the St Vincent training ship at Portsmouth, there is every reason for Captain Crauford’s request being acceded to, especially as the Egmont will be placed at stationary harbour moorings in a part of the world where a supply of pure air is one of the necessaries of life. The cost of fitting the apparatus on board the St Vincent did not exceed £200

An insight showing the high regard in which Wilson W Phipson  was  held, can be seen in the newspaper or magazine articles written about him and his contracts. Only two of which have so far been discovered.

Obituary in the Birmingham Daily Mail. 
Tuesday 27th October 1891

There are many in Birmingham who will experience personal regret in learning of the painfully sudden death of Mr W W Phipson.  Mr Phipson was an engineer of standing and had become conspicuously known in connection with the ventilation of public buildings.  It is but comparatively recently that there has been applied to our  public institutions a  method of ventilating other than the primitive one of opening a window or a door.   By the modern system of equally distributed injection and extraction we get a wholesome atmosphere without draughts.  Mr Phipson  who was a connection of the Phipsons of Birmingham was  prominent in establishing an improved method of ventilation. He ventilated several of the theatres and public buildings of London and what is more immediately interesting to  Birmingham people, he ventilated and heated the Victoria Law Courts and the Town Hall. Nothing could be better than the principle by which a cool and wholesome atmosphere is continuously preserved in the Assize  Courts, no matter how packed they  may be, and this without the slightest draught from injected air.  Some strictures have been passed upon the ventilation of the Town Hall. These may have been deserved, so far as relates to the  temporary control of them,  but not to the construction. For last night when the hall was filled, the ventilation was admirable, which shows that when the apparatus  is properly worked it is efficient and suitable for its purpose.  By means of it two million cubic feet of air can be passed through the hall in an hour, and during the concert last night 1,800,000 cubic feet were forced through. Mr Phipson died of heart disease.

Article in "THE BUILDER"  31st October 1868 regarding  the Ventilation of the
Junior United Service Club  London

Alterations have been carried out during the recess for the improvement of the ventilation of the Junior United Service Club, by Mr Wilson W Phipson  ICE. A fan worked by a small gas-engine now supplies the fresh air to the building; a new air supply erected near Waterloo-Place; and an entire rearrangement of the old air-pipes and main channels to the different rooms, constitute the most important  features of the arrangement; besides which a more direct use of the existing extracting-shaft has been effected, so that it is hoped the coffee-room will especially derive great advantage from the adoption of  this  plan.  We shall be glad to hear of the result.

When Phipson died so suddenly in 1891 he must have left many contracts unfinished with no one capable of providing the necessary knowledge to carry these outstanding works through to completion. Phipson's executors for his Will were Walter John New a Solicitor and William Pelly an engineers assistant. Neither of these persons had the knowledge or experience to complete Phipson's unfinished contracts so its looks most likely that Walter New took the initiative to sell the business interests and goodwill of Phipson, his contracts and his contacts. So step forward the heating firm of Ashwell & Nesbit of Leicester. In their centenary book titled Ashwell & Nesbit 1879 to 1969 reference is made to the firm taking over the goodwill of Phipson's work after his death.  They also took over his London office in Adelphi Street, so it is assumed that they could then administer the completion of Phipson's contracts and expand their business interests into London.

It appears from the Local Newspaper the Leicester Chronicle that after the death of Wilson Phipson the trustees of his estate had sold the business to Ashwell & Nesbit and they employed a relative of Phipson namely his nephew Thornton Rutter. This is the child shown in the photo in the arms of his mother, Phipson's younger sister Emmeline. Problems ensued with Rutter's employment which resulted in him suing Ashwell & Nesbit. 



On the 28th May 1867 the marriage took place at St George's Chapel Stamford
(Rector the Reverend Henry Browning assisted by Reverend James Twining,
Rector of Little Casterton, Rutland) between Wilson Weatherley Phipson Esq.
Charlwood Villa Putney to Elizabeth Humberstone Newcombe, only daughter
of F P Newcombe Esq. Solicitor Long Clawson Leicestershire and niece of
Oct N Simpson Esq. JP. of Stamford.

On the 30th April 1868 Elizabeth wife of Wilson Weatherley Phipson at
Charlwood Villas Putney gave birth prematurely to a daughter stillborn.

On 14th December 1892 at Long Clawson, Elizabeth Humberstone Phipson
widow of Wilson Weatherley Phipson died aged 47 years.


The Phipson family gave Soirees whilst they lived at Long Clawson

One such soiree was on the Friday 16th September 1887 when the members
of the Clawson Temperence Band, twelve in number, were kindly invited to the house of W W Phipson Esq. to partake of a good substantial supper, accompanied by non-intoxicating beverages, and a plentiful supply of cigars and tobacco.
At three o'clock, the band played into the yard but the weather unfortunately turning out wet they could not assemble on the lawn as was first intended but
repaired to a building near at hand where at intervals a variety of pleasing music was performed in excellent style.

At six o'clock all the members and four other friends sat down to supper, the worthy host presiding. Ample justice having been done to the viands so liberally provided, a unanimous vote of thanks, with musical honours was accorded to Mr & Mrs Phipson for their valuable help and kindness on this and former occasions, which was suitably responded to by Mr Phipson.

The company included the following visitors Mrs J M Swain, Mrs Rainbow, Miss Guthrie, Miss Stokes, Miss Philips, Mr Wilson and Mr Watehorn. the evening was spent in the utmost harmony and good-fellowship until half past nine o'clock when the band having played the National Anthem, this very agreeable entertainment came to a close.


POSTSCRIPT.   The Heritage Group has recently discovered that one of Wilson Phipson's siblings, his sister Emmeline Claridge (see photos below on this webpage) married Henry Rutter and they had children.  This descendant line has continued right up to the present day.  It is now the Heritage Group's fervant wish that family mementoes may come to light which could at last provide a portrait or likeness of Wilson.

The Belgian artist and family friend Victor Eeckhout painted a coloured sketch of Mrs Ellen Emma Phipson with four of her children, Thomas, William, Wilson and Emmeline all in fancy dress costume ready for a party they were to attend in Brussels in 1856, during the family's residence in Belgium.

Samuel Ryland Phipson
1803 - 1887

Thomas Lambe Phipson
1833 - 1908

Emmeline Claridge Rutter (nee Phipson)     1842 - 1921

Wilson Phipson spent the last month of his life travelling around the country superintending his recently completed works and also attending  consultations.

The last and final resting place, of this long forgotten H&V engineer is now known, but a photograph or likeness of him still eludes us.

If anyone has any suggestions about  possible sources or archives where a picture or likeness of Wilson might be found, the Heritage Group would like to hear from you.

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