Adams, William Bridges

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b. 1797 Madeley, Staffordshire, England
d. 23 July 1872 Broadstairs, Kent, England
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English inventory particularly of road and rail vehicles and their equipment.
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Ill health forced Adams to live abroad when he was a young man and when he returned to England in the early 1830s he became a partner in his father's firm of coachbuilders. Coaches during that period were steered by a centrally pivoted front axle, which meant that the front wheels had to swing beneath the body and were therefore made smaller than the rear wheels. Adams considered this design defective and invented equirotal coaches, built by his firm, in which the front and rear wheels were of equal diameter and the coach body was articulated midway along its length so that the front part pivoted. He also applied himself to improving vehicles for railways, which were developing rapidly then.
In 1843 he opened his own engineering works, Fairfield Works in north London (he was not related to his contemporary William Adams, who was appointed Locomotive Superintendent to the North London Railway in 1854). In 1847 he and James Samuel, Engineer to the Eastern Counties Railway, built for that line a small steam inspection car, the Express, which was light enough to be lifted off the track. The following year Adams built a broad-gauge steam railcar, the Fairfield, for the Bristol \& Exeter Railway at the insistance of the line's Engineer, C.H.Gregory: self-propelled and passenger-carrying, this was the first railcar. Adams developed the concept further into a light locomotive that could haul two or three separate carriages, and light locomotives built both by his own firm and by other noted builders came into vogue for a decade or more.
In 1847 Adams also built eight-wheeled coaches for the Eastern Counties Railway that were larger and more spacious than most others of the day: each in effect comprised two four-wheeled coaches articulated together, with wheels that were allowed limited side-play. He also realized the necessity for improvements to railway track, the weakest point of which was the joints between the rails, whose adjoining ends were normally held in common chairs. Adams invented the fishplated joint, first used by the Eastern Counties Railway in 1849 and subsequently used almost universally.
Adams was a prolific inventor. Most important of his later inventions was the radial axle, which was first applied to the leading and trailing wheels of a 2–4–2 tank engine, the White Raven, built in 1863; Adams's radial axle was the forerunner of all later radial axles. However, the sprung tyres with which White Raven was also fitted (an elastic steel hoop was interposed between wheel centre and tyre) were not perpetuated. His inventiveness was not restricted to engineering: in matters of dress, his adoption, perhaps invention, of the turn-down collar at a time when men conventionally wore standup collars had lasting effect.
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Bibliography
Adams took out some thirty five British patents, including one for the fishplate in 1847. He wrote copiously, as journalist and author: his most important book was English Pleasure Carriages (1837), a detailed description of coachbuilding, together with ideas for railway vehicles and track. The 1971 reprint (Bath: Adams \& Dart) has a biographical introduction by Jack Simmons.
Further Reading
C.Hamilton Ellis, 1958, Twenty Locomotive Men, Shepperton: Ian Allan, Ch. 1. See also England, George.
PJGR

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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