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Friday, 7 August 2009

Who was Frederick Albert Winsor

Winsor’s antecedents are unclear - a number of identities have been ascribed to him. It seems likely that he had some undisclosed influence since those in powerful positions - including members of the Royal family - gave him more help than could reasonably be expected.

What remains of Winsor and his work is a large body of pamphlets. What we know about him is largely derived from them, and the following account is taken from internal evidence, unless otherwise stated.

Most of the histories of gas manufacture mentioned here have attempted to identify Winsor…… for example it has been said that he was:

... 'a strange German Moravian' (C.Mackenzie, The Vital Flame)….. or .....

....... 'Friedrich Albrecht Winzer, a German Professor of Commerce.. he changed his name to Frederick Winsor’…. (S.Messham, Gas, An Energy Industry).. or .....

‘Frederic Albrecht Winzer, born in Brunswick' (E.G.Stewart, Town Gas)

........ 'an attentive foreigner from Moravia, one Fredrich Albrecht Winzler' (S.Everard, History of the Gas Light and Coke Co. Everard also footnotes ‘Winsor was born at Znaim in Moravia’) ... or

...... ' It seems that he was born in Brunswick in 1763, though he is sometimes said to have been a Tsech a native of Moravia. He changed his name from Friedrich Albert Winzer to Frederic Albert Winsor when he settled down in England ' (A.Elton, Triumph of Gas Lights)
…. or

........... 'Hofrath Friedrich Albert Winzer' (P.Cotterell, Scottish Gas Industry, Why ‘Hofrath’? Which means 'court advisor' - where did Cotterell get this phrase from and why did he use it?) ……or

The difficulty over his real name has also led to his confusion with other people. Most commonly this has been with Zachaus Andreas Winzler. In parts of Central Europe it is ‘Winzler’ not ‘Winsor’ who is seen as the inventor of lighting gas - and as such he has been well researched. Elton summarised information about Winzler gained from German sources but a biography has also been published in Znaim.

In brief, Winzler was born in 1750 - some thirteen years before Winsor - in Swabia. He was a theologian and chemist. He knew about Lebon’s work in Paris and published a book in 1802, which described the thermolampe and later he demonstrated its use in cookery at Znaim. He came to the attention of Archduke Charles of Austria who used his expertise in a gas lighting scheme for Vienna in 1803. Winzler’s gas lighting demonstrations in Vienna were described in letters sent to Sir Joseph Banks in England in 1803.

Another contemporary with a remarkably similar name is said to have been Johannes Wenzler who designed a thermolampe, also in 1802, in Passau.

The work of these individuals shows that the development of gas lighting proceeded in many parts of Europe at around the same time and that this was known in British scientific circles. Archduke Charles - before whom Winzler made his demonstrations - was a soldier and politician 3on the international stage - and his brother, Archduke John of Austria, was to visit the Gas Light and Coke Company in 1816.

The most remarkable thing them - and their relevance here - is the similarity of the names ‘Winzer’, ‘Winzler’ and ‘Wenzler’ - found in three of the handful of people demonstrating gas for lighting in this period. It is difficult to believe that it is a coincidence. Clearly, they are different people - since the forename and birth dates are very different and presumably, Winzler’s background has been established by the elusive book in the library at Znaim. Given that so little is actually known about Winsor it could be guessed that they might be related - perhaps cousins, or even brothers.

So, what is known about Frederick Albert Winsor - arguably the most important force in bringing coal gas for lighting to London? Having knowledge of Winzler we can discount the theories given above about Moravian or ‘Tsech’ origins - since they must refer to Winzler’s demonstrations there. The other theory is that he was born in Brunswick and clearly he had connections there. No definite evidence for this is given by any authority which I have seen and more likely his visits to Brunswick were because, like Winzler, he was taking his discovery to any European dignitary who would listen. Winzler is said to have come from ‘Swabia’ - a term which covers an area of Bavaria centring on Augsberg - perhaps family history research in that area would be productive.

So all that is actually known about Frederick Albert Winsor is that he was probably born in Germany in 1763 as Friedrich Albrecht Winzer - but exactly where is not clear. From his own account he seems to have been a merchant, or a ‘Professor of Commerce’. He later claimed to have dealt with the banking house of Bloxham, Wilkinson and Taylor since 1787 and that they had held a cash account for him of £100, 000 pa. - which does seem to be a great deal of money and implies investment in something rather more ambitious than the promotion of gas lighting! He mentions property in Holland and speculation in corn from Hungary - but what else? Winsor’s real business and connections are far from clear. It seems likely however that his background was both wealthy and mercantile.

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