John Dancer

John Dancer


John Benjamin Dancer’s chief claim to fame is his invention of microphotography, though he was also an eminent optician and microscope maker. He made many precision instruments for James Prescott Joule (see below) and for many other scientists of the day. Born in London in 1812, Dancer’s family moved to Liverpool when he was just 5 years old, and his father, an optician, taught John his profession. He was an avid learner and acquired a great deal of specialist knowledge so that when he was a young man he could help at his father’s lectures, and eventually he became a lecturer in his own right.

Dancer moved to Manchester in 1841 to set up as an optician and instrument maker at a premises at 43 Cross Street, a business
which he continued until failing health and encroaching blindness forced him to give up. He was a good acquaintance of other notable
Manchester scientists of his day – apart from Joule, he was friends with John Dalton and William Sturgeon, who he met through
his introduction into and membership of the Literary and Philosophical Society. In 1853, Dancer made his first microphotographs, many
of which still survive – over a hundred are known. His skill at optics enabled him to produce sharp clear microscopic images
through the photographic process, and he produced them commercially from about 1857. Although they sold poorly at first, within a few years they had become much sought after by science enthusiasts.

He worked on various subjects, including landscapes, the Ten Commandments, and his most prestigious commission was for Queen
Victoria, for whom he produced 5 miniature photographs of her family which were set in a signet ring – each picture being no more than 1/8th inch in diameter, and which were magnified in the ring by means of a jewel lens which he personally had cut.

During the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, his microphotography was first used to send secret messages by carrier pigeon into the besieged city of Paris. Otherwise his invention was not taken seriously, being variously described as “being of little or no practical use” and “childish and trivial”. Yet, today, Dancer’s invention is used widely in banks, libraries and archives as a method of keeping important materials in an efficient, space-saving and economical way. He also invented the stereoscopic camera which he patented in 1853, contacts for electric alarms and a new form of illumination and photo-transparencies for use in lantern slide projection.

James Prescott Joule

James Prescott Joule

James Prescott Joule
was born in 1818 at New Bailey Street in Salford, the son of
a local brewer. His father regarded science as a noble profession
and actively encouraged his son to study. At the age of 16,
he was taught mathematics, algebra and geometry by John Dalton.
His first experiments in electro-magnetism earned him a prize
which had been awarded by William
for notable contributions on that topic.
In 1840 Joule ran a laboratory at Pendlebury, where he started
to study units of force and their effect on heat, and later
at the better equipped laboratory at his father’s home, in Whalley
Range. He gradually formulated a theory of heat dynamics – that
heat is produced when force is applied. He identified constants
which were scientifically immutable and dependable, and determining
the unit of energy, which is now named after him – the “joule”,
or simply “J”. This work on the mechanical equivalence of heat
was his greatest achievement in scientific research, and the
one for which he is best remembered.
For his work in this field he was awarded the Royal Medal of
the Royal Society in 1852, and in 1860 he was elected President
of Literary and Philosophical Society. In 1872 he was made President
of the British Association.
From the early 1870s on his health began to deteriorate, and
he spent increasingly more time at his home in Wardle Road,
Sale. He was awarded a Civil List Pension of �200 in 1878. He
was also a keen painter and photographer. He died in 1889 and
is buried in the Brooklands Cemetery in Sale. A statue of Joule
by Alfred Gilbert stands in Manchester
Town Hall

Ernest Rutherford BART, OM

Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford is
regarded as having laid the foundation for the study of Atomic
Science through his study of the structure of atoms. Born in
Nelson, New Zealand in 1871, he attended Nelson College and
the Canterbury College of the University of New Zealand. It
was when he came to Cambridge University in England that his
talents were first noticed and he was awarded a research scholarship
in experimental physics. Working under the supervision of Professor
J.J. Thompson in the Cavendish Laboratory, he gradually became
interested in radioactivity and the structure of the atom, and
Thompson encouraged him in this.
Using X-rays, discovered by R�ntgen in 1895, and newly introduced
into his laboratory, led him to discover 2 other types of ray
– the alpha and beta rays. In 1898 he was made Macdonald Professor
of Physics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and he
returned to England in 1907 to take up a post as Professor of
Physics at Manchester University. He moved into 17 Wilmslow
Road in Withington, where he lived from 1907 to 1919.
His Manchester University laboratories attracted scientific
talents from all over the world as his reputation as a pioneer
in atomic physics became known; some of his eminent students
include Geiger, Nils B�hr and Henry Moseley – with their assistance
he made his greatest discoveries. By 1919 he had already proposed
and proved the possibility of splitting an atom, as well as
having defined atomic particles. Later, in collaboration with
Dr J. Chadwick, he investigated the properties of neutrons –
a particle which Chadwick had discovered. Under Rutherford’s
guidance, Manchester University’s science and physics work gained
international recognition and prestige.
He was created Baron for his work in 1931, and gained many other
honours, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1908.
In 1925 he was awarded the Order of Merit. During his lifetime
he published over 150 scientific papers and lectured all over
the world.

Captain Sir John Alcock &
Lieutenant Sir Arthur Brown

Capt John Alcock
Capt John Alcock
Lt Sir Arthur Brown
Arthur Brown

John Alcock (1892-1919)
& Arthur Brown (1886-1948) made the very first transatlantic
flight in a Vickers Vimy Rolls aeroplane on June 14th and 15th
in 1919 – Alcock had been the pilot and Brown was his navigator.
Both spent their early days in Manchester, and both attended
Manchester Central High School, though due to their age disparity,
they did not know each other and, surprisingly, the pair had
never met in Manchester and actually first met at the Vickers
factory at Brooklands, Weybridge in Feb/March 1919.
Alcock was born in Old Trafford, though as a young boy his family
moved home to 6 Kingswood Road in Fallowfield. In 1909, aged
17, he was apprenticed to the Empress Motor Works in Manchester.
He had developed a keen boy’s ambition for flying, and after
working as a plane mechanic for the French aviator, Maurice
Ducrocq at Brooklands, he took his pilot’s certificate in 1912.
Brown was the son of American parents and was born in Glasgow,
Scotland, but his family moved to live in Manchester when he
was a child, where they lived at 6 Oswald Road in Chorlton-cum-Hardy.
He was later apprenticed as an electrical engineer at the British
Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, while studying
in his spare time at university. By the outbreak of the World
War in 1914, both men were involved in flying. Alcock joined
the Royal Naval Air Force and took part in many bombing raids
over enemy territory. He was also a capable and respected flying

Brown had, meantime, joined one of the
universities and public school battalions in 1914, and was later
transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. His plane was shot down
in 1915, and he sustained permanent injury to one leg, though
this did not prevent him from applying for, and obtaining, a
private pilot’s licence after the end of the war. By 1919, supported
by the Vickers Company who were to supply a plane, Alcock was
set on flying across the Atlantic Ocean. At this point he met
Brown, who agreed to be navigator on the trip. The historic
flight began from St. John’s in Newfoundland on June 14th, 1919
and they arrived at Clifden in the Republic of Ireland the next
morning – a distance of some 1,960 miles in the then amazing
time of just under 16 hours – at a maximum speed of 90 mph with
a following tail wind of 30 mph. It was to another 8 years before
any further attempts were made at the crossing.
Both Alcock and Brown were knighted for their pioneering efforts,
and awarded the sum of �10,000 by the London Daily Mail. The
aeroplane is now permanently displayed in the Science Museum
in South Kensington, London. In 1919 Alcock was killed in a
plane crash on a routine flight across the English Channel.
Brown returned to engineering and continued to train pilots
in navigation right through the Second World War.
A sculpture commemorating their flight by Elizabeth Frink stands
at Manchester

Sir Edwin Alliot Verdon-Roe

Sir Edwin Alliot Verdon-Roe


Born in Patricroft in Manchester in 1877, Sir Edwin Alliot Verdon-Roe
was to become a most celebrated aircraft designer. He served
as an apprentice with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways
and later went to study marine engineering at King’s College,
London. In 1899 he worked for the British & South African Royal
Mail Company as an engineer. Gradually he developed an interest
in birds and in flight, and began to construct flying models,
winning a prize of �75 for one of his designs in 1907, against
fierce competition. With the prize money he built a full size
aeroplane based on his winning model. He attempted a test flight
at Brooklands. Unfortunately it would not lift off.
In 1908, fitted with a more powerful engine, he succeeded in
getting the plane airborne and making several short flights
– the first British built plane to fly under its own power.
With the help of his brother, Edwin founded the Avro company
(based on his own name and initials) in Manchester in 1910,
and set up the Avro Company in Oldham, before going on to design
another aircraft with an enclosed cabin, which went on to establish
a British flying record of 7 hours and 30 minutes. Upon this
achievement he went on to build the famous Avro 504 biplane
in 1913, which was to serve as the most commonly used military
aircraft in World War One, and its design was to be copied by
others all over the world.
The Armstrong Siddeley Company took over Avro in 1928, Roe having
sold his interest in the company, to move into boat design with
the Saunders Company at Cowes in the Isle of Wight. The result
of this move was, predictably, the invention of the flying boat,
for which Roe was knighted in 1929. Throughout his life, Roe’s
love of and interest in flying and aircraft continued, despite
losing 2 of his sons in fighter planes during the Second World