The IET Archives has recently digitised part of its William Kingsland collection (reference SC MSS 24). The collection comprises 74 items, mostly untitled, including technical drawings, photographs and prints of Kingsland’s inventions mostly relating to electric traction. The image above is one of William’s technical drawings from 1904 and shows a commutator and parts for a rocking lever switch.

William Kingsland (1855-1936) joined the IET’s predecessor, the Society of Telegraph Engineers (STE), as an Associate in 1879. William went on to become a Member in 1896, although by that time the STE had changed its name to the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE). His application form to transfer from Associate to Member is shown below.


The Life of William Kingsland

We know a significant amount about the life of William Kingsland from his obituary which appeared in the Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, vol.79 issue 480, December 1936. The first part of the obituary covering 1855 to 1911 is as follows;

“William Kingsland was born in Devizes, Wiltshire in 1855, and was the son of Reverend William Kingsland. In 1861 the family moved to Bradford, Yorkshire, and Mr Kingsland was educated at the High School in that city. His first business experience was in the Bradford trade, but, having no taste for that, he went to London in 1878 and studied for the submarine cable service at the School of Telegraphy in Hanover Square. Just after he had qualified there he was offered an appointment with the original Telephone Company, who had just commenced to operate the first telephone exchange in Coleman Street, EC, there being only 12 subscribers on the switchboard when Mr Kingsland joined. From London he was subsequently sent to Manchester, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, in connection with the opening of exchanges in those places. In 1881 he left the service of the Telephone Company and took an appointment as engineer with the Brush Electric Light Company, at that time just commencing the extensive use of the Brush arc lamp. In the same year his services were transferred to Mr Robert Hammond, who was doing extensive installation work all over the country, and Mr Kingsland was responsible for the Brush exhibit at the Crystal Palace Electrical Exhibition in 1881; the lighting of the Brighton Pavilion and the Spa at Scarborough; the establishment of a central station at Middlesbrough for the lighting of several large steel works; the lighting of several large works at Sheffield; the first central station for the town lighting of Chesterfield; and several other large contracts. In 1882 he was appointed engineer to the Yorkshire Electric Light Co, and in that capacity was interested in some of the early Ferranti alternators. In 1884 he left the Yorkshire company and returned to London, where he was associated with Mr Desmond Fitzgerald and others in the production of the Lithanode accumulator. In 1891 he went to reside in North Wales and carried on a business there as an electrical contractor. In 1899 he returned to London to exploit an invention for a mechanically operated stud system of electric traction which he had patented. A short trial line of this system was installed in Dresden in 1903 and successfully passed the tests required by the authorities, but various circumstances prevented its extensive adoption” [the next comment in the obituary refers to the year 1911].

As with many obituaries, they only tell a small part of the story, and only a passing reference is made in the obituary to William’s time in Wales between 1891 and 1899, and only a small reference is made to his work on electric traction lines from circa 1899 to 1904. Despite these brief obituary references the drawings and photographs in his collection in the IET Archives includes items from his time in Wales and many photographs and drawings of electric traction ‘tracks’, probably from the 1899-1904 period.

William’s Time in North Wales (1891-1899)

We know from local North Wales press articles that Kingsland worked in and around Llandudno and we also know some of work that Kingsland was doing in North Wales between 1891 and the time of his move to London in 1899. An article in the North Wales Chronicle, 17 February 1894, recording the debates of the Llandudno Literary, Scientific and Debating Society, mentions that the Society discussed the issue of the introduction of electricity for public lighting in Llandudno and a scheme being proposed by W M Kingsland and R Bellis to the Board of Commissioners. Kingsland himself introduced and discussed his scheme. However, we know from a later article in the same journal (5 May 1894), titled, ‘Llandudno and the electric light’, that the scheme proposed by W Kingsland, electrical engineer, and R Bellis, solicitor, had been declined by the Board of Commissioners.

An advert for Kingsland’s business, that appeared in the North Wales Chronicle, 26 May 1894, is shown below.


British Newspaper Archive © The British Library Board

We also have a photograph in the Kingsland collection of some of William’s work carried out in Llandudno. The photograph below shows a switch panel on which there is a nameplate that says, ‘W Kingsland, Electrical Engineer, Llandudno’.


William’s Work on Electric Traction (1899-1904)

Some of William’s drawings and photographs related to his work on electric traction are shown below;



In the image below you can just spot the tramway track being tested below the large wheel in the centre.


There is also one drawing in the collection from 1903 titled, ‘striker for Kingsland’s Tramway with 6 inch roller’, with Kingland’s Tramway possibly being the tramway that was installed in Dresden in 1903.

William’s Life after 1911

Returning to William’s obituary, the final part covering the post 1911 period is reproduced below;

“In 1911 he was associated with the Leitner Electrical Company in connection with the Leitner system of train lighting, but the outbreak of war in 1914 [when William would have been 59] terminated this connection. Mr Kingsland joined the Middlesex Volunteer Regiment and, with the rank of Lieutenant, acted as assistant brigade signalling officer. In 1917 he obtained an appointment as inspector with the Metropolitan Munitions Committee, and remained with them until March 1919. This was practically his last technical work, as he then retired from active business and devoted his time to literary work, having always had a great taste for scientific and philosophical literature. His first work of any note was ‘Scientific Idealism’, published in 1909. This was very favourably reviewed, The Times characterizing it as “an idealistic monism expounded by a writer who is a competent physicist and an alert thinker, with a considerable gift for lucid philosophical expression”. He published 8 works in all.”

We also have a few items in the Kingsland collection from the time of WWI when William was still inventing. The drawing below is from March 1916 and shows a ‘step-by-step motor for Kingsland’s signalling apparatus’.


The second drawing shows a ‘range indicator for interconnected gun stations’, and was drawn by Kingsland in March 1916.


Despite the obituary saying that ‘practically his last technical work’ was carried out in 1919, we have a drawing by William from 1926, when he was 71, showing a rotor for which he had also sought a patent in 1926 (shown below).


It is clear from the preceding information that William was a multitalented individual who enjoyed a full and wide-ranging life and career – a quite remarkable man!

The William Kingsland collection is available to consult, by appointment, at the IET Archive Centre, Savoy Hill House, London.