Charles Parsons and The Parsons Family
Charles Parsons (1854–1931) is revered as one of the greatest engineers this country has ever produced. His invention of the compound steam turbine hastened the march of civilisation by enabling the generation of electricity on a vast scale. Less well known is that Charles came from a family of genius. In the 1840s, his parents, the Earl and Countess of Rosse, built in the middle of Ireland a 6ft-diameter telescope called the Leviathan of Parsonstown. It remained the largest in the world for 70 years, and enabled a radical reassessment of the stars. Charles’s daughter Rachel was the first woman to study engineering at Cambridge University, in 1910, and went on to become the founding president of the Women’s Engineering Society.
Acclaimed biographer Henrietta Heald explores the life of these characters and more to highlight the achievements of the extraordinary Parsons family. Henrietta is the author of William Armstrong, Magician of the North, which was shortlisted for two literary prizes. Her forthcoming book is Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines, about Britain’s early female engineers.
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