Grubb Parsons: the Irish Connection

The other day I stumbled across an interesting article that discusses, among other things, the famous telescope and optical instrument manufacturing company, Grubb Parsons. The piece is a few years old but I didn’t see it when it came out. It’s well worth a read.

Grubb Parsons was still a famous company when I was at school, but it closed down in 1985. The main works were in Heaton, in Newcastle Upon Tyne, not far from where I was born; my father went to Heaton Grammar School.

Grubb Parsons made a huge number of extremely important astronomical telescopes, including the Isaac Newton Telescope, pictured above at the works in Heaton.

Interestingly, the names ‘Grubb’ and ‘Parsons’ both have strong Irish connections.

Howard Grubb was born in Dublin in 1844 and in 1864 he joined the optical instruments company set up there by his father Thomas Grubb. When his father died in 1878 Howard Grubb took over the Grubb Telescope Company and consolidated its reputation for manufacturing high quality optical components and devices. He was knighted in 1887.

Back in 1845 Thomas Grubb had helped build the famous ‘Leviathan‘ telescope for William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse at Birr Castle in County Offaly.

Charles Algernon Parsons, who took over the Grubb Telescope Company after it was liquidated in 1925, and relocated it to Tyneside, was the youngest son of William Parsons ( just as Howard Grubb was the youngest son of Thomas). He no doubt kept the name Grubb in the company name because of its associated reputation.

Parsons had a wide range of business interests besides telescopes, mainly in the marine heavy engineering sector, especially steam turbines. When I was a lad, ‘C A Parsons & Company’ was still one of the biggest employers on Tyneside. It still exists but as part of Siemens and is a much smaller operation than in its heyday.

One final connection is that Sir Howard Grubb and Sir Charles Algernon Parsons both passed away in the same year, 1931.

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5 Responses to “Grubb Parsons: the Irish Connection”

  1. […] telescoper.wordpress.com/2019/04/15/grubb-parsons-the-irish-connection/ […]

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    I’d love to see Parson’s magnificent vessel Turbinia. Have you?

    • telescoper Says:

      I have seen it. It is in the Discovery Museum which is in a firmer old Coop Building in Central Newcastle. Turbinia is right by the entrance. It’s not very big – only about 35m long – but a fine looking vessel.

      If you are interested in maritime history (as I know you are) the Discovery Museum is well worth a visit.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I’m well aware that the Mauretania was built on the Tyne, with the largest maritime steam turbines yet; and that the Olympic was scrapped there and her first class saloon, identical to Titanic’s, was purchased at auction and is now the dining room of the White Swan at Alnwick.( I’ve been in it.) But Yes, this is a place to see.

      • Speaking of maritime history, has anyone here read Michal Palin’s new book?

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