Descendants of North East inventor Joseph Swan gather for centenary

Descendants of light bulb inventor Joseph Swan have been in the region to pay tribute on his centenary


More than 20 descendants of North East genius Joseph Swan embarked on a tour of tributes to a man who helped pave the way for modern living.

Today (Tuesday) marks the centenary of the death of light bulb inventor Swan at the age of 85 soon after he had accepted the honour of the freedom of Newcastle.

The National Trust, Newcastle University, Tyne Wear Archives and Museums and the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle combined for the commemoration.

Swan perfected the incandescent electric lamp, which revolutionised the way people lived and worked, and in the course of his research created the first man-made fibre which became rayon.

His inventions also took photography out of the laboratory and made it affordable and accessible and he improved the rechargeable battery for a variety of uses.

The Swan visitors, many of whom are great grandchildren, arrived in the region from as far afield as New Zealand and Switzerland.

They began their packed agenda, organised by Newcastle University, with a visit to the National Trust’s Cragside in Northumberland. They were the first to see an exhibition on Swan which then opened to the public.

Swan, a friend of Cragside owner and fellow inventor Lord Armstrong, used his new lamps in 1880 to tie in with the property’s hydro-electric system to light the house - a world first.

Among the objects on show in the exhibition is Swan’s dressing gown, made from the “artificial silk” he discovered while working on cellulose filaments for his lamp.

“Joseph Swan and Lord Armstrong’s friendship and passion for scientific discovery gave them both a place in electrical history and a world first for Cragside,” said Andrew Sawyer, the property’s conservation manager.

The party’s next stop was the Lit & Phil, where Swan demonstrated his lamps to amazed audiences in 1879 and 1880. They attended a lecture on Swan’s achievements by Dr Ian Edwards.

Next was a visit to Newcastle University, home of the Sir Joseph Swan Centre for Energy Research.

Prof Tony Roskilly, centre director, said: “ Joseph Swan is pre-eminent in terms of innovation and he applied himself to challenges.

“That is what we strive to do, and we use his name with pride.

“At that time, a lot of people’s lives were determined by the time it got dark as not everyone had access to oil lamps with their fumes.

“By improving the quality of light, Swan improved the quality of life and his lighting enabled businesses, industry and the economy to grow.

“If Swan were to return he would be very excited about the work we are doing at the centre.”

The Swan party also inspected objects held by the university, including the inventor’s honours such as his Royal Society Hughes medal and the French Legion of Honour.

They also heard about the aims of Newcastle Science Central.

“We wanted the party to see as much as possible,” said Anne Buckle, deputy manager of the university’s Institute for Sustainability.

Tomorrow (Wed), there is the option of a private viewing of the new Swan exhibition at Newcastle Discovery Museum, where the 1879 lamp used by Swam for his Lit and Phil demonstration will be on show after being loaned by the Science Museum in London.

Museum manager Carolyn Ball said: “I am thrilled to see one of the North East’s greatest inventions return to its Tyneside roots to celebrate the amazing achievements Sir Joseph Swan made through his life.”


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