Ayrton Road, SW7

Place Name

Named either after William Edward Ayrton (September 14, 1847 – November 8, 1908) the physicist and electrical engineer whose work helped advanced the application of electricity by many years or his wife an electrical scientist herself. His early work on the telegraph system in British India allowed faults to be found by a simple test (this road ran between the South Kensington Museum’s Indian Section and its Science Museum). It was his work with Professor John Perry that showed the power of electricity in everyday usage. The two men lighted the Grand Hotel at Charing Cross with electricity in 1883. They also demonstrated the application of electric power to tramways and trolley buses. In 1873 he became Professor of Physics and Telegraphy at the Imperial College of Engineering, Tokyo, which he helped to set up, eventually returning to England to take up a post of Professor of Applied Physics at the Finsbury College of the City and Guilds of London Technical institute. Finally, in 1884, he was transferred to the Central College in Exhibition Road as Professor of Electrical Engineering, a position which he retained up until his death. However, the name could equally apply to his wife Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton (April 28, 1854 – August 26, 1923), a brilliant physicist, mathematician and inventor in her own right as well as a suffragette, a cause that was also taken up by her husband. For a time she taught at Notting Hill and Ealing High School. She met her future husband while attending one of his lectures at Finsbury, soon joining him as an assistant. Her own findings on the electric arc won her widespread acclaim and she became the first woman to be admitted to the Institution of Electrical Engineers. It was not enough though to win admittance to the Royal Society, and her groundbreaking paper had to be read by man. In 1910, Ayrton was with the delegation that went with Emily Pankhurst to see the Prime Minister and met his private secretary instead on what was to be known as Black Friday. She also allowed Christabel Pankhurst to transfer sums to her bank account to avoid confiscation in 1912, and hosted Pankhurst in times of recovery from imprisonment and force feeding. She was also a close friend of the scientist Marie Curie, and she gave her daughter, Irène Curie, mathematics lessons. Although Curie typically opted to withhold her name from any petitions, Ayrton managed to persuade her to sign a protest against the imprisonment of suffragettes through her daughter.


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