William Bridges Adams and son Alexander

William Bridges Adams was born at Madeley in Staffordshire in 1797. After being sent to Chile for health reasons and returning to Britain he bacame an independent inventor and only moderately successful entrepreneur, He acquired some repute as the author of English Pleasure Carriages (1837), his father being a noted coachbuilder. In England he began to design and manufacture steam railcars, with some success, for branch-line services of various railways and even for light express services, although Gooch noted in his Memoirs & Diary thet "it was of little use". These light locomotives were described in Tredgold and were employed on the threadbare ECR. He was an advocate of light steam carriages (railcars) which he developed with Samuel of the Eastern Counties Railway. Hugh Moffat's East Anglia's first railways shows several manifestations of this type (pp. 112-14). Another vehicle was supplied to the broad gauge Bristol & Exeter Railway..

According to the biography in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by H.T. Wood, revised by Ralphy Harrington, Adams held 32 patents. Adams was joint patentee of the rail fish-joint, and in 1863 his radial axle-box was used for the first time. Although this had no controlling springs or inclined planes, its general principles allowing sideplay, was the foundation of subsequent improved radial axle designs. Webb's radial axle design appears to have been a direct derivative of Adams's invention.

Ellis even suggests that Adams might have created the idea for the Crystal Palace as he wrote about a "great metropolitan conservatory...chiefly of iron and glass" in the Westminster & Foreign Gazette in April 1850. The ODNB lists two books and Ottley lists several more. He died in Broadstairs on 23 July 1872.

Marshall also lists his son William Alexander Adams who was born in Valparaiso in Chile on 26 August 1821 and who died in Herefordshire on 31 January 1896. In 1843 he became a partner in the Fairfield Works at Bow. In 1846 he was one of Fox Henderson's managers and later entered into a partnership with George Allcock. In 1853 he took a leading part in establishing the Midland Wagon Co. He presented two paper to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers...

See: H. Ellis, Twenty Locomotive Men (1958). originally Loco. Rly Carr. Wagon Rev.,  1943, 49, 80-2; 104-6. (Famous locomotive engineers No. 21)
Joy Diaries mention the light locomotives built for the ECR
Marshall: Biographical dictionary
Dewhurst Trans Newcomen Soc., 30, 99 has shown that Bridges Adams worked with Crampton.

Patents: there are believed to be thirty two

13, 653/1851 [girder rail]. 3 December 1851 (Andrew Dow Railway pp. 128-9)
1033/1854 Rails for railways. 9 May 1854
2140/1854 Rails for railways. 5 October 1854
2454/1854 Projectiles. 20 November 1854
306/1855 Elastic springs. 9 February 1855.
1072/1855. Construction and propulsion of vessels. 12 May 1855
1807/1855. Locomotive engines and their trains. 9 August 1855
1757/1861. Locomotives. 12 July 1861.
Also acts as stationary engine and capable of operating on sharp curves.
440/1862. Improvements in springs. 16 February 1862.
3482/1862. Railways and tramways. 31 December 1862.
1674/1863. Wheels and there tyres. 6 July 1863.
2896/1863. Improvements in wheels, tyres, axles. 13 November 1863
3195/1863. Locomotive engines. 18 December 1863.
871/1864. Construction and propulsion of vessels. 7 April 1864
2764/1864 Improvements in locomotive engines. 8 November 1864
For working on very sharp curves
3081/1864 Railways and tramways. 13 December 1864.


The varieties of permanent way, practically used, or tried, on railways, up to the present period. Min. Proc. Instn civ. Engrs., 1857, 16, 226-59. Paper 947

Ransom quaotes: On the impedimental friction between wheel tire and rails. Min. Proc. Instn civ. Engrs., 1864, 23, (1117) from which the following extract had been taken:

'The axle boxes . . . are supplemented with flanges, fore and aft, in curved lines, the curves being struck from central points between the axles. The axle-guards . . . are faced with the same curves. Therefore, when the flange of the front wheel touches the outer rail, the boxes slide laterally, and being only able to slide in a curved line . . . must point to the centre of the rail curve.'

To test his ideas Bridges Adams designed a 2-4-2T with radial axles at each end, and spring tyres to the coupled wheels. This locomotive, White Raven, was built by James Cross engineer of the St Helens Railway at St Helens, Lancashire, during 1862-3. Although the total wheelbase was as much as 22 ft. the rigid wheelbase was only 8 ft. The locomotive was an outstanding success. Bridges Adams demonstrated it to fellow engineers on the North London Railway.

On an improved spring and axle box for railway carriages. Proc. Instn Mech, Engrs., 1855, 6, 163-71.


The varieties of permanent way. 1857.
Roads and rails and their sequences, physical and moral. 1862.
Ottley 449

Son's papers
Adams, W.A.  On the improvement of the construction of railway carrying stock. Min. Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs., 1851, 3, 10-19.
Adams, William A.  On improvements in the construction and materials of railway waggons. Min. Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs., 1852, 206-13.