Basic Biographical Details

Name: Robert Alexander Briggs
Born: 24 April 1868
Died: 15 December 1963
Bio Notes: Robert Alexander Briggs was born on 24 April 1868 in Southwark, Surrey and was educated in London. At the age of 15 he was shocked by the loss of life in a disaster at the Victoria Hall, Sunderland and wanted to devise something which would prevent such things from happening. He was articled from 1883 to 1885 to Borough Engineer and Surveyor G B Jerram of Walthamstow Local Board which had responsibility for the sewage system. He was retained as Assistant Engineer and Surveyor to the Council until c. 1888 when he joined as his Engineer
the practice of the theatre specialist Frank Matcham.

Briggs' first jobs for Matcham were in Lancashire, and he probably worked on the majority of the buildings designed and constructed by Matcham (q.v.)

Briggs moved to Edinburgh to work on the Empire Palace Theatre, Nicholson Street with Matcham, and his address at that time is recorded as 31 Nicolson Street, presumably the site office adjacent to the theatre. Whilst in Edinburgh he completed the task he had set himself of inventing a door bolt which would allow easy egress in event of an emergency but which would be secure from the outside. A patent for this was accepted 13 August 1892. The theatre was opened on 7 November 1892 and was the first in which the bolt was fitted. In 1911 there was a fire at the theatre, and although there were some fatalities backstage, between 2,000 and 3,000 members of the audience escaped unscathed.

Briggs was proposed for Associate Membership of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in 1902 by Henry Horwood Jennins. The Proposal form states that he 'designed and supervised the whole of the mechanical work, Hydraulic engineering etc of the Hippodrome, London' and and was ''Patentee and Inventor of the Briggs Patent panic bolt.'

He continued to work with Matcham, reputedly jointly taking out a patent for cantilever balconies used in the Coliseum, London, which opened in 1904.

He was a prolific inventor and model maker, including building a 10.25 gauge locomotive in 1908 which is still in steam at Chichester, Sussex (2008) near to his home. He ran this engine round his garden in Bognor to amuse children, last driving it at the age of 88. The Briggs Boiler is used in miniature locomotives today.

Briggs died on 15 December 1963.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this :
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 1075, Great Dover Street, Southwark, London, EnglandBusiness1868 *  
Item 2 of 1028, East Street, Horncastle, Lincolnshire, EnglandBusiness1871  
Item 3 of 10The Acacias, Barham Road, Croydon, Surrey, EnglandPrivate(?)1881  
Item 4 of 1039, King Street, North Meols, Southport, EnglandPrivate1881 * As lodger
Item 5 of 1031, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, ScotlandBusiness1892 *  
Item 6 of 1041, Marchmont Crescent, Edinburgh, ScotlandPrivate1892 *  
Item 7 of 1050, Mattison Road, Hornsea, EnglandPrivate(?)1901  
Item 8 of 1091-93, Warwick Court, Holborn, London, EnglandBusiness1902 *  
Item 9 of 10Ivy Dene, St Albans, Kent, EnglandPrivate1902(?) *  
Item 10 of 10Wayside, Shripney, Bognor, Sussex, EnglandPrivatec. 19021963 

* earliest date known from documented sources.

Employment and Training


The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 1Frank Matcham  Engineer 

Buildings and Designs

This was involved with the following buildings or structures from the date specified (click on an item to view details):
 Date startedBuilding nameTown, district or villageIslandCity or countyCountryNotes
Item 1 of 11892Empire Palace Theatre  EdinburghScotlandWith Frank Matcham


Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this :
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 3Bognor Post2 December 1950  pp9, 13
Item 2 of 3Scale Model TrainsJune 1988v.6, no 10 p260
Item 3 of 3Sussex LifeJuly 1988  p38

Archive References

The following archives hold material relating to this :
 SourceArchive NameSource Catalogue No.Notes
Item 1 of 2 Intellectual Property OfficeGB18871/1891 
Item 2 of 2Information courtesy of Patricia LovellInformation via website Information and biographical note courtesy of Patricia Lovell.