MUIRHEAD, Alexander (1848–1920)
Plaque erected in 1981 by Greater London Council at 20 Church Road, Shortlands, BR2 0HP, London Borough of Bromley
Engineering and Transport, Industry and Invention, Science
ALEXANDER MUIRHEAD 1848–1920 Electrical Engineer lived here
Alexander Muirhead was a Scottish electrical engineer who pioneered wireless telegraphy. He is commemorated with a blue plaque at 20 Church Road in Bromley, where he lived from 1893 until his death in 1920.
Born in East Lothian, Scotland, Alexander Muirhead began experimenting at an early age. He was educated at home by a private tutor after a childhood accident left him deaf in one ear. His deafness left him prone to being incorrectly regarded as having a learning disability – a common misdiagnosis at that time. Despite this, Muirhead enjoyed an outstanding academic career at University College London, where he studied chemistry.
At St Bartholomew’s Hospital he undertook pioneering work on the electrocardiogram, before being appointed scientific adviser to his father’s firm of telegraph engineers. An early achievement for Muirhead in this field was a patent for duplexing wireless signals in submarine cables – that is, rendering them capable of receiving and transmitting simultaneously.
BROMLEY HOME AND WORKING LIFE
Muirhead married Mary Elizabeth Blomfield in 1893, and together they settled at 20 Church Road, known as The Lodge. It was an appropriately grand home for Muirhead, who soon became an important local employer. He set up his own business manufacturing electrical equipment, Muirhead & Co., in about 1894 and moved the business closer to home – to Elmers End near Bromley – in 1896.
In 1894 he began to take an interest in wireless, and this led to the formation in 1901 of the Lodge–Muirhead Wireless Syndicate, a business co-founded with the physicist Oliver Lodge and later bought out by Guglielmo Marconi. Muirhead’s many other interests included dynamos, arc lamps, insulating compounds, and the telephone. Always meticulous, he developed instruments that were described by Lodge as ‘beautifully designed and constructed’.
He died at home on 13 December 1920 and was buried three days later in Norwood cemetery, London.