Robert Boyle & Son

Ventilation engineers

Robert Boyle & Son, 110 Bothwell Street, Glasgow, were ventilation engineers and inventors skilled in self-publicity. Surgeon's son Robert Boyle Senior (c. 1820–1878) was a practical religious philanthropist, who established charitable bakeries for Glasgow's poor, and delivered earnest, illustrated 'missionary lectures'. He opened an industrial museum promoting temperance but it failed in 1857. In 1866 he successfully demonstrated 'safe' high-explosives. Robert Boyle Junior (1850–1930) was a self-described 'diorama business agent' in 1871 (i.e. he managed his father's lectures). In 1885, Robert Boyle: Inventor and Philanthropist was published. 1

From 1870 onwards, to counter 'foul air' and harmful gas-light vapours, the Boyles developed their 'patent self-acting air-pump' roof and ship ventilators. These eliminated 'down-draught' and utilised natural air currents. They solicited testimonials from eminent scientists (Lord Kelvin, Sir Joseph Lister, Professor Macquorn Rankin) and architects (Charles Barry, George Gilbert Scott, Alfred Waterhouse) which adorned their full-page adverts 2

They won multiple prizes at international sanitary exhibitions (e.g. 1881, 1884, Paris 1900), and prominent clients included Caius College, Cambridge and in London St Paul's Cathedral, the Royal Society's Burlington House and H.M. Board of Works. 3 From their London offices at 64 Holborn Viaduct, Boyle Junior began his worldwide 'sanitary crusades' in which he would preach 'the doctrine of health and ... breathing pure air'. Reports on Boyle's travels appeared in Building News during the early 1890s. 4

By the beginning of the 20th century Boyle was massively wealthy and in 1902 he donated 100,000 towards hygiene education in schools in 1902. 5 When he died – his wife, Kate, had predeceased him – over 169,000 of his estate was bequeathed to charity. 6

Notes:

1: Lawrence Saunders, Robert Boyle: Inventor and Philanthropist, London: Gilbert Wood, 1885; census information, www.ancestry.co.uk [accessed 17 October 2012]; death information, www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk [accessed 16 October 2012]; Glasgow Herald, 13 October 1866, p. 4; London Gazette, 5 December 1930, p. 7850; The Times, 27 November 1930, p. 19D.

2: Glasgow Herald, 29 April 1870, p. 4; 1 May 1873, p. 3; London Gazette, 10 May 1872, p. 2250; 22 June 1875, p. 408; Lawrence Saunders, Robert Boyle: Inventor and Philanthropist, London: Gilbert Wood, 1885, pp. 50–7; Glasgow Post Office Directory, 1875–6, appendix, p. 200; 1885–6, front appendix, unpaginated; 1894–5, front appendix, unpaginated; Robert Boyle, The Boyle System of Ventilation, London: Privately published, 1900, p. 11.

3: Glasgow Herald, 27 August 1881, p. 3; London Gazette, Supplement, 27 October 1884, pp. 4634, 4637; The Times, 31 August 1905, p. 6E; Robert Boyle, The Boyle System of Ventilation, London: Privately published, 1900; Lawrence Saunders, Robert Boyle: Inventor and Philanthropist, London: Gilbert Wood, 1885, pp. 50–7.

4: The Times, 11 September 1905, p. 6D; Robert Boyle, 'A Sanitary Crusade through the East and Australasia', Building News, 2, 9 and 16 September 1892; Robert Boyle, Natural Ventilation (bound offprint from Building News, 26 May 1899), London, 1899, p. 27.

5: The Times, 11 September 1905, p. 6D.

6: The Times, 27 November 1930, p. 19D; London Gazette, 5 December 1930, p. 7850.