HOLMES John Henry (1857 – 1935)


Situated in the Unconsecrated/East Section of Jesmond Old Cemetery.

John Henry Holmes

John Henry Holmes founded an electrical engineering business in Portland Road, Shieldfield in 1883. It was to make a valuable contribution to the development of electric lighting. In the summer of that year, Holmes installed electric lighting at ‘Wellburn’, his Father’s house at Jesmond, the first private house in Newcastle to be electrically lit. There quickly followed many orders for lighting sets and he developed the now familiar quick break switch with snap off action, a device which he patented in 1884. The ‘Castle’ dynamo, one of the earliest to be made in the UK, was developed in the following year and, together with train lighting and electrical machinery for many industrial uses, the firm’s world wide order book was always full – they even exported portable lighting sets for night navigation on the Suez Canal.

In 1928, the company became part of Reyrolle and Co. Ltd at Hebburn. Only in 1997 were the buildings at Portland Road demolished. A reconstruction of Holmes’s workshop with original tools, early lamps and a ‘Castle’ dynamo is on display at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum.

John Henry Holmes’s Father, William Henry, a Quaker, started off in 1845 as a glass manufacturer in South Shields before moving to Newcastle in 1848. He went into paint manufacture and in 1878 built a paint factory on Portland Road, Shieldfield. The plant closed in 1980.