John Speller's Web Pages Charles E. Spagnoletti

John Speller's Web Pages - GWR Broad Gauge

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Charles Ernest Paulo del Diana-Spagnoletti to give him his full name, came from a Sardinian family who had been dispossessed and forced into exile by Napoleon. He was the grandson of Paolo Spagnoletti (1768-1834) who was one of the leading violin players of his day. Charles E. Spagnoletti was himself a very able musician. Ernest J. Simmons in Memoirs of a Stationmaster described his stylish manner of dress thus: "The cut of his coat was perfection (nothing less than Poole), and his peg-top trousers had been pressed, and came out as if new. I expect he had two pairs -- one in the press and the other to wear. Then his boots were of patent leather, his hat quite newly ironed, and such a lovely lavender silk necktie, with lavender gloves to match ... [and] a white waistcoat."

Spagnoletti was a man of undoubted genius. Born in Brompton in 1832, his professional career began in 1846, when he worked on the chemical printing telegraph and electrical clocks invented by Alexander Bain. He continued in this job after Bain's firm was absorbed by the Electric Telegraph Company. In May 1855 he joined the Great Western Railway as its first "Telegraph Clerk." Eventually the telegraph became sufficiently important that Spagnoletti was elevated to the post of "Chief Electrician & Telegraph Superintendent" of the GWR. He patented a Block Instrument for double line working, which was tried initially on the Metropolitan Railway in 1863 and later became standard on all Great Western double lines. He also developed an electrical interlocking system for signals and points. He retired from the GWR in 1886, but afterward acted as a consultant for the the City & South London Railway completed in 1890 as the first electric railway in London and the first "deep tube" underground railway in the world. He was also a consultant for the introduction of electric lighting at Paddington Station. Mr. Spagnoletti was highly thought of by his fellow telegraphers, and was unanimously elected President of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians (now the Institute of Electrical Engineers) in 1885.
Charles E. Spagnoletti, M.Inst.C.E., M.Inst.E.E. (1832-1915), Chief Electrician & Telegraph Superintendent of the Great Western Railway 1855-1886
Another portrait of Spagnoletti in later life, by which time his hair had migrated somewhat southward
Spagnoletti Double-Line Block Instrument, as almost universally used on the Great Western Railway. Its advantages over other block instruments were simplicity and reliability
One of the original electric trains on the City & South London tube railway
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