Grave slab, c1850, commemorates William Sturgeon and other members of his family.
Reason for Listing
The Sturgeon family grave slab, c1850 in St Mary's churchyard, Prestwich, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Historic interest: It commemorates the electrical engineer, William Sturgeon, a highly significant figure who produced numerous internationally important inventions in the early-mid C19, including the world's first electro-magnet, the first practical electric motor, and the commutator. He also further developed the galvanometer and Alessandro Volta's voltaic battery
* Design: The grave slab's unusually modest design reflects the fact that despite his numerous inventions and scientific work, Sturgeon lived in poverty throughout his life
* Inscription: The grave slab's inscription makes unique reference to Sturgeon's work as an electrical engineer, calling him 'The Electrician'
* Group value: It has group value with the Grade I listed St Mary's Church and the other listed structures in the St Mary's churchyard
St Mary's Church, Prestwich, dates to the C14 with later alterations, and the oldest extant grave marker in the churchyard dates to 1641. However, the topography of the churchyard suggests a much older burial ground. The churchyard has been extended many times, including in 1827 when boundary walls were constructed. Prior to these walls being erected the churchyard was enclosed by a ditch and hedge created in 1706, and subsequently by the planting of beech and fir trees in 1763. Further extensions of the churchyard occurred in 1864, 1886, 1924 and 1950.
The western section of the churchyard contains, amongst other graves, the unmarked burials of thousands of inmates of the County Asylum Prestwich dating from the mid-C19 to early-C20, although several communal graves for the asylum's attendants and some inmates are marked by grave slabs. In 1801 a hearse house (altered in the mid-late C20) was constructed to the north of the church.
William Sturgeon was born in Kirkby Lonsdale, North Yorkshire, the son of a shoemaker. He himself was apprenticed to a shoemaker before enlisting in the Westmorland Militia in 1802 and then the Royal Artillery in 1804 until 1820. Having received very little formal education, Sturgeon used his time in the Royal Artillery to borrow books from which he taught himself the basics of languages, mathematics and physics and began conducting electrical experiments.
In 1823/4, Sturgeon invented the world's first electro-magnet, which he further developed, and for which he was presented with a silver award from the Society for Promoting Arts & Commerce in 1825 (later known as the Society of Arts). This device led to the invention of the electric motor. During his career Sturgeon also invented the commutator (an integral part of most modern electric motors) and made improvements to the design of the galvanometer and Alessandro Volta's cell (voltaic battery). He also worked on the theory of thermoelectricity.
Despite his inventions, Sturgeon lived in poverty throughout his life. James Prescott Joule and others campaigned for the government to support Sturgeon and in 1847 the government gave a one-off payment of £200 from the Royal Bounty Fund. This was followed in 1849 by the granting of an annual civil-list pension of £50.
Sandstone grave slab. Double-line margin. Curved inscription in Gothic script at head of stone reads 'IN MEMORY OF'. Inscription below in broad plain capitals reads 'WILLIAM STURGEON/ THE ELECTRICIAN (italicised)/ BORN 1783: - DIED 1850/ AGED 67 YEARS. Additional inscriptions below to Mary Sturgeon, relict (d.1867) and to Luke Brierley of Manchester (1822-1900) and Ellen, wife of Luke (d.1884, the Sturgeons' adopted daughter).
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.