Stephen Simpson, Engineer, Inventor and Benefactor of the Restoration of Exeter Cathedral
The plaque is located Tregear, Spicer Road, Exeter, EX1 1SY
Stephen Simpson, 1869-1954, Engineer and Inventor, Chairman of Willey and Co of Exeter, Benefactor for the reconstruction of Exeter Cathedral during and after World War 2, lived at Tregear, 1899-1912
The plaque was unveiled on Thursday 7th March 2019 by Eleanor Simpson, one of Mr Simpson’s great-great-granddaughters, currently a pupil at the Maynard School, of which Tregear now forms a part.
Stephen Simpson was an engineer and inventor. He took out many patents, among them several for early coin-in-the-slot gas meters, which at one time were ubiquitous in rented homes throughout the country. During his time as chairman of Willey’s Foundry in Exeter he played a key role in repairing the fabric of Exeter Cathedral after serious bomb damage during the Blitz. He had also donated a considerable sum of money towards the restoration of the Cathedral before the war.
He was born in Mansfield, and from his childhood was interested in making things. It was while he was in his twenties that he patented two coin-operated gas meters, which caught the attention of an Exeter firm, Willey and Co Ltd. In 1894 he moved to Exeter to work for them. Willey’s eventually patented over 200 of Stephen Simpson’s inventions, some still in use in gas meters today. Eventually he rose to become chairman of Willey’s, from 1930 until his retirement in 1954. It was whilst he was Chairman that Willey’s constructed the pedestrian suspension bridge at Trews Weir,to provide an easier route to work for those of its employees who had been re-located from slum housing in the centre of the City to the new council estate at Burnthouse Lane. The bridge is still much used today by the public.
As early as 1939, Stephen Simpson had given money towards the cost of urgent repairs to the fabric of Exeter Cathedral quire. In 1942 the Cathedral sustained greater damage, after being hit by a high explosive bomb, which destroyed a chapel and some of the south quire arcade. The entire roof of the quire was in danger of collapse, and immediate structural work was needed to ensure that this did not happen. This was a challenge at the time, since supplies of labour and materials were scarce. Stephen Simpson stepped with immediate practical help, at his own expense, supplying steel girders which were crucial in saving the structure.
Aside from the restoration of the Cathedral, he repaired and restored the Matthew the Miller clock on St Mary Steps’ Church, which had also been damaged by bombing.