William Henry Preece was born in 1834 in Wales. He studied at the Royal Institute under Michael Faraday. In 1856 he became the district superintendent of the Electrical and International Telegraph Company, with his office at South Western House. He made important improvements to rail signals and to telegraph systems. In 1870 he became the divisional engineer for the Post Office, and in 1892 engineer-in-chief. He was at first critical of Bell's invention of the telephone, but in 1892 set up a similar system in England, and later advocated the purchase of the National Telephone Company by the government - which took place in 1911. He supported Marconi's work on wireless. He was knighted in 1899 and died in 1913.

During his fifteen years in Southampton, he lived first in East Park Terrace and then in Grosvenor House. His wife, Ann Agnes Pocock, was the daughter of a Southampton solicitor, George Pocock. He was involved with the Hartley Institution, teaching classes there for telegraphic engineers going out to India, and, in 1899, giving the inaugural address there of the Royal Sanitary Institute. His obituary in the Hampshire Independent describes him as involved with Southampton's social and scientific life and as lecturing frequently in the town. His wife, who died in 1864, is buried in the Old Cemetery on the Common. Preece is buried in Wales but there is a memorial to him on his wife's grave.

He described Southampton in a lecture as "the beautiful town of Southampton, where I spent fifteen of the busiest and happiest years of my life".

Preece in his workshop

Image Unavailable

From the Southern Evening Echo, 05/09/2011


Newspaper clippings:

  • Dictionary of National Biography entry
  • "'Green' champion ahead of his time" - (Southern Evening Echo, 29/04/1983). Mainly about a lecture given by Preece in Southampton in 1899 about electricity.
  • "Pioneer who put over the wireless message" - (Southern Evening Echo, 24/04/1983). Article by AGK Leonard about Preece's career.
  • Article about Preece - (Southern Evening Echo, 05/09/2011). Describes Preece's career.
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