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Robert Percy BroussonChief Engineer
Full name of worker at H.M. Factory Gretna (and any other names they are known by) : Robert Percy Brousson
Date and place of birth: 9th November 1871, Sutton, Surrey
Date and Place of Death: 1st July 1945 Chipperfield, Hertfordshire
Childhood: Privileged with a Prussian born father and an Australian born mother
Parents: Louis (Antoine) Jacques Maurice Brousson and Clara Emily nee Habgood
Parents occupations: Editor/author/journalist ( Father)
Schools / universities attended and years of attendance: Finsbury Institute
Occupation: Electrical engineer
Place of residence at Gretna: Not known
Marital status: Married
Children: One son
Travels: Travelled extensively to North and South America
Awards/recognitions: OBE after 1919
Positions held: Chief engineer at Gretna
Trivia / any other information: Yes
Books published (Title, year of publication, publisher):
Books written about the individual or mentioning the individual (Title, year of publication, publisher):
Blogs about the individual:
Websites about the individual:
Further links, notes, and comments:
Within the biography below.
Robert Percy Brousson OBE 1871-1945
Robert Percy Brousson was born on 9th November 1871 at Sutton, Surrey to Louis Jacques Maurice Brousson , a Prussian, and Clara Emily nee Habgood who was born in Perth, Australia. Clara was one of several Habgood sisters described in the link below. A beautiful photograph of her is included in this link and also in the attached folder.
Robert’s parents were married at Lambeth on 27th December 1870. His father was 28 and his mother 22. Both of his grandfathers were merchants according to the marriage banns .
Robert was baptised on 21st December at St Nicholas, Sutton. His father is named on the register as Louis Antoine Jacques Maurice Brousson , a merchant. Robert was named after his maternal grandfather, Robert Mace Habgood.
A second son Louis, was born in 1872 followed by Carl in 1873, Amalie /Amelia in 1874 born in Clapham and finally Fritz , 4 born in 1876 in Beckham.
Having been born shortly after the 1871 census there is no information about Robert until 1881 when we find him living in Camberwell.
The census lists Maurice now 38 as a newspaper editor born Germany, Emily 32 born in Australia, Percy 9 ( the Robert has been dropped). Louis is now 8, Carl, 7, Amalie 6 and Fritz 4. The family afford one servant. They are living at 7 Regents Villa.
Robert aged 19 is elected to the mechanical engineer register as an electrical engineer at graduate membership level in July 1890. He has 4 proposers and is employed by Messrs Woodhouse and Rawson, Cadby Hall Works , Hammersmith, London. A company who developed electric lighting but went into liquidation about this time. We learn later that he studied at Finsbury Institute and gained a First. Woodhouse and Rawson – Graces Guide
In 1891 we find 20 year old Robert as a lodger at 11 Sewell Place, Heavitree, Devon. His occupation is listed as electrical engineer on the census.
The following explanation for him being in Devon appeared in The Western Times of Friday 24th July 1894
“Mr. Robert P. Brousson, late student at Finsbury Institute, London, and now engaged at the Electric Light Works Digbys Asylum, also sat for examination in electric lighting, and obtained a Ist Class honours position. This is the only class in connection with the Guilds of London Institute that has yet been formed in Exeter.”
The Finsbury Institute otherwise known as Finsbury Technical College was founded in 1883 so Robert must have been one of the very first students. Finsbury Technical College (1883-1924) and the Central Institution (technicaleducationmatters.org)
This site tells the history of the college, it was the first technical college in the country. “Its design was to be ‘model trade school for the instruction of artisans and other persons preparing for intermediate posts in industrial works’. “
The Exeter Asylum , otherwise known as Digby’s was opened on 29th September 1886 Exeter Memories – Exeter City Asylum (Digby)
It was requisitioned during 1914 as a War hospital.
Robert’s tenure in Exeter was shortlived as it is reported in British Australasian – Thursday 06 December 1900 that Mr Robert P Brousson was elected a fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute based at the Whitehall Rooms. Quite an accolade for a 28 year old.
“ Royal Colonial Institute 1874-1928. Edited by Paul H. Kratoska. Oxford University Press. 1983. The Royal Colonial Institute was founded in 1868 to provide a meeting place in London for persons with a common interest in the British Empire and to help disseminate information about Britain’s overseas possessions.”
In 1901 Robert is living with his parents once again, now 29. The family home is Sidcup Place, Chislehurst. Father Louis M. Brousson is listed as 58, naturalised British, editor and author, employer. Robert’s mother Clara is 52, Robert P. 29 and electrical (app) engineer, Louis H 28 is now a stockbroker agent. They employ a housekeeper, a house/kitchenmaid and a general servant. There is also a visitor.
An amendment to the Register of mechanical engineers changes Robert’s status from graduate to member , 15 years after his first entry.
On 29th April 1907 Robert married 33 year old Elizabeth Goddard at St John the Evangelist, Wembley. Elizabeth is the daughter of a medical practitioner ad Robert on the marriage banns is listed as engineer, living at 12 KIdderpore Gardens Hampstead, the son of Louis Maurice Brousson, journalist.
Elizabeth was born in Pentonville on 27th May 1874, living in Islington in 1881, the daughter of a physician. Elizabeth was the 5th of at least 7 children. She was named after her mother. In 1881 the family employed a governess.
The next piece of Robert’s jigsaw appears in
“Volunteer Service Gazette and Military Dispatch – Wednesday 18 November 1908 (VOLUNTEERS).” Where we learn that “—Capt. Robert P. Brousson resigns his commission—March 31,1908.” A service record indicates that he had volunteered and been assigned to the Royal Engineers as a Lieutenant in 1902.
In April 1908 Robert has a letter published in Pearson’s Weekly, complete with his signature. He is writing under the auspices of his role as ‘ Engineer and traffic manager of the Great Northern and City Railway’ addressing safety concerns particu;larly regarding air quality in the new “Tube” trains. Great Northern and City Railway – Graces Guide
Gives further information about the development of this first Tube railway and how it evolved.
“ The Great Northern & City Railway was first envisaged in 1891. The initial plan was to connect the GNR – just south of Finsbury Park – with Moorgate, in the City of London. Since the whole area was built up, the line was to be in deep tube but, unlike the other tubes, it was to be large enough to accommodate main-line coaches hauled by electric locomotives. As a result the tunnels were built 16 feet in diameter. 
1892 The company was incorporated to construct an underground electric railway between Finsbury Park on the Great Northern Railway and Moorgate Street in London.”
Elizabeth gave birth to her only child, Claude Percy on 30th December 1908.
We learn that in 1910 Robert is very active as a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. JAN 1910 MINUTES OF THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE INSTITUTION OF CIVIL ENGINEERS and very vocal on the subject of automatic blocking on electronic signal systems(ASB), invented in America but utilised and pioneered in England by Robert in his role as Manager of the Tube Railway Company. He also adds his name to DISCUSSION. ELECTRIC TRACTION ON RAILWAYS.
By the time of the 1911 census return it appears that Robert P Brousson is well established in his field of knowledge and expertise. He is 39, has been married for 3 years and has a 2 year old son. They are living at Woodstock Road, Golders Green, N.W. in a 9 roomed dwelling and employing a nurse, a cook and a parlourmaid. Robert is described as Manager of Tube railway company.
We know that during WW1 he was employed at HM Factory Gretna as a chief engineer ( Dumfries and Galloway Standard Saturday 3rd November 1917) including him on a reception and presentation committee along with the town manager and the works manager. It is clear to see from his employment record especially his involvement with the Early Tube and signalling systems that he had major skills needed to create a site of the magnitude and complexity necessary including the internal railway systems.
It is unclear when or why Robert was awarded his OBE but it must have been after the 1911 census and before 1923 as he is listed in the official register of Electrical engineer 1919-1923 as Robert P Brousson OBE. Perhaps it was in recognition of his work at Gretna. His mother Clara had died in 1920 in London.
By 1925, he is certainly becoming aspirational – the electoral register shows that he is living at Fenton House, Hampstead. He is a Special Juror(SJ) – only called upon occasionally and now abolished , to hear specific cases. The register also includes a couple living in the Gardener’s Cottage and a couple living in the Garage. Presumable this would be a chauffeur and his wife.
Fenton House is now a National Trust property. Fenton House and Garden | National Trust
“Fenton House is a 17th-century merchant’s house in Hampstead in North London which belongs to the National Trust, bequeathed to them in 1952 by Lady Binning, its last owner and resident. It is a detached house with a walled garden, which is large by London standards, and features a sunken garden, an orchard and a kitchen garden.” Wikipedia
On 6th April 1927 we find the first evidence of foreign travel although there could have been earlier journeys. At age 55 , now described as a Company Director he, Elizabeth and 18 year old student Claude Percy sailed on “Olympic” White Star Line from Southampton to New York.
They return to Southampton on 2nd September from Rio de Janiero. It appears to have been a family holiday.
On 26th February 1930 the passenger list for “SS Berengeria” sailing from Southampton to New York via Ellis Island includes Robert P Brousson and Elizabeth heading to New York on business to be stayng at Plaza Hotel, NY City. Robert is now 57 and Clara 54. He is 5ft 8 ins tall with a fair complexion, grey hair and fair eyes. Clara is 5ft 6 ins tall with a dark complexion, dark hair and dark eyes. Robert has a mole on the back of his neck and a scar on his left thumb. Their contact at home is Clara’s mother at 15 Elsworth Terrace, Primrose Hill, London.
They are still living at Fenton House in 1935 as this is where Robert is listed in a local directory for that year. This is also the year that son Claude married his first wife, Phyllis H May. He is listed as divorced on the 1939 register and remarried in October 1943.
On 24th March 1939 there is evidence that both Robert and Elizabeth sailed to Florida from Cuba. Elizabeth appears on the 1939 register but unfortunately the address is blocked out . However, there are over 20 people, all female at the same address which could have been a hotel or private lodging. As there is no obvious entry in any records for Robert at this time is it probably safe to assume that he remained abroad.
Claude is listed as a divorced Chartered accountant at West Park, Paddington.
Robert died aged 74 on 1st July 1945 at Manor House, Chipperfield, Hertfordshire with Probate was granted in Llandudno to Elizabeth his widow and Claude Percy, chartered accountant and John Theodore Goddard, solicitor His estate was worth £77,434 2s 8d the equivalent of £3,434502.15 in 2021.
Elizabeth survived Robert by 7 years dying in April 1952, registered in Hemel Hempstead.