Pioneering Minds Podcast Series:

Episode 1: Introducing Charles Parsons

Episode 2: Introducing Lady Katherine Parsons

Episode 3: Introducing Rachel Parsons

Episode 4: Turbinia

Episode 5: C.A.Parsons & Company

Episode 6: People at Parsons


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Black and white photo of Charles Parsons - from a snapshot by Lady Parsons in South Africa, 1929

Charles Algernon Parsons

Charles Parsons (1854 - 1931) was a prominent engineer in the North East, best known for inventing the first practical steam turbine, which revolutionised marine transportation and the mass production of electricity.

Charles founded his world famous engineering works, C. A. Parsons & Company, in Heaton, Newcastle in 1889; this was established to produce turbo generators to his design. In the same year, he set up the Newcastle and District Electric Lighting Company (DisCo) and in 1890, DisCo opened Forth Banks Power Station, the first power station in the world to generate electricity using steam turbo generators.

Photo of Ruth Baldesera at Siemens

Ruth Baldasera: Quality Engineer and Factory Historian

Ruth is a Quality Engineer at Siemens, situated at the former C A Parsons factory in Heaton, where she has worked for 10 years. Her day job includes departmental auditing, managing customer feedback, facilitating corrective and preventative actions for improvement, and managing over 700 controlled documents / specifications, for what is an extremely diverse business.

Ruth became interested in the history of Parsons, as her job involved research into how particular components were made many years ago, and replacing those parts using modern engineering methods, in line with current standards. The name ‘Parsons’ popped up frequently on the drawings and specifications she handled. This lead to Ruth's long term passion for the technology that Parsons engineered and how his genius changed the world.

Episode 1: Introducing Charles Parsons

In this podcast, Ruth explores the life and times of Charles Parsons, the eminent engineer best known for inventing the first practical steam turbine, used for both marine travel and for generating electricity.

Book with apprenticeship document for Charles Parsons

Take a Closer Look...

After graduating from Cambridge University in 1877 with a distinguished degree in mathematics, Parsons carried out an apprenticeship at Armstrong Works at Elswick, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Despite having a degree, anybody who wanted to become an engineer at the time had to undergo an apprenticeship, as there was no qualification in engineering offered at university.

Episode 2: Introducing Lady Katherine Parsons

In this podcast, Ruth provides a brief insight into the life of Lady Katherine, wife of Charles Parsons, engineer and co-founder of the Women’s Engineering Society. Ruth explores the role Lady Katherine played in championing inclusion and diversity for women in the engineering sector.

Episode 3: Introducing Rachel Parsons

In this podcast, Ruth provides an insight into the life of Rachel Parsons, the only daughter of Charles Parsons. Rachel was one of the first three women to study Mechanical Sciences at Cambridge, despite women being barred from getting degrees at the time. Ruth explores Rachel’s roles both during and after World War 1, an extremely important time for women in engineering.

Episode 4: Turbinia

Ruth explores the ship Turbinia, “an icon of Geordie engineering at its finest”, and her own journey towards understanding its significance. Parsons steam turbines completely changed marine travel, by hugely improving speed, comfort and working conditions on ships.

Episode 5: C.A.Parsons & Company

In the fifth podcast, Ruth discusses the company of C.A.Parsons, all the way from its foundation, through its expansion in World War II, to the work of engineers today who are rising to new challenges. She highlights some of the world’s first and the world’s largest revolutionary machines that were made at the factory, making electricity available to everybody, not just the privileged few.

Episode 6: People At Parsons

In this podcast, Ruth explores some of the people who have worked at C.A.Parsons over the years, who have gone on to have great and interesting engineering careers. While researching, Ruth spoke to several of these people and retells wonderful anecdotes of their times at Parsons.

Want something different?

Explore our heritage and the engineering in the region in our interactive online exhibition, or find out about current engineering and the region’s workforce in a recording of one of our public lectures.

Here at The Common Room, we are passionate about linking the heritage stored within our collection to past and present engineering of the North East. Working with our industry partners and with thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we are able to bring to life the stories of influential engineers from the region, and encourage you to explore and be inspired by your heritage, from wherever you are in the world.

Royal Visit to the Parsons Factory