Research - Sprinklers

For a long time fire protection and insurance experts have understood the benefit of having a ready supply of fire fighting water installed in a building to stop fire as soon as it starts. One of the simplest ‘sprinkler’ systems was water jets along the ceiling. This system was installed at Nine Elms Railway Works, London, as early 1797, and in 1812 Sir William Congreve patented the first ‘sprinkler’ device, consisting of pipes with holes in which were controlled by external valves.

In 1864, Major A.S. Harrison invented an ‘automatic’ sprinkler head, but this was never marketed. Henry Parmelee invented the first commercially-developed system. This sprinkler system appeared ten years later in the U.S.A. By the early 1880’s such systems were being installed in Britain, one of the first being at John Stones and Co. Cotton Mill, Astley Bridge, Bolton in 1882.

Parmelee sprinklers became very popular. Frederick Grinnel of Providence, RI, U.S.A., created a valve type system which is similar to the sprinkler systems we use today.

Modern sprinklers are completely automatic and very sophisticated so that they can cope with complicated demands. Sprinkler systems can be found in shops, factories and storage buildings as well as a variety of outdoor and marine applications.

The design and installation of sprinklers is strictly controlled by British Standards and by the Loss Prevention Council (formerly the Fire Offices Committee (FOC)), with generous insurance discounts allowed for properly installed systems. Around 1899, the FOC started to test sprinklers in Brown Street, Manchester using a gas-heated oven. Water distribution tests were carried out in St. Ann’s Street. An improved testing station, with facilities for valve-group trials, was opened in 1905 at East Stanley Street, Salford, but all test facilities were later transferred to Elstree.

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