Hiram Maxim and Thurlow Lodge

This Lodge, in the main road, West Norwood (now demolished) was the home of Sir Hiram Maxim, the famous ‘Maxim’ gun inventor. He also lived at ‘Ryecrofts’ Dulwich Common. Sir Hiram was born in 1840 in Maine, U.S.A. where he had only 5 years irregular schooling. By the age of 30 he had many inventions to his credit, one the famous ‘Maxim’ gun. Another, less well-known, was a widely-used mouse-trap! His machine-gun was offered to the American authorities but they rejected it as ‘interesting but not practical’. On later advice however he was recommended to try his luck with European countries ‘because they wanted to kill each other’! It was this rejection which brought him to London, and to West Norwood. As is well-known the War Office took up the invention and the gun was used with great effect in the Matabele War of 1893: those on the receiving end apparently thought it was magic. Unfortunately other countries followed suit and this led to the carnage of the Great War of 1914-18. Sir Hiram became a British Subject in 1899 and was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1900.

One of Sir Hiram’s maids living at the time in retirement liked to tell that he was a great practical joker. She related the story that one of the jokes he played on the four maids was to buy some new clothes pegs, have them covered with cake, iced, and sent home in a box by the baker’s boy. They though they had a great treat until they bit on the pegs! But she said ‘Sir Hiram and his wife were very nice people to work for’ so apparently he was forgiven for playing such jokes: it certainly gave them something to talk about below stairs. Sir Hiram disliked the Band which played near his home. He devised another sort of ‘machine gun’ worked by high-powered springs which shot out handfuls of black beans quite a distance. He trained the gun on a wall under which the Band played and as soon as they started he would sit at his window and operate the machine. The Band never knew where the beans came from! He apparently took his pranks too far on one occasion: he was arrested in 1913 for harassing Salvation Army workers with a peashooter!

He invented a so-called Flying Machine which gave some people the experience of flying. This machine was designed as just something for the children, but eventually it was erected in the grounds of the Crystal Palace, where it gave pleasure to thousands who rode in the gondolas which swung out as the central column revolved, until they were nearly horizontal. He also designed a steam-driven aeroplane which just about got off the ground before the structure failed. It was said at the time to be the heaviest aircraft ever to have left the ground, even if only for a few yards. Sir Hiram died in 1916 and was buried in Norwood Cemetery.

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