Lofting, John (DNB00)


LOFTING or LOFTINGH, JOHN (1659?–1742), inventor, was a native of Holland, who established himself in London about 1688 as a merchant and manufacturer of fire-engines. He was naturalised in that year by letters patent dated 10 Oct. (Patent Rolls, 4 Jac. II, pt. 10, No. 27). His name appears in the ‘Allegations for Marriage Licences issued by the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury, July 1687 to June 1694,’ printed by the Harleian Society, under the date 30 April 1689: ‘John Lofting, of St. Thomas Apostle, London, Merchant, Bachelor, about 30, and Mrs. Hester Bass, of St. Michael, Queenhith, London, Spinster, about 19.’ The baptism of a daughter, Maria, is recorded in the registers of the Dutch Church, Austin Friars, under date 10 Dec. 1690. In 1690 he took out a patent (No. 263) for a fire-engine. The copy of Pennant's ‘London,’ illustrated by Crowle, which is now in the print room of the British Museum, includes a print representing Lofting's fire-engines at work. In the explanatory matter which forms part of the engraving, the inventor states that he ‘lived seven years at Amsterdam with one of the masters of the fire-engines there, and is thoroughly acquainted with the methods practised in those parts in quenching of fires.’ He mentions that he has supplied engines to some of the royal palaces, and that for several years he was in the habit of attending fires, using ‘his utmost endeavours to extinguish the same, and was so successful therein, that at all fires he was ever at, not above one house was entirely destroyed.’ He received no recompense from the public, and was therefore obliged to discontinue his efforts. Lofting's portrait occupies one corner of the plate, which is dedicated to ‘King George,’ but the exact date cannot be given, as the imprint of the British Museum copy has been cut off, and no other example can be referred to. The ‘master of the fire-engines’ alluded to was probably either the elder or the younger Jan Van der Heyde, who published at Amsterdam in 1690 a well-known book illustrating their fire-engines with leather hose, of which they were the inventors. Lofting's plate is one of the many imitations of the illustrations in Van der Heyde's book. By the end of 1690 Lofting seems to have been engaged in the manufacture of fire-engines upon a considerable scale, for in November of that year he presented a petition to the king setting forth that ‘iron wire being absolutely necessary for the makeing of your petitioner's engines for extinguishing of fire, and your petitioner being a Dutch man borne, and ignorant of the lawes of this nation, did import from Holland lately a small parcel of wire, &c.’ The wire, which was valued at 67l. 18s., had been seized by the officers of the customs, and Lofting prays relief in the matter, which was granted (Treasury Papers, vol. xi. No. 18). The wire in question could only have been used for placing inside the leather suction hose. In 1693 a patent (No. 319) was granted to him for a machine for making thimbles. The House of Commons' ‘Journal’ records, under the date 10 March 1695, the presentation of a petition, relative to the duty on French goods, by ‘John Lofting, merchant, of London,’ and in the ‘Journal’ for 16 June 1696 the attorney-general is ordered to prosecute ‘Mr. Loftin’ and others ‘who had set up a lottery and offered to receive guineas at thirty shillings a piece.’ Lord Bellomont, governor of New York, when referring in a despatch to the seizure of the Hester, a vessel belonging to one Basse, adds: ‘The discourse was among the merchants here that he [Basse] had embezzled his brother-in-law, Mr. John Lofting's, cargo which that ship brought from England, valued at 800l., and by that means Mr. Lofting became bankrupt’ (ib. 1697–1702, vol. lxxi. No. 18). After 1700 he settled at Great Marlow, and the parish register records the burial of his wife there 23 July 1709. In his will, dated 14 April 1733, he describes himself as ‘John Lofting, of Great Marlow, Bucks, gentleman,’ and he appears to have been possessed of considerable property, among which he mentions his ‘thimble mills.’ He appoints his friends Edmund and Harry Waller of Beaconsfield (descendants of the poet) to be overseers of his will. He left seven sons, one of whom founded a charity for the poor of Great Marlow, where descendants of the family are still residing. His will was proved in London 16 June 1742, his death having taken place on the previous day.

[Authorities cited; information from the Rev. H. O. F. Whittingstall, vicar of Great Marlow.]

R. B. P.