Sir Goldsworthy Gurney- Bude’s Forgotten Genius

Sir Goldsworthy Gurney – Bude’s Forgotten Genius  


A true Cornishman, Sir Goldsworthy Gurney’s contribution to the world of science and engineering cannot be underestimated. Born at Treator, near Padstow on Valentines Day in 1793, Gurney was to spend much of his life in the county of his birth. Originally, Gurney trained in medicine, of which he was very successful. However, it was his calling to engineering and inventing that would go on to define his life. 

  Gurney felt that Cornwall lacked opportunity, so in 1820 he relocated to Regency London. It was soon after that he made his first significant invention, the Oxy-hydrogen blow pipe, as example of which can be seen at The Castle today. Gurney was to go on to win an award for his work in 1823, the Isis Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Arts. Presumably spurred on by his success, Gurney soon started work on a much more ambitious project, the first steam driven carriage. Great care was taken to perfect his invention, with numerous trials taking place. Eventually, the Gurney drag was born, which was in essence a light locomotive or steam engine running on the road. The design went on to inspire Stephenson’s rocket. However, Gurney’s Drag was not without controversy. On its maiden voyage, when arriving at Melksham, there were angry protesters shouting ‘down with machinery’ and attacking Gurney and his crew. 




By 1830, Gurney’s true home of Cornwall was calling and he began building The Castle, on land leased by Sir Thomas Acland. Once an inventor, always an inventor, and Gurney soon started using his new home for experiments. The most successful of which was the ‘Bude light’. Gurney had managed to light The Castle from only one point, introducing oxygen to the centre of a flame to create a very bright light, and then cleverly using mirrors to reflect the light into every dark corner. It is said that so powerful was this light, that he was able to light up a room in the Falcon hotel from The Castle. Gurney’s connections in London led to him being invited to improve the lighting in the House of Commons in 1839. He did this by installing 3 Bude Lights, replacing 280 candles. These lights were used for 60 years, before the introduction of electricity, and were also used to illuminate Pall Mall and Trafalgar Square. An example can still be seen in Trafalgar Square today. If you see a guide, be sure to correct them if they try to tell you that the light has come from a ship!

Despite building The Castle himself, Gurney did not stay there for long, giving the lease up in 1850. It is believed that Mrs Gurney did not like living at The Castle, Bude must have seemed terribly dull and remote compared to the excitement of London. After his wife’s death, Gurney moved to Reeds in Poughill, living out his life with his daughter Anna – Jane as his constant companion. However, it is The Castle that remains ever associated with Sir Goldsworthy Gurney. It is a place where people can discover more about the man and his achievements, making it very difficult for him to be forgotten. 

Earlier this year, Heritage Development Officer, Janine King recorded a piece for Radio Cornwall explaining why a set of keys are one of her favourite Gurney artefacts, you can listen here: