Edward Lawrence Adlington, 1860 - 1936

by Brian Stevenson
last updated July, 2019

Edward Adlington evidently had a brief, three-year career as a professional microscope slide preparer. He specialized in chemical crystals for microscopical observation with polarized light (Figures 1 and 2). Advertisements are known from mid-1887 until 1890 (Figure 3). Adlington is not known to have been involved in microscopy before or after that period. However, his slide-making business was begun shortly after his 1887 marriage, and his first child was born in early 1888, so the business may have been a way to bring extra income into the growing household. Chemical slides for polariscopy would have been relatively simple for Adlington to produce. He may have been trained in chemistry, or been close to someone who was, since he sold 36 bound volumes of The Pharmaceutical Journal in 1888 and had access to a wide variety of unusual chemicals (Figure 3). At the time of his slide-making business, Edward Adlington’s primary occupation was working for a natural gas company, which might have entailed a knowledge of chemistry.

Figure 1. Microscope slides by Edward L. Adlington, ca. 1887-1890. All of Adlington’s known preparations are of chemical crystals.


Figure 2. Crystals of leucine, prepared by Edward Adlington (see Figure 1). Photographed with a C-mounted digital SLR camera, 10x objective lens, red/green selenite filter, and crossed polarizing filters.


Adlington’s parents, Henry Oliver and Phoebe Gillett Adlington were married in London, in late 1852. Their first child was born in that city, in 1854. Soon afterward, the family moved to Victoria, Australia. Henry was recorded on their marriage register as being a “tutor’, so presumably he took a teaching position in Australia.  Two further daughters were born there, followed in 1860 by their only son, Edward Lawrence.

The Adlingtons moved back to England during the 1860s, settling in Worcester. The 1871 census shows that 10 year-old Edward was then in a boarding school in Hertfordshire. Despite that luxury, the Adlington family was not particularly well off, with the elder two daughters (aged 17 and 15) working as apprentice dressmaker and milliner, respectively.

Father Henry died during the spring of 1881. An 1884 directory of Worcester listed Edward as living on Henwick Road, in the St. John’s area of Worcester. Presumably, his mother and unmarried sisters also lived there.

Edward married Susan Jane Spencer in early 1887, in Shropshire. Their first child, Lawrence Spencer Adlington, was born in early 1888. Edward appears to have begun his microscope slide business in mid-1888. As noted above, that side business may have been an effort to bring in additional income: the 1891 census recorded Edward’s occupation as “Assistant Secretary (of) Gas Company”. By the time of the 1891 census, two additional children had been born to Edward and Susan. The number of children rose to 7 by 1901.

Adlington moved up in the natural gas business. By 1896, he was a member of the Committee of the Midland Association of Gas Managers. Noting that Adlington’s advertisements for microscope slides appear to have ceased in 1890, he was likely doing well as a manager in the gas company. The 1901 census records that Edward, Susan, and their seven children were served by a cook and a wet nurse.

Edward Adlington died on June 13, 1936. He left an estate worth almost £16000.

Figure 3. Known advertisements from Edward Adlington for his microscope slides, dating from May, 1887 until November, 1890.



Bracegirdle, Brian (1998) Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, Quekett Microscopical Club, London, pages 1 and 110, plate 3-F and 3-G

England census and other records, accessed through ancestry.com

The English Mechanic and the World of Science (1887) Advertisement from Edward Adlington, Vol. 46, page 356

The English Mechanic and the World of Science (1888) Advertisement from Edward Adlington, Vol. 46, February 17 issue, page v

The English Mechanic and the World of Science (1890) Advertisement from Edward Adlington, Vol. 52, November 21 issue, page viii

Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip (1890) Advertisement from Edward Adlington, Vol. 26, page 264

Kelly's Directory of Worcestershire (1884)

Probate of the will of Edward Lawrence Adlington (1836) “Adlington Edward Lawrence of Grove-house Rainbow Hill Worcester died 13 June 1936 Probate Birmingham 17 August to Lawrence Spencer Adlington gas engineer Alec Adlington civil engineer and Frederick Leopold Steward solicitor. Effects £15905 19s 8d”, accessed through ancestry.com

Reports of Proceedings of the Associations of Gas Engineers and Managers (1896) “Midland Association of Gas Managers … Committee: … E.L. Adlington, Worcester”, page 392

Scientific Enquirer (1887) Advertisement from Edward Adlington, May issue, page 120

Scientific Enquirer (1888) Advertisements from Edward Adlington, pages 200 and 220

Scientific News for General Readers (1888) Advertisement from Edward Adlington, page 24