PARKES, Alexander 1813-1890. Sometimes described as ‘the father of plastics’, he spent the last five years of his life in West Dulwich, at 32 Park Hall Road (where a plaque in his memory was put up in January 2002), 8 Chancellor Grove and 61 Rosendale Road, where he died. Born in Birmingham, Parkes was apprenticed as an art metal worker, and became head of the casting department of Elkingtons, manufacturers of metal products. He had outstanding inventive abilities and registered over 60 patents of diverse nature, including electro-plating, a cold curing process of vulcanisation and smelting of metals by blasts of hot air.
Parkes’s most notable achievement was to produce a semi-synthetic mouldable plastic, which he called ‘Parkesine’. Models and household items, such as combs and buttons, made of this material were exhibited at the 1862 International Exhibition in Hyde Park and at the 1867 Paris Universal Exhibition, where on both occasions he was awarded medals. Unfortunately, the material was highly combustible, and his business failed. The invention was refined by an American company, which renamed the product ‘Celluloid’. A fortune was made and a universal name coined but not to the benefit of Parkes.