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Harry Grindell Matthews of Winterbourne...


"Death Ray" Matthews

Harry Grindell Matthews was born on 17 March 1880, at Winterbourne, South Gloucestershire.

The Census for Winterbourne in 1881 shows him to be 10 months old and living at ‘The Grove’, Winterbourne.

His father was Daniel Matthews, born circa 1848. He was a farmer and land owner in Winterbourne, described as ‘deriving an income from land’. Daniel died when Harry was about three years old.

Harry’s mother was Jane Rymer Matthews.

1881 census for Winterbourn:

Dwelling: The Grove, [Winterbourn] Source: FHL Film 1341605 PRO Ref RG11 Piece 2508 Folio 66 Page 18

Daniel MATTHEWS               M 32 M Winterbourn, Gloucester Head Derive Income From Land

Jane MATTHEWS                 M 32 F Tidenham, Gloucester Wife

Jane R MATTHEWS                 11 F Winterbourn, Gloucester Daughter

Frances M MATTHEWS           10 F Winterbourn, Gloucester Daughter

Charlott S MATTHEWS             6 F Winterbourn, Gloucester Daughter

Alfred D MATTHEWS                3 M Winterbourn, Gloucester Son

Henry G MATTHEWS             10m M Son

Martha A MAGGS                U 18 F Winterbourn, Gloucester Servant (Dom)

Mary E MAGGS                   U 11 F Winterbourn, Gloucester Servant Nurse (Dom)


The Matthews family baptized at Winterbourne St Michael's...

12 Sep 1869 bap    Jane Rymer Grindell dau of Daniel & Jane Rymer Matthews Winterbourn Yeoman by John Thompson

8 Jan 1871 bap      Frances Mary dau of Daniel & Jane Rymer Matthews Winterbourn Yeoman by Frank Burges

8 Nov 1874 bap      Charlotte Sarah dau of Daniel & Jane Rymer Matthews Winterbourn Farmer by Edward Langley

30 Sep 1876 bap    William Alfred Daniel son of Daniel & Jane Rymer Matthews Winterbourn Farmer by  AH Austen Leigh

28 April 1878 bap   Alfred Doward son of Daniel & Jane Rymer Matthews Winterbourn Farmer by AH Austen Leigh, Rector

13 June 1880 bap  Harry Grindell son of Daniel & Jane Rymer Matthews Winterbourn Farmer by AH Austen Leigh

23 July 1882 bap   Eliza Young dau of Daniel & Jane Rymer Matthews Winterbourn Farmer by AH Austen Leigh

[The Rev Arthur Henry Austen Leigh, Rector of St Michael's, Winterbourne, was a great-nephew of Jane Austen.

Not a lot of people know that!]

Harry was educated at Mrs Webb’s school, Alveston and later at the Bristol Venturer’s College. He was apprenticed at age 16 to a firm of electrical engineers and in 18 months had learned all they could teach him.

In 1899 he volunteered for the Boer War, joined the Baden-Powel South African Constabulary and served throughout the campaign, being twice wounded. It was at this time that he developed an interest in the possibilities of voice communication by wireless, known as Wireless-Telephony.

After the war he worked for a consulting engineer in Bexhill-on-Sea and was allowed time to develop some of his ideas for wireless-telephony.

HG Matthews and the famous flying pioneer CB Hucks

By 1911 he had built radio receivers and transmitters. On the 12th of September 1911, flying from Ely Race Course in Cardiff, CB Hucks, in a Blackburn Mercury monoplane, received signals transmitted from the ground by Harry Grindell Matthews, while flying at 85 mph at 700 feet.

Harry also sent the first Press Message from Newport to Cardiff.

The following year Harry was commanded to demonstrate his wireless before King George V at Buckingham Palace, where he established communication between two cars in motion.

During the Great War 1914-1918 he was developing a means of controlling ships by using a search light beam, and working on a device to detect submarines 30 miles away.

By 1921 he had turned his attention to recording sound tracks using light, and made a talking movie of Sir Ernest Shackleton on the 26th of September 1921, before his final departure for the Antarctic.

In 1924 newspapers were carrying headlines of ‘Death Ray’ Matthews.

Harry was experimenting with electrically charged light beams that he claimed could stop an aeroplane’s engine, explode gunpowder or kill a mouse. During experiments it was not unusual for a passing technician to be knocked out or burned while passing close to the beam. He claimed to have himself lost the use of one eye during these experiments.

<< Left: Harry's Death Ray in action.

In 1926/1927, when Warner Brothers became interested in ‘Talkies’, they employed Harry to help them develop his ideas of sound recordings on film. While he was in America, using film studio lighting, he developed his ‘Sky Projector’, for casting images onto the clouds, and a ‘Luminaphone’, an organ that was played by means of light beams. ‘My tone-wheel can reproduce any and every musical work with the skill of an orchestra and the tonal quality of grand organ’.

In December 1930, the people of Hampstead, London, were astonished to see the image of an angel flying across the sky, followed by the words, ‘A Happy Christmas’, and a picture of a clock telling the real time. Harry was back in England again - demonstrating his ‘Sky Projector’.

In 1934, Harry was developing ideas to use liquid hydrogen to power a rocket-plane to a speed of 6 miles per second. Thirty-five years later, Buzz Aldrin went to the Moon in a space-ship powered by liquid hydrogen!

Harry’s first marriage was to Olive Waite; then in 1938 he married the wealthy Polish opera singer Madame Ganna Walska.

Harry Grindell Matthews died of a heart attack on 11 September 1941 at Swansea. He had been living since 1934 in a bungalow on top of a Welsh mountain, surrounded by electric fences and burglar alarms of his own invention.

Among other inventions attributed to Harry were: an auto-pilot for aeroplanes and automatic street lamps that came on at dusk.


It has been speculated that his inventions may have featured in the Flash Gordon and Batman stories. His ‘Sky Projector’ certainly bears a resemblance to the ‘Bat Signal’ used by the Mayor of Gotham City to summon the Dynamic Duo, Batman & Robin, in times of dire need. And Flash Gordon, I well remember, was very handy with his Ray-gun.

Many articles in newspapers and on the InterNet have been written about Harry Grindell Matthews, and many debates and arguments are still conducted over his claims to have invented a 'Death Ray'..!

Harry Grindell Matthews, of Winterbourne, Gloucestershire, has certainly not been forgotten.