Part 3 out of 8
greatly departed from the original design with which Mechanics'
Institutions were founded.
As the Edinburgh School of Arts was intended for the benefit of
mechanics, the lectures and classes were held in the evening after the
day's work was over. The lectures on chemistry were given by Dr. Fyfe
--an excellent man. His clearness of style, his successful
experiments, and the careful and graphic method by which he carried his
students from the first fundamental principles to the highest points of
chemical science, attracted a crowded and attentive audience. Not less
interesting were the lectures on Mechanical Philosophy, which in my
time were delivered by Dr. Lees and Mr.Buchanan. The class of
Geometry and Mathematics was equally well conducted, though the
attendance was not so great.
The building which the directors had secured for the lecture-hall and
class-rooms of the institution was situated at the lower end of Niddry
Street, nearly under the great arch of the South Bridge. It had been
built about a hundred years before, and was formerly used by an
association of amateur musicians, who gave periodical concerts of vocal
and instrumental music. The orchestra was now converted into a noble
lecture table, with accommodation for any amount of apparatus that
might be required for the purposes of illustration. The seats were
arranged in the body of the hall in concentric segments, with the
lecture table as their centre. In an alcove fight opposite the
lecturer might often be seen the directors of the institution--
Jeffrey, Horner, Murray, and others--who took every opportunity of
dignifying by their presence this noble gathering of earnest and
intelligent working men.
A library of scientific books was soon added to the institution, by
purchases or by gifts. Such was the eagerness to have a chance of
getting the book you wanted that I remember standing on many occasions
for some time amidst a number of applicants awaiting the opening of the
door on an evening library night. It was as crowded as if I had been
standing at the gallery door of the theatre on a night when some
distinguished star from London was about to make his appearance.
There was the same eagerness to get a good place in the lecture-room,
as near to the lecture table as possible, especially on the chemistry
I continued my regular attendance at this admirable institution from
1821 to 1826. I am glad to find that it still continues in active
operation. In November 1880 the number of students attending the
Edinburgh School of Arts amounted to two thousand five hundred! I have
been led to this prolix account of the beginning of the institution by
the feeling that I owe a deep debt of gratitude to it, and because of
the instructive and intellectually enjoyable evenings which I spent
there, in fitting myself for entering upon the practical work of my
The successful establishment of the Edinburgh School of Arts had a
considerable effect throughout the country. Similar institutions were
established, lectures were delivered, and the necessary illustrations
were acquired--above all, the working models of the steam-engine.
There was quite a run upon me for supplying them. My third working
model was made to the order of Robert Bald, for the purpose of being
presented to the Alloa Mechanics' Institute; the fourth was
manufactured for Mr. G. Buchanan, who lectured on mechanical subjects
throughout the country; and the fifth was supplied to a Mr. Offley, an
English gentleman who took a fancy for the model when he came to
purchase some of my father's works.
The price I charged for my models was #10; and with the pecuniary
results I made over one-third to my father, as a sort of help to
remunerate him for my "keep," and with the rest I purchased tickets of
admission to certain classes in the University. I attended the
Chemistry course under Dr. Hope; the Geometry and Mathematical course
under Professor Wallace; and the Natural Philosophy course under my
valued friend and patron Professor Leslie. What with my attendance
upon the classes, and my workshop and drawing occupations, my time did
not hang at all heavy on my hands.
I got up early in the mornings to work at my father's lathe, and I sat
up late at night to do the brass castings in my bedroom. Some of this,
however, I did during the day-time, when not attending the University
classes. The way in which I converted my bedroom into a brass foundry
was as follows: I took up the carpet so that there might be nothing
but the bare boards to be injured by the heat. My furnace in the grate
was made of four plates of stout sheet-iron, lined with fire-brick,
corner to corner. To get the requisite sharp draught I bricked up with
single bricks the front of the fireplace, leaving a hole at the back of
the furnace for the short pipe just to fit into. The fuel was
generally gas coke and cinders saved from the kitchen. The heat I
raised was superb--a white heat, sufficient to melt in a crucible six
or eight pounds of brass.
Then I had a box of moulding sand, where the moulds were gently rammed
in around the pattern previous to the casting. But how did I get my
brass? All the old brassworks in my father's workshop drawers and boxes
were laid under contribution. This brass being for the most part soft
and yellow, I made it extra hard by the addition of a due proportion of
tin. It was then capable of retaining a fine edge. When I had
exhausted the stock of old brass, I had to buy old copper, or new,
in the form of ingot or tile copper, and when melted I added to it
one-eighth of its weight of pure tin, which yielded the strongest alloy
of the two metals. When cast into any required form this was a treat
to work, so sound and close was the grain, and so durable in resisting
wear and tear. This is the true bronze or gun metal.
When melted, the liquid brass was let into the openings, until the
whole of the moulds were filled. After the metal cooled it was taken
out; and when the room was sorted up no one could have known that my
foundry operations had been carried on in my bedroom. My brass foundry
was right over my father's bedroom. He had forbidden me to work late
at night, as I did occasionally on the sly. Sometimes when I ought to
have been asleep I was detected by the sound of the ramming in of the
sand of the moulding boxes. On such occasions my father let me know
that I was disobeying his orders by rapping on the ceiling of his
bedroom with a slight wooden rod of ten feet that he kept for measuring
purposes. But I got over that difficulty by placing a bit of old
carpet under my moulding boxes as a non-conductor of sound, so that no
ramming could afterwards be heard. My dear mother also was afraid that
I should damage my health by working so continuously. She would come
into the workroom late in the evening, when I was working at the lathe
or the vice, and say, "Ye'll kill yerself, laddie, by working so hard
and so late". Yet she took a great pride in seeing me so busy and so
Nearly the whole of my steam-engine models were made in my father's
workroom. His foot-lathe and stove, together with my brass casting
arrangements in my bedroom, answered all my purposes in the way of
model making. But I had at times to avail myself of the smithy and
foundry that my kind and worthy friend, George Douglass, had
established in the neighbourhood. He had begun business as "a jobbing
smith," but being a most intelligent and energetic workman, he shot
ahead and laid the foundations of a large trade in steam-engines.
When I had any part of a job in hand that was beyond the capabilities
of my father's lathe, or my bedroom casting apparatus, I immediately
went to Douglass's smithy, where every opportunity was afforded me for
carrying on my larger class of work.
His place was only about five minutes' walk from my father's house.
I had the use of his large turning-lathe, which was much more suitable
for big or heavy work than the lathe at home. When any considerable
bit of steel or iron forging had to be done, a forge fire and anvil
were always placed at my service. In making my flywheels for the
sectional models of steam-engines I had a rather neat and handy way of
constructing them. The boss of the wheel of brass was nicely bored;
the arm-holes were carefully drilled and taped, so as to allow the arms
which I had turned to be screwed in and appear like neat columns of
round wrought iron or steel screwed into the boss of the flywheel.
In return for the great kindness of George Douglass in allowing me to
have the use of his foundry, I resolved to present him with a specimen
of my handiwork. I desired to try my powers in making a more powerful
steam-engine than I had as yet attempted to construct, in order to
drive the large turning-lathe and the other tools and machinery of his
small foundry. I accordingly set to work and constructed a
direct-acting, high-pressure steam-engine, with a cylinder four inches
in diameter. I use the term direct acting, because I dispensed with
the beam and parallel motion, which was generally considered the
correct mode of transferring the action of the piston to the crank.
The result of my labours was a very efficient steam-engine, which set
all the lathes and mechanical tools in brisk activity of movement.
It had such an enlivening effect upon the workmen that George Douglass
afterwards told me that the busy hum of the wheels, and the active,
smooth, rhythmic sound of the merry little engine had, through some
sympathetic agency, so quickened the stroke of every hammer, chisel,
and file in his workmen's hands, that it nearly doubled the output of
work for the same wages!
The sympathy of activity acting upon the workmen's hands cannot be
better illustrated than by a story told me by my father. A master
tailor in a country town employed a number of workmen. They had been
to see some tragic melodrama performed by some players in a booth at
the fair. A very slow, doleful, but catching air was played, which so
laid hold of the tailors' fancy that for some time after they were
found slowly whistling or humming the doleful ditty, the movement of
their needles keeping time to it; the result was that the clothing that
should have been sent home on Saturday was not finished until the
Wednesday following. The music had done it! The master tailor, being
something of a philosopher, sent his men to the play again; but he
arranged that they should be treated with lively merry airs.
The result was that the lively airs displaced the doleful ditty;
and the tailors' needles again reverted to even more than their
However true the story may be, it touches an important principle in
regard to the stimulation of activity by the rapid movements or sounds
of machinery, which influence every workman within their sight or
hearing. We all know the influence of a quick merry air, played by
fife and drum, upon the step and marching of a regiment of soldiers.
It is the same with the quick movements of a steam-engine upon the
activity of workmen.
I may add that my worthy friend, George Douglass, derived other
advantages from the construction of my steam-engine. Being of an
enterprising disposition he added another iron foundry to his smaller
shops; he obtained many good engineering tools, and in course of time
he began to make steam-engines for agricultural purposes. These were
used in lieu of horse power for thrashing corn, and performing several
operations that used to be done by hand labour in the farmyards.
Orders came in rapidly, and before long the chimneys of Douglass's
steam-engines were as familiar in the country round Edinburgh as corn
stacks. All the large farms, especially in Midlothian and
East Lothian, were supplied with his steam-engines. The business of
George Douglass became very large; and in course of time he was enabled
to retire with a considerable fortune.
In addition to the steam-engine which I presented to Douglass,
I received an order to make another from a manufacturer of braiding.
His machines had before been driven by hand labour; but as his business
extended, the manufacturer employed me to furnish him with all engine
of two-horse power, which was duly constructed and set to work,
and gave him the highest satisfaction.
[Image] James Nasmyth's Expansometer, 1826.
I may here mention that one of my earliest attempts at original
contrivance was an Expansometer--an instrument for measuring in bulk
all metals and solid substances. The object to be experimented on was
introduced into a tube of brass, with as much water round it as to fill
the tube. The apparatus was then plunged into a vessel of boiling
water, or heated to boiling point; when the total expansion of the bar
was measured by a graduated scale, as seen in the annexed engraving.
By this simple means the expansion of any material might be ascertained
under various increments of heat, say from 60deg to 2l2deg.
It was simply a thermometer, the mass marking its own expansion.
Dr. Brewster was so much pleased with the apparatus that he described
it and figured it in the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, of which he
was then editor.
[Image] The road steam-carriage. By James Nasmyth.
About the year 1827, when I was nineteen years old, the subject of
steam carriages to run upon common roads occupied considerable
attention. Several engineers and mechanical schemers had tried their
hands, but as yet no substantial results had come of their attempts to
solve the problem. Like others, I tried my hand. Having made a small
working model of a steam-carriage, I exhibited it before the members of
the Scottish Society of Arts. The performance of this active little
machine was so gratifying to the Society that they requested me to
construct one of such power as to enable four or six persons to be
conveyed along the ordinary roads. The members of the Society, in
their individual capacity, subscribed #60, which they placed in my
hands as the means for carrying out their project.
I accordingly set to work at once. I had the heavy parts of the engine
and carriage done at Anderson's foundry at Leith. There was in
Anderson's employment a most able general mechanic named Robert
Maclaughlan, who had served his time at Carmichaels' of Dundee.
Anderson possessed some excellent tools, which enabled me to proceed
rapidly with the work. Besides, he was most friendly, and took much
delight in being concerned in my enterprise. This "big job" was
executed in about four months. The steam-carriage was completed and
exhibited before the members of the Society of Arts. Many successful
trials were made with it on the queensferry Road, near Edinburgh.
The runs were generally of four or five miles, with a load of eight
passengers sitting on benches about three feet from the ground.
The experiments were continued for nearly three months, to the great
satisfaction of the members. I may mention that in my steam-carriage
I employed the waste steam to create a blast or draught by discharging
it into the short chimney of the boiler at its lowest part, and found
it most effective. I was not at that time aware that George Stephenson
and others had adopted the same method; but it was afterwards
gratifying to me to find that I had been correct as regards the
important uses of the steam blast in the chimney. In fact, it is to
this use of the waste steam that we owe the practical success of the
locomotive-engine as a tractive power on railways, especially at high
The Society of Arts did not attach any commercial value to my steam
road-carriage. It was merely as a matter of experiment that they had
invited me to construct it. When it proved successful they made me a
present of the entire apparatus. As I was anxious to get on with my
studies, and to prepare for the work of practical engineering,
I proceeded no further. I broke up the steam-carriage and sold the two
small high-pressure engines, provided with a compact and strong boiler,
for #67, a sum which more than defrayed all the expenses of the
construction and working of the machine.
I still continued to make investigations as to the powers and
capabilities of the steam-engine. There were numerous breweries,
distilleries, and other establishments, near Edinburgh, where such
engines were at work. As they were made by different engineers, I was
desirous of seeing them and making sketches of them, especially when
there was any special peculiarity in their construction. I found this
a most favourite and instructive occupation. The engine tenters became
very friendly with me, and they we re always glad to see me interested
in them and their engines. They were especially delighted to see me
make "drafts," as they called my sketches, of the engines under their
My father sometimes feared that my too close and zealous application to
engineering work might have a bad effect upon my health. My bedroom
work at brass casting, my foundry work at the making of steam-engines,
and my studies at the University classes, were perhaps too much for a
lad of my age, just when I was in the hobbledehoy state--between a
boy and a man. Whether his apprehensions were warranted or not, it did
so happen that I was attacked with typhus fever in 1828, a disease that
was then prevalent in Edinburgh. I had a narrow escape from its fatal
influence. But thanks to my good constitution, and to careful nursing,
I succeeded in throwing off the fever, and after due time recovered my
usual health and strength.
In the course of my inspection of the engines made by different makers,
I was impressed with the superiority of those made by the Carmichaels
of Dundee. They were excellent both in design and in execution.
I afterwards found that the Carmichaels were among the first of the
Scottish engine makers who gave due attention to the employment of
improved mechanical tools, with the object of producing accurate work
with greater ease, rapidity, and economy, than could possibly be
effected by the hand labour of even the most skilful workmen. I was
told that the cause of the excellence of the Carmichaels' work was not
only in the ability of the heads of the firm, but in their employment
of the best engineers' tools. Some of their leading men had worked at
Maudslay's machine shop in London, the fame of which had already
reached Dundee; and Maudslay's system of employing machine tools had
been imported into the northern steam factory.
I had on many occasions, when visiting the works where steam-engines
were employed, heard of the name and fame of Maudslay. I was told that
his works were the very centre and climax of all that was excellent in
mechanical workmanship. These reports built up in my mind, at this
early period of my aspirations, an earnest and hopeful desire that
I might some day get a sight of Maudslay's celebrated works in London.
In course of time it developed into a passion. I will now proceed to
show how my inmost desires were satisfied.
CHAPTER 7. Henry Maudslay, London
The chief object of my ambition was now to be taken on at Henry
Maudslay's works in London. I had heard so much of his engineering
work, of his assortment of machine-making tools, and of the admirable
organisation of his manufactory, that I longed to obtain employment
there. I was willing to labour, in however humble a capacity, in that
I was aware that my father had not the means of paying the large
premium required for placing me as an apprentice at Maudslay's works.
I was also informed that Maudslay had ceased to take pupils.
After experience, he found that the premium apprentices caused him much
annoyance and irritation. They came in "gloves;" their attendance was
irregular; they spread a bad example amongst the regular apprentices
and workmen; and on the whole they were found to be very disturbing
elements in the work of the factory.
It therefore occurred to me that, by showing some specimens of my work
and drawings, I might be able to satisfy Mr. Maudslay that I was not an
amateur, but a regular working engineer. With this object I set to
work, and made with special care a most complete working model of a
high-pressure engine. The cylinder was 2 inches diameter, and the
stroke 6 inches. Every part of the engine, including the patterns,
the castings, the forgings, were the results of my own individual
handiwork. I turned out this sample of my ability as an engineer
workman in such a style as even now I should be proud to own.
In like manner I executed several specimens of my ability as a
mechanical draughtsman; for I knew that Maudslay would thoroughly
understand my ability to work after a plan. Mechanical drawing is the
alphabet of the engineer. Without this the workman is merely a "hand."
With it he indicates the possession of "a head" I also made some
samples of my skill in hand-sketching of machines, and parts of
machines, in perspective--that is, as such objects really appear when
set before us in their natural aspect. I was the more desirous of
exhibiting the ability which I possessed in mechanical draughtsmanship,
as I knew it to be a somewhat rare and much-valued acquirement.
It was a branch of delineative art that my father had carefully taught me.
Throughout my professional life I have found this art to be of the
utmost practical value.
Having thus provided myself with such visible and tangible evidences
of my capabilities as a young engineer, I carefully packed up my
working model and drawings, and prepared to start for London.
On the 19th of May 1829, accompanied by my father, I set sail by the
Leith smack Edinburgh Castle, Captain Orr, master. After a pleasant
voyage of four days we reached the mouth of the Thames. We sailed up
from the Nore on Saturday afternoon, lifted up, as it were, by the tide,
for it was almost a dead calm the whole way.
The sight of the banks of the famous river, with the Kent orchards in
full blossom, and the frequent passages of steamers with bands of music
and their decks crowded with pleasure-seekers, together with the sight
of numbers of noble merchant ships in the river, formed a most glorious
and exciting scene. It was also enhanced by the thought that I was
nearing the great metropolis, around which so many bright but anxious
hopes were centred, as the scene of my first important step into the
anxious business of life, The tide, which had carried us up the river
as far as Woolwich suddenly turned; and we remained there during the
night. Early next morning the tide rose, and we sailed away again.
It was a bright mild morning. The sun came "dancing up the east"
as we floated past wharfs and woodyards and old houses on the banks,
past wherries and coal boats and merchant ships on the river,
until we reached our destination at the Irongate Wharf, near the
Tower of London. I heard St. Paul's clock strike six just as we
reached our mooring ground.
Captain Orr was kind enough to allow us to make the ship our hotel
during the Sunday, as it was by no means convenient for us to remove
our luggage on that day. My father took me ashore and we walked to
Regent's Park. One of my sisters, who was visiting a friend in London,
was residing in that neighbourhood. My father so planned his route as
to include many of the most remarkable streets and buildings and sights
of London. He pointed out the principal objects, and gave me much
information about their origin and history.
I was much struck with the beautiful freshness and luxuriant growth of
the trees and shrubs in the squares; for spring was then in its first
beauty. The loveliness of Regent's Park surprised me. The extent of
the space, the brilliancy of the fresh-leaved trees, and the handsome
buildings by which the park was surrounded, made it seem to me more
splendid than a picture from the Arabian Nights. Under the happy
aspect of a brilliant May forenoon, this first long walk through
London, with all its happy attendant circumstances, rendered it one of
the most vividly remembered incidents in my life. After visiting my
sister and giving her all the details of the last news from home, she
joined us in our walk down to Westminster Abbey. The first view of the
interior stands out in my memory as one of the most impressive sights I
ever beheld. I had before read, over and over again, the beautiful
description of the Abbey given by Washington Irving in the Sketch Book,
one of the most masterly pieces of writing that I know of I now found
one of my day-dreams realised.
We next proceeded over Westminster Bridge to call upon my brother
Patrick. We found him surrounded by paintings from his beautiful
sketches from Nature. Some of them were more or less advanced in the
form of exquisite pictures, which now hang on many walls, and will long
commemorate his artistic life. We closed this ever memorable day by
dining at a tavern at the Surrey end of Waterloo Bridge. We sat at an
upper window which commanded a long stretch of the river, and from
which we could see the many remarkable buildings, from St. Paul's to
Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, which lay on the other
side of the Thames.
On the following day my father and I set out in search of lodgings,
hotels being at that time beyond our economical method of living.
We succeeded in securing a tidy lodging at No. 14 Agues Place,
Waterloo Road. The locality had a special attraction for me, as it was
not far from that focus of interest--Maudslay's factory. Our luggage
was removed from the ship to the lodgings, and my ponderous cases,
containing the examples of my skill as an engineer workman,
were deposited in a carpenter's workshop close at hand.
I was now anxious for the interview with Maudslay. My father had been
introduced to him by a mutual friend some two or three years before,
and that was enough. On the morning of May the 26th we set out
together, and reached his house in Westminster Road, Lambeth.
It adjoined his factory. My father knocked at the door. My own heart
beat fast. Would he be at home? Would he receive us? Yes! he was at
home; and we were invited to enter.
Mr. Maudslay received us in the most kind and frank manner. After a
little conversation my father explained the object of his visit.
"My son," he said, pointing to me, "is very anxious to have the
opportunity of acquiring a thorough practical knowledge of mechanical
engineering, by serving as an apprentice in some such establishment as
yours" "Well," replied Maudslay, "I must frankly confess to you that my
experience of pupil apprentices has been so unsatisfactory that my
partner and myself have determined to discontinue to receive them--no
matter at what premium. This was a very painful blow to myself; for it
seemed to put an end to my sanguine expectations.
Mr. Maudslay knew that my father was interested in all matters relating
to mechanical engineering, and he courteously invited him to go round
the works. Of course I accompanied them. The sight of the workshops
astonished me. They excelled all that I had anticipated. The beautiful
machine tools, the silent smooth whirl of the machinery, the active
movements of the men, the excellent quality of the work in progress,
and the admirable order and management that pervaded the whole
establishment, rendered me more tremblingly anxious than ever to obtain
some employment there, in however humble a capacity.
Mr. Maudslay observed the earnest interest which I and my father took
in everything going on, and explained the movements of the machinery
and the rationale of the proceedings in the most lively and kindly
manner. It was while we were passing from one part of the factory to
another that I observed the beautiful steam-engine which gave motion to
the tools and machinery of the workshops. The man who attended it was
engaged in cleaning out the ashes from under the boiler furnace,
in order to wheel them away to their place outside. On the spur of the
moment I said to Mr. Maudslay, "If you would only permit me to do such
a job as that in your service, I should consider myself most fortunate!"
I shall never forget the keen but kindly look that he gave me. "So ,"
said he, "you are one of that sort, are you?" I was inwardly delighted
at his words.
When our round of the works was concluded, I ventured to say to
Mr. Maudslay that "I had brought up with me from Edinburgh some
working models of steam-engines and mechanical drawings, and I should
feel truly obliged if he would allow me to show them to him?"
"By all means," said he; "bring them to me tomorrow at twelve o'clock."
I need not say how much pleased I was at this permission to exhibit my
handiwork, and how anxious I felt as to the result of Mr. Maudslay's
inspection of it.
I carefully unpacked my working model of the steam-engine at the
carpenter's shop, and had it conveyed, together with my drawings,
on a hand-cart to Mr. Maudslay's next morning at the appointed hour.
I was allowed to place my work for his inspection in a room next his
office and counting-house. I then called at his residence close by,
where he kindly received me in his library. He asked me to wait until
he and his partner, Joshua Field, had inspected my handiwork.
I waited anxiously. Twenty long minutes passed. At last he entered
the room, and from a lively expression in his countenance I observed in
a moment that the great object of my long cherished ambition had been
attained! He expressed, in good round terms, his satisfaction at my
practical ability as a workman engineer and mechanical draughtsman.
Then, opening the door which led from his library into his beautiful
private workshop, he said, "This is where I wish you to work, beside
me, as my assistant workman. From what I have seen there is no need of
an apprenticeship in your case."
He then proceeded to show me the collection of exquisite tools of all
sorts with which his private workshop was stored. They mostly bore the
impress of his own clearheadedness and common-sense. They were very
simple, and quite free from mere traditional forms and arrangements.
At the same time they were perfect for the special purposes for which
they had been designed. The workshop was surrounded with cabinets and
drawers, filled with evidences of the master's skill and industry.
Every tool had a purpose. It had been invented for some special
reason. Sometimes it struck the keynote, as it were, to many of the
important contrivances which enable man to obtain a complete mastery
There were also hung upon the walls, or placed upon shelves, many
treasured relics of the first embodiments of his constructive genius.
There were many models explaining, step by step, the gradual progress
of his teeming inventions and contrivances. The workshop was thus
quite a historical museum of mechanism. It exhibited his
characteristic qualities in construction. I afterwards found out that
many of the contrivances preserved in his private workshop were
treasured as suggestive of some interesting early passage in his useful
and active life. They were kept as relics of his progress towards
mechanical perfection. When he brought them out from time to time,
to serve for the execution of some job in hand, he was sure to dilate
upon the occasion that led to their production, as well as upon the
happy results which had followed their general employment in mechanical
It was one of his favourite maxims, "First, get a clear notion of what
you desire to accomplish, and then in all probability you will succeed
in doing it." Another was "Keep a sharp look-out upon your materials;
get rid of every pound of material you can do without; put to yourself
the question, 'What business has it to be there? avoid complexities,
and make everything as simple as possible." Mr. Maudslay was full of
quaint maxims and remarks, the result of much shrewdness, keen
observation, and great experience. They were well worthy of being
stored up in the mind, like a set of proverbs, full of the life and
experience of men. His thoughts became compressed into pithy
expressions exhibiting his force of character and intellect.
His quaint remarks on my first visit to his workshop, and on subsequent
occasions, proved to me invaluable guides to "right thinking" in regard
to all matters connected with mechanical structure.
Mr. Maudslay seemed at once to take me into his confidence. He treated
me in the most kindly manner--not as a workman or an apprentice,
but as a friend. I was an anxious listener to everything that he said;
and it gave him pleasure to observe that I understood and valued his
conversation. The greatest treat of all was in store for me.
He showed me his exquisite collection of taps and dies and screw-tackle,
which he had made with the utmost care for his own service.
They rested in a succession of drawers near to the bench where he worked.
There was a place for every one, and every one was in its place.
There was a look of tidiness about the collection which was very
characteristic of the man. Order was one of the rules which he
rigidly observed, and he endeavoured to enforce it upon all who were in
He proceeded to dilate upon the importance of the uniformity of screws.
Some may call it an improvement, but it might almost be called a
revolution in mechanical engineering which Mr. Maudslay introduced.
Before his time no system had been followed in proportioning the number
of threads of screws to their diameter. Every bolt and nut was thus a
speciality in itself, and neither possessed nor admitted of any
community with its neighbours. To such an extent had this practice
been carried that all bolts and their corresponding nuts had to be
specially marked as belonging to each other. Any intermixture that
occurred between them led to endless trouble and expense, as well as
inefficiency and confusion,--especially when parts of complex
machines had to be taken to pieces for repairs.
None but those who lived in the comparatively early days of machine
manufacture can form an adequate idea of the annoyance, delay, and cost
of this utter want of system, or can appreciate the vast services
rendered to mechanical engineering by Mr. Maudslay, who was the first
to introduce the practical measures necessary for its remedy. In his
system of screw-cutting machinery, and in his taps and dies, and
screw-tackle generally, he set the example, and in fact laid the
foundation, of all that has since been done in this most essential
branch of machine construction. Those who have had the good fortune to
work under him, and have experienced the benefits of his practice, have
eagerly and ably followed him; and thus his admirable system has become
established throughout the entire mechanical world.
Mr. Maudslay kept me with him for about three hours, initiating me into
his system. It was with the greatest delight that I listened to his
wise instruction. The sight of his excellent tools, which he showed me
one by one, filled me with an almost painful feeling of earnest hope
that I might be able in any degree to practically express how thankful
I was to be admitted to so invaluable a privilege as to be in close
communication with this great master in all that was most perfect in
When he concluded his exposition, he told me in the most kindly manner
that it would be well for me to take advantage of my father's presence
in London to obtain some general knowledge of the metropolis, to see
the most remarkable buildings, and to obtain an introduction to some of
my father's friends. He gave me a week for this purpose, and said he
should be glad to see me at his workshop on the following Monday week.
It singularly happened that on the first day my father went out with
me, he encountered an old friend. He had first known him at
Mr. Miller's of Dalswinton, when the first steamboat was tried, and
afterwards at Edinburgh while he was walking the courts as an advocate,
or writing articles for the Edinburgh Review. This was no other than
Henry Brougham. He was descending the steps leading into St. James's
Park, from the place where the Duke of York's monument now stands.
Brougham immediately recognised my father. There was a hearty shaking
of hands, and many inquiries on either side. "And what brings you to
London now?" asked Brougham. My father told him that it was about his
son here, who had obtained an important position at Maudslay's the
"If I can do anything for you," said Brougham, addressing me, "let me
know. It will afford me much pleasure to give you introductions to men
of science in London." I ventured to say that "Of all the men of
science in London that I most wished to see, was Mr. Faraday of the
Royal Institution." " Well," said Brougham, "I will send you a letter
of introduction. We then parted.
My father availed himself of the opportunity of introducing me to
several of his brother artists. We first went to the house of
David Wilkie, in Church Street, Kensington. We found him at home,
and he received us most kindly. We next visited Clarkson Stanfield,
David Roberts, and some other artists. They were much attached to
my father, and had, in the early part of their career, received much
kindness from him while living in Edinburgh. They all expressed the
desire that I should visit them frequently. I had thus the privilege
of entree to a number of pleasant and happy homes, and my visits to
them while in London was one of my principal sources of enjoyment.
On returning home to our lodgings that evening we found a note from
Brougham, enclosing letters of introduction to Faraday and other
scientific men; and stating that if at any time he could be of service
to me he hoped that I would at once make use of him. My father was
truly gratified with the substantial evidence of Brougham's kindly
remembrance of him; and I? how could I be grateful enough? not only for
my father's never-failing attention to my growth in knowledge and
wisdom, but to his ever-willing readiness to help me onward in the path
of scientific working and mechanical engineering. And now I was
fortunate in another respect, in being admitted to the school,
and I may say the friendship, of the admirable Henry Maudslay.
Everything now depended upon myself, and whether I was worthy of all
these advantages or not.
One of the days of this most interesting and memorable week was devoted
to accompanying Mr. Maudslay in a visit to Somerset House. In the
Admiralty Museum, then occupying a portion of the building, was a
complete set of the working models of the celebrated block-making
machinery. Most of these were the result of Maudslay's own skilful
handiwork. He also designed, for the most part, this wonderful and
complete series of machines. Sir Samuel Bentham and Mr. Brunel had
given the idea, and Maudslay realised it in all its mechanical details.
These working models contained the prototypes of nearly all the modern
engineer tools which have given us so complete mastery over materials,
and done so much for the age we live in.
It added no little to the enjoyment of this visit to hear Mr. Maudslay
narrate, in his quaint and graphic language, the difficulties he had to
encounter in solving so many mechanical problems. It occupied him
nearly six years to design and complete these working models.
They were forty-four in number--all masterly pieces of workmanship.
To describe them was to him like living over again the most interesting
and eventful part of his life. And no doubt the experience which he
had thus obtained formed the foundation of his engineering fortunes.
Mr. Maudslay next conducted us to the Royal Mint on Tower Hill.
Here we saw many of his admirable machines at work. He had a happy
knack, in his contrivances and inventions, of making "short cuts" to
the object in view. He avoided complexities, did away with roundabout
processes, however ingenious, and went direct to his point.
"Simplicity" was his maxim in every mechanical contrivance.
His mastermind enabled him to see through and attain the end he sought
by the simplest possible means. The reputation which he had acquired
by his minting machinery enabled him to supply it in its improved form
to the principal Governments of the world.
Some of the other days of the week were occupied by my father in
attending to his own professional affairs, more particularly in
connection with the Earl of Cassilis--whose noble mansion in London,
and whose castle at Colzean, on the coast of Ayrshire, contain some of
my father's finest works. The last day was most enjoyable.
Mr. Maudslay invited my father, my brother Patrick, and myself,
to accompany him in his beautiful small steam yacht, the Endeavour,
from Westminster to Richmond Bridge, and afterwards to dine with him at
the Star and Garter. I must first, however, say something of the
origin of the Endeavour.
Mr. Maudslay's son, Joseph, inherited much of his father's constructive
genius. He had made a beautiful arrangement of William Murdoch's
original invention of the vibrating cylinder steam-engine, and adapted
it for the working of paddle-wheel steamers. He first tried the action
of the arrangement in a large working model, and its use was found to
be in every respect satisfactory. Mr. Maudslay resolved to give his
son's design a full-sized trial. He had a combined pair of vibrating
engines constructed, of upwards of 20 horse-power, which were placed in
a beautiful small steam vessel, appropriately named the Endeavour.
The result was perfectly successful. The steamer became a universal
favourite. It was used to convey passengers and pleasure parties from
Blackfriars Bridge to Richmond. Eventually it became the pioneer of a
vast progeny of vessels propelled by similar engines, which still crowd
the Thames. All these are the legitimate descendants of the bright and
active little Endeavour.
To return to my trip to Richmond. We got on board the boat on the
forenoon of May the 29th. It was one of the most beautiful days of the
year. The spring was at its loveliest. The bright fresh green of the
trees was delightful. I shall never forget the pleasure with which I
beheld, for the first time, the beautiful banks of the Thames.
There was at that time a noble avenue of elm trees extending along the
southern bank of the river, from Westminster Bridge to Lambeth Palace;
while, on the northern side, many equally fine trees added picturesque
grace to the then Houses of Parliament, while behind them were seen the
great roof of Westminster Hall and the noble towers of Westminster
Abbey. As we sped along we admired the ancient cedars, which gave
dignity to the Bishop's grounds, on the one side, and the elms,
laburnums, and lilacs, then in full bloom, which partially shaded the
quaint old mansions of Cheyne Row, on the other. Alas! the march of
improvement and the inevitable extension of the metropolis is rapidly
destroying these vestiges of the olden time.
The beautiful views that came into sight, as we glided up the river,
kept my father and my brother in a state of constant excitement.
There were so many truly picturesque and paintable objects.
Patrick's deft pencil was constantly at work, taking graphic notes of
"glorious bits" Dilapidated farm-buildings, old windmills, pollarded
willows, were rapidly noted, to be afterwards revisited and made
immortal by his brush. There were also the fine mansions and cosy
villas, partially shrouded by glorious trees, with their bright velvety
lawns sloping down towards the river; not forgetting the delicate
streams of thin blue smoke rising lazily through the trees in the
tranquil summer air, and reminding one of the hospitable preparations
then in progress.
We landed at Richmond Bridge, and walked up past the quaint
old-fashioned mansions which gave so distinct a character to Richmond
at that time. We then passed on to the celebrated Richmond Terrace,
at the top of the hill, from which so glorious a view of the windings
of the Thames is seen, with the luxuriant happy-looking landscape
around. The enjoyment of this glorious day now reached its climax.
We dined in the great dining-room, from the large windows of which we
observed a view almost unmatched in the world, with the great tower of
Windsor in the distance. I need not speak of the entertainment, which
was everything that the kindest and most genial hospitality could
offer. After a pleasant stroll in the Park, amidst the noble and
venerable oak trees, which give such a dignity to the place, and after
another visit to the Terrace, where we saw the sun set in a blaze of
glory beyond the distant scenery, we strolled down the hill to the
steamer, and descended the Thames in the cool of the summer evening.
I must not, however, omit to mention the lodgings taken for me by my
father before he left London. It was necessary that they should be
near Maudslay's works for the convenience of going and coming.
We therefore looked about in the neighbourhood of Waterloo Road.
One of the houses we visited was situated immediately behind the Surrey
theatre. It seemed a very nice tidy house, and my father seemed to
have taken a liking for it. But when we were introduced into the room
where I was to sleep, he observed an ultra-gay bonnet lying on the bed,
with flashy bright ribbons hanging from it. This sight seemed to alter
his ideas, and he did not take the lodgings; but took another where
there was no such bonnet.
I have no doubt about what passed through his mind at the time.
We were in the neighbourhood of the theatre. There was evidently some
gay young woman about the house. He thought the position might be
dangerous for his son. I afterwards asked him why we had not taken
that nice lodging. "Well," he said, "did not you see that ultra-gay
bonnet lying on the bed? I think that looks rather suspicious!"
Afterwards he added, "At all events, James, you will find that though
there are many dirty roads in life, if you use your judgment you may
always be able to find a clean crossing!" And so the good man left me.
After an affectionate parting he returned to Edinburgh, and I remained
in London to work out the plan of my life.
CHAPTER 8. Maudslay's Private Assistant
On the morning of Monday, the 30th of May 1829, I commenced my regular
attendance at Mr. Maudslay's workshop. My first job was to assist him
in making some modifications in the details of a machine which he had
contrived some years before for generating original screws. I use the
word "generating" as being most appropriate to express the objects and
results of one of Mr. Maudslay's most original inventions.
It consisted in the employment of a knife-edged hardened steel
instrument, so arranged as to be set at any required angle, and its
edge caused to penetrate the surface of a cylindrical bar of soft steel
or brass. This bar being revolved under the incisive action of the
angularly placed knife-edged instrument, it thus received a continuous
spiral groove cut into its surface. It was then in the condition of a
rudimentary screw; the pitch, or interval between the threads, being
determined by the greater or less angle of obliquity at which the
knife-edged instrument was set with respect to the axis of the
cylindrical bars revolving under its incisive action.
The spiral groove, thus generated, was deepened to the required extent
by a suitable and pointed hard steel tool firmly held in the jaws of an
adjustable slide made for the purpose, as part and parcel of the bed of
the machine. In the case of square-threaded screws being required,
a square-pointed tool was employed in place of the V or angle-threaded
tool. And in order to generate or produce right hand or left hand
screws, all that was necessary was to set the knife-edged instrument to
a right or left hand inclination in respect to the axis of the
cylindrical bar at the outset of the operation.
This beautiful and truly original contrivance became, in the hands of
its inventor, the parent of a vast progeny of perfect screws, whose
descendants, whether legitimate or not, are to be found in every
workshop throughout the world, wherever first-class machinery is
constructed. The production of perfect screws was one of Maudslay's
highest ambitions and his principal technical achievement. It was a
type of his invaluable faculty of solving the most difficult problems
by the most direct and simple methods.
It was by the same method that he produced the Guide screw.
His screw-cutting lathe was moved by combination wheels, and by its
means he could, by the one Guide screw, obtain screws of every variety
of pitch and diameter. As an illustration of its complete accuracy
I may mention that by its means a screw of five feet in length and two
inches in diameter was cut with fifty threads to the inch; the Nut to
fit on to it being twelve inches long, and containing six hundred
threads! This screw was principally used for dividing scales for
astronomical and other metrical purposes of the highest class.
By its means divisions were produced with such minuteness that they
could only be made visual by a microscope.
This screw was sent for exhibition to the Society of Arts. It is still
preserved with the utmost care at the Lambeth Works amongst the many
admirable specimens of Henry Maudslay's inventive genius and delicate
handiwork. Every skilled mechanic must thoroughly enjoy the sight of
it, especially when he knows that it was not produced by an exceptional
tool, but by the machine that was daily employed in the ordinary work
of the factory.
I must not, however, omit to say that I took an early opportunity of
presenting Brougham's letter of introduction to Faraday at the Royal
Institution. I was received most cordially by that noble-minded man,
whose face beamed with goodness and kindness. After some pleasant
conversation he said he would call upon me at Maudslay's, whom he knew
very well. Not long after Faraday called, and found me working beside
Maudslay in his beautiful little workshop. A vice had been fitted up
for me at the bench where he himself daily worked. Faraday expressed
himself as delighted to find me in so enviable a position.
He congratulated me on my special good fortune in having the
inestimable advantage of being associated as assistant workman with one
of the greatest mechanical engineers of the day.
Mr. Maudslay offered to conduct Faraday through his workshops, and I
was permitted to accompany them. I was much impressed with the
intelligent conversation of Faraday, as well as with the quickness he
exhibited in appreciating not only the general excellence of the design
and execution of the works in progress, but his capacity for entering
into the technical details of the composite tools and machinery which
he saw during his progress through the place. This most pleasant and
memorable meeting with the great philosopher initiated a friendship
which I had the good fortune to continue until the close of his life.
It was, of course, an immense advantage for me to be so intimately
associated with Mr. Maudslay in carrying on his experimental work.
I was not, however, his apprentice, but his assistant workman.
It was necessary, therefore, in his opinion, that I should receive some
remuneration for my services. Accordingly, at the conclusion of my
first week in his service, he desired me to go to his chief cashier and
arrange with him for receiving whatever amount of weekly wages I might
consider satisfactory. I went to the counting-house and had an
interview with Mr. Young the cashier, a most worthy man*
I may mention that he was brother to Dr. Thomas Young, the celebrated
Knowing as I did the great advantages of my situation, and having a
very modest notion of my own worthiness to occupy it, I said, in answer
to Mr. Young's question as to the amount of wages I desired, that
"if he did not think ten shillings a week too much I could do well
enough with that." "Very well" said he,"let it be so" And he handed me
over half a sovereign!
I had determined, after I obtained a situation, not to cost my father
another shilling. I knew how many calls he had upon him, at a time
when he had his own numerous household to maintain. I therefore
resolved, now that I had begun life on my own resources, to maintain
myself, and to help him rather than be helped any longer. Thus the
first half-sovereign I received from Mr. Young was a great event in my
life. It was the first wages, as such, that I had ever received.
I well remember the high satisfaction I felt as I carried it home to my
lodgings; and all the more so as I was quite certain that I could,
by strict economy and good management, contrive to make this weekly sum
of ten shillings meet all my current expenses.
I had already saved the sum of #20, which I placed in the bank as a
deposit account. It was the residue of the sale of some of my model
steam-engines at Edinburgh. My readers will remember that I brought
with me a model steam-engine to show to Mr. Maudslay as a specimen of
my handiwork. It had gained for me the situation that I desired, and I
was now willing to dispose of it. I found a purchaser in Mr. Watkins,
optician at Charing Cross, who supplied such apparatus to lecturers at
Mechanics' Institutions. He gave me #35 for the model, and I added the
sum to my deposit account. This little fund was quite sufficient to
meet any expenses beyond those of a current weekly nature.
[Image] My cooking stove*
I have this handy apparatus by me still; and to prove its possession of
its full original efficiency I recently set it in action after its rest
of fifty years, and found that it yielded results quite equal to my
grateful remembrance of its past services.
But I was resolved that my wages alone should maintain me in food and
lodging. I therefore directed my attention to economical living.
I found that a moderate dinner at an eating-house would cost move than
I could afford to spend. In order to keep within my weekly income I
bought the raw materials and cooked them in my own way and to my own
taste. I set to and made a drawing of a very simple, compact, and
handy cooking apparatus. I took the drawing to a tinsmith near at
hand, and in two days I had it in full operation. The apparatus cost
ten shillings, including the lamp. As it contributed in no small
degree to enable me to carry out my resolution, and as it may serve as
a lesson to others who have an earnest desire to live economically,
I think it may be useful to give a drawing and a description of my
cooking stove. The cooking or meat pan rested on the upper rim of the
external cylindrical case, and was easily removable in order to be
placed handy for service. The requisite heat was supplied by an oil
lamp with three small single wicks, though I found that one wick was
enough. I put the meat in the pot, with the other comestibles,
at nine o'clock in the morning. It simmered away all day, until
half-past six in the evening, when I came home with a healthy appetite
to enjoy my dinner. I well remember the first day that I set the
apparatus to work. I ran to my lodging, at about four P.M., to see how
it was going on. When I lifted the cover it was simmering beautifully,
and such a savoury gusto came forth that I was almost tempted to fall
to and discuss the contents. But the time had not yet come, and I ran
back to my work.
The meat I generally cooked in it was leg of beef, with sliced potato,
bits of onion chopped down, and a modicum of white pepper and salt,
With just enough of water to cover "the elements." When stewed slowly
the meat became very tender; and the whole yielded a capital dish,
such as a very Soyer might envy. It was partaken of with a zest that,
no doubt, was a very important element in its savouriness. The whole
cost of this capital dinner was about 4 1/2d. I sometimes varied the
meat with rice boiled with a few raisins and a pennyworth of milk.
My breakfast and tea, with bread, cost me about fourpence each.
My lodgings cost 3s. 6d. a week. A little multiplication will
satisfy any one how it was that I contrived to live economically and
comfortably on my ten shillings a week. In the following year my
wages were raised to fifteen shillings a week, and then I began to take
butter to my bread.
To return to my employment under Mr. Maudslay. One of the first jobs
that I undertook was in assisting him to make a beautiful small model
of a pair of 200 horsepower marine steam-engines. The engines were
then in course of construction in the factory. They were considered a
bold advance on the marine engines then in use, not only in regard to
their great power, but in carrying out many specialities in their
details and general structure. Mr. Maudslay had embodied so much of
his thought in the design that he desired to have an exact model of
them placed in his library, so as to keep a visible record of his ideas
constantly before him. In fact, these engines might be regarded as the
culmination of his constructive abilities.
In preparing the model it was necessary that everything should be made
in exact conformity with the original. There were about three hundred
minute bolts and nuts to be reduced to the proportional size.
I esteemed it a great compliment to be entrusted with their execution.
They were all to be made of cast-steel, and the nuts had to be cut to
exact hexagonal form. Many of them had collars. To produce them by
the use of the file in the ordinary mode would not only have been
difficult and tedious, but in some cases practically impossible.
[Image] Collar-nut cutting machine.
To get rid of the difficulty I suggested to Mr. Maudslay a contrivance
of my own by means of which the most rigid exactness in size as well as
form could be given to these hexagonal nuts. He readily granted his
permission. I constructed a special apparatus, consisting of a hard
steel circular cutter to act as a circular file. When brought into
operation in the production of these minute six-sided collared nuts,
held firm in the spindle of a small dividing plate and attached to the
slide-rest, each side was brought in succession under the action of the
circular file or cutter with the most exact precision in regard to the
division of the six sides. The result was absolutely perfect as
respects the exactness of the six equal sides of the hexagonal nut, as
well as their precise position in regard to the collar that was of one
solid piece with it. There was no great amount of ingenuity required
in contriving this special tool, or in adapting it to the slide-rest of
the lathe, to whose spindle end the file or cutter /\ was fixed.
But the result was so satisfactory, both as regards the accuracy and
rapidity of execution in comparison with the usual process of hand
filing, that Mr. Maudslay was greatly pleased with the arrangement as
well as with my zeal in contriving and executing this clever little
tool. An enlarged edition of this collar-nut cutting machine was soon
after introduced into the factory.
[Image] Arrangement of the machine
It was one of the specialities that I adopted in my own workshop when I
commenced business for myself, and it was eagerly adopted by mechanical
engineers, whom we abundantly supplied with this special machine.
It was an inestimable advantage to me to be so intimately associated
with this Great Mechanic. He was so invariably kind, pleasant, and
congenial. He communicated an infinite number of what he humorously
called "Wrinkles" which afterwards proved of great use to me.
My working hours usually terminated at six in the evening. But as many
of the departments of the factory were often in full operation during
busy times until eight o'clock, I went through them to observe the work
while in progress. On these occasions I often met "the guvnor, as the
workmen called Mr. Maudslay. He was going his round of inspection,
and when there was any special work in hand he would call me up to him
to and explain point in connection with it that was worthy of
particular notice. I found this valuable privilege most instructive,
as I obtained from the cheif mechanic himself a full insight into the
methods, means, and processes by which the skilful workman advanced
the various classes of work. I was also permitted to take notes and
make rapid sketches of any object that specially interested me.
The entire establishment thus became to me a school of practical
engineering of the most instructive kind.
Mr. Maudslay took pleasure in showing me the right system and method of
treating all manner of materials employed in mechanical structures.
He showed how they might be made to obey your will, by changing them
into the desired forms with the least expenditure of time and labour.
This in fact is the true philosophy of construction. When clear ideas
have been acquired upon the subject, after careful observation and
practice, the comparative ease and certainty with which complete
mastery over the most obdurate materials is obtained, opens up the most
direct road to the attainment of commercial as well as of professional
To be permitted to stand by and observe the systematic way in which
Mr. Maudslay would first mark or line out his work, and the masterly
manner in which he would deal with his materials, and cause them to
assume the desired forms, was a treat beyond all expression.
Every stroke of the hammer, chisel, or file, told as an effective step
towards the intended result. It was a never-to-be-forgotten practical
lesson in workmanship, in the most exalted sense of the term.
In conformity with his often repeated maxim, "that there is a right way
and a wrong way of doing everything," he took the shortest and most
direct cuts to accomplish his objects. He illustrated this by telling
me, in his own humorous style, " When you want to go from London to
Greenwich, don't go round by Inverness." Another of his droll sayings
was that he "considered no man a thorough mechanic unless he could cut
a plank with a gimlet, and bore a hole with a saw!"
The grand result of thoughtful practice is what we call experience:
it is the power or faculty of seeing clearly before you begin, what to
avoid and what to select--or rather what to do and what not to do.
High-class workmanship, or technical knowledge, was in his hands quite
a science. Every piece of work was made subject to the soundest
philosophical principles, as applied to the use and treatment of
materials. It was this that gave such a charm of enjoyment to his
dealing with tools and materials. He loved this sort of work for its
own sake, far more than for its pecuniary results. At the same time he
was not without regard for the substantial evidence of his supremacy in
all that regarded first-class tools, admirable management, and thorough
organisation of his factory.
The innate love of truth and accuracy which distinguished Mr. Maudslay,
led him to value highly that class of technical dexterity in
engineering workmen which enabled them to produce those details of
mechanical structures in which perfect flat or true plane surfaces were
required. This was an essential condition for the effective and
durable performance of their functions. Sometimes this was effected
by the aid of the turning-lathe and slide-rest. But in most cases
the object was attained by the dexterous use of the file, so that
"flat filing" then was, as it still is, one of the highest qualities
of the skilled workman. No one that I ever met with could go beyond
Henry Maudslay himself in his dexterous use of the file. By a few
masterly strokes he could produce plane surfaces so true that when
their accuracy was tested by a standard plane surface of absolute
truth, they were never found defective; neither convex, nor concave,
nor "cross-winding,"--that is, twisted.
The importance of having such Standard Planes caused him to have many
of them placed on the benches beside his workmen, by means of which
they might at once conveniently test their work. Three of each were
made at a time, so that by the mutual rubbing of each on each the
projecting surfaces were effaced. When the surfaces approached very
near to the true plane, the still projecting minute points were
carefully reduced by hard steel scrapers, until at last the standard
plane surface was secured. When placed over each other they would
float upon the thin stratum of air between them until dislodged by time
and pressure. When they adhered closely to each other, they could only
be separated by sliding each off each. This art of producing
absolutely plane surfaces is, I believe, a very old mechanical "dodge."
But, as employed by Maudslay's men, it greatly contributed to the
improvement of the work turned out. It was used for the surfaces of
slide valves, or wherever absolute true plane surfaces were essential
to the attainment of the best results, not only in the machinery turned
out, but in educating the taste of his men towards first-class
Maudslay's love of accuracy also led him to distrust the verdicts given
by the employment of the ordinary callipers and compasses in
determining the absolute or relative dimensions of the refined
mechanism which he delighted to construct with his own hands.
So much depended upon the manner in which the ordinary measuring
instruments were handled and applied that they sometimes failed to give
the required verdict as to accuracy. In order, therefore, to get rid
of all difficulties in this respect, he designed and constructed a very
compact and handy instrument which he always had on his bench beside
his vice. He could thus, in a most accurate and rapid manner, obtain
the most reliable evidence as to the relative dimensions, in length,
width, or diameter, of any work which he had in hand. In consequence
of the absolute truth of the verdicts of the instrument, he considered
it as a Court of Final Appeal, and humorously called it
"The Lord Chancellor."
[Image] Maudslay's "Lord Chancellor"
This trustworthy "Companion of the Bench" consisted of a very
substantial and inflexible bed or base of hard brass. At one end of it
was a perfectly hardened steel surface plate, having an absolutely true
flat or plane face, against which one end or side of the object to be
measured was placed; whilst a similar absolutely true plane surface of
hardened steel was advanced by means of a suitable fine thread screw,
until the object to be measured was just delicately in contact with it.
The object was, as it were, between the jaws of a vice, but without any
squeeze--being just free, which could be easily ascertained by
feeling. These two absolutely plane surfaces, between which the object
lay, had their distances apart easily read off from the scale engraved
on the bed of the instrument, in inches and tenth parts of an inch,
while the disk-head or handle of the screw was divided on its edge rim
into hundredth or thousandth parts, as these bore an exact metrical
relation to the pitch of the screw that moved the parallel steel faces
of the measuring vice (as I may term it) nearer or farther apart.
Not only absolute measure could be obtained by this means, but also the
amount of minute differences could be ascertained with a degree of
exactness that went quite beyond all the requirements of engineering
mechanism; such, for instance, as the thousandth part of an inch!
It might also have been divided so far as a millionth part of an inch,
but these infinitesimal fractions have really nothing to do with the
I may mention another saying of Mr. Maudslay's. Besides his
observation that "in going from London to Greenwich we must not go
round by Inverness," he said, "We must not become too complicated with
our machinery. Remember the get-at-ability of parts. If we go on as
some mechanics are doing, we shall soon be boiling our eggs with a
that comes forth from our workshops, and merely show the mastery we
possess over materials and mechanical forms. The original of this
measuring machine of Maudslay's was exhibited at the Loan Collection at
South Kensington in 1878. It is now treasured up, with other relics of
his handiwork, in a cabinet at the Lambeth works. While writing upon
this subject it may be worthy of remark, that the employment of a screw
as the means of adjusting the points or reference marks of a measuring
instrument, for the ascertainment of minute distances between objects,
was first effected by William Gascoigne, about the year 1648.
There can be no doubt that he was the inventor of the Micrometer--an
instrument that, when applied (as he first did so) to the eye-piece of
the Telescope, has been the means of advancing the science of astronomy
to its present high position (See Grant's History of Astronomy, p. 453)
I had abundant occupation for my leisure time after my regular
attendance at the factory was over. I had not only the opportunity of
studying mechanics, but of studying men. It is a great thing to know
the character of those who are over you as well as those who are under
you. It is also well to know the character of those who are associated
with you in your daily work. I became intimate with the foremen and
with many of the skilled workmen. From them I learnt a great deal.
Let me first speak of the men of science who occasionally frequented
Maudslay's private workshop. They often came to consult him on
subjects with which he was specially acquainted.
Among Mr. Maudslay's most frequent visitors were General Sir Samuel
Bentham, Mr. Barton, director of the Royal Mint, Mr. Bryan Donkin,
Mr. Faraday, and Mr. Chantrey, the sculptor. As Mr. Maudslay wished me
to be at hand to give him any necessary assistance, I had the
opportunity of listening to the conversation between him and these
distinguished visitors. Sir Samuel Bentham called very often.
He had been associated with Maudslay during the contrivance and
construction of the block machinery. He was brother of the celebrated
Jeremy Bentham, and he applied the same clear common-sense to
mechanical subjects which the other had done to legal, social,
and political questions. It was in the highest degree interesting and
instructive to hear these two great pioneers in the history and
application of mechanics discussing the events connected with the
block-making machinery. In fact, Maudslay's connection with the
subject had led to the development of most of our modern engineering
tools. They may since have been somewhat altered in arrangement,
but not in principle. Scarcely a week passed without a visit from the
General. He sat in the beautiful workshop, where he always seemed so
happy. It was a great treat to hear him and Maudslay "fight their
battles o'er again," in recounting the difficulties, both official and
mechanical, over which they had so gloriously triumphed.
At the time when I listened to their conversation, the great work in
hand was the organisation of a systematic series of experiments on the
hulls of steamships, with the view of determining the laws of
resistance on their being propelled through the sea by a power other
than those of winds and sails. The subject was as complex as it was
interesting and important. But it had to be put to the test of actual
experiment. This was done in the first place by large models of hulls,
so as to ascertain at what point the curves of least resistance could
be applied. Their practical correctness was tested by careful
experiment in passing them through water at various velocities,
to record which conditions special instruments were contrived and
executed. These, as well as the preparation of large models of hulls,
embodying the various improved "lines," occupied a considerable portion
of the time that I had the good fortune to spend in Mr. Maudslay's
Mr. Barton of the Royal Mint was quite a "crony" of Maudslay's.
He called upon him often with respect to the improvements for stamping
the current coin of the realm. Bryan Donkin was also associated with
Maudslay and Barton on the subject of the national standard of the yard
measure. But perhaps Mr. Chantrey was the most attractive visitor at
the private workshop. He had many a long interview with Maudslay with
respect to the planning and arranging of a small foundry at his studio,
by means of which he might cast his bronze statues under his own
superintendence. Mr. Maudslay entered con amore into the subject,
and placed his skill and experience entirely at Chantrey's service.
He constructed the requisite furnaces, cranes, and other apparatus,
at Chantrey's studio; and it may be enough to state that, when brought
into operation, they yielded the most satisfactory results.
Among my most intelligent private friends in London were George Cundell
and his two brothers. They resided near my lodgings, and I often
visited them on Saturday evenings. They were most kind, gentle,
and genial. The eldest brother was in Sir William Forbes's bank.
George was agent for Mr. Patrick Maxwell Stuart in connection with his
West India estates, and the third brother was his assistant.
The elder brother was an admirable performer on the violoncello, and he
treated us during these Saturday evenings with noble music from
Beethoven and Mozart. My special friend George was known amongst us as
"the worthy master." He was thoroughly versed in general science,
and was moreover a keen politician. He had the most happy faculty of
treating complex subjects, both in science and politics, in a
thoroughly common-sense manner. His two brothers had a fine feeling
for art, and, indeed, possessed no small skill as practical artists.
With companions such as these, gifted with a variety of tastes, I spent
many of my Saturday evenings most pleasantly and profitably. They were
generally concluded with a glass of beer of "the worthy master's" own
When the season of the year and the state of the weather were suitable
I often joined this happy fraternity in long and delightful Sunday
walks to various interesting places round London. Our walks included
Waltham Abbey, Waltham Cross, Eltham Palace, Hampton Court, Epping
Forest, and many other interesting places of resort. When the weather
was unfavourable my principal resort was Westminster Abbey, where,
besides the beautifully-conducted service and the noble anthems,
I could admire the glory of the architecture, and the venerable tombs,
under which lay the best and bravest. I used generally to sit at a
point from which I could see the grand tomb of Aylmer de Vallance with
its magnificent surroundings of quaint and glorious architecture.
It was solemn, and serious also, to think of the many generations who
had filled the abbey, and of the numbers of the dead who lay beneath
I was so great an admirer of Norman and Gothic architecture that there
was scarcely a specimen of it in London which I did not frequently
visit. One of the most interesting examples I found in the Norman
portion of St. Saviours Church, near London Bridge, through some of
it has since been destroyed by the so-called "restoration" in 1831.
The new work has been executed in the worst taste and feeling.
I also greatly admired the Norman chapel of the Tower, and some Norman
portions of the Church of St. Bartholomew the Less, near Smithfield.
No style of architecture that I have ever seen has so impressed me with
its intrinsic gravity, and I may say solemnity, as that of the Norman.
There is a serious earnestness in its grave simplicity that has a
peculiar influence upon the mind; and I have little doubt that this was
felt, and understood by those true architects who designed and built
the noble cathedrals at Durham and elsewhere. But there, as elsewhere,
some of our modern so-called "Architects" have made sad havoc with the
earliest and most impressive portions of those grand and truly
interesting remains, by their "Restorations", as they term it--but
which I call Defamations.
CHAPTER 9. Holiday in the Manufacturing Districts.
In the autumn of 1830 Mr. Maudslay went to Berlin for the purpose of
superintending the erection of machinery at the Royal Mint there.
He intended to be absent from London for about a month; and he kindly
permitted me to take my holiday during that period.
I had been greatly interested by the descriptions in the newspapers of
the locomotive competition at Rainhill, near Liverpool. I was,
therefore, exceedingly anxious to see Stephenson's "Rocket," the engine
that had won the prize. Taking with me letters of introduction from
Mr. Maudslay to persons of influence at Liverpool, I left London for
the north on the afternoon of Saturday the 9th of September 1830.
I took my place on the outside of the Liverpool coach, which set out
from "The Swan with Two Necks," in Lad Lane, City, one of the most
celebrated coach-offices in those days
The first part of the journey to Liverpool was very dismal.
The night was wet. The rain came pouring down, and no sort of
wrappings could keep it out. The outside passengers became thoroughly
soaked. On we went, however, as fast as four horses could carry us.
Next morning we reached Coventry, when the clouds cleared away,
and the sun at last burst forth. I could now enjoy this charming part
of old England. Although I had only a hasty glimpse in passing of the
quaint streets and ancient buildings of the town I was perfectly
delighted with the specimens of ancient domestic architecture which
I saw. At that time Coventry was quite a museum of that interesting
class of buildings. The greater part of them have since been swept away
in the so-called improvement of modern builders, none of whose works
can ever so attract an artistic eye.
During the rest of the day the journey was delightful. Though the
inside passengers had had the best of it during the night, the outside
passengers had the best of it now. To go scampering across the country
on the top of the coach, passing old villages, gentlemen's parks, under
old trees, along hedges tinged with autumn tints, up hill and down
dale, sometimes getting off the coach to lighten the load, and walking
along through the fields by a short cut to meet it farther on; all this
was most enjoyable. It gave me a new interest in the happier aspects
of English scenery, and of rural and domestic life in the pretty
old-fashioned farm buildings that we passed on our way. Indeed, there
was everything to delight the eye of the lover of the picturesque
during the course of that bright autumnal day.
The coach reached Liverpool on Sunday night. I took up my quarters at
a commercial inn in Dale Street, where I found every comfort which
I desired at moderate charges. Next morning, without loss of time,
I made my way to the then terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester
Railway; and there, for the first time, I saw the famous "Rocket"
The interest with which I beheld this distinguished and celebrated
engine was much enhanced by seeing it make several short trial trips
under the personal management of George Stephenson, who acted as
engineman, while his son Robert acted as stoker. During their trips of
four or five miles along the line the "Rocket" attained the speed of
thirty miles an hour--a speed then thought almost incredible! It was
to me a most memorable and interesting sight, especially to see the
father and son so appropriately engaged in working the engine that was
to effect so great a change in the communications of the civilised
world. I spent the entire day in watching the trial trips,
in examining the railway works, and such portions of of their details
as I could obtain access to. About mid-day the "Rocket" was at rest
for about an hour near where I stood; and I eagerly availed myself of
the opportunity of making a careful sketch of the engine, which I still
The line was opened on the 15th of September, when the famous "Rocket"
led the way in conducting the first train of passengers from Liverpool
to Manchester. There were present on that occasion thousands of
spectators, many of whom had come from distant parts of the kingdom to
witness this greatest of all events in the history of railway locomotion.
During my stay in Liverpool I visited the vast range of magnificent
docks which extend along the north bank of the Mersey, all of which
were crowded with noble merchant ships, some taking in cargoes of
British manufactures, and others discharging immense stores of cotton,
sugar, tobacco, and foreign produce. The sight was most interesting,
and gave me an impressive idea of the mighty functions of a
manufacturing nation--energy and intelligence, working through
machinery, increasing the value of raw materials and enabling them to
be transported for use to all parts of the civilised world.
Mr. Maudslay having given me a letter of introduction to his old friend
William Fawcett, head of the firm of Fawcett, Preston, and Company,
engineers, I went over their factory. They were engaged in producing
sugar mills for the West Indies, and also in manufacturing the
steam-engines for working them. The firm had acquired great reputation
for their workmanship; and their shops were crowded with excellent
specimens of their skill. Everything was in good order;
their assortment of machine tools was admirable. Mr. Fawcett, who
accompanied me, was full in his praises of my master, whom he regarded
as the greatest pioneer in the substitution of the unerring accuracy of
machine tools for the often untrustworthy results of mere manual
I cannot resist referring to the personal appearance and manner of this
excellent gentleman, William Fawcett. His peculiar courteous manner,
both in speech and action, reminded me of the "grand old Style"
Which I had observed in some of my father's oldest noble employers,
and the representations given of them by some of our best actors.
There was also a dignified kindliness about his manner that was quite
peculiar to himself; and when he conducted me through his busy
workshops, the courtly yet kindly manner in which he addressed his
various foremen and others, was especially cheering. When I first
presented my letter of introduction from Henry Maudslay, he was sitting
at a beautiful inlaid escritoire table with his letters arrayed before
him in the most neat and perfect order. The writing table stood on a
small Turkey carpet apart from the clerks' desks in the room, but so
near to them that he could readily communicate with them. His neat
old-fashioned style of dress quite harmonised with his advanced age,
and the kindly yet dignified grace of his manner left a lasting
impression on me as a most interesting specimen of "the fine old
English gentleman, quite of the olden time."
I spent another day in crossing the Mersey to Birkenhead--then a very
small collection of buildings--wandered about the neighbourhood.
I had my sketch-book with me, and made a drawing of Liverpool from the
other side of the river. Close to Birkenhead were some excellent bits
of scenery, old and picturesque farmhouses, overshadowed with venerable
oaks, with juttings-out of the New Red Sandstone rocks, covered with
heather, furze, and broom, with pools of water edged with all manner of
effective water plants. They formed capital subjects for the artistic
pencil, especially when distant peeps of the Welsh hills came into the
prospect. I made several sketches, and they kept company with my
graphic memoranda of architectural and mechanical objects. I may here
mention that on my return to London I showed them to my brother
Patrick, and some of them so much met his fancy that he borrowed my
sketch-book and painted some pictures from them, which at this day are
hanging on the walls of some of his admirers.
With the desire of seeing as much as possible of all that was
interesting in the mechanical, architectural and picturesque line,
on my return journey to London, I determined to walk, halting here and
there by the way. The season of the year and the state of the weather
were favourable for my purpose. I accordingly commenced my pedestrian
tour on Saturday morning, the 17th September. I set out for Manchester.
It was a long but pleasant walk. I well remember, when nearing
Manchester, that I sat down to rest for a time on Patricroft Bridge.
I was attracted by the rural aspect of the country, and the antique
cottages of the neighbourhood. The Bridgewater Canal lay before me,
and as I was told that it was the first mile of the waterway that the
great Duke had made, it became quite classic ground in my eyes.
I little thought at the time that I was so close to a piece of ground
that should afterwards become my own, and where I should for twenty
years carry on the most active and interesting business of my life.
I reached Manchester at seven in the evening, and took up my quarters
at the King's Arms Inn, Deansgate. Next day was Sunday. I attended
service in the Cathedral, then called the Old Church. I was much
interested by the service, as well as by the architecture of the
building. Some of the details were well worthy of attention, being
very original, and yet the whole was not of the best period of Gothic
architecture. Some of the old buildings about the Cathedral were very
interesting. They were of a most quaint character, yet bold and
effective. Much finely carved oak timber work was introduced into
them; and on the whole they gave a very striking illustration of the
style of domestic architecture which prevailed in England some three or
four centuries ago.
On the following day I called upon Mr. Edward Tootal, of York Street.
He was a well-known man in Manchester.
I had the happiness of meeting him in London a few months before.
He then kindly invited me to call upon him should I ever visit
Manchester, when he would endeavour to obtain for me sight of some of
the most remarkable manufacturing establishments. Mr. Tootal was as
good as his word. He received me most cordially, and at once proceeded
to take me to the extensive machine factory of Messrs. Sharp, Roberts,
and Co. I found to my delight that a considerable portion of the
establishment was devoted to the production of machine tools,
a department of mechanical business then rising into the highest
importance. Mr. Roberts, an admirable mechanic as well as inventor,
had derived many of his ideas on the subject while working with
Mr. Maudslay in London, and he had carried them out with many additions
and improvements of his own contrivance. Indeed, Roberts was one of
the most capable men of his time, and is entitled to be regarded as one
of the true pioneers of modern mechanical mechanism.
Through the kindness of Mr. Tootal I had also the opportunity of
visiting and inspecting some of the most extensive cotton mills in
Manchester. I was greatly pleased with the beautiful contrivances
displayed in the machinery. They were perfect examples of the highest
order of ingenuity, combined with that kind of common-sense which casts
aside all mere traditional forms and arrangements of parts, such as do
not essentially contribute to the efficiency of the machine in the
performance of its special and required purpose. I found much to
admire in the design as well as in the execution of the details of the
The arrangement and management of the manufactories were admirable.
The whole of the buildings, howsoever extensive and apparently
complicated, worked like one grand and perfectly constructed machine.
I was also much impressed by the keen interest which the proprietors of
these vast establishments took in the minute details of their
machinery, as well as by their intelligent and practical acquaintance
with the technical minutiae of their business. Although many of them
were men of fortune, they continued to take as deep an interest in such
matters as if they were beginning life and had their fortunes still to
make. Their chief ambition was to be at the head of a thoroughly
well-managed and prosperous establishment. No detail, be it ever so
small, was beneath their care and attention. To a young man like
myself, then about to enter upon a similar career of industry, these
lessons were very important. They were encouraging examples of
carefully thought out designs, carried into admirable results by close
attention to details, ever watchful carefulness, and indomitable
perseverance. I brooded over these circumstances, They filled my mind
with hope. They encouraged me to go on in the path which I had
selected; and I believed that at some time or other I might be enabled
to imitate the examples of zeal and industry which I had witnessed
during my stay in Manchester. It was then that I bethought me of
settling down in this busy neighbourhood; and as I plodded my way back
to London this thought continually occupied me. It took root in my mind
and grew, and at length the idea became a reality.
I did not take the shortest route on my return journey to London.
I desired to pass through the most interesting and picturesque places
without unduly diverging from the right direction. I wished to see the
venerable buildings and cathedrals of the olden time, as well as the
engineering establishments of the new. Notwithstanding my love for
mechanics I still retained a spice of the antiquarian feeling.
It enabled me to look back to the remote past, into the material
records of man's efforts hundreds of years ago, and contrast them with
the modern progress of arts and sciences. I was especially interested
in the architecture of bygone ages; but here, alas! arts and sciences
have done nothing. Modern Gothic architecture is merely an imitation
of the old, and often a very bad imitation. Even ancient domestic
architecture is much superior to the modern. We can now only imitate
it; and often spoil when imitating.
I left Manchester and turned my steps in the direction of Coalbrookdale.
I passed through a highly picturesque country, in which I enjoyed the
sight of many old timber houses, most attractive subjects for my pencil.
My route lay through Whitchurch, Wem, and Wellington; then past the
Wrekin to Coalbrookdale. Before arriving there I saw the first iron
bridge constructed in England, an object of historical interest in that
class of structures. It was because of the superb quality of the
castings produced at Coalbrookdale that the ironmasters there were able
to accomplish the building of a bridge of that material, which before
had baffled all projectors both at home and abroad
I possessed a letter of introduction to the manager, and was received
by him most cordially. He permitted me to examine the works.
I was greatly interested at the sight of the processes of casting.
Many beautiful objects were turned out for architectural, domestic,
and other purposes. I saw nothing particularly novel, however, in the
methods and processes of moulding and casting.
The excellence of the work depended for the most part upon the great
care and skill exercised by the workmen of the foundry. They seemed to
vie with each other in turning out the best castings, and their models
or patterns were made with the utmost care. I was particularly
impressed with the cheerful zeal and activity of the workmen and
foremen of this justly celebrated establishment.
On leaving Coalbrookdale I trudged my way towards Wolverhampton.
I rested at Shiffnal for the night. Next day I was in the middle of
the Black Country. I had no letters of introduction to employers in
Wolverhampton; so that, without stopping there, I proceeded at once to
Dudley. The Black Country is anything but picturesque. The earth
seems to have been turned inside out. Its entrails are strewn about;
nearly the entire surface of the ground is covered with cinder-heaps
and mounds of scoriae. The coal which has been drawn from below ground
is blazing on the surface. The district is crowded with iron furnaces,
puddling furnaces, and coal-pit engine furnaces. By day and by night
the country is glowing with fire, and the smoke of the ironworks hovers
over it. There is a rumbling and clanking of iron forges and rolling
mills. Workmen covered with smut, and with fierce white eyes, are seen
moving about amongst the glowing iron and the dull thud of forge-hammers.
Amidst these flaming, smoky, clanging works, I beheld the remains of
what had once been happy farmhouses, now ruined and deserted.
The ground underneath them had sunk by the working out of the coal,
and they were falling to pieces. They had in former times been
surrounded by clumps of trees; but only the skeletons of them remained,
dead, black, and leafless. The grass had been parched and killed by
the vapours of sulphurous acid thrown out by the chimneys; and every
herbaceous object was of a ghastly gray--the emblem of vegetable
death in its saddest aspect. Vulcan had driven out Ceres. In some
places I heard a sort of chirruping sound, as of some forlorn bird
haunting the ruins of the old farmsteads. But no! the chirrup was a
vile delusion. It proceeded from the shrill creaking of the
coal-winding chains, which were placed in small tunnels beneath the
I went into some of the forges to see the workmen at their labours.
There was no need of introduction; the works were open to all, for they
were unsurrounded by walls. I saw the white-hot iron run out from the
furnace; I saw it spun, as it were, into bars and iron ribbands, with
an ease and rapidity which seemed marvellous. There were also the
ponderous hammers and clanking rolling-mills. I wandered from one to
another without restraint. I lingered among the blast furnaces, seeing
the flood of molten iron run out from time to time, and remained there
until it was late. When it became dark the scene was still more
impressive. The workmen within seemed to be running about amidst the
flames as in a pandemonium; while around and outside the horizon was a
glowing belt of fire, making even the stars look pale and feeble.
At last I came away with reluctance, and made my way towards Dudley.
I reached the town at a late hour. I was exhausted in mind and body,
yet the day had been most interesting and exciting. A sound sleep
refreshed me, and I was up in the morning early, to recommence my
journey of inquiry,
I made my way to the impressive ruins of Dudley Castle, the remnant of
a very ancient stronghold, originally built by Dud, the Saxon.
The castle is situated on a finely wooded hill; it is so extensive that
it more resembles the ruins of a town than of a single building.
You enter through a treble gateway, and see the remnants of the moat,
the court, and the keep. Here are the central hall, the guard, rooms,
and the chapel. It must have been a magnificent structure. In the
Midlands it was known as the "Castle of the Woods" Now it is abandoned
by its owners, and surrounded by the Black Country. It is undermined
by collieries, and even penetrated by a canal. The castle walls
sometimes tremble when a blast occurs in the bowels of the mountain
beneath. The town of Dudley lies quite close to the castle, and was
doubtless protected by it in ancient times.
The architectural remains are of various degrees of antiquity, and are
well worthy of study, as embodying the successive periods which they
represent. Their melancholy grandeur is rendered all the more
impressive by the coal and iron works with which they are surrounded--
the olden type of buildings confronting the modern. The venerable
trees struggle for existence under the destroying influence of
sulphurous acid; while the grass is withered and the vegetation
everywhere blighted. I sat down on an elevated part of the ruins,
and looked down upon the extensive district, with its roaring and
blazing furnaces, the smoke of which blackened the country as far as
the eye could reach; and as I watched the decaying trees I thought of
the price we had to pay for our vaunted supremacy in the manufacture of
iron. We may fill our purses, but we pay a heavy price for it in the
loss of picturesqueness and beauty. I left the castle with reluctance,
and proceeded to inspect the limestone quarries in the neighbourhood.
The limestone has long been worked out from underneath the castle;
but not far from it is Wren's Nest Hill, a mountain of limestone.
The wrens have left, but the quarries are there. The walk to the hill
is along green lanes and over quiet fields. I entered one of the
quarries opened out in the sloping precipice, and penetrated as far as
the glimmer of sunlight enabled me to see my way. But the sound of the
dripping of water from the root of the cave warned me that I was
approaching some deep pool, into which a false step might plunge me.
I therefore kept within the light of day. An occasional ray of the sun
lit up the enormous rock pillars which the quarrymen had left to
support the roof. It was a most impressive sight.
Having emerged from the subterranean cave, I proceeded on my way to
Birmingham. I reached the town in the evening, and found most
comfortable quarters. On the following day I visited some of the
factories where processes were carried on in connection with the
Birmingham trade. I saw the mills where sheet brass and copper were
rolled for the purpose of being plated with silver. There was nothing
in these processes of novel interest, though I picked up many practical
hints. I could not fail to be attracted by the dexterous and rapid
manipulation of the work in hand, even by boys and girls whose quick
sight and nimble fingers were educated to a high degree of perfection.
I could have spent a month profitably among the vast variety of small
traders in metal, of which Birmingham is the headquarters.
Even in what is called "the toy trade," I found a vast amount of skill
displayed in the production of goldsmith work, in earrings, brooches,
gold chains, rings, beads, and glass eyes for stuffed birds, dolls, and
I was especially attracted by Soho, once the famous manufacturing
establishment of Boulton and Watt. Although this was not the
The birthplace of the condensing engine of Watt was the workshop in the
Glasgow University, where he first contrived and used a separate
condenser--the true and vital element in Watt's invention.
The condenser afterwards attained its true effective manhood at Soho
The Newcomen engine was in fact a condensing engine, but as the
condensation was effected inside the steam cylinder it was a very
costly source of power in respect to steam. Watt's happy idea of
condensing in a separate vessel removed the defect. This was first
done in his experimental engine in the Glasgow University workshop,
and before he had made the one at Kinniel for Dr. Roebuck.
of the condensing steam-engine it was the place where it attained its
full manhood of efficiency, and became the source and origin of English
manufacturing power. Watt's engine has had a greater influence on the
productive arts of mankind than any other that can be named. Boulton
also was a thorough man of business, without whom, perhaps, Watt could
never have made his way against the world, or perfected his magnificent
invention. Not less interesting to my mind was the memory of that
incomparable mechanic, William Murdoch, a man of indomitable energy,
and Watt's right-hand man in the highest practical sense. Murdoch was
the inventor of the first model locomotive, and the inventor of gas for
lighting purposes; and yet he always kept himself in the background,
for he was excessively modest. He was happiest when he could best
promote the welfare of the great house of Boulton and Watt. Indeed he
was a man whose memory ought to be held in the highest regard by all
true engineers and mechanics.
The sight which I obtained of the vast series of workshops of this
celebrated establishment--filled with evidences of the mechanical
genius of these master minds--made me feel that I was indeed on
classic ground in regard to everything connected with steam-engine
machinery. Some of the engines designed by Watt--the prototypes of
the powerful condensing engines of the present day--were still
performing their daily quota of work. There was "Old Bess,"
a sort of experimental engine, upon which Watt had tried many
adaptations and alterations, for the purpose of suiting it for pumping
water from coal mines. There was also the engine with the
sun-and-planet motion, an invention of William Murdoch's.
Both of these engines were still at work.
I went through the workshops, where I was specially interested by
seeing the action of the machine tools. There I observed Murdoch's
admirable system of transmitting power from one central engine to other
small vacuum engines attached to the individual machines they were set
to work. The power was communicated by pipes led from the central air
or exhaust pump to small vacuum or atmospheric engines devoted to the
driving of each separate machine, thus doing away with all shafting and
leather belts, the required speed being kept up or modified at pleasure
without in any way interfering with the other machines. --This vacuum
method of transmitting power dates from the time of Papin; but until it
received the masterly touch of Murdoch it remained a dead contrivance
for more than a century.
I concluded my visits to the workshops of Birmingham by calling upon a
little known but very ingenious man, whose work I had seen before
I left Edinburgh, in a beautifully constructed foot turning-lathe made
by John Drain. I was so much impressed with the exquisite design,
execution, and completeness of the lathe, that I made it one of my
chief objects to find out John Drain's workshop. It was with some
difficulty that I found him. He was little known in Birmingham.
His workshops were very small; they consisted of only one or two rooms.
His exquisite lathes were not much in demand. They found their way
chiefly to distant parts of the country, where they were highly
I found that he had some exquisitely finished lathes completed and in
hand for engraving the steel plates for printing bank notes. They were
provided with the means of producing such intricate ornamental patterns
as to defy the utmost skill of the forger. Perkins had done a good
deal in the same way; but Drain's exquisite mechanism enabled his
engraving lathes to surpass anything that had before been attempted in
the same line. I believe that Drain's earnest attention to his work,
in which he had little or no assistance, undermined his health,
and arrested the career of one who, had he lived, would have attained
the highest position in his profession. I shall never forget the rare
treat which his fine mechanism afforded me. Its prominent quality was
absolute truth and accuracy in every part.
Having now had enough of the Black Country and of Birmingham workshops,
I proceeded towards London. There were no more manufacturing districts
to be visited. Everything now was to be green lanes, majestic trees,
old mansions, venerable castles, and picturesque scenery. There is no
way of seeing a country properly except on foot. By railway you whiz
past and see nothing. Even by coach the best parts of the scenery are
unseen. "Shank's naig" is the best of all methods, provided you have
time. I had still some days to spare before the conclusion of my
holiday. I therefore desired to see some of the beautiful scenery and
objects of antiquarian interest before returning to work.
I made my way across country to Kenilworth. The weather was fine,
and the walk was perfect. The wayside was bordered by grassy sward.
Wide and irregular margins extended on each side of the road, and noble
trees and untrinnned hedges, in their glowing autumnal tint, extended
far and wide. Everything was in the most gloriously neglected and
therefore highly picturesque condition. Here and there old farmhouses
and labourers' cottages peeped up from amidst the trees and hedges--
worthy of the landscape painter's highest skill.
I reached Kenilworth about half an hour before sunset. I made my way
direct to the castle, glorious in its decay. The fine mellow glow of
the setting sun lit up the grand and extensive ruins. The massive
Norman keep stood up with melancholy dignity, and attracted my
attention more than any other part of the ruined building. To me there
is an impressiveness in the simple massive dignity of the Norman
castles and cathedrals, which no other buildings possess. There is an
expression of terrible earnestness about them. The last look I had of
the Norman keep was grand. The elevated part was richly tinted with
the last glow of the setting sun, while the outline of the buildings
beneath was shaded by a dark purply gray. It was indeed a sight never
to be forgotten. I waited until the sun had descended beneath the
horizon, still leaving its glimmer of pink and crimson and gray,
and then I betook me to the little inn in the village, where I obtained
comfortable quarters for the night. I visited the ruins again in the
morning. Although the glory of the previous evening had departed,
I was much interested in observing the various styles of architecture
adopted in different parts of the buildings--some old, some
comparatively new. I found the older more grand and massive, and the
newer, of the sixteenth century, wanting in dignity of design, and the
workmanship very inferior. The reign of Shoddy had already begun
before Cromwell laid the castle in ruins.
In the course of the day I proceeded to Warwick. I passed along the
same delightful grass-bordered roads, shaded by noble trees. I reached
the grand old town, with its antique buildings and its noble castle--
so famous in English history. Leaving the place with reluctance,
I left it late in the afternoon to trudge on to Oxford. But soon after
I started the rain began to fall. It was the first interruption to my
walking journey which I had encountered during my three weeks' absence
from London. As it appeared from the dark clouds overhead that a wet
night had set in, I took shelter in a wayside inn at a place called
Steeple Aston. My clothes were dripping wet; and after a glass of very
hot rum and water I went to bed, and had a sound sleep. Next morning
it was fair and bright. After a substantial homely breakfast I set out
again. Nature was refreshed by the steady rain of the previous night,
and the day was beautiful. I reached Deddington and stayed there for
the night, and early next morning I set out for Oxford.
I was greatly excited by the first sight I had of the crowd of towers
and spires of that learned and illustrious city. Nor were my
expectations at all disappointed by a nearer approach to the colleges
of Oxford. After a most interesting visit to the best of the
buildings, I took in a, fair idea of the admirable details of this
noble city, and left in the afternoon of next day. I visited, on my
way to Thame, the old church of Iffley. I was attracted to it by the
fine old Norman work it contains, which I found most quaint and
I slept at Thame for the night, and next day walked to Windsor.
I arrived there at sunset, and had a fine view of the exterior of the
castle and the surrounding buildings. I was, however, much
disappointed on examining the architectural details. In sight of the
noble trees about the castle, and the magnificent prospect from the
terrace, I saw much that tended to make up for the disgust I felt at
the way in which all that was so appropriate and characteristic in so
historic a place as Windsor Castle should have been tampered with and
rubbed out by the wretched conceit of the worst architects of our worst
I left Windsor next morning, and walked direct for London. My time was
up, but not my money. I had taken eight sovereigns on setting out from
London to Liverpool by coach, and I brought one sovereign back with me.
Rather than break into it I walked all the way from Windsor to London
without halting for refreshment my entire expenditure during my three
weeks' journey was thus seven pounds.
When I look back upon that tour, I feel that I was amply rewarded.
It was throughout delightful and instructive. The remembrance of it is
as clear in my mind now as if I had performed the journey last year
instead of fifty years ago. There are thousands of details that pass
before my mind's eye that would take a volume to enunerate. I brought
back a book full of sketches; for graphic memoranda are much better
fitted than written words to bring up a host of pleasant recollections
and associations. I came back refreshed for work, and possessed by an
anxious desire to press forward in the career of industry which I had
set before me to accomplish.
CHAPTER 10. Begin Business at Manchester
Mr. Maudslay arrived from Berlin two days after my return to London.
He, too, had enjoyed his holiday. During his stay in Berlin he had
made the friendship of the distinguished Humboldt. Shenkel,
the architect, had been very kind to him, and presented him with a set
of drawings and engravings of his great architectural works, which
Mr. Maudslay exhibited to me with much delight. What he most admired
in Shenkel was the great range of his talent in all matters of design,
his minute attention to detail, and his fine artistic feeling.
Soon after Mr. Maudslay's return, a very interesting job was brought to
him, in which he took even more than his usual interest. It was a
machine which his friend Mr. Barton, of the Royal Mint, had obtained
from France. It was intended to cut or engrave the steel dies used for
stamping coin. It was a remarkable and interesting specimen of
inventive ingenuity. It copied any object in relief which had been
cast in plaster of Paris or brass from the artist's original wax model.
The minutest detail was transferred to soft steel dies with absolute
accuracy. This remarkable machine could copy and cut steel dies either
in intaglio or in cameo of any size, and, in short, enabled the
mechanic who managed it to transfer the most minute and characteristic
touches of the original model to the steel dies for any variety of size
of coin. Nevertheless, the execution of some of the details of the
machine were so defective, that after giving the most tempting proof of
its capabilities at the Royal Mint, Mr. Barton found it absolutely
necessary to place it in Maudslay's hands, in order to have its details
thoroughly overhauled, and made as mechanically perfect as its design
and intention merited.
This interesting machine was accordingly brought to the private
workshop, and placed in the hands of the leading mechanic, whom I had
the pleasure of being associated with, James Sherriff, one of our most
skilled workmen. We were both put to our mettle. It was a job quite
to my taste, and being associated with so skilled a workman as
Sherriff, and in constant communication with Mr. Maudslay, I had every
opportunity of bringing my best manipulative ability into action and
use while perfecting this beautiful machine. It is sufficient to say
that by our united efforts, by the technical details suggested by
Mr. Maudslay and carried out by us, and by the practical trials made
under the superintendence of Mr. Wyon of the Mint, the apparatus was at
length made perfect and performed its duty to the satisfaction of every
Mr. Maudslay had next a pair of 200 horse-power marine engines put in
hand. His sons and partners were rather opposed to so expensive a
piece of work being undertaken without an order. At that time such a
power as 200 horse nominal was scarcely thought of; and the Admiralty
Board were very cautious in ordering marine engines of any sort.
Nevertheless, the engines were proceeded with and perfected.
They formed a noble object in the great erecting shop. They embodied
in every detail all Mr. Maudslay's latest improvements. In fact the
work was the sum total of the great master's inventions and adaptations
in marine engines. The Admiralty at last secured them for the purpose
of being placed in a very fine vessel, the Dee, then in course of
construction. Mr. Maudslay was so much pleased with the result that
he had a very beautiful model made of the engines; and finding that
I had some artistic skill as a draughtsman, he set me to work to make a
complete perspective drawing of their great engines as they stood all
perfect in the erecting-shop. This was a work entirely to my taste.
In due time I completed a graphic portrait of these noble engines,
treated, I hope, in an artistic spirit. Indeed, such a class of
drawing was rarely to be had from any engineering draughtsman.
Mere geometrical drawing could not give a proper idea, as a whole,
of so grand a piece of mechanism. It required something of the
artistic spirit to fairly represent it. At all events my performance
won the entire approval of my master.
Mr. Maudslay was a man of a wide range of mechanical abilities.
He was always ready to enter upon any new work requiring the exercise
of special skill. It did not matter whether it was machine tools,
engraving dies, block machinery, or astronomical instruments. While at
Berlin he went to see the Royal Observatory. He was naturally much
interested by the fine instruments there--the works of Repsoldt and
Hertz, the pioneers of improved astronomical workmanship.
The continental instrument makers were then far in advance of those of
England. Mr. Maudslay was greatly impressed with the sight of the fine
instruments in the Berlin Observatory. He was permitted to observe
some of the most striking and remarkable of the heavenly bodies--
Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon. It was almost a new revelation to him;
for the subject was entirely novel. To be able to make such
instruments seemed to him to be a glorious achievement of refined
mechanism and manipulative skill. He returned home full of the
wonderful sights he had seen. It was a constant source of pleasure to
him to dwell upon the splendour and magnificence of the heavenly bodies.
He became anxious to possess a powerful telescope of his own.
His principal difficulty was in procuring a lens of considerable
diameter, possessed of high perfection of defining power. I suggested
to him the employment of a reflecting telescope, by means of which the
difficulties connected with the employment of glass could be avoided.
This suggestion was based upon some knowledge I had acquired respecting
this department of refined mechanical art. I knew that the elder
Herschel had by this means vastly advanced our knowledge of the
heavenly bodies, indeed to an extent far beyond what had been achieved
by the most perfect of glass lens instruments. Mr. Maudslay was
interested in the idea I suggested; and he requested me to show him
what I knew of the art of compounding the alloy called speculum metal.
He wished to know how so brittle a material could be cast and ground
and polished, and kept free from flaws or defects of every kind.
I accordingly cast for him a speculum of 8 inches diameter. I ground
and polished it, and had it fitted up in a temporary manner to exhibit
its optical capabilities, which were really of no mean order. But, as
his ambition was to have a grand and powerful instrument of not less
than 24 inches diameter, the preparation for such a speculum became a
subject to him of the highest interest. He began to look out for a
proper position for his projected observatory. He made inquiry about a
residence at Norwood, where he thought his instrument might have fair
play. It would there be free from the smoke and disturbing elements of
such a place as Lambeth. His mind was full of this idea when he was
called away by the claims of affection to visit a dear old friend at
Boulogne. He remained there for more than a week, until assured of his
friend's convalescence. But on his return voyage across the Channel he
caught a severe cold. On reaching London he took to his bed and never
left it alive. After three or four weeks' suffering he died on the
14th of February 1831.
It was a very sad thing for me to lose my dear old master. He was so
good and so kind to me in all ways. He treated me like a friend and
companion. He was always generous, manly, and upright in his dealings
with everybody. How his workmen loved him; how his friends lamented
him! He directed, before his death, that he should be buried in
Woolwich Churchyard, where a cast iron tomb, made to his own design,
was erected over his remains. He had ever a warm heart for Woolwich,
where he had been born and brought up. He began his life as a mechanic
there, and worked his way steadily upwards until he reached the highest
point of his profession. He often returned to Woolwich after he had
left it; sometimes to pay a share of his week's wages to his mother,
while she lived; sometimes to revisit the scenery of his youth.
He liked the green common, with the soldiers about it; Shooter's Hill,
with its wide look-out over Kent and down the valley of the Thames;
the river busy with shipping; the Dockyard wharf, with the royal craft
loading and unloading their armaments. He liked the clangour of the
arsenal smithy, where he had first learned his art; and all the busy
industry of the place. It was natural, therefore, that being so proud
of his early connection with Woolwich he should wish his remains to be
laid there; and Woolwich, on its part, has equal reason to be proud of
After the death of my master I passed over to the service of his worthy
partner, Joshua Field. I had an equal pleasure in working under him.
His kindness in some degree mitigated the sad loss I had sustained by
the death of my lamented friend and employer. The first work I had to
perform for Mr. Field was to assist him in making the working drawings
of a 200 horse-power condensing steam-engine, ordered by the Lambeth
Waterworks Company. The practical acquaintance which I had by this
time acquired of the mechanism of steam-engines enabled me to serve
Mr. Field in a satisfactory manner. I drew out in full practical
detail the rough but excellent hand sketches with which he supplied me.
They were handed out for execution in the various parts of the factory;
and I communicated with the foremen as to the details and workmanship.
While I was occupied beside Mr. Field in making these working drawings,
he gave me many most valuable hints as to the designing of machinery in
general. In after years I had many opportunities of making good use of
them. One point he often impressed upon me. It was, he said, most
important to bear in mind the get-at-ability of parts--that is, when
any part of a machine was out of repair, it was requisite to get at it
easily without taking the machine to pieces. This may appear a very
simple remark, but the neglect of such an arrangement occasions a vast
amount of trouble, delay, and expense. None but those who have had to
do with the repair of worn-out or damaged parts of machinery can
adequately value the importance of this subject.
I found Mr. Field to be a most systematic man in all business affairs.
I may specially name one of his arrangements which I was quick to take
up and appreciate. I carried it out with great advantage in my after
life. It was, to record subjects of conversation by means of "graphic"
memoranda. Almost daily, persons of note came to consult with him
about machinery. On these occasions the consultations took place
either with reference to proposed new work, or as to the progress of
orders then in hand. Occasionally some novel scheme of applying power
was under discussion, or some new method of employing mechanism:
On ordinary occasions rough and rapid sketches are made on any stray
pieces of waste paper that were about, and after the conversation is
over the papers are swept away into the waste basket and destroyed.
And yet some of these rapid drawings involve matters of great interest
and importance for after consultations.
To avoid such losses, Mr. Field had always placed upon his table a