Part 4 out of 8
"talking book" or "graphic diary." When his visitors called and entered
into conversation with him about mechanical matters, he made rapid
sketches on the successive pages of the book, and entered the brief
particulars and date of the conversation, together with the name and
address of the visitor. So that a conversation, once begun, might
again be referred to, and, when the visitor called, the graphic
memoranda might be recalled without loss of time, and the consultation
again proceeded. The pages of Mr. Field's "talking books" were in many
ways most interesting. They contained data that, in future years,
supplied valuable evidence in respect to first suggestions of
mechanical contrivances, and which sometimes were developed into very
important results. I may add that Mr. Field kept these "talking books"
on a shelf in front of his drawing table. The back of each volume was
marked with the year to which the entries referred, and an index was
appended to each. A general index book was also placed at the end of
the goodly range of these graphic records of his professional life.
The completion of the working drawings of the Lambeth pumping engines
occupied me until August 1831. I had then arrived at my twenty-third
year. I had no intention of proceeding further as an assistant or a
journeyman. I intended to begin business for my self. Of course I
could only begin in a very small way. I informed Mr. Field of my
intention, and he was gratified with my decision. Not only so; but he
kindly permitted me to obtain castings of one of the best
turning-lathes in the workshops. I knew th at when I had fitted it up
it would become the parent of a vast progeny of descendants--not only
in the direct line, but in planing machines, screw-cutting lathes,
and many other minor tools.
At the end of the month, after taking a grateful farewell of Mr. Field
and his partners, I set sail for Leith with my stock of castings,
and reached Edinburgh in due time. In order to proceed with the
construction of my machine tools, I rented a small piece of land at Old
Broughton. It was at the rear of my worthy friend George Douglass's
small foundry, and was only about five minutes' walk from my father's
house. I erected a temporary workshop 24 feet long by 16 feet wide.
I removed thither my father's foot-lathe, to which I had previously
added an excellent slide-rest of my own making. I also added a
"slow motion," which enabled me to turn cast-iron and cast-steel
portions of my great Maudslay lathe. I soon had the latter complete
and in action. Its first child was a planing machine capable of
executing surfaces in the most perfect style--of 3 feet long by
1 foot 8 inches wide. Armed with these two most important and
generally useful tools, and by some special additions, such as boring
machines and drilling machines, I soon had a progeny of legitimate
descendants crowded about my little workshop, so that I often did not
know which way to turn.
[Image] My temporary workshop at Edinburgh
I had one labourer to drive the wheel which gave motion to my big
lathe; but I was very much in want of some one else to help me.
One day a young hearty fellow called upon me. He had come from the
Shotts Iron Company's Works in Edinburgh. Having heard of what I was
about, he offered his services. When he told me that he had been bred
as a millwright, and that he could handle the plane and the saw as well
as the chisel and the file, I closed with him at once. He was to have
fifteen shillings a week. I liked the young man very much--he was so
hearty and cheerful. His name was Archibald Torry, or " Archie," as he
was generally called during the twenty years that he remained in my
service I obtained another assistant in the person of a young man whose
father wished him to get an insight into practical engineering. I was
offered a premium of #50 for twelve months' experience in my workshop.
I arranged to take the young man, and to initiate him in the general
principles and practice of engineering. The #50 premium was a very
useful help to me, especially as I had engaged the millwright.
It enabled me to pay Torry's wages during the time that he remained
with me in Edinburgh. I found it necessary, however, to take in some
work in the regular way of business, in order to supply me with the
means of completing my proper supply of tools.
The chief of these extraneous and, I may say, disturbing jobs, was that
of constructing a rotary steam-engine. Mr. Robert Steen had contrived
and patented an engine of this sort. He was a dangerously enthusiastic
man, and entertained the most visionary ideas as to steam power.
He was of opinion that his own contrivance was more compact and simple,
and possessed of more capability of producing power from the
consumption of a given quantity of fuel, than the best steam-engines
then in use. I warned him of his error; but nothing but an actual
proof would satisfy him. He urgently requested me to execute his
order.He made me a liberal and tempting offer of weekly payments for my
work during the progress of his engine. He only required that I should
give his invention the benefit of my careful workmanship.
He considered that this would be sufficient to substantiate all his
enthusiastic expectations. I was thus seduced to accept his order.
I made the requisite drawings, and proceeded with the work. At the
same time my own machine tools were in progress, though at a retarded
pace. The weekly payments we're regularly made, and I was kept in a
sort of financial ease. After three months the rotary engine was
finished to the inventor's complete satisfaction. But when the power
it gave out was compared with that of a good ordinary steam-engine,
the verdict as to consumption of fuel was against the new rotary
engine. Nevertheless, the enthusiastic projector, "tho' vanquished he
would argue still," insisted that the merits of his contrivance would
sooner or later cause it to be a most formidable rival to the crank
steam-engines. As he was pleased with its performances, I had no
reason to be dissatisfied. I had done my part in the matter, and
Mr. Steen had done his. His punctual weekly payments had assisted me
in the completion of my tools; and after a few months more labour I had
everything ready for starting business on my own account.
My choice lay between Liverpool and Manchester. I had seen both of
these cities while on my visit to Lancashire to witness the opening of
the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. I now proceeded to visit them
again. I was fortified with valuable introductions to leading men in
both places. I was received by them with great kindness and
hospitality. I have heard a great deal about the ingratitude and
selfishness of the world. It may have been my good fortune, but I have
never experienced either of those unfeeling conditions. On the whole I
have found a great deal of unselfish kindness among my fellow-beings.
They have often turned out of their way to do me a service; and I can
never be too grateful for the unwearied kindness, civility, and
generosity of the friends I met with during my stay in Lancashire.
It was a question which would be the best place to settle in--
Liverpool or Manchester. I had seen striking evidences of the natural
aptitude of Lancashire workmen for every sort of mechanical employment,
and had observed their unsparing energy while at work. I compared them
with the workmen whom I had seen in London, and found them superior.
They were men of greater energy of character; their minds were more
capacious; their ingenuity was more inventive. I felt assured that in
either Liverpool or Manchester--the centres of commercial and
manipulative energy--I could settle down with my limited capital and
tools, and in course of time contrive to get on, helped by energy,
self-reliance, and determination. I also found that the demand for
machine-making tools was considerable, and that their production would
soon become an important department of business. It might be carried
on with little expenditure of capital, as the risks were small and the
returns were quick. I resolved to cultivate that moderate and safe
class of mechanical business, at all events at the outset.
I first went to Liverpool. I presented my letter of introduction to
Mr. Roscoe, head of the Mersey Steel and Iron Company. He received me
with great kindness, and gave me much good advice. I called upon
Edward Berry, engineer, and also upon William Fawcett, who had received
me with so much kindness on my former visit. I cannot omit mentioning
also the friendly reception which I received from Dr. Sillar.
He had been a medical student at Edinburgh, and had during that time
met with some kindness from my father. He expressed his remembrance of
it with grateful effusion; and added his personal introduction, with
that of my letters, to some of the leading men in Liverpool. I may
mention that Dr. Sillar was the son of Burns's "Brother Poet" Davie,
to whom the well-known "Epistle" was addressed.
Among the other well-known men to whom I was introduced at Liverpool
was John Cragg, an intelligent and enterprising ironfounder. He was an
extensive manufacturer of the large sugar-boiling pans used in the West
Indies. He had also given his attention to the introduction of iron
into buildings of different sorts. Being a man of artistic taste he
had even introduced cast-iron into Gothic architecture. In order to
exhibit, in an impressive form, the uses of his favourite metal,
he erected at his own cost a very elegant church in the northern part
So far as I can recollect, the name of the church was St. James's.
It exhibited a very early introduction of iron as an important element
in architectural construction. Iron was afterwards largely introduced
into mills, mill gearing, and buildings generally.
Cast-iron was introduced, not only in the material parts of the
structure, but into the Gothic columns and Gothic tracery of the
windows, as well as into the lofty and elegant spire. Iron was also
employed in the external ornamental details, where delicate yet
effective decoration was desirable. The famous architect,
Edward Blore, was the designer of the church; and the whole details of
the building--of which cast-iron formed the principal material--
were executed to his entire satisfaction*
So far as I can recollect, the name of the church was St. James's.
It exhibited a very early introduction of iron as an important element
in architectural construction. Iron was afterwards largely introduced
into mills, mill gearing, and buildings generally.
My introduction to Mr. Cragg led to an acquaintance, and then to a
friendship. When the ice was broken which was very soon--he told me
that he was desirous of retiring from the more active part of his
business. Whether he liked my looks or not I do not know; but, quite
unexpectedly, he made me a very tempting offer to enter his works as
his successor. He had already amassed a fortune, and I might do the
same. I could only thank him most sincerely for his kindness.
But, on carefully thinking the matter over, I declined the proposal.
My principal reason was, that the special nature of his foundry work
did not quite harmonise with my desire to follow the more strictly
mechanical part of the iron business. Besides, I thought I had a
brighter prospect of success before me; though I knew that I had many
difficulties to contend against. Did I throw away my chances in
declining the liberal proposal of Mr. Cragg? The reader will be able
to judge from the following pages. But to the last*
Mr. Cragg died in 1853, aged 84.
I continued a most friendly intercourse with my intended patron, while
he on his part took an almost paternal interest in my progress.
After my visit to Liverpool I passed on to Manchester.
I was fortunate in having introductions to some of the leading men
there,--to John Kennedy, William Fairbairn, the Grant Brothers, and
lastly, to that most admirable man, Benjamin Hick, engineer, Bolton.
To narrate in detail all the instances of warm and hospitable
kindnesses which I received from men in Lancashire, even from the
outset of my career there, would fill a volume.
I first went to see my friend Edward Tootal, who had given me so kind
a reception in 1830. I was again cordially received; he now promised
to befriend me, which he did most effectually. I next visited John
Chippendale, of the firm of Thomson, Chippendale, and Company, calico
printers. I had met him at a friend's house in London, where he had
offered, if I ever visited Manchester, to introduce me to some of the
best men there. I accordingly called upon him at his counting-house.
It happened to be Tuesday, the market day, when all the heads of
manufacturing establishments in and round Manchester met together at
the Exchange between 12 and 1; and thus all were brought to a focus in
a very convenient manner.
Mr. Chippendale first introduced me to Mr. John Kennedy, one of
the most distinguished men in Manchester. I had a special letter
of introduction to him from Buchanan of Catrine, and his partner
Smith of Deanstone. I explained to him the object of my visit to
Manchester, and he cordially entered into my views. He left his
occupation at the time, and went with me to see a place which he
thought might be suitable for my workshop. The building was new at
hand--in Dale Street, Piccadilly. It had been used as a cotton mill,
but was abandoned by the owner in favour of more suitable and extensive
premises. It was now let out in flats for manufacturing purposes.
Power was supplied to each flat from a shaft connected with a large
mill up the street, the owner of which had power to spare. The flat
shown to me was 130 feet long by 27 feet wide, and the rent was only
#50 a year. I thought the premises very suitable, but I took a night
to sleep over it. I thanked Mr. Kennedy very much for his kindness,
and for the trouble which he had taken on behalf of an unknown
On this memorable day I had another introduction, through the kindness
of Mr. Chippendale, which proved of great service to me. It was to the
Messrs. Grant, the famous "Brothers Cheeryble" of Dickens. I was taken
to their counting-house in Cannon Street, where I was introduced to
Daniel Grant. Although business was at its full height, he gave me a
cordial reception. But, to save time, he invited me to come after the
Exchange was over and take "tiffin" with him at his hospitable mansion
in Mosely Street.
There, he said, I should meet some of the most enterprising men in
Lancashire. I was most happy, of course, to avail myself of his
invitation. I went thither accordingly, and the first thing that
Daniel did was to present me in the most cordial manner to "his noble
brother William," as he always affectionately called him. William was
the head of the firm, and he, too, gave me a warm and hearty welcome.
He asked me to sit beside him at the head of the table.
During dinner--for indeed it was such, being the survival of the
old-fashioned one o'clock dinner of a departing age--William entered
into conversation with me. He took occasion to inquire into the object
of my visit to Manchester. I told him, as briefly as I could,
that I intended to begin the business of a mechanical engineer on a
very moderate scale, and that I had been looking out for premises
wherein to commence operations. He seemed interested, and asked more
questions. I related to him my little history, and told him of my
desires, hopes, and aspirations. What was my age? "Twenty-six."
"That is a very young age at which to begin business on your own account"
"Yes; but I have plenty of work in me, and I am very economical."
Then he pressed his questions home. "But what is your capital?"
I told him that my capital in cash was #63. "What!" he said,
"that will do very little for you when Saturday nights come round."
"That's true," I answered; "but as there will be only myself and Archy
Torry to provide for, I think I can manage to get along very well until
profitable work comes in."
He whispered to me, "Keep your heart up!" With such views, he said,
I was sure to do well. And if, he added, on any Saturday night I
wanted money to pay wages or other expenses, I would find a credit for
#500 at 3 per cent at his office in Cannon Street, "and no security."
These were his very words. What could have been more generous?
I could only whisper my earnest thanks for his warm-hearted kindness.
He gave me a kindly squeeze of the hand in return, which set me in a
glow of gladness. He also gave me a sort of wink that I shall never
forget--a most knowing wink. In looking at me he seemed to turn his
eye round and brought his eyebrows down upon it in a sudden and
extraordinary manner. I thought it was a mere confirmation of his kind
advice to "keep my heart up!" It was not until two years after that
I found, from a mutual friend, that the eye in question was made of
glass! Sometimes the glass eye got slightly out of its place, and
Mr. Grant had to force it in again by this odd contortion of his
eyebrows, which I had translated into all manner of kind intentions.
As soon as the party broke up I went to Wren and Bennett, the agents
for the flat of the old mill which I had seen in Dale Street.
I inspected it again, and found that it was in all respects suitable
for my purpose. I may mention in passing that the flat below mine was
in the occupation of a glass-cutter, whose glass-cutting lathes and
grindstones were supplied with power from the same upright shaft that
was to serve me in the same manner on the flat above, Encouraged by the
support of William Grant, I immediately entered into a contract for the
premises as a yearly tenant. Nothing could have been more happily
arranged for my entering into business as a mechanical engineer and
machine tool maker. The situation of the premises was excellent, being
in the heart of Manchester There was a powerful crab crane, or hoisting
apparatus, in the upper story, and the main chains came down in front
of the wide door of my workshop, so that heavy castings or cases of
machinery might be lifted up or let down with the utmost case and
convenience. At the same time I was relieved from looking after the
moving power and its natural accompaniment of trouble and expense in
the way of fuel and attendance.
[Image] My factory flat at Manchester
When I had settled the contract for taking the place, I wrote down to
Edinburgh by that night's post to tell my father of the happy results
of my visit to Manchester, and also to inform my right hand man, Archy
Torry, that I should soon be with him. He was to prepare for packing
up my lathes, planing machines, drilling machines, and other smaller
tools, not forgetting my father's foot lathe, of which I had made such
I have still this foot-lathe in full and perfect and almost daily
action. I continue to work with it now, after sixty-three years of
almost constant use. It is a lathe that I duly prize and venerate, not
only because it was my father's, but also because it was, in practical
fact, the progenitor, more or less directly, of all the mechanical
productions of my long and active life.
I soon followed up my letter. I was in Edinburgh in a few days' time,
and had all my tools packed up. In the course of about ten days
I returned to Manchester, and was followed by Archy Torry and the
ponderous cases of machinery and engineer's tools. They were all duly
delivered, hoisted to my flat, and put in their proper places.
I was then ready for work.
The very first order I received was from my friend Edward Tootal.
It was a new metallic piston for the small steam-engine that gave
motion to his silk-winding machinery. It was necessary that it should
be done over night, in order that his factory should be at work as
usual in the morning.
My faithful Archy and I set to work accordingly. We removed the old
defective piston, and replaced it by a new and improved one, made
according to my own ideas of how so important a part of a steam-engine
should be constructed. We conveyed it to Mr. Tootal's factory over
night, and by five o'clock in the morning gave it a preliminary trial
to see that everything was in order. The "hands" came in at six,
and the machine was set to work. It was no doubt a very small order,
but the piston was executed perfectly and satisfactorily. The result
of its easier action, through reduced friction, was soon observable in
the smaller consumption of coal. Mr. Tootal and his brother were
highly pleased at my prompt and careful attention to their little
order, and it was the forerunner of better things to come.
Orders soon came in. My planing machine was soon fully occupied.
When not engaged in executing other work it was employed in planing the
flat cast-iron inking tables for printing machines. These were made in
considerable numbers by Messrs. Wren and Bennett (my landlords) under
the personal superintendence of Ebenezer Cowper, brother of the
inventor, who, in conjunction with Mr. Applegath, was the first to
produce a really effective newspaper printing machine. I had many
small subsidiary jobs sent to me to execute. They not only served to
keep my machine tools properly employed, but tended in the most
effective way to make my work known to some of the best firms in
Manchester, who in course of time became my employers.
In order to keep pace with the influx of work I had to take on fresh
hands. I established a smithy down in the cellar flat of the old mill
in Dale Street, so that all forge work in iron and steel might be
promptly and economically produced on the premises. There was a small
iron foundry belonging to a Mr. Heath, about three minutes walk from my
workshop, where I had all my castings of iron and brass done with
promptness, and of excellent quality. Mr. Heath very much wanted a
more powerful steam-engine to drive his cupola blowing fan. I had made
a steam-engine in Edinburgh and brought it with me. There it lay in my
workshop, where it remained unused, for I was sufficiently supplied
with power from the rotating shaft. Mr. Heath offered to buy it.
The engine was accordingly removed to his iron foundry, and I received
my full quota of value in castings.
Week by week my orders grew, and the flat of the old mill soon assumed
a very busy aspect. By occasionally adding to the number of my lathes,
drilling machines, and other engineers' tools, I attracted the
attention of employers. When seen in action they not only facilitated
and economised the production of my own work, but became my best
advertisements. Each new tool that I constructed had some feature of
novelty about it. I always endeavoured after greater simplicity and
perfectness of workmanship. I was punctual in all my engagements.
The business proved safe and profitable. The returns were quick.
Sometimes one-third of the money was paid in advance on receipt of the
order, and the balance was paid on delivery at my own premises.
All risk of bad debts was avoided. Thus I was enabled to carry on my
business with a very moderate amount of capital.
My crowded workshop and the active scene it presented, together with
the satisfaction my work gave to my employers, induced several persons
to offer to enter into partnership with me. Sometimes it was on their
own account, or for a son or relation for whom they desired an opening.
But I fought shy of such proposals. It was a very riskful affair to
admit as partners young men whose character for ability might be very
doubtful. I was therefore satisfied to go on as before. Besides, I had
the kind and disinterested offer of the Brothers Grant, which was
always available, though, indeed, I did not need to make use of it.
I had also the good fortune to be honoured by the friendship of Edward
Lloyd, the head of the firm of Jones, Lloyd, and Co. I had some
moderate financial transactions with the bank. Mr. Lloyd had,
no doubt, heard something of my industry and economy. I never asked
him for any accommodation; but on one occasion he invited me into his
parlour, not to sweat me, but to give me some most kindly hints and
advice as to the conduct of my financial affairs. He volunteered an
offer which I could not but feel proud of. He said that I should have
a credit of #1000 at my service, at the usual bank rate. He added,
"As soon as you can, lay by a little capital of your own, and baste it
with its own gravy!" A receipt which I have carefully followed through
life, and I am thankful to say with satisfactory results.
Before I conclude this chapter, let me add something more about my kind
friends the Brothers Grant. It is well that their history should be
remembered, as the men who personally knew them will soon be all dead.
The three brothers, William, Daniel, and John Grant, were the sons of a
herdsman or cattle-dealer, whose occupation consisted in driving cattle
from the far north of Scotland to the rich pastures of Cheshire and
Lancashire. The father was generally accompanied by his three sons,
who marched barefoot, as was the custom of the north country lads in
those days. Being shrewd fellows, they observed with interest the
thriving looks and well-fed condition of the Lancashire folks.
They were attracted by the print works and cotton mills which lay by
the Irwell, as it crept along in its bright and rural valley towards
Manchester. When passing the works of Sir Robert Peel at Nuttal, near
Bury, they admired the beauty of the situation. The thought possessed
them that they would like to obtain some employment in the neighbourhood.
They went together in search of a situation. It is said that when they
reached the crown of the hill near Walmsley, from which a beautiful
prospect is to be seen, they were in doubt as to the line of road which
they should pursue. To decide their course, a stick was put up,
and they agreed to follow the direction in which it should fall.
The stick fell in the direction of Ramsbottom, then a little village in
the bottom of the valley, on the river Irwell. There they went,
and found employment.
They were thrifty, economical, and hard-working; and they soon saved
money. Their savings became capital, and they invested it in a little
print work. Their capital grew, and they went on investing it in print
works and cotton mills.
They became great capitalists and manufacturers; and by their industry,
ability, and integrity, were regarded as among the best men in
Lancashire. As a memorial of the event which enabled them to take up
their happy home at Ramsbottom, they caused to be erected at the top of
Walmsley Hill a lofty tower, overlooking the valley, as a kind of
public thank-offering for the prosperity and success which they had
achieved in their new home. Their well-directed diligence made the
valley teem with industry, activity, health, joy, and opulence.
They never forgot the working class from which they had sprung, and as
their labours had contributed to their wealth, they spared no expense
in providing for the moral, intellectual, and physical interests of
their work-people. Whenever a worthy object was to be achieved,
the Brothers Grant were always ready with their hearty and substantial
help. They contributed to found schools, churches, and public buildings,
and many a deserving man did they aid with their magnanimous bounty.
I may also mention that they never forgot their first impression of the
splendid position of the first Sir Robert Peel's works at Nuttal.
In course of time Sir Robert had, by his skill and enterprise, acquired
a large fortune, and desired to retire from business. By this time the
Grant Brothers had succeeded so well that they were enabled to purchase
the whole of his works and property in the neighbourhood.
They proceeded to introduce every improvement in the way of machinery
and calico printing, and thus greatly added to the quality of their
productions. Their name became associated with everything that was
admirable. They abounded in hospitality and generosity.
In the course of many long years of industry, enterprise, and benevolence,
they earned the goodwill of thousands, the gratitude of many, and the
respect of all who knew them. I was only one of many who had cause to
remember them with gratefulness. How could I acknowledge their
kindness? There was one way; it was a very small way, but I will
relate it. Soon after my introduction to the Grants, and before I had
brought my tools to Manchester, William invited me to join a gathering
of his friends at Ramsbottom. The church built at his cost had just
been finished, and it was to be opened with great eclat on the
following Sunday. He asked me to be his guest, and I accepted his
invitation with pleasure. As it was a very fine day at the end of May,
I walked out to Ramsbottom, and enjoyed the scenery of the district.
Here was the scene of the Grant Brothers' industry and prosperity.
I met many enterprising and intelligent men, to whom William Grant
introduced me. I was greatly pleased with the ceremonies connected
with the opening of the church.
On the Monday morning William Grant, having seen some specimens of my
father's artistic skill as a landscape painter, requested me to convey
to him his desire that he should paint two pictures--one of Castle
Grant, the residence of the chief of the Clan Grant, and the other of
Elgin Cathedral. These places were intimately associated with his
early recollections, The brothers had been born in the village
adjoining Castle Grant; and Elgin Cathedral was one of the principal
old buildings of the north. My father replied, saying that he would be
delighted to execute the pictures for a gentleman who had given me so
kindly a reception, but that he had no authentic data--no drawings,
no engravings--from which to paint them; and that he was now too old
to visit the places. I therefore resolved to do what I could to help
him to paint the pictures.
As it was necessary that I should go to London before returning to
Edinburgh to pack up my machine tools there, I went thither, and after
doing my business, I embarked for Dundee by the usual steamer.
I made my way from there, via Perth and Dunkeld, to Inverness, and from
thence I proceeded to Elgin. I made most careful drawings of the
remains of that noble cathedral. I endeavoured to include all that was
most beautiful in the building and its surrounding scenery.
I then went on to Castle Grant, through a picturesque and romantic
country. I found the castle amidst its deep forests of pine, larch,
elm, and chestnut. The building consists of a high quadrangular pile
of many stories, projecting backwards at each end, and pierced with
windows of all shapes and sizes. I did my best to carry away a graphic
sketch of the old castle and its surroundings: and then, with my stock
of drawings, I prepared to return to Inverness on foot. The scenery
was grand and beautiful. The weather was fine, although after mid-day
it became very hot. A thunder storm was evidently approaching.
The sun was obscured by a thunder-cloud; the sky flashed with
lightning, and the rain began to pour down. I was then high up on a
wild looking moor, covered with heather and vast boulders.
[Image] An extemporised shower-bath
There was no shelter to be had, for not a house was in sight.
I did not so much mind for my clothes, but I feared very much for my
sketches. Taking advantage of the solitude, I stripped myself, put my
sketches under my clothes, and thrust them into a hollow underneath a
huge boulder. I sat myself down on the top of it, and there I had a
magnificent shower-bath of warm rain. I never enjoyed a bath under
such romantic circumstances. The thunder-clouds soon passed over my
head, and the sun broke out again cheerily. When the rain had ceased
I took out my clothes and drawings from the hollow, and found them
perfectly dry. I set out again on my long walk to Inverness;
and reached it just in time to catch the Caledonian Canal steamer.
While passing down Loch Ness I visited the romantic Fail of Foyers;
then through Loch Lochy, past Ben Nevis to Loch Linnhe, Oban, and the
Kyles of Bute, to Glasgow, and from thence to Edinburgh.
I had the pleasure of placing in my father's hands the sketches I had
made. He was greatly delighted with them. They enabled him to set to
work with his usual zeal, and in the course of a short time he was able
to execute, con amore, the commission of the Brothers Grant. So soon
as I had completed my sketches I wrote to Daniel Grant and informed him
of the result of my journey. He afterwards expressed himself most
warmly as to my prompt zeal in obtaining for him authentic pictures of
places so dear to the brothers, and so much associated with their
earliest and most cherished recollections.
I have already referred to the Brothers Cowper. They were among my
most attached friends at Manchester. Many of my most pleasant
associations are connected with them. Edward Cowper was one of the
most successful mechanics in bringing the printing machine to a state
of practical utility. He was afterwards connected with Mr. Applegath
of London, the mechanical engineer of the Times newspaper*
Mr. Koeig's machines, first used at the Times office, were patented in
1814. They were too complicated and expensive, and the inking was too
imperfect for general adoption. They were superseded by Mr. Edward
Cowper's machine, which he invented and patented in 1816.
He afterwards added the inking roller and table to the common press.
The effect of Mr. Cowper's invention was to improve the quality and
speed of printing, and to render literature accessible to millions of
he invented for the proprietors a machine that threw off from 4500 to
5000 impressions in the hour.
In course of time the Brothers Cowper removed the manufacture of their
printing machines from London ,to Manchester. There they found skilled
and energetic workmen, ready to carry their plans into effect.
They secured excellent premises, supplied with the best modern machine
tools, in the buildings of Wren and Bennett, about two minutes' walk
from my workshop, which I rented from the same landlords.
I had much friendly intercourse with the Cowpers, especially with
Ebenezer the younger brother, who took up his residence at Manchester
for the purpose of specially superintending the manufacture of printing
machines. These were soon in large demand, not only for the printing
of books but of newspapers. One of the first booksellers who availed
himself of the benefits of the machine was Mr. Charles Knight,
who projected the Penny Magazine of 1832, and sold it to the extent of
about 180,000 copies weekly. It was also adopted by the Messrs.
Chambers of Edinburgh, and the proprietors of the Magasin Pittoresque
of Paris. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge also used Cowper's
machine in printing vast numbers of bibles and prayer-books, thereby
reducing their price to one-third of the former cost. There was
scarcely a newspaper of any importance in the country that was not
printed with a Cowper's machine.
As I possessed some self-acting tools that were specially suited to
execute some of the most refined and important parts of the printing
machine, the Messrs. Cowper transferred their execution to me. This
was a great advantage to both. They were relieved of the technical
workmanship; while I kept my men and machine tools fully employed at
times when they might otherwise have been standing idle.
Besides, I derived another advantage from my connection with the
Brothers Cowper, by having frequent orders to supply my small
steam-engines, which were found to be so suitable for giving motion to
the printing machines. At first the machines were turned by hand, and
very exhausting work it was; but the small steam-engine soon relieved
the labourer from his heavy work.
Edward frequently visited Manchester to arrange with his brother as to
the increasing manufacture of the printing machines, and also to
introduce such improvements in the minor details as the experience and
special requirements of the printing trade suggested. It was on these
occasions that I had the happy opportunity of becoming intimately
acquainted with him; and this resulted in a firm friendship which
continued until the close of his admirable life. The clear and
masterly way in which, by some happy special faculty, he could catch up
the essential principles and details of any mechanical combination,
however novel the subject might be, was remarkable; and the quaint and
humorous manner in which he treated all such subjects, in no small
degree caused his shrewd and intelligent remarks to take a lasting hold
of the memory.
On many occasions Edward Cowper gave Friday evening lectures on
technical subjects at the Royal Institution, London. Next to Faraday,
no one held the attention of a delighted audience in so charming a
manner as he did. Like Faraday, he possessed the power of clearly
unveiling his subject, and stripping it of all its complicated
perplexities. His illustrations were simple, clear, and understandable.
Technical words were avoided as much as possible. He threw the
ordinary run of lecturers far into the shade. Intelligent boys and
girls could understand him. Next to Faraday, no one filled the theatre
of the Institution with such eager and crowded audiences as he did.
His choice of subjects, as well as his masterly treatment, always
rendered his lectures instructive and attractive. He was one of the
most kind-hearted of men, and the cheerful way in which he laid aside
his ordinary business to give instruction and pleasure to others
endeared him to a very wide circle of devoted friends.
CHAPTER 11. Bridgewater Foundry--Partnership.
My business went on prosperously. I had plenty of orders, and did my
best to execute them satisfactorily. Shortly after the opening of the
Liverpool and Manchester Railway there was a largely increased demand
for machine-making tools. The success of that line led to the
construction of other lines, concentrating in Manchester;
and every branch of manufacture shared in the prosperity of the time.
There was a great demand for skilled, and even for unskilled labour.
The demand was greater than the supply. Employers were subjected to
exorbitant demands for increased rates of wages. The workmen struck,
and their wages were raised. But the results were not always
satisfactory. Except in the cases of the old skilled hands, the work
was executed more carelessly than before. The workmen attended less
regularly; and sometimes, when they ought to have been at work on
Monday mornings, they did not appear until Wednesday.
Their higher wages had been of no use to them, but the reverse.
Their time had been spent for the most part in two days' extra drinking.
The irregularity and carelessness of the workmen naturally proved very
annoying to the employers. But it gave an increased stimulus to the
demand for self-acting machine tools by which the untrustworthy efforts
of hand labour might be avoided. The machines never got drunk;
their hands never shook from excess; they were never absent from work;
they did not strike for wages; they were unfailing in their accuracy
and regularity, while producing the most delicate or ponderous portions
of mechanical structures.
It so happened that the demand for machine tools, consequent upon the
increasing difficulties with the workmen, took place at the time that I
began business in Manchester, and I had my fair share of the increased
demand. Most of my own machine tools were self-acting--planing
machines, slide lathes, drilling, boring, slotting machines, and so on.
When set up in my workshop they distinguished themselves by their
respective merits and efficiency. They were, in fact, their own best
advertisements. The consequence was that orders for similar machines
poured in upon me, and the floor of my flat became completely loaded
with the work in hand.
The tenant below me, it will be remembered, was a glass-cutter.
He observed, with alarm, the bits of plaster from the roof coming down
among his cut glasses and decanters. He thought that the rafters
overhead were giving way, and that the whole of my machinery and
engines would come tumbling down upon him some day and involve him in
ruin. He probably exaggerated the danger; still there was some cause
When the massive castings on my floor were moved about from one part to
another, the floor quivered and trembled under the pressure.
The glass-cutter complained to the landlord, and the landlord
expostulated with me. I did all that I could to equalise the pressure,
and prevent vibration as much as possible. But at length, in spite of
all my care, an accident occurred which compelled me to take measures
to remove my machinery to other premises. As this removal was followed
by consequences of much importance to myself, I must endeavour to state
the circumstances under which it occurred.
My kind friend, John Kennedy, continued to take the greatest interest
in my welfare. He called in upon me occasionally. He admired the
quality of my work, and the beauty of my self-acting machinery.
More than that, he recommended me to his friends. It was through his
influence that I obtained an order for a high-pressure steam-engine of
twenty horse-power to drive the machinery connected with a distillery
at Londonderry, in Ireland. I was afraid at first that I could not
undertake the job. The size of the engine was somewhat above the
height of my flat, and it would probably occupy too much space in my
already overcrowded workshop. At the same time I was most anxious not
to let such an order pass me. I wished to please my friend Mr. Kennedy;
besides, the execution of the engine might lead to further business.
At length, after consideration, I undertook to execute the order.
Instead of constructing the engine perpendicularly, I constructed it
lying upon its side. There was a little extra difficulty, but I
managed to complete it in the best style. It had next to be taken to
pieces for the purpose of being conveyed to Londonderry. It was then
that the accident happened. My men had the misfortune to allow the end
of the engine beam to crash through the floor! There was a terrible
scattering of lath and plaster and dust. The glass-cutter was in a
dreadful state. He rushed forthwith to the landlord, and called upon
him to come at once and judge for himself!
Mr. Wren did come, and did judge for himself. He looked in at the
glass shop, and saw the damage that had been done amongst the tumblers
and decanters. There was the hole in the roof, through which the end
of the engine beam had come and scattered the lath and plaster.
The landlord then came to me. The whole flat was filled with
machinery, including the steam-engine on its side, now being taken to
pieces for the purpose of shipment to Ireland. Mr. Wren, in the
kindest manner, begged me to remove from the premises as soon as I
could, otherwise the whole building might be brought to the ground with
the weight of my machinery. "Besides," he argued, "you must have more
convenient premises for your rapidly extending business." It was quite
true. I must leave the place and establish myself elsewhere.
The reader may remember that while on my journey on foot from Liverpool
to Manchester in 1830, I had rested myself for a little on the parapet
of the bridge overlooking the canal near Patricroft, and gazed
longingly upon a plot of land situated along the canal side.
On the afternoon of the day on which the engine beam crashed through
the glass-cutter's roof, I went out again to look at that favourite
piece of land. There it was, unoccupied, just as I had seen it some
years before. I went to it and took note of its dimensions.
It consisted of about six acres. It was covered with turf,
and as flat and neat as a bowling-green. It was bounded on one side by
the Bridgewater Canal, edged by a neat stone margin 1050 feet long,
on another side by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, while on a
third side it was bounded by a good road, accessible from all sides.
The plot was splendidly situated. I wondered that it had not been
secured before. It was evidently waiting for me!
I did not allow the grass to grow beneath my feet. That very night I
ascertained that the proprietor of this most beautiful plot was squire
Trafford, one of the largest landed proprietors in the district.
Next morning I proceeded to Trafford Hall for the purpose of
interviewing the Squire. He received me most cordially. After I had
stated my object in calling upon him, he said he would be exceedingly
pleased to have me for one of his tenants. He gave me a letter of
introduction to his agent, Mr. Thomas Lee, of Princes Street, Manchester,
with whom I was to arrange as to the terms. I was offered a lease of
the six acre plot for 999 years, at an annual rent of 1 3/4d per square
yard. This proposal was most favourable, as I obtained the advantage
of a fee-simple purchase without having to sink capital in the land.
All that I had to provide for was the annual rent.
My next step in this important affair was to submit the proposal to the
judgment of my excellent friend Edward Lloyd, the banker. He advised
me to close the matter as soon as possible, for he considered the terms
most favourable. He personally took me to his solicitors, Dennison,
Humphreys, and Cunliffe, and introduced me to them. Mr. Humphreys took
the matter in hand. We went together to Mr.Lee, and within a few days
the lease was signed and I was put into possession of the land upon
which the Bridgewater Foundry was afterwards erected.*
I called the place the Bridgewater Foundry as an appropriate and humble
tribute to the memory of the first great canal maker in Britain the
noble Duke of Bridgewater. My ground was on the first mile of the
Bridgewater Canal which the Duke had constructed under the
superintendence of Brindley, so that it might well be considered,
in an Engineering sense, "classic ground."
I may mention briefly the advantages of the site. The Bridgewater Canal,
which lay along one side of the foundry communicated with every
waterway and port in England whilst the railway alongside enabled a
communication to be kept up by rail with every part of the country.
The Worsley coal-boats came alongside the wharf, and a cheap and
abundant supply of fuel was thus insured. The railway station was near
at hand, and afforded every opportunity for travelling to and from the
works, while I was at the same time placed within twenty minutes of
Another important point has to be mentioned. A fine bed of brick-clay
lay below the surface of the ground, which supplied the material for
bricks. Thus the entire works may be truly said to have "risen out of
the ground;" for the whole of the buildings rested upon the land from
which the clay below was dug and burned into bricks. Then, below the
clay lay a bed of New Red Sandstone rock, which yielded a solid
foundation for any superstructure, however lofty or ponderous.
As soon as the preliminary arrangements for the lease of the six acre
plot had been made, I proceeded to make working drawings of a temporary
timber workshop; as I was anxious to unload the floor of my flat in
Dale Street, and to get as much of my machinery as possible speedily
removed to Patricroft. For the purpose of providing the temporary
accommodation, I went to Liverpool and purchased a number of logs of
New Brunswick pine. The logs were cut up into planks, battens, and
roof-timbers, and were delivered in a few days at the canal wharf in
front of my plot. The building of the workshops rapidly proceeded.
By the aid of some handy active carpenters, superintended by my
energetic foreman, Archy Torry, several convenient well-lighted
workshops were soon ready for the reception of my machinery.
I had a four horsepower engine, which I had made at Edinburgh,
ready to be placed in position, together with the boiler.
This was the first power I employed in starting my new works.
I must return for a moment to the twenty horse-power engine, which had
been the proximate cause of my removal from Dale Street. It was taken
to pieces, packed, and sent off to Londonderry. When I was informed
that it was erected and ready for work I proceeded to Ireland to see it
begin it's operations.
I may briefly say that the engine gave every satisfaction,
and I believe that it continues working to this day. I had the
pleasure of bringing back with me an order for a condensing engine of
forty horse-power, required by Mr. John Munn for giving motion to his
new flax mill, then under construction. I mention this order because
the engine was the first important piece of work executed at the
This was my first visit to Ireland. Being so near the Giant's Causeway,
I took the opportunity, on my way homewards, of visiting that object of
high geologic interest, together with the magnificent basaltic
promontory of Fairhead. I spent a day in clambering up the
terrible-looking crags. In a stratum of red hematite clay, underneath
a solid basaltic crag of some sixty feet or more in thickness, I found
the charred branches of trees--the remains of some forest that had,
at some inconceivably remote period, been destroyed by a vast
out-belching flow of molten lava from a deep-seated volcanic store
I returned to Patricroft, and found the wooden workshops nearly
finished. The machine tools were, for the most part, fixed and ready
for use. In August 1836 the Bridgewater foundry was in complete and
efficient action. The engine ordered at Londonderry was at once put in
hand, and the concern was fairly started in its long career of
prosperity. The wooden workshops had been erected upon the grass.
But the sward soon disappeared. The hum of the driving belts,
the whirl of the machinery, the sound of the hammer upon the anvil,
gave the place an air of busy activity. As work increased, workmen
increased. The workshops were enlarged. Wood gave place to brick.
Cottages for the accommodation of the work-people sprang up in the
neighbourhood; and what had once been quiet grassy fields became the
centre of a busy population.
[Image] Bridgewater Foundry. From a sketch by Alexander Nasmyth.
It was a source of vast enjoyment to me, while engaged in the anxious
business connected with the establishment of the foundry, to be
surrounded with so many objects of rural beauty. The site of the works
being on the west side of Manchester, we had the benefit of breathing
pure air during the greater part of the year. The scenery round about
was very attractive. Exercise was a source of health to the mind as
well as the body. As it was necessary that I should reside as near as
possible to the works, I had plenty of opportunities for enjoying the
rural scenery of the neighbourhood. I had the good fortune to become
the tenant of a small cottage in the ancient village of Barton,
in Cheshire, at the very moderate rental of #15 a year. The cottage
was situated on the banks of the river Irwell, and was only about
six minutes' walk from the works at Patricroft. It suited my moderate
domestic arrangements admirably.
The village was surrounded by apple orchards and gardens, and situated
in the midst of tranquil rural scenery. It was a great treat to me,
after a long and busy day at the foundry, especially in summer time,
to take my leisure walks through the green lanes, and pass the many
picturesque old farmhouses and cottages which at that time presented
subjects of the most tempting kind for the pencil. Such quiet summer
evening strolls afforded me the opportunity for tranquil thought.
Each day's transactions furnished abundant subjects for consideration.
It was a happy period in my life. I was hopeful for the future,
as everything had so far prospered with me.
When I had got comfortably settled in my cosy little cottage, my dear
sister Margaret came from Edinburgh to take charge of my domestic
arrangements. By her bright and cheerful disposition she made the
cottage a very happy home. Although I had neither the means nor the
disposition to see much company, I frequently had visits from some of
my kind friends in Manchester. I valued them all the more for my
sister's sake, inasmuch as she had come from a bright household in
Edinburgh, full of cheerfulness, part of which she transferred to my
At the same time, it becomes me to say a word or two about the great
kindness which I received from my friends and well-wishers at
Manchester and the neighbourhood. Amongst these were the three
brothers Grant, Benjamin Hick of Bolton, Edward Lloyd the banker,
John Kennedy, and William Fairbairn. I had not much leisure during the
week days, but occasionally on Sunday afternoons my sister and myself
enjoyed their cordial hospitality. In this way I was brought into
friendly intercourse with the most intelligent and cultivated persons
in Lancashire. The remembrance of the delightful evenings I spent in
their society will ever continue one of the most cherished
recollections of my early days in Manchester.
I may mention that one of the principal advantages of the site of my
works was its connection with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway,
as well as with the Bridgewater Canal. There was a stone-edged roadway
along the latter, where the canal barges might receive and deliver
traffic in the most convenient manner. As the wharfage boundary was
the property of the trustees of the Bridgewater Canal, it was necessary
to agree with them as to the rates to be charged for the requisite
accommodation. Their agent deferred naming the rent until I had finally
settled with Squire Trafford as to the lease of his land, and then,
after he supposed he had got me into a cleft stick, he proposed so
extravagant a rate that I refused to use the wharf upon his terms.
It happened, fortunately for me, that this agent had involved himself
in a Chancery suit with the trustees, which eventually led to his
retirement. The property then merged into the hands of Lord Francis
Egerton, heir to the Bridgewater Estates. The canal was placed under
the management of that excellent gentleman, James Loch, M.P.
Lord Francis Egerton, on his next visit to Worsley Hall, called upon me
at the foundry. He expressed his great pleasure at having us as his
near neighbours, and as likely to prove such excellent customers of the
canal trustees. Because of this latter circumstance, he offered me the
use of the wharf free of rent. This was quite in accordance with his
generous disposition in all matters. But as I desired the agreement to
be put in a regular business-like form, I arranged with Mr. Loch to pay
5s. per annum as a formal acknowledgment, and an agreement to this
effect was accordingly drawn up and signed by both parties.
Lord Francis Egerton was soon after created Earl of Ellesmere.
He became one of the most constant visitors at the foundry, in which he
always took a lively interest. He delighted to go through the workshops,
and enjoy the sight of the active machinery and the work in progress.
When he had any specially intelligent visitors at Worsley Hall, which
was frequently the case, he was sure to bring them down to the foundry
in his beautiful private barge, and lead them through the various
departments of the establishment. One of his favourite sights was the
pouring out of the molten iron into the moulds for the larger class of
castings; when some twelve or sixteen tons, by the aid of my screw
safety ladle, were decanted with as much neatness and exactness as the
pouring out of a glass of wine from a decanter. When this work was
performed towards dark, Lord Ellesmere's poetic fancy and artistic eye
enabled him to enjoy the sight exceedingly.*
I had the happiness to receive the kindest and most hospitable
attention from Lord Ellesmere and his family. His death, which
occurred in 1857, at the early age of fifty-seven, deprived me of one
of my warmest friends. The Countess of Ellesmere continued the
friendship until her death, which occurred several years later.
The same kindly feelings still exist in the children of the lamented
pair, all of whom evince the admirable qualities which so peculiarly
distinguished their parents, and made them universally beloved by all
classes, rich and poor.
I must here say a few words as to my Screw Safety Ladle.
I had observed the great danger occasioned to workmen by the method of
emptying the molten iron into the casting moulds. The white-hot fluid
was run from the melting furnace into a large ladle with one or two
cross handles and levers, worked by a dozen or fifteen men. The ladle
contained many tons of molten iron, and was transferred by a crane to
the moulds. To do this required the greatest caution and steadiness.
If a stumble took place, and the ladle was in the slightest degree
upset, there was a splash of hot metal on the floor, which, in the
recoil, flew against the men's clothes, set them on fire, or occasioned
frightful scalds and burns.
[Image] Old foundry ladle
To prevent these accidents I invented my Safety Foundry Ladle.
I applied a screw wheel, keyed to the trunnion of the ladle, which was
acted on by an endless screw attached to the sling of the ladle;
and by this means one man could move the largest ladle on its axis,
and pour out its molten contents with the most perfect ease and safety.
Not only was all risk of accident thus removed, but the perfection of
the casting was secured by the steady continuous flow of the white-hot
metal into the mould. The nervous anxiety and confusion that usually
attended the pouring of the metal required for the larger class of
castings was thus entirely avoided.
[Image] Safety foundry ladle
At the same time I introduced another improvement in connection with
these foundry ladles which, although of minor importance, has in no
small degree contributed to the perfection of large castings.
This consisted in hanging "the skimmer" to the edge of the ladle,
so as to keep back the scorae that invariably float on the surface of
the melted metal. This was formerly done by hand, and many accidents
were the consequence. But now the clear flow of pure metal into the
moulds was secured, while the scoriae were mechanically held back.
All that the attendant has to do is to regulate the inclination of the
Skimmer so as to keep its lower edge sufficiently under the surface of
the outflowing metal. The preceding illustrations will enable the
reader to understand these simple but important technical improvements.
These inventions were made in 1838. I might have patented them,
but preferred to make them over to the public. I sent drawings and
descriptions of the Safety Foundry Ladle to all the principal founders
both at home and abroad; and I was soon after much gratified by their
cordial expression of its practical value. The ladle is now
universally adopted. The Society of Arts of Scotland, to whom I sent
drawings and descriptions, did me the honour to present me with their
large silver medal in acknowledgment of the invention.
In order to carry on my business with effectiveness it was necessary
that I should have some special personal assistance. I could carry on
the whole "mechanical" department as regards organisation, designing,
and construction; but there was the "financial" business to be attended
to,--the counting-house, the correspondence, and the arrangement of
money affairs. I wanted some help with respect to these outer matters.
When I proceeded to take my plot of land at Patricroft some of my
friends thought it a very bold stroke, especially for a young man who
had been only about three years in business. Nevertheless, there were
others who watched my progress with special interest, and were willing
to join in my adventure--though adventure it was not. They were ready
to take a financial interest in my affairs. They did me the compliment
of thinking me a good investment, by offering to place their capital
in my concern as sleeping partners. But I was already beyond the
"sleeping partner" state of affairs. Whoever joined me must work as
energetically as I did, and must give the faculties of his mind to the
prosperity of the concern. I communicated the offers I had received to
my highly judicious friend Edward Lloyd. He was always willing to
advise me, though I took care never to encroach upon his kindness.
He concurred with my views, and advised me to fight shy of
sleeping partners. I therefore continued to look out for a working
partner. In the end I was fortunate. My friend, Mr. Thomas Jeavons,
of Liverpool, having been informed of my desire, made inquiries,
and found the man likely to suit me. He furnished him with a letter
of introduction to me, which he presented one day at the works.
The young man became my worthy partner, Holbrook Gaskell.
He had served his time with Yates and Cox, iron merchants, of Liverpool.
Having obtained considerable experience in the commercial details of
that business, and being possessed of a moderate amount of capital,
he was desirous of joining me, and embarking his fortune with mine.
He was to take charge of the counting-house department, and conduct
such portion of the correspondence as did not require any special
technical knowledge of mechanical engineering. The latter must
necessarily remain in my hands, because I found that the "off-hand"
sketches which I introduced in my letters as explanatory of mechanical
designs and suggestions were much more intelligible than any amount of
I was much pleased with the frank and friendly manner of Mr. Gaskell,
and I believe that the feeling between us was mutual. With the usual
straight forwardness that prevails in Lancashire, the articles of
partnership were at once drawn up and signed, and the firm of Nasmyth
and Gaskell began. We continued working together with hearty zeal for
a period of sixteen successive years; and I believe Mr. Gaskell had no
reason to regret his connection with the Bridgewater Foundry.
The reason of Mr. Gaskell leaving the concern was the state of his
health. After his long partnership with me, he was attacked by a
serious illness, when his medical adviser earnestly recommended him to
retire from all business affairs. This was the cause of his reluctant
retirement. In course of time the alarming symptoms departed,
and he recovered his former health. He then embarked in an extensive
soda manufactory, in conjunction with one of our pupils, whose taste
for chemistry was more attractive to him than engine-making.
A prosperous business was established, and at the time I write these
lines Mr. Gaskell continues a hale and healthy man, the possessor of a
large fortune, accumulated by the skilful manner in which he has
conducted his extensive affairs.
CHAPTER 12. Free Trade in Ability--The Strike--Death of my Father
I had no difficulty in obtaining abundance of skilled workmen in South
Lancashire and Cheshire. I was in the neighbourhood of Manchester,
which forms the centre of a population gifted with mechanical instinct.
From an early period the finest sort of mechanical work has been turned
out in that part of England. Much of the talent is inherited.
It descends from father to son, and develops itself from generation to
generation. I may mention one curious circumstance connected with the
pedigree of Manchester: that much of the mechanical excellence of its
workmen descends from the Norman smiths and armourers introduced into
the neighbourhood at the Norman Conquest by Hugo de Lupus, the chief
armourer of William the Conqueror, after the battle of Hastings, in 1066.
I was first informed of this circumstance by William Stubbs of
Warrington, then maker of the celebrated "Lancashire files."
The "P. S.," or Peter Stubbs's files, were so vastly superior to
other files, both in the superiority of the steel and in the perfection
of the cutting, which long retained its efficiency, that every workman
gloried in the possession and use of such durable tools.
Being naturally interested in everything connected with tools and
mechanics, I was exceedingly anxious to visit the factory where these
admirable files were made. I obtained an introduction to William Stubbs,
then head of the firm, and was received by him with much cordiality
when I asked him if I might be favoured with a sight of his factory,
he replied that he had no factory, as such; and that all he had to do
in supplying his large warehouse was to serve out the requisite quantities
of pure cast steel as rods and bars to the workmen; and that they,
on their part, forged the metal into files of every description at
their own cottage workshops, principally situated in the neighbouring
counties of Cheshire and Lancashire.
This information surprised as well as pleased me. Mr. Stubbs proceeded
to give me an account of the origin of this peculiar system of cottage
manufacture in his neighbourhood. It appears that Hugo de Lupus,
William the Conqueror's Master of Arms, the first Earl of Chester,
settled in North Cheshire shortly after the Conquest. He occupied
Halton Castle, and his workmen resided in Warrington and the adjacent
villages of Appleton, Widnes, Prescot, and Cuerdley.
There they produced coats of steel, mail armour, and steel and
iron weapons, under the direct superintendence of their chief.
The manufacture thus founded continued for many centuries.
Although the use of armour was discontinued, the workers in steel and
iron still continued famous. The skill that had formerly been employed
in forging chain armour and war instruments was devoted to more
peaceful purposes. The cottage workmen made the best of files and
steel tools of other kinds. Their talents became hereditary, and the
manufacture of wire in all its forms is almost peculiar to Warrington
and the neighbourhood. Mr. Stubbs also informed me that most of the
workmen's peculiar names for tools and implements were traceable to old
Norman-French words. He also stated that at Prescot a peculiar class
of workmen has long been established, celebrated for their great skill
in clock and watchmaking; and that, in his opinion, they were the
direct descendants of a swarm of workmen from Hugo de Lupus's original
Norman hive of refined metal-workers, dating from the time of the
Conquest. To return to my narrative. In the midst of such a
habitually industrious population, it will be obvious that there was no
difficulty in finding a sufficient supply of able workmen. It was for
the most part the most steady, respectable, and well-conducted classes
of mechanics who sought my employment--not only for the good wages
they received, but for the sake of their own health and that of their
families; for it will be remembered that the foundry and the workmen's
dwellings were surrounded by the fresh, free, open country.
In the course of a few years the locality became a thriving colony of
skilled mechanics. In order to add to the accommodation of the
increasing numbers, an additional portion of land, amounting to eight
acres, was leased from Squire Trafford on the same terms as before.
On this land suitable houses and cottages for the foremen and workmen
were erected. At the same time substantial brick workshops were built
in accordance with my original general plan, to meet the requirements
of our rapidly expanding business, until at length a large and
commodious factory was erected, as shown in the annexed engraving.
[Image] Bridgewater Foundry Patricroft.
From a painting by Alexander Nasmyth.
The village of Worsley, the headquarters of the Bridgewater Canal,
supplied us with a valuable set of workmen. They were, in the first
place, labourers; but, like all Lancashire men, they were naturally
possessed of a quick aptitude for mechanical occupations connected with
machinery. Our chief employment of these so-called labourers was in
transporting heavy castings and parts of machinery from one place to
another. To do this properly required great care and judgment,
in order that the parts might not be disturbed, and that the mechanics
might proceed towards their completion without any unnecessary delay.
None but those who have had practical acquaintance with the importance
of having skilful labourers to perform these apparently humble,
but in reality very important functions, can form an adequate idea of
the value of such services.
All the requisite qualities we required were found in the Worsley
labourers. They had been accustomed to the heaviest class of work in
connection with the Bridgewater Canal. They had been thoroughly
trained in the handling of all manner of ponderous objects.
They performed their work with energy and willingness. It was quite a
treat to me to look on and observe their rapid and skilful operations
in lifting and transporting ponderous portions of machinery, in which a
vast amount of costly work had been embodied. After the machines or
engines had been finished, it was the business of the same workmen to
remove them from the workshops to the railway-siding alongside the
foundry, or to the boats at the canal wharf. In all these matters the
Worsley men could be thoroughly depended upon.
Where they showed the possession, in any special degree, of a true
mechanical faculty, I was enabled to select from the working labourers
the most effective men to take charge of the largest and most powerful
machine tools--such as planing machines, lathes, and boring machines.
The ease and rapidity with which they caught up all the technical arts
and manipulations connected with the effective working of these
machines was extraordinary. The results were entirely satisfactory to
myself, as well as to the men themselves, by the substantial rise in
their wages which followed their advancement to higher grades of
labour. Thus I had no difficulty in manning my machine tools by
drawing my recruits from this zealous and energetic class of Worsley
labourers. It is by this "selection of the fittest" that the true
source of the prosperity of every large manufacturing establishment
depends. I believe that Free Trade in Ability has a much closer
relation to national prosperity than even Free Trade in Commodities.
But here I came into collision with another class of workmen--those
who are of opinion that employers should select for promotion, not
those who are the fittest and most skilful, but those who have served a
seven years' apprenticeship and are members of a Trades' Union.
It seemed to me that this interference with the free selection and
promotion of the fittest was at variance with free choice of the best
men, and that it was calculated, if carried out, to strike at the root
of the chief source of our prosperity. If every workman of the same
class went in the same rut, and were paid the same uniform rate of
wages, irrespective of his natural or acquired ability, such a system
would destroy the emulative spirit which forms the chief basis of
manipulative efficiency and practical skill, and on which, in my
opinion, the prosperity of our manufacturing establishments mainly
depends. But before I proceed to refer to the strike of Unionists,
which for a time threatened to destroy, or at all events to impede the
spirit of enterprise and the free choice of skilful workmen, in which I
desired to conduct the Bridgewater Foundry, I desire to say a few words
about those excellent helpers, the foremen engineers, who zealously
helped me in my undertaking from beginning to end.
I must place my most worthy, zealous, and faithful Archy Torry at the
top of the list. He rose from being my only workman when I first
started in Manchester, to be my chief general foreman. The energy and
devotion which he brought to bear upon my interests set a high example
to all in my employment. Although he was in some respects deficient in
his knowledge of the higher principles of engineering and mechanical
construction, I was always ready to supply that defect. His hearty
zeal and cheerful temper, and his energetic movement when among the
men, had a sympathetic influence upon all about him. His voice had the
same sort of influence upon them as the drum and fife on a soldier's
march: it quickened their movements. We were often called in by our
neighbour manufacturers to repair a breakdown of their engines.
That was always a sad disaster, as all hands were idle until the repair
was effected. Archy was in his glory on such occasions. By his ready
zeal and energy he soon got over the difficulty, repaired the engines,
and set the people to work again. He became quite famous in these cases
of extreme urgency. He never spared himself, and his example had an
excellent effect upon every workman under him.
Another of my favourite workshop lieutenants was James Hutton.
He had been leading foreman to my worthy friend George Douglass,
of Old Broughton, Edinburgh. He was fully ten years my senior,
and when working at Douglass's I looked up to him as a man of
authority. I had obtained from him many a valuable wrinkle in
mechanical and technical construction. After I left Edinburgh he had
emigrated to the United States for the purpose of bettering his
condition. But he promised me that if disappointed in his hopes of
settling there, he should be glad to come into my service if I was ever
in a position to give him employment. Shortly after my removal to
Patricroft, and when everything had been got into full working order,
I received a letter from him in which he said that he was anxious to
return to England, and asking if there was any vacancy in our
establishment that he might be employed to fill up. It so happened
that the foremanship of turners was then vacant. I informed Hutton of
the post; and on his return to England he was duly enrolled in our
The situation was a very important one, and Hutton filled it admirably.
He was a sound practical man, and thoroughly knew every department of
engineering mechanism. As I had provided small separate rooms or
offices for every department of the establishment for the use of the
foremen, where they kept their memoranda and special tools, I had often
the pleasure of conferring with Hutton as to some point of interest, or
when I wished to pass my ideas and designs through the ordeal of his
judgment, in order that I might find out any lurking defect in some
proposed mechanical arrangement. Before he gave an opinion, Hutton
always took a pinch of snuff to stimulate his intellect, or rather to
give him a little time for consideration. He would turn the subject
over in his mind. But I knew that I could trust his keenness of
insight. He would give his verdict carefully, shrewdly, and truthfully.
Hutton remained a faithful and valued servant in the concern for nearly
thirty years, and died at a ripe old age. Notwithstanding his
mechanical intelligence, Hutton was of too cautious a temperament to
have acted as a general foreman or manager, otherwise he would have
been elevated to that position. A man may be admirable in details,
but be wanting in width, breadth, and largeness of temperament and
intellect. The man who possesses the latter gifts becomes great in
organisation; he soon ceases to be a "hand," and becomes a "head,"
and such men generally rise from the employed to be the employer.
Another of my excellent assistants was John Clerk. He had been for a
long time in the service of Fairbairn and Lillie; but having had a
serious difference with one of the foremen, he left their service with
excellent recommendations. I soon after engaged him as foreman of the
pattern-making department. He was a most able man in some of the more
important branches of mechanical engineering. He had, besides,
an excellent knowledge of building operations. I found him of great
use in superintending the erection of the additional workshops which
were required in proportion as our business extended. He made out
full-sized chalk-line drawings from my original pencil sketches,
on the large floor of the pattern store, and from these were formed the
working drawings for the new buildings. He had a wonderful power of
rapidity and clearness in apprehending new subjects, and the way in
which he depicted them in large drawings was quite masterly.
John Clerk and I spent many an hour on our knees together on the
pattern store floor, and the result of our deliberations usually was
some substantial addition to the workshops of the foundry, or some
extra large and powerful machine tool. This worthy man left our
service to become a partner in an engineering concern in Ireland;
and though he richly deserved his promotion, he left us to our very
The last of our foremen to whom I shall refer was worthy Thomas
Crewdson. He entered our service as a smith, in which pursuit he
displayed great skill. We soon noted the high order of his natural
ability; promoted him from the ranks, and made him foreman of the
smith's and forge-work department. In this he displayed every quality
of excellence, not only in seeing to the turning out of the forge work
in the highest state of perfection, but in managing the men under his
charge with such kind discretion as to maintain the most perfect
harmony in the workshops. This is always a matter of great importance
--that the foreman should inspire the workmen with his own spirit,
and keep up their harmony and activity to the most productive point.
Crewdson was so systematic in his use of time that we found that he was
able also to undertake the foremanship of the boiler-making department,
in addition to that of the smith work; and to this he was afterwards
appointed, with highly satisfactory results to all concerned.
So strongly and clearly impressed is my mind with the recollection of
the valuable assistance which I received during my engineering life
from those vicegerents of practical management at Patricroft,
that I feel that I cannot proceed further in my narrative without thus
placing the merits of these worthy men upon record. It was a source of
great good fortune to me to be associated with them, and I consider
them to have been among the most important elements in the prosperity
of the Bridgewater Foundry. There were many others, in comparatively
humble positions, whom I have also reason to remember with gratitude.
In all well-conducted concerns the law of "selection of the fittest"
sooner or later comes into happy action, when a loyal and attached set
of men work together harmoniously for their own advantage as well as
for that of their employers.
It was not, however, without some difficulty that we were allowed to
carry out our views as to Free Trade in Ability. As the buildings were
increased, more men were taken on--from Manchester, Bolton, Liverpool,
as well as from more distant places. We were soon made to feel that
our idea of promoting workmen according to their merits, and advancing
them to improved positions and higher wages in proportion to their
skill, ability, industry, and natural intelligence, was quite contrary
to the views of many of our new employees. They took advantage of a
large access of orders for machinery, which they knew had come into the
foundry, to wait upon us suddenly, and to lay down their Trade Union
law for our observance.
The men who waited upon us were deputed by the Engineer Mechanics'
Trades' Union to inform us that there were men in our employment who
were not, as they termed it, "legally entitled to the trade;" that is,
they had never served a regular seven years' apprenticeship.
"These men," said the delegates, "are filling up the places,
and keeping out of work, the legal hands." We were accordingly
requested to discharge the workmen whom we had promoted, in order to
make room for members of the Trades' Union.
To have complied with this request would have altered the whole
principles and practice on which we desired to conduct our business.
I wished, and my partner agreed with me, to stimulate men to steadfast
and skilful work by the hope of promotion. It was thus that I had
taken several of the Worsley men from the rank of labourers, and raised
them to the class mechanics with correspondingly higher wages.
We were perfectly satisfied with the conduct of these workmen, and with
the productive results of their labour. We thought it fair to them as
well as to ourselves to resist the order to discharge them, and we
consequently firmly refused to submit to the dictation of the
The delegates left us with a distinct intimation that if we continued
to retain the illegal men in our employment they would call out the
Union men, and strike until "the grievance " was redressed.
The Unionists, no doubt, fixed upon the right time to place their case
before us. We wanted more workmen to execute the advantageous orders
which had come in; and they thought that the strike would put an entire
stop to our operations. On engaging the workmen we had never up to
this time concerned ourselves with the question of whether they
belonged to the Trades' Union or not. The only proof we required of a
man was Ability. If, after a week's experience, he proved himself an
efficient workman, we engaged him.
The strike took place. All the Union men were "called out," and left
the works. Many of them expressed their great regret at leaving us,
as they were perfectly satisfied with their employment as well as with
their remuneration. But they were nevertheless compelled to obey the
mandate of the Council. The result was that more than half of our men
left us. Those who remained were very zealous. Nothing could exceed
their activity and workfulness. We appealed to our employers.
They were most considerate in not pressing us for the speedy execution
of the work we had in hand. We made applications in the neighbourhood
for other mechanics in lieu of those who had left us. But the men on
strike, under orders from the Union, established pickets round the
works, who were only too efficient in preventing those desirous of
obtaining employment from getting access to the foundry.
Our position for a time seemed to be hopeless. We could not find
workmen enough to fill our shops or to execute our orders.
What were we to do under the circumstances? We could not find mechanics
in the neighbourhood; but might they not, be found elsewhere?
Why not bring them from a distance? We determined to try.
Advertisements were inserted in the Scotch newspapers, announcing our
want of mechanics, smiths, and foundrymen. We appointed an agent in
Edinburgh, to whom applications were to be made. We were soon in
receipt of the welcome intelligence that numbers of the best class of
mechanics had applied, and that our agent's principal difficulty
consisted in making the proper selection from amongst them.
A selection was, however, made of over sixty men, who appeared in every
respect likely to suit us. With true Scotch caution they deputed two
of their number to visit our works and satisfy themselves as to the
real state of the case. We had great pleasure in receiving these two
clear-headed cautious pioneers. We showed them over the workshops,
and pointed out the habitations in the neighbourhood with their
attractive surroundings. The men returned to their constituents,
and gave such a glowing account of their mission that we had no
difficulty in obtaining the men we required. Indeed, we might easily
have obtained three times the number of efficient mechanics.
Sixty-four of the most likely men were eventually selected, men in the
zenith of their physical powers. We made arrangements for their
conveyance to Glasgow, from whence they started for Liverpool by
steamer. They landed in a body at the latter port, many of them
accompanied by their wives and children, and eight-day clocks!
A special train was engaged for the conveyance of the whole--men,
women, and children, bag and baggage--from Liverpool to Patricroft,
where suitable accommodation had been provided for them.
The arrival of so powerful a body of men made a great sensation in the
neighbourhood. The men were strong, respectable looking, and well
dressed. The pickets were "dumfoundered." They were brushed to one
side by the fresh arrivals. They felt that their game was up, and they
suddenly departed. The men were taken over the workshops, with which
they appeared quite delighted. They were told to be ready to start
next morning at six, after which they departed to their lodgings.
The morning arrived and the gallant sixty-four were all present.
After allotting to each his special work, they gave three hearty
cheers, and dispersed throughout the workshops.
We had no reason to regret the results which were effected through the
strike ordered by the Trades' Union. The new men worked with a will.
They were energetic, zealous, and skilful. They soon gave evidence of
their general handiness and efficiency in all the departments of work
in which they were engaged. We were thus enabled to carry out our
practice of Free Trade in Ability in our own way, and we were no longer
interfered with in our promotion of workmen who served us best.
In short, we had scotched the strike; we conquered the Union in their
wily attempt to get us under their withering control; and the
Bridgewater Foundry resumed its wonted activity in every department.
It was afterwards a great source of happiness to me to walk through the
various workshops and observe the cheerful and intelligent countenances
of the new men, and to note the energetic skill with which they used
their tools in the advancement of their work. General handiness is one
of the many valuable results that issues from the practice of handling
the variety of materials which are more or less employed in mechanical
structures. At the time that I refer to, the skilful workmen employed
in the engineering establishments of Scotland (which were then
comparatively small in size) were accustomed to use all manner of
mechanical tools. They could handle with equally good effect the saw,
the plane, the file, and the chisel; and, as occasion required, they
could exhibit their skill at the smith's forge with the hammer and the
anvil. This was the kind of workmen with which I had reinforced the
foundry. The men had been bred to various branches of mechanics.
Some had been blacksmiths, others carpenters, stone masons, brass or
iron founders; but all of them were handy men. They merely adopted the
occupation of machine and steam-engine makers because it offered a
wider field for the exercise of their skill and energy.
I may here be allowed to remark that we owe the greatest advances in
mechanical invention to Free Trade in Ability. If we look carefully
into the narratives of the lives of the most remarkable engineers,
we shall find that they owed very little to the seven years' rut in
which they were trained. They owed everything to innate industry,
energy, skill, and opportunity. Thus, Brindley advanced from the
position of a millwright to that of a canal engineer; Smeaton and Watt,
from being mathematical instrument makers, advanced to higher
positions,--the one to be the inventor of the modern lighthouse,
the other to be the inventor of the condensing steam-engine.
Some of the most celebrated mechanical and civil engineers--such as
Rennie, Cubitt, and Fairbairn--were originally millwrights.
All these men were many-handed. They had many sides to their intellect.
They were resourceful men. They afford the best illustrations of the
result of Free Trade in Ability.
The persistent aim at an indolent equality which Union men aim at,
is one of the greatest hindrances to industrial progress.
When the Union Delegates called upon me to insist that none but men who
had served seven years' apprenticeship should be employed in the works,
I told them that I preferred employing a man who had acquired the
requisite mechanical skill in two years rather than another who was so
stupid as to require seven years' teaching. The delegates regarded
this statement as preposterous and heretical. In fact, it was utter
high treason. But in the long run we carried our point.
It is true, we had some indenture-bound apprentices. These were pupils
who paid premiums. In certain cases we could not very well refuse to
take them. Some of them caused a great deal of annoyance and
disturbance. They were irregular in their attendance, consequently
they could not be depended upon for the regular operations of the
foundry. They were careless in their work, and set a bad example to
the others. We endeavoured to check this disturbing element by
stipulating that the premium should be payable in six months' portions,
and that each party should be free to terminate the connection at the
end of each succeeding six months. By this system we secured more care
and regularity on the part of the pupil apprentices; as, while it
checked inattention and irregularity, it offered a direct and
substantial encouragement to zeal and industry.
But the arrangement which we greatly preferred was to employ
intelligent well-conducted young lads, the sons of labourers or
mechanics, and advance them by degrees according to their merits.
They took charge of the smaller machine tools, by which the minor
details of the machines in progress were brought into exact form
without having recourse to the untrustworthy and costly process of
chipping and filing. A spirit of emulation was excited amongst the
lads. They vied with each other in executing their work with
precision. Those who excelled were paid an extra weekly wage.
In course of time they took pride, not only in the quantity but in the
quality of their work; and in the long run they became skilful
mechanics. We were always most prompt to recognise their progress in a
substantial manner. There was the most perfect freedom between
employer and employed. Every one of these lads was at liberty to leave
at the end of each day's work. This arrangement acted as an
ever-present check upon master and apprentice. The only bond of union
between us was mutual interest. The best of the lads remained in our
service because they knew our work and were pleased with the
surroundings; while we on our part were always desirous of retaining
the men we had trained, because we knew we could depend upon them.
Nothing could have been more satisfactory than the manner in which this
In May 1835 I had the great happiness of receiving a visit from my dear
father. I was then in Dale Street, Manchester, where my floor was
overloaded with the work in progress. My father continued to take a
great interest in mechanical undertakings, and he was pleased with the
prosperity which had followed my settlement in this great manufacturing
centre. He could still see his own lathe, driven by steam power,
in full operation for the benefit of his son. His fame as an artist
was well known in Manchester, for many of his works were possessed by
the best men of the town. I had the pleasure of introducing him to the
Brothers Grant, John Kennedy, Edward Lloyd, George Murray, James Frazer,
William Fairbairn, and Hugh and Joseph Birley, all of whom gave him a
most cordial welcome, and invited him to enjoy their hospitality.
[Image] Alexander Nasmyth. After a cameo by Samuel Joseph
In 1838 he visited me again. I had removed to Patricroft, and
the Bridgewater Foundry was in full operation. My father was then in
his eightieth year. He was still full of life and intellect.
He was vastly delighted in witnessing the rapid progress which I had
made since his first visit. He took his daily walk through the
workshops, where many processes were going on which greatly interested
him. He was sufficiently acquainted with the technical details of
mechanical work to enjoy the sight, especially when self-acting tools
were employed. It was a great source of pleasure to him to have
"a crack" with the most intelligent foremen and mechanics. These,
on their part, treated him with the most kind and respectful attention.
The Scotch workmen regarded him with special veneration. They knew
that he had been an intimate friend of Robert Burns, their own
best-beloved poet, whose verses shed a charm upon their homes, and were
recited by the fireside, in the fields, or at the workman's bench.
They also knew that he had painted the only authentic portrait of their
national bard. This fact invested my father with additional interest
in their eyes. Their respect for him culminated in a rather
extraordinary demonstration. On the last day of his visit the leading
Scotch workmen procured "on the sly" an arm-chair, which they fastened
to two strong bearing poles. When my father left the works at the
bell-ringing at mid-day, he was approached by the workmen,
and respectfully requested to "take the chair." He refused; but it was
of no use. He was led to the chair, and took it. He was then raised
and carried in triumph to my house. He was carefully set down at the
little garden-gate, where the men affectionately took leave of him,
and ended their cordial good wishes for his safe return home with three
hearty cheers. I need scarcely say that my father was greatly affected
by this kind demonstration on the part of the workmen.
His life was fast drawing to a close. He had borne the heat and burden
of the day; and was about to be taken home like a shock of corn in full
season. After a long and happy life, blessed and cheered by a most
affectionate wife, he laid down his brushes and went to rest.
In his later years he rejoiced in the prosperity of his children,
which was all the more agreeable as it was the result of the example of
industry and perseverance which he had ever set before them.
My father untiringly continued his professional occupations until 1840,
when he had attained the age of eighty-two. His later works may be
found wanting in that degree of minute finish which characterised his
earlier productions; but in regard to their quality there was no
falling off, even to the last picture which he painted. The delicate
finish was amply compensated by the increase in general breadth and
effectiveness, so that his later works were even more esteemed by his
brother-artists. The last picture he painted was finished eight days
before his death. It was a small work. The subject was a landscape
with an autumnal evening effect. There was a picturesque cottage in
the middle distance, a rustic bridge over a brook in the foreground,
and an old labouring man, followed by his dog, wearily passing over it
on his way towards his home. From the chimney of his cottage a thin
streak of blue smoke passed upward through the tranquil evening air.
All these incidents suggested the idea, which no doubt he desired to
convey, of the tranquil conclusion of his own long and active life,
which was then, too evidently, drawing to a close.
The shades of evening had come on when he could no longer see to work,
and he was obliged to lay down his pencil. My mother was at work with
her needle close by him; and when he had finished he asked her what he
should call the picture. Not being ready with an answer, he leant back
in his chair, feeling rather faint, and said, "Well, I think I had
better call it Going Home." And so it was called.
Next morning his strength had so failed him that he could not get up.
He remained there for eight days, and then he painlessly and tranquilly
passed away. While on his deathbed he expressed the desire that his
remains should be placed beside those of a favourite son who had died
in early youth. "Let me lie," he said, "beside my dear Alick."
His desire was gratified. He was buried beside his son in St. Cuthbert's
churchyard, under the grandest portion of the great basaltic rock on
which Edinburgh Castle stands. His grave is marked by a fine Runic Cross,
admirably sculptured by Rhind of Edinburgh.
[Image] Monument to Alexander Nasmyth
One of the kindest letters my mother received after her great loss was
one from Sir David Wilkie. It was dated 18th April 1840. "I hasten,"
he said, "to assure you of my most sincere condolence on your severe
affliction, feeling that I can sympathise in the privation you suffer
from losing one who was my earliest professional friend, whose art I at
all times admired, and whose society and conversation was perhaps the
most agreeable that I ever met with. " He was the founder of the
Landscape Painting School of Scotland, and by his taste and talent has
for many years taken a lead in the patriotic aim of enriching his
native land with the representations of her romantic scenery; and,
as the friend and contemporary of Ramsay, of Gavin Hamilton, and the
Runcimans, may be said to have been the last remaining link that unites
the present with the early dawn of the Scottish School of Art."
I may add that my mother died six years later, in 1846, at the same age
as my father, namely eighty-two.
CHAPTER 13. My Marriage--The Steam Hammer
Before I proceed to narrate the later events of my industrial life,
it is necessary to mention, incidentally, an important subject.
As it has been the source of my greatest happiness in life,
I cannot avoid referring to it.
I may first mention that my earnest and unremitting pursuit of all
subjects and occupations, such as I conceived were essential to the
acquirement of a sound practical knowledge of my profession, rendered
me averse to mixing much in general society. I had accordingly few
opportunities of enjoying the society of young ladies. Nevertheless,
occasions now and then occurred when bright beings passed before me
like meteors. They left impressions on my memory, which in no small
degree increased the earnestness of my exertions to press forward in my
endeavours to establish myself in business, and thereby acquire the
means of forming a Home of my own.
Many circumstances, however, conspired to delay the ardently longed for
condition of my means, such as should induce me to solicit some dear
one to complete my existence by her sweet companionship, and enter with
me into the most sacred of all the partnerships of life. In course of
time I was rewarded with that success which, for the most part,
ensues upon all honourable and unremitting business efforts.
This cheered me on; although there were still many causes for anxiety,
which made me feel that I must not yet solicit some dear heart to
forsake the comforts of an affluent home to share with me what I knew
must for some years to come be an anxious and trying struggle for
comfort and comparative independence. I had reached my thirtieth year
before I could venture to think that I had securely entered upon such a
course of prosperity as would justify me in taking this the most
important step in life.
It may be a trite but not the less true remark that some of the most
important events originate in apparently chance occurrences and
circumstances, which lead up to results that materially influence and
even determine the subsequent course of our lives. I had occasion to
make a business journey to Sheffield on the 2d of March 1838, and also
to attend to some affairs of a similar character at York. As soon as I
had completed my engagement at Sheffield, I had to wait for more than
two dreary hours in momentary expectation of the arrival of the coach
that was to take me on to York. The coach had been delayed by a deep
fall of snow, and was consequently late. When it arrived, I found that
there was only one outside place vacant; so I mounted to my seat.
It was a very dreary afternoon, and the snow was constantly falling.
As we approached Barnsley I observed, in the remaining murky light of
the evening, the blaze of some ironwork furnaces near at hand.
On inquiring whose works they were, I was informed that they belonged
to Earl Fitzwilliam, and that they were under the management of a
Mr. Hartop. The mention of this name, coupled with the sight of the
ironworks, brought to my recollection a kind invitation which
Mr. Hartop had given me while visiting my workshop in Manchester to
order some machine tools, that it I ever happened to be in his
neighbourhood, he would be most happy to show me anything that was
interesting about the ironworks and colliery machinery under his
I at once decided to terminate my dreary ride on the top of the coach.
I descended, and with my small valise in hand I trudged over some
trackless snow-covered fields, and made my way by the shortest cut
towards the blazing iron furnaces. On reaching them I was informed
that Mr. Hartop had just gone to his house, which was about a mile
distant. I accordingly made my way thither the best that I could
through the deep snow. I met with a cordial welcome, and with the
hospitable request that I should take up my quarters there for the
night, and have a round of the ironworks and the machinery on the
following day. I cheerfully acceded to the kind invitation.
I was then introduced to his wife and daughter in a cosy room, where I
spent a most pleasant evening. As Mr. Hartop was an enthusiast in all
matters relating to mechanism and mechanical engineering subjects
generally, we found plenty to converse about; while his wife and daughter,
at their needlework, listened to our discussions with earnest and
On the following day I was taken a round of the ironworks,
and inspected their machinery, as well as that of the collieries,
in the details of which Mr. Hartop had introduced many common-sense and
most effective improvements. All of these interested me, and gave me
much pleasure. In the evening we resumed our "cracks" on many subjects
of mutual interest. The daughter joined in our conversation with the
most intelligent remarks; for, although only in her twenty-first year,
she had evidently made good use of her time, aided by her clear natural
faculties of shrewd observation. Mr. Hartop having met with some
serious reverse of fortune, owing to the very unsatisfactory conduct of
a partner, had in a manner to begin business life again on his own
account; and although he had to reduce his domestic establishment
considerably in consequence, there was in all its arrangements a degree
of neatness and perfect systematic order, combined with many evidences
of elegant taste and good sense which pervaded the whole, that enhanced
in no small degree the attractiveness of the household. The chief of
these, however, was to me their daughter Anne! I soon perceived in her,
most happily and attractively combined, all the conditions that I could
hope for and desire to meet with in the dear partner of my existence.
As I had soon to proceed on my journey, I took the opportunity of
telling her what I felt and thought, and so ardently desired in regard
to our future intercourse. What little I did say was to this great
purpose; and, so far as I could judge, all that I said was received in
the best spirit that I could desire. I then communicated my hopes and
wishes to the parents. I explained to them my circumstances, which
happily were then beginning to assume an encouraging prospect,
and realising, in a substantial form, a return for the earnest
exertions that I had made towards establishing a home of my own.
They expressed their concurrence in the kindest manner; and it was
arranged that if business continued to progress as favourably as I
hoped, our union should take place in about two years from that time.
Everything went on hopefully and prosperously. The two years that
intervened looked very long in some respects, and very short in others;
for I was always fully occupied, and labour shortens time. At length
the two years came to an end. My betrothed and myself continued of the
same mind. The happy "chance" event of our meeting on the evening of
the 2d of March 1838 culminated in our marriage at the village church
of Wentworth on the 16th of June 1840--a day of happy memory!
From that day to this the course of our united hearts and lives has
continued to run on with steady uninterrupted harmony and mutual
happiness. Forty-two years of our married life finds us the same
affectionate and devoted "cronies" that we were at the beginning;
and there is every prospect that, under God's blessing, we shall
continue to be so to the end.
I was present at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway,
on the 15th of September 1830. Every one knows the success of the
undertaking. Railways became the rage. They were projected in every
possible direction. They were first made between all the large towns,
after which branches were constructed to place the whole country in
connection with the main lines. Coaches were driven off the road,
and everything appeared to be thrown into a state of confusion.
People wondered greatly at the new conditions of travelling;
and they flocked from all quarters to see the railway at work.
When the line was opened from Edinburgh to Glasgow, a shepherd and his
wife came from beyond the Pentlands to see the train pass.
On it came, and flashed out of sight in a minute.
"How wonderful are the works o' man!" exclaimed the shepherd.
"But what's a' the hurry for?", rejoined his wife.
Still more marvellous, however, was the first adventure by train of an
old woman from Newtyle to Dundee. In those days the train was let down
part of the railway by a rope. The woman was on her way down hill,
with a basket of eggs by her side. Suddenly the rope broke, and the
train dashed into the Dundee Station, scattering the carriages,
and throwing out the old woman and her basket of broken eggs.
A porter ran to her help, when, gathering herself together,
she exclaimed, "Odd sake, sirs, d'ye aye whummil*
Whummil, to turn upside down.--Jamieson's Scottish Dictionary.
us oot this way?" She thought it was only the ordinary way of
delivering railway passengers.
Ropes, however, were merely exceptional methods of working railway
trains. Eventually locomotives were invariably adopted. When railways
were extended in so many directions, more and more locomotives were
required to work them.
When George Stephenson was engaged in building his first locomotive at
Killingworth, he was greatly hampered, not only by the want of handy
mechanics, but by the want of efficient tools. But he did the best
that he could. His genius overcame difficulties. It was immensely to
his credit that he should have so successfully completed his engines
for the Stockton and Darlington, and afterwards for the Liverpool and
Only a few years had passed, and self-acting tools were now enabled to
complete, with precision and uniformity, machines that before had been
deemed almost impracticable.
In proportion to the rapid extension of railways the demand for
locomotives became very great. As our machine tools were peculiarly
adapted for turning out a large amount of first-class work, we directed
our attention to this class of business. In the course of about ten
years after the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway,
we executed considerable orders for locomotives for the London and
Southampton, the Manchester and Leeds, and the Gloucester railway
The Great Western Railway Company invited us to tender for twenty of
their very ponderous engines. They proposed a very tempting condition
of the contract. It was, that if, after a month's trial of the
locomotives, their working proved satisfactory, a premium of #100 was
to be added to the price of each engine and tender. The locomotives
were made and delivered; they ran the stipulated number of test miles
between London and Bristol in a perfectly satisfactory manner;
and we not only received the premium, but, what was much more
encouraging, we received a special letter from the Board of Directors,
stating their entire satisfaction with the performance of our engines,
and desiring us to refer other contractors to them with respect to the
excellence of our workmanship. This testimonial was altogether
spontaneous, and proved extremely valuable in other quarters.
I may mention that, in order to effect the prompt and perfect execution
of this order, I contrived several special machine tools, which
assisted us most materially. These tools for the most part rendered us
more independent of mere manual strength and dexterity, while at the
same time they increased the accuracy and perfection of the work.
They afterwards assisted us in the means of perfecting the production
of other classes of work. At the same time they had the important
effect of diminishing the cost of production, as was made sufficiently
apparent by the balance-sheet prepared at the end of each year.
My connection with the Great Western Company shortly led to a most
important event in connection with my own personal history. It appears
that their famous steam-ship the Great Western had been very
successful in her voyages between Bristol and New York; so much so,
indeed, that the directors of the Company ordered the construction of
another vessel of much greater magnitude--the Great Britain.
Mr. Francis Humphries, their engineer, came to Patricroft to consult
with me as to the machine tools, of unusual size and power, which were
required for the construction of the immense engines of the proposed
ship, which were to be made on the vertical trunk principle.
Very complete works were erected at Bristol for the accommodation of
the requisite machinery. The tools were made according to Mr. Humphries'
order; they were delivered and fitted to his entire approval, and the
construction of the gigantic engines was soon in full progress.
An unexpected difficulty, however, was encountered with respect to the
enormous wrought-iron intermediate paddleshaft. It was required to be
of a size and diameter the like of which had never been forged.
Mr. Humphries applied to the largest forges throughout the country for
tenders of the price at which they would execute this important part of
the work, but to his surprise and dismay he found that not one of them
could undertake so large a forging. In this dilemma he wrote a letter
to me, which I received on the 24th of November 1839, informing me of
the unlooked-for difficulty. "I find," he said, "that there is not a
forge hammer in England or Scotland powerful enough to forge the
intermediate paddle-shaft of the engines for the Great Britain!
What am I to do? Do you think I might dare to use cast-iron?
This letter immediately set me a-thinking. How was it that the
existing hammers were incapable of forging a wrought-iron shaft of
thirty inches diameter? Simply because of their want of compass, of
range and fall, as well as of their want of power of blow.
A few moment's rapid thought satisfied me that it was by our rigidly
adhering to the old traditional form of a smith's hand hammer--
of which the forge and tilt hammer, although driven by water or steam
power, were merely enlarged modifications--that the difficulty had
arisen; as, whenever the largest forge hammer was tilted up to its full
height, its range was so small that when a piece of work of considerable
size was placed on the anvil, the hammer became "gagged;" so that,
when the forging required the most powerful blow, it received next to
no blow at all, as the clear space for the fall of the hammer was
almost entirely occupied by the work on the anvil.
The obvious remedy was to contrive some method by which a ponderous
block of iron should be lifted to a sufficient height above the object
on which it was desired to strike a blow, and then to let the block
full down upon the forging, guiding it in its descent by such simple
means as should give the required precision in the percussive action of
the falling mass following up this idea, I got out my "Scheme Book,"
on the pages of which I generally thought out, with the aid of pen and
pencil, such mechanical adaptations as I had conceived in my mind,
and was thereby enabled to render them visible. I then rapidly sketched
out my Steam Hammer, having it all clearly before me in my mind's eye.
In little more than half an hour after receiving Mr. Humphries' letter
narrating his unlooked-for difficulty, I had the whole contrivance in
all its executant details, before me in a page of my Scheme Book,
a reduced photographed copy of which I append to this description.
The date of this first drawing was the 24th November, 1839.
[Image] First drawing of steam hammer, 24th Nov. 1839
My Steam Hammer as thus first sketched, consisted of, first, a massive
anvil on which to rest the work; second, a block of iron constituting
the hammer or blow-giving portion; and, third, an inverted steam
cylinder to whose piston-rod the hammer-block was attached.
All that was then required to produce a most effective hammer was
simply to admit steam of sufficient pressure into the cylinder,
so as to act on the under-side of the piston, and thus to raise the
hammer-block attached to the end of the piston rod. By a very simple
arrangement of a slide valve, under the control of all attendant,
the steam was allowed to escape and thus permit the massive block of
iron rapidly to descend by its own gravity upon the work then upon the
Thus, by the more or less rapid manner in which the attendant allowed
the steam to enter or escape from the cylinder, any required number or
any intensity of blows could be delivered. Their succession might be
modified in an instant. The hammer might be arrested and suspended
according to the requirements of the work. The workman might thus,
as it were, think in blows. He might deal them out on to the ponderous
glowing mass, and mould or knead it into the desired form as if it were
a lump of clay; or pat it with gentle taps according to his will,
or at the desire of the forgeman.
Rude and rapidly sketched out as it was, this, my first delineation of
the steam hammer, will be found to comprise all the essential elements
of the invention. Every detail of the drawing retains to this day the
form and arrangement which I gave to it forty-three years ago.
I believed that the steam hammer would prove practically successful;
and I looked forward to its general employment in the forging of heavy
masses of iron. It is no small gratification to me now, when I look
over my rude and hasty first sketch, to find that I hit the mark so
exactly, not only in the general structure but in the details;
and that the invention as I then conceived it and put it into shape,
still retains its form and arrangements intact in the thousands of
steam hammers that are now doing good service in the mechanical arts
throughout the civilised world.
But to return to my correspondence with the Great Western Steamship
Company. I wrote at once to Mr. Humphries, and sent him a sketch of my
proposed steam hammer. I told him that I felt assured he would now be
able to overcome his difficulty, and that the paddle-shaft of the Great
Britain might now be forged. Mr. Humphries was delighted with my
design. He submitted it to Mr. Brunel, engineer-in-chief of the
steamship: to Mr. Guppy, the managing director; and to other persons
interested in the undertaking,--by all of whom it was heartily
approved. I accordingly gave the Company permission to communicate my
design to such forge proprietors as might feel disposed to erect the
steam hammer, the only condition that I made being, that in the event
of its being adopted I was to be allowed to supply it in accordance
with my design.
But the paddle-shaft of the Great Britain was never forged. About that
time the substitution of the Screw for the paddle-wheel as a means of
propulsion was attracting much attention. The performances of the
Archimedes, as arranged by Mr. Francis P. Smith, were so satisfactory
that Mr. Brunel, after he had made an excursion in that vessel,
recommended the directors to adopt the new propelling power. After much
discussion, they yielded to his strongly-urged advice. The consequence
was, that the great engines which Mr. Humphries had so elaborately
designed, and which were far advanced in construction, were given up,
to his inexpressible regret and mortification, as he had pinned his
highest hopes as a practical engineer on the results of their
performance. And, to crown his distress, he was ordered to produce
fresh designs of engines specially suited for screw propulsion.
Mr. Humphries was a man of the most sensitive and sanguine constitution
of mind. The labour and the anxiety which he had already undergone,
and perhaps the disappointment of his hopes, proved too much for him;
and a brain fever carried him off after a few days' illness.
There was thus, for a time, an end of the steam hammer required for
forging the paddle-shaft of the Great Britain.
Very bad times for the iron-trade, and for all mechanical undertakings,
set in about this time. A wide-spread depression affected all
conditions of industry Although I wrote to the heads of all the great
firms, urging the importance of my invention, and forwarding designs of
my steam hammer, I was unable to obtain a single order. It is true,
they cordially approved of my plan, and were greatly struck by its
simplicity, unity, and apparent power.*
Among the heads of firms who sent me cordial congratulations on my
design, were Benjamin Hick, of the Soho Ironworks, Bolton, a man,
whose judgment in all matters connected with engineering and mechanical
construction was held in the very highest regard;
Messrs. Rushton and Eckersley, Bolton Ironworks;
Messrs. Howard and Ravenhill, Rotherhithe Ironworks, London;
Messrs. Hawkes, Crashaw, and Company, Newcastle-upon-Tyne;
George Thorneycroft, Wolverhampton; and others.
But the substance of their replies was, that they had not sufficient
orders to keep the forge hammers they already possessed in work.
They promised, however, that in the event of trade recovering from its
depression, they would probably adopt the new power.
In the meantime my invention was taken up in an entirely new and
unexpected quarter. I had for some years been supplying foreign
customers with self-acting machine tools. The principals of
continental manufacturing establishments were accustomed to make
frequent visits to England for the purpose of purchasing various
machine tools required for the production of the ponderous as well as
the lighter parts of their machinery. We gave our foreign visitors
every facility and opportunity for seeing our own tools at work,
and they were often so much pleased that, when they came to order one
special tool, they ended by ordering many,--the machine tools in full
activity thus acting as their most effective advertisements.
In like manner I freely opened my Scheme Book to any foreign visitors.*
Some establishments in the same line of business were jealous of the
visit of foreigners; but to our views, restriction in the communication
of new ideas on mechanical subjects to foreigners of intelligence and
enterprising spirit served no good purpose, as the foreign engineer was
certain to obtain all the information he was in quest of from the
drawings in the Patent Office, or from the admirable engravings
contained in the engineering publications of the day. It was better to
derive the advantage of supplying them with the machines they were in
quest of, than to wait until the demand was supplied by foreigners
There I let them see the mechanical thoughts that were passing through
my mind, reduced to pen and ink drawings. I did not hesitate to
advocate the advantage of my steam hammer over every other method of
forging heavy masses of iron; and I pointed out the drawing in my
Scheme Book in confirmation of my views. The book was kept in the
office to be handy for such occasions; and in many cases it was the
means of suggesting ideas of machine tools to our customers, and thus
led to orders which might not have been obtained without this effective