James Nasmyth.

James Nasmyth, engineer; an autobiography online

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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 rental of Ifd. 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 pro-
vide 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 favour-


able. 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
Bridge water Foundry was afterwards erected. 1

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 rail-
way station was near at hand, and afforded every oppor-
tunity for travelling to and from the works, while I was at
the same time placed within twenty minutes of Manchester.

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 pur-
chased a number of logs of New Brunswick pine. The logs

1 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 BrSndlcy, so that it might well be considered, in an
Engineering sense, "classic ground."


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 pro-
ceeded. 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 horse-
power 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 its 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 con-
densing 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 Bridge-
water Foundry.

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 Fair-
head. 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 underneath.

1 returned to Patricroft, and found the wooden work-
shops nearly finished. The machine tools were, for the
most part, fixed and ready for use. In August 1836 the




Bridgcwater 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 in-


creased. 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.

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 vvest
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 trans-
actions 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 disposi-
tion 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 cheer-
fulness, part of which she transferred to my cottage.

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 re-
membrance of the delightful evenings I spent in their
society will ever continue one of the most cherished recol-
lections 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 mo
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. 1

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.

1 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 dis-
tinguished their parents, and made them universally beloved by all
classes, rich and poor.




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.

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 sconce that invariably float on the surface of the melted
metal. This was formerly done by hand, and many acci-
dents were the consequence. But now the clear flow of
pure metal into the moulds was secured, while the sconce
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 tech-
nical 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 acknowledg-
ment 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 construc-
tion ; 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

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 consider-


able 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 correspond-
ence 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 in-
telligible than any amount of written words.

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 straightforwardness 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. Gas-
kell 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.



I HAD no difficulty in obtaining abundance of skilled work-
men 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 Man-
chester: that much of the mechanical excellence of its
workmen descends from the Norman smiths and armourers
introduced into the neighbourhood at the Norman Con-
quest 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 " Lan-
cashire files." The "P. S., M 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 neigh-
bourhood. 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 War-
rington 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 cen-
turies. 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, cele-
brated 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

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, re-
spectable, 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 num-
bers, 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 sub-
stantial 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.

The village of Worsley, the headquarters of the Bridge-
water Canal, supplied us with a valuable set of workmen.
They were, in the first place, labourers ; but, like all Lan-
cashire men, they were naturally possessed of a quick apti-
tude 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

Online LibraryJames NasmythJames Nasmyth, engineer; an autobiography → online text (page 17 of 37)