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Greater Manchester Engineers & Inventors

George Stephenson

George Stephenson - engineer

George Stephenson was born on 9th June 1781 at Wylam near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. His connection with Manchester lies in his design and construction of the railway sheds at Victoria Station in the city centre. He grew up with a keen interest in machines and as a young man he attended evening classes in reading and writing. In 1802 he became a colliery engineman and married Frances Henderson. He also did clock repairs to supplement their meagre income. In 1803, his son Robert was born. In 1806 his wife, who had long suffered with ill health, died of tuberculosis. George developed an increasing interest in engines of all types; he frequently dismantled them in order to better understand their function and construction and by 1812 his wide practical knowledge of engines resulted in him being employed as a colliery enginewright. Gradually he became preoccupied with developing a locomotive; he convinced the pit manager to allow him to work on a steam-powered machine, and by 1814 he had constructed an early locomotive capable of hauling thirty tons up hill at a speed of 4 mph.
Over the next five years Stephenson went on to build some sixteen engines, so that the colliery owners were gave him the task of building a eight mile railroad from Hetton to the River Wear at Sunderland. In April 1821 an Act of Parliament was passed enabling one Edward Pearse to build a "horse railway" that would link the collieries in West Durham, Darlington and the River Tees at Stockton. Stephenson arranged a meeting with Pease and suggested that he should consider building a locomotive railway, and that he was the very man to do it. Stephenson's engine, the "Blutcher", so impressed Pearce that he offered him the post as the chief engineer of his Stockton & Darlington company. Stephenson immediately began working to develop iron rails at William Losh's ironworks in Newcastle. By 1823 Pease joined one Michael Longdridge, George Stephenson himself and his son Robert to form Robert
Stephenson & Company at Forth Street in Newcastle to become the world's first locomotive builders. In 1822 they began work on a 15 mile track from Stockton to Darlington. The opening of the Stockton & Darlington line on 27th September 1825, was attended by large crowds as the engine "Locomotion" pulled 36 fully laden wagons a distance of nearly 9 miles in two hours, at times achieving speeds of 15 mph. Following on this success, Stephenson went on to become engineer at the Bolton & Leigh Railway, as well as chief engineer of the proposed Liverpool & Manchester Railway (the LMR).
A competition was held to choose a suitable locomotive to work on the LMR; the winning locomotive would be awarded �500. The competition was held at Rainhill during October 1829 and 10 locomotives originally entered the Rainhill Trials. However, only five turned up and two were withdrawn with mechanical problems. In the end it was between the "Sans Pariel", "Novelty" and the Stephenson's "Rocket" developed by George and his son, Robert. The Rocket beat both competitors, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Liverpool & Manchester Railway opened on 15th September 1830, with the prime minister, the Duke of Wellington, and many civic dignitaries in attendance. Disaster struck as a the government minister, William Huskisson was knocked down and killed by one of the locomotives - the first railway fatality. However, the success of Stephenson's engines was secure, and he went on to be chief engineer for many other railway companies, including the Manchester & Leeds, Birmingham & Derby, Normanton & York and Sheffied & Rotherham. He was also responsible, along with his son Robert, for the design and construction of the railway platform sheds at Manchester Victoria Station.
George Stephenson continued to work on improving the quality of the locomotives and later moved to live in Chesterfield where, with a partner, he opened coalmines, ironworks and limestone quarries in the area. He also owned a small farm where he experimented in stock breeding and developing new animal foods. George Stephenson died at Tapton House, Chesterfield on 12th August 1848.

Thomas Earnshaw

Thomas Earnshaw, marine chronometer maker and horologist,

Thomas Earnshaw was a pioneer horologist and one of several developers of the marine chronometer. He was born in Mottram, Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, (now in the Metropolitan Borough of Tameside). Though his youth was spent in Lancashire, he spent most of his productive adult life working in premises at 119 High Holborn in London, where he lived and raised his family. In 1782 he invented the so-called spring detent chronometer escapement, (also known as the chronometer escapement ), which was to become the standard for marine chronometers throughout the 19th century and essentially remained unchanged to the present day. It has only been superseded in quite recent times by quartz digital timepieces. Earnshaw's detent escapement revolutionised portable time-telling at sea.
His work paralleled that of his rival, John Arnold, another celebrated London watchmaker. However, it was Earnshaw who had simplified the design of the pocket and marine chronometers into their modern, readily reproducible form. Both Arnold and Earnshaw had produced chronometers for £60 and these had become commonplace by the 1820s.
Initially, Earnshaw did not hold the patent to his invention - this was owned by Thomas Wright because Earnshaw was unable to afford the cost of registration.
Two Earnshaw chronometers can be found at the Royal Observatory, placed there at the request of the Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne, (another rival). Earnshaw's so-called No.1 chronometer had been delivered for trials at the Royal Greenwich Observatory in February 1792, where it remained for two years until it was finally installed by Earnshaw himself at Armagh in Northern Ireland on the 18th August 1794, (where it remains to this day).
There were rival claims as to the origination of his timepieces, and Earnshaw fought both of his horological rivals for more than a decade, as well as taking on the government in order to secure fair recognition and reward for his endeavours.
His mechanism differed from its predecessors in that it gave impulse to the balance in one direction during a short section of its arc, and had the advantage over Arnold's type in not requiring oil on the escape wheel teeth. Disillusioned, Earnshaw even published an article, "Appeal to the Public" in 1808, in which he presented the evidence of his invention, but even this failed to gain the recognition he deserved. Eventually, recognition and remuneration did come, so that in 1853 Thomas Robinson, another celebrated clock maker, wrote of Earnshaw's clock that it was "…probably the best in the world". In the end, Earnshaw's spring detent escapement was awarded £3,000 from the Board of Longitude for its contribution towards the solution of the longitude at sea problem, and nowadays Thomas Earnshaw ranks amongst our greatest chronometer inventors and has finally secured his rightful place in the history of marine technology. He died in 1829 in London, and his old premises in High Holborn carries a Blue Plaque to mark his achievement.

Sir Roger Bradshaigh

An antiquarian called John Leland, in his 1540 "Itinerary", wrote:

'Mr Bradshau (Bradshaw or Bradshaigh) hath a place callid Hawe (or Haigh) a myle from Wigan. He hath found moche canel ... in his grounde ... very profitable to hym'.

The 'canel' in question was the famous Haigh Cannel - the name probably derived from 'candle' - a locally mined mineral which was an excellent light fuel which burned with a bright flame, was easily lit and left virtually no ash. The material was smooth, hard, and could be worked and carved, by hand or turned on a lathe, and made into ornaments. Its development as a material came into its own in the early 19th Century, where its high illuminating power was ideal for the crude domestic burners of the day, before the incandescent gas mantle was available. In the 16th century, Sir Roger Bradshaigh had discovered this plentiful seam of Cannel on his estate at Haigh near Wigan. Further, it was in a shallow depth seam just a few feet from the surface. The deposit came to be known as "the Great Haigh Fault" and runs alongside the the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. The shallow depth of the Cannel meant that it was suitable for the simple surface mining methods available at that time. It was widely used for domestic lighting throughout the region and gradually lost favour as the increasingly widespread use of coal gas made it obsolete.

James Hargreaves

James Hargreaves was born sometime around 1720 in Blackburn Lancashire. He was largely uneducated and illiterate, and worked as a carpenter and weaver for many years during his early life. At that time, spinning and weaving was predominantly a small cottage industry. Most people worked as farming communities, but kept small spinning wheels and looms at home where they worked in the evening to add to their meagre income. Hargreaves' invention of the Spinning Jenny was to change all that, and would be a crucial implement in the advancement of the Industrial revolution. In the 1760s Hargreaves lived at Stanhill where he would develop the concept of a whole line of spindles working off one single wheel. By 1764 he had built a prototype machine, all hand engineered and crafted - it would become known as the 'Spinning Jenny'. It utilised eight spindles turned by a single wheel - spinning eight threads at once for the same effort and in the same time that conventional spinning could only manage one thread.
Hargreaves' invention had only ever been intended for personal use in his home, of course, but soon others wanted to buy his machine, and their manufacture soon began to take off as a fully commercial enterprise. Traditional Lancashire spinners, however, fearing being made redundant and unable to compete with the cheaper manufacturing costs that the Jenny made possible, actually broke into his house and destroyed his equipment. Hargreaves had very little business sense and by the time that he finally got round to applying for a patent on his invention in 1770, many others had already copied the concept and consequently Hargreaves made little or nothing from his invention. In fact, harassed by threats, he moved away to Nottingham and set up his own spinning mill.
Over time, improvements to his Jenny resulted in its capacity being increased from eight to eighty threads. When he died in 1778, it is estimated that over 20,000 of Hargreaves' Spinning Jenny machines existed in the United Kingdom, though Hargreaves himself died in abject poverty, having failed to capitalise on such a brilliant and revolutionary idea.


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This page last updated 21 Dec 11.