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Manchester Engineers & Inventors


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

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

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.
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.