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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made

story:Machinery in motion

scene:London: Centre of engineering excellence

London: Centre of engineering excellence
'a Mecca for aspiring young engineers and a seed-bed of engineering talent.'
At the start of the nineteenth century, London was the largest urban centre in the world. It had one million inhabitants in 1801, and two million by 1831. Providing food, water, sanitation, transport and power to all these people required machinery and engineering firms quickly sprang up to provide this. London became a substantial centre of manufacturing and shipbuilding.
London had other engineering-related functions: it was Britain's leading port, the centre of a national road network and was located on the Grand Junction Canal, linking it to the industrial Midlands.
As the national economy developed, engineering companies in London were ideally placed to help equip it. By 1825 almost 10,000 men worked in the London machine trade.
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London seen from the roof of the Albion flour mills, 1792. Hand coloured print by Frederick Birnie, after an original by Robert and Henry Aston Barker.
John Braithwaite
John Braithwaite (d. 1818) established his engineering works at New Road, Marylebone. The business was carried on by his son John who, in the late 1820s, constructed the locomotive 'Novelty' for John Ericsson which competed against 'Rocket' in the 1829 Rainhill Trials.
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Braithwaite and Ericsson's locomotive 'Novelty', 17 October 1829. Illustration from the Mechanics' Magazine.
Joseph Bramah
Joseph Bramah (1749-1814) moved to London from Yorkshire in 1773, and set up his engineering business between 1778 and 1784 in London's West End. In 1806 he acquired larger premises in Pimlico. By 1814, these works employed 100 men and comprised a machine shop, foundry, pattern shop and model shop.
Aside from hydraulic machinery, including presses, cranes and lock gates, Bramah built water closets, household locks (using machines built by Henry Maudslay), beer pumps and writing equipment. He also made improvements to the lathe, later extended by Maudslay, and in 1805 constructed an early form of wood-planing machine for the Woolwich arsenal.
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Joseph Bramah (1749-1814). From the oil painting in possession of his great-grandson, V. Wood.
Joseph Bramah's water closet, patented 1778. By 1797, Bramah had sold 6000. Although the closets were highly effective, the antiquated sewers below were unable to cope with the increase in waste disposal they caused. Inadvertently, Bramah contributed to a public health crisis of major proportions in Britain's new industrial cities.
John Rennie
John Rennie (1761-1821) was principally a civil engineer but also established a renowned mechanical engineering works at Blackfriars which was completed in 1810.
Rennie was one of the first engineers to produce machine tools for sale. During the 1780s and 1790s, he provided a rolling mill, drilling and boring machines to Boulton & Watt's Soho Foundry. Rennie also built mill machinery, minting and ropemaking machines and printing presses.
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Longitudinal section of the plans for rebuilding Albion Mills, London, 1791, following a devastating fire. Erected by Matthew Boulton in 1786, the mills were at that time the biggest and best-equipped for milling flour in the country, with equipment provided by Rennie.
Henry Maudslay
Henry Maudslay's (1771-1831) works at Lambeth were a training ground for a whole generation of British engineers. Described as 'the most complete in the kingdom', more than 200 men worked there, producing marine and stationary steam engines, gun-boring, coin-minting and saw mill machinery, foundry equipment and even the shield for the Thames Tunnel, the world's first underwater tunnel.
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Maudslay's works, Lambeth, c.1845.
Rolling mill, built by Maudslay, Sons & Field, 1882, for the Royal Mint, London. It was extremely accurate, being used for rolling silver strip to its final thickness just prior to coins being pressed from it.
Henry Maudslay (1771-1831), by H. Grevedon, 1827.
John Jacob Holtzapffel
John Jacob Holtzapffel (1768-1835), from Alsace, established a toolmaking business at 118 Long Acre, London, around 1787. The company specialised in high-quality ornamental lathes for wealthy amateurs but also made a wide range of hand tools for different trades. By 1811 the company had a turnover of £10,000 a year. Sales that year included 50 lathes and two rose engines for ornamental work, the latter selling for over £400 each.
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Ornamental turning lathe by Holtzapffel, purchased by Sir James Gardiner in 1815.
A complete set of 74 ornamental turning tools by Holtzapffel, 1815. These were used in conjunction with the lathes produced by the company.
David Napier
David Napier (1788-1873) established an engineering business employing over 200 men at York Road, Lambeth, in 1835. Having previously worked in Soho, Napier came from a prolific engineering family. This was reflected in his company's products, described by one commentator as being as 'delicate as any clock could be'. Napier built bullet-making, gun-boring and turning machines for a number of Government arsenals (including that at St Petersburg), as well as coin-weighing machines for the Bank of England.
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David Napier, marine engineer (1785-1873).
Model of Napier's two-cylinder printing press 'The Nay-peer', 1822. Designed to print on both sides of a sheet of paper in one operation, it was praised by the Parliamentary printer Thomas Hansard for its 'beautiful mechanism', a tribute to Napier's engineering prowess.
Taylor & Martineau
Taylor & Martineau had an extensive works on London's City Road. Philip Taylor (1786-1870) initially studied surgery but later became a druggist. John Martineau's family owned successful businesses in sugar refining, banking and brewing. Their business started in 1820, building portable printing machines for Marc Brunel. Later, they built steam engines, gas generators and compressors and pumps.
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High-pressure stationary steam engine designed by Taylor & Martineau. Engraving published by John Murray, London, 1826. It is typical of their 'large and fine products', as described by Swiss traveller J. C. Fischer (1773-1854).
Joseph Clement
Joseph Clement (1779-1844) worked for a number of London engineers, including Henry Maudslay, Joseph Bramah and Alexander Galloway before setting up his own business at Prospect Place, Newington, in 1817. There he made a wide range of machine tools, including lathes and planing machines. From 1826, Clement was employed by Charles Babbage to construct his Difference Engine. This major project confirmed Clement's reputation for high-precision work.
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Screw-cutting lathe made by Joseph Clement, c.1820. Clement made an important contribution to the techniques of screw-cutting. This lathe is powered by two treadles, each independent of the other, allowing two people to work simultaneously and taking maximum advantage of the full twelve-foot length of the lathe bed.
Bryan Donkin
Bryan Donkin (1768-1855) was apprenticed to John Hall at Dartford during the 1790s. He worked on the first practical papermaking machine for the Fourdrinier Brothers at their Bermondsey works. When they were declared bankrupt in 1810, Donkin took possession of the factory. Thereafter, Donkin turned his attention to making printing machines, water wheels and creating new food canning methods.
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Bryan Donkin (1768-1855). Lithograph by Grenedon, 1829.
Fourdrinier papermaking machine, 1812. Prior to this, sheets of paper were made individually. The Fourdrinier Brothers' machine produced a continuous sheet of paper, and its principles remain in use, essentially unaltered, today.
John Seaward
John Seaward (1786-1858) established Seaward & Co. at the Limehouse Iron Works, Millwall, in 1824. Seaward was already an accomplished civil and mechanical engineer when he started the company which designed and built swing bridges, cranes, marine engines and mill equipment.
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Model of J. Seaward's direct acting paddle-engine, 1838. This compact marine engine was fitted into a number of Royal Navy ships between 1837 and 1843. Construction of engines like this became Seaward's speciality, requiring great investment in skilled engineers, workshops and machine tools.
John Penn
John Penn was born near Taunton and was apprenticed to a millwright at Bridgwater, Somerset. Moving to London in 1793, he set up shop as a millwright and machinist at Greenwich in 1800. Penn built wind and water mills, treadmills and the associated machinery. However, he really made his name building marine steam engines from the 1820s.
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Model, scale 1:12, of Penn's trunk engines as fitted in the Royal Navy frigates HMS 'Encounter' and 'Arragant', 1848. Penn was a pioneer of this compact engine design, which did away with engine piston rods and crossheads by attaching the connecting rod directly to the piston, which was very long relative to its diameter.
John Penn's marine engine works at Greenwich, London, 1865.
John Hall
John Hall (1764-1836) started his career as apprentice to his own father, William Hall, a Hampshire millwright. Setting up his own business as a blacksmith at Dartford, he rapidly expanded into larger premises and built a wide range of products from papermaking machinery to steam engines and rolling mills.
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Rotative compound steam engine built by John Hall at Dartford, 1838. In all, Hall built 356 engines, the last one in 1879. Hall was particularly prominent in the early manufacture of Woolf compound steam engines.

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