These eight magnificent stamps celebrate eight different pioneers responsible for the Industrial Revolution which powered Britain forward in the 18th and 19th centuries and put the “Great” into Great Britain!
Matthew Boulton was an English manufacturer/engineer born 1728 in Birmingham. He became a partner in his father’s business aged 21 and in 1755 the family acquired Sarehole Mill. Boulton later went into partnership with John Fothergill and in 1762 they set up the Soho Manufactory where they produced metal objects such as steel buttons, diamond imitations and repro oil paintings.
Circa 1767 Boulton who needed a way of improving the power supply for his machinery met James Watt who saw the benefits to the development of his steam engine in the Soho Manufactory. Since Watt’s partner, Dr John Roebuck, owed Boulton a considerable sum of money Boulton took a share in Watt’s steam engine patent and three years later they formed a partnership. Largely through Boulton’s efforts Watt’s steam engine was a success and in addition to being employed in mines, after some adaptation, was to be found in Richard Arkwright’s cotton mills as well as various other factories. In 1800 both Boulton and Watt retired passing on the business to their sons. Boulton died on 17th August 1809 with this year marking 200 years since his death.
James Watt born in 1736 was a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer who improved the steam engine bringing about the resulting Industrial Revolution.
At 18 when Watt’s mother died and his father became ill Watt went to London to study instrument-making. After a year he came back to Glasgow to set up his own instrument-making business but because he had not served at least seven years as an apprentice the Glasgow Guild of Hammermen turned down his application. Three professors at the University of Glasgow however offered Watt the chance to set up his own workshop in the university. Four years later Watt was experimenting with steam and after a failed attempt at building a steam engine he learned that the University had a model Newcomen engine which was returned from London and in 1763 he repaired it. It did not work very well but after many experiments where a vacuum in the condenser was created which then sucked the steam from the cylinder he had a working model by 1765.
In order to produce a full-scale engine Watt needed more capital which came from John Roebuck with whom he had formed a partnership. Unfortunately Roebuck went bankrupt and it was then Matthew Boulton (see above) who acquired the patent rights. Watt and Boulton formed a very successful partnership which gave rise in 1776 to the first commercially viable engines which to begin with were installed in mines to pump out water. Boulton advised Watt to change the motion of the piston to produce power for grinding, weaving and milling which over the next six years Watt implemented along with many other changes and improvements. In 1794 the two men established Boulton and Watt to exclusively manufacture steam engines which subsequently powered the ensuing Industrial Revolution.
Richard Arkwright, born in 1732 in Preston, Lancashire was the youngest of thirteen children.With John Kay,a clockmaker, in 1768 he established himself in the textile centre of Nottingham. A year later he patented the water-frame, a machine for producing cheap fabric which led to the expansion of the cotton industry. Along with John Kay and John Smalley, Arkwright set up a factory in Nottingham and with capital from Jedediah Strutt and Samuel Need, both wealthy hosiery manufacturers, they built the world’s first water-powered mill at Cromford. Arkwright was granted a patent for his water frame in 1775 which was so successful that many others copied it and it definitely advanced James Hargreaves’ spinning jenny.
Arkwright then took up the lease of the Birkacre mill at Chorley which subsequently grew and became one of the most important and industrialised towns of the Industrial Revolution. By 1774 the firm employed 600 workers and over the next five years it expanded to new locations. Keen to maintain his monopoly power over the fast-growing industry he obtained a grand patent which covered many of the manufacturing processes but opinion in Lancashire was against exclusive patents. In 1781 he tried and failed to uphold his 1775 patent and after six years the case was finally settled against him. In spite of this and the loss of other patents Arkwright was knighted in 1786 and became High Sheriff of Derbyshire in 1787. He built several other factories in Manchester, Matlock, Bath and New Lanark and with his highly disciplined and profitable factory sysem he can be seen to be the creator of the modern factory system and ‘the Father of the Industrial Revolution’.
Josiah Wedgwood was born in 1730 in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent to Thomas and Mary Wedgwood. Having survived smallpox as a child he became an apprentice potter under his eldest brother Thomas Wedgwood IV. Josiah’s knee had been weakened by the smallpox and subsequently he had to have his right leg amputated which meant he was not able to work the foot pedal of a potter’s wheel. He therefore concentrated on designing pottery rather than making it. In his early twenties Wedgwood moved to the firm of Thomas Whieldon where he experimented with a wide variety of pottery techniques which led him to lease the Ivy Works in Burslem and over the next decade it was transformed into the first pottery factory.
Wedgwood’s work was of such high quality that by 1763 he was receiving orders from the British nobility, including Queen Charlotte. He convinced her to let him name the line of pottery she purchased “Queen’s Ware”. The Empress Catherine of Russia ordered the Green Frog service from Wedgwood as well as the Husk Service in 1770. Due to expansion of the business Wedgwood moved from the smaller Ivy Works to the newly-built Etruria Works, named after the Etruria district of Italy where black porcelain dating to Etruscan times was being excavated. In 1780 after his business partner Thomas Bentley died Wedgwood turned to Erasmus Darwin for help in running the business. Josiah’s eldest daughter later married Erasmus’ son and one of the children of that marriage, who has already had a full set of stamps devoted to him this year, Charles Darwin married a Wedgwood, namely Emma, Josiah’s granddaughter.
Wedgwood latterly turned his attention to duplicating the Portland Vase, a blue and white glass vase dating to the first century BC and he worked on this particular project for three years. After he passed on the company to his sons, Wedgwood died at home on 3rd January 1795 and was buried three days later in the parish church of Stoke-on-Trent. Even more than two centuries later the name Wedgwood still lives on today as a famous name in pottery, testament to the man who industrialized its manufacture.
George Stephenson was born at Wylam on 9th June 1781. At the age of 14 he went to work alongside his father at the Dewley Colliery. In 1802 he became a colliery engineman and later that year he married Frances Henderson. At 27 he took up a post as an engineman at Killingworth Colliery where he would take the engines to pieces to see how they were made. These machines included ones made by Thomas Newcomen and James Watt (see part 1 of this feature). This curiosity gave him a fuller knowledge of engines and consequently he was employed as the colliery’s enginewright.
In 1813 Stephenson learnt of attempts by William Hedley and Timothy Hackworth at the Colliery to develop a locomotive. Stephenson convinced his manager, Nicholas Wood, to allow him to produce a steam-powered locomotive and by the following year he had constructed a locomotive that could pull thirty tons up a hill at 4mph. The gears on Stephenson’s locomotive which he called the Blutcher did not drive the rack pinions but the flanged wheels which made it the first successful flanged-wheel adhesion locomotive. Stephenson continued to experiment and in 1815 he had the connecting rods set to drive the wheels directly with the wheels coupled together by a chain.
The colliery owners, impressed by Stephenson’s achievements, gave him the task in 1819 of building a railroad from Hetton to the River Wear at Sunderland. Stephenson believed that in order to work steam railways had to made as level as possible by civil engineering works and so the tracks were laid out in sections. The first part was worked by locomotives, followed by fixed engines and cables. By using only fixed engines and locomotives Stephenson had made the first ever railway independent of animal power.
This then led Stephenson to being invited by Edward Pease who owned the Stockton and Darlington company to become the chief engineer there. He then began working with a William Losh who owned an ironworks and together they patented their own make of cast iron rails. Stephenson however heard of rails which were being made by a John Birkinshaw, an engineer at Bedlington Ironworks and decided to use his rails instead. In 1823 Edward Pease joined with Michael Longdridge, George Stephenson and his son Robert to form The Robert Stephenson & Company which became the world’s first locomotive builder. The first railway locomotive, Locomotion, was finished in 1825.
The track was started and laid in 1822 with malleable iron rails being carried on cast iron chairs. These rails were placed on wooden blocks for 12 miles between Stockton and Darlington and the line opened on 27th September 1825. George Stephenson himself took the controls of Locomotion as it pulled 36 wagons filled with sacks of coal and flour. The cost of transporting such essential goods was much reduced and in 1826 Stephenson was appointed engineer and provider of locomotives for the Bolton & Leigh railway and the Liverpool & Manchester railway. The directors there decided to hold a competition to find the right locomotive for their line.
The competition was held at Rainhill in October 1829 and with only three locomtives actually able to take part it was the Rocket, produced by George and his son that won. The Liverpool & Manchester railway opened on 15th September 1830 with the prime minister, the Duke of Wellington and a large number of important people attending. Following on from the success of the Liverpool & Manchester railway, Stephenson was chief engineer for railways between Manchester and Leeds, Birmingham and Derby, Normanton and York and Sheffield & Rotherham. Stephenson continued working on his locomotives and railways thereafter and died at Chesterfield on 12th August, 1848 having played a huge role in the transport of goods around the country and the ensuing Industrial Revolution.
Henry Maudslay, a British machine tool innovator and inventor was born on August 22nd 1771, the fifth of seven children born to Henry Maudsaly snr. and Margaret Laundy. At 12 Henry began filling cartridges at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, London and after two years he moved to a carpenter’s shop, then a blacksmith’s forge where he started to train to become a blacksmith at the age of 15. Joseph Bramah, the inventor of the hydraulic press, heard of Maudslay’s skill and once he had demonstrated his ability he started work at Bramah’s workshop. Maudslay built the lock which Bramah himself had had difficulty in producing at an
economic price. Maudslay then went on to play a pivotal role in the design and production of Bramah’s hydraulic press and slide-rest lathe which resulted in machine components being produced consistently and in quantity.
In 1797 Maudslay having been refused a wage increase by Bramah set up a business of his own in Wells Street, off Oxford Street. He was commissioned to build a series of 42 woodworking machines to produce wooden rigging blocks for the Navy under Sir Marc Isambard Brunel. These machines were installed in Portsmouth Block Mills and were capable of making 160,000 ships’ blocks a year with only 10 men operating them in comparison with the 110 required previously. Maudslay also standardized the production of screw thread sizes for the first time back in 1800 which allowed nuts and bolts to be interchanged. Up until then nuts and bolts had had to be made as matching pairs and once machines were taken apart and later reassembled, a careful account of each matching nut and bolt had to be made.
By 1810 Maudslay’s premises were too small for his 80 employees and he moved to larger premises in Westminster Road, Lambeth. There he began to specialize in the production of marine steam engines and in 1815 he built his first marine engine which led on to production of steam engines for a large number of vessels including one for Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s famous SS Great Western. Maudslay’s company also provided the tunneling shield and steam-driven pumps for the construction of the Thames Tunnel linking Rotherhithe with Wapping.
Maudslay died in February 1831 and is buried in the churchyard of St Mary Magdalen Woolwich.
James Brindley, an English engineer was born in Tunstead, Derbyshire and became one of the most notable engineers of the 18th century. At 17 he became an apprentice to a millwright in Sutton, Macclesfield and after that he set up his own business as a wheelwright in Leek, Staffordshire. In this time he became well known for designing and repairing many different kinds of machinery and in 1752 he built an engine for draining a coal mine at Clifton in Lancashire.
The third Duke of Bridgewater was looking for ways to improve coal transport from his mines at Worsley to Manchester when Brindley came to his attention. Brindley was commissioned as the consulting engineer to work on the resulting Bridgewater Canal which opened in 1761 and with the Barton aqueduct over the River Irwell was a major technical triumph. After this Brindley was commissioned to construct more canals and he extended the Bridgewater to Runcorn canal connecting it to the Trent and Mersey canal. He believed it would be possible to use canals to link the four great rivers of England, namely the Mersey, Trent, Severn and Thames. The potteries around Stoke-on-Trent were looking for better ways to transport their good around the country and so supported the connection of Staffordshire to the Trent and to the Mersey. Josiah Wedgwood (see part 2 of this feature) cut the first sod which Brindley carried away in a barrow but it would be another four years before it opened from Shardlow to near Stafford and it took eleven years to drive the tunnel.
Brindley unfortunately did not live to see the completion of most of his plans and their development and construction were left to other engineers such as Thomas Telford but nevertheless he still built 365 miles of canals and many watermills including the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, the Coventry Canal and the Oxford Canal. He died at Turnhurst in 1772 and is buried at St. James in Newchapel in Staffordshire.
John McAdam, an engineer and road-builder was born in Ayr, Scotland on 21st September 1756. He moved to New York in 1770 where he made his fortune working at his uncle’s counting house before returning to Scotland in 1783. He became a trustee of the Ayrshire Turnpike in 1783 after which he was involved in day-to-day road construction over the next 10 years. In 1812 he moved to Bristol where he became the general surveyor for the Bristol Corporation in 1804.
In 1816 McAdam also became surveyor to the Bristol Turnpike Trust where he remade the roads with crushed stone bound with gravel on a firm base of large stones. A camber built into the road which made it slightly convex ensured that rainwater drained off the surface and did not damage its foundations. This method of construction became known as “macadmization” or simply “macadam” and spread across the world with the first macadam road in North America being completed in 1830 and most of the main roads in Europe being built this way by the end of the 19th century.
McAdam died in Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland having set the foundations for road construction. With the introduction of tar to bind the road surface’s stones together giving rise to Tar Macadam, modern road construction still reflects McAdam’s influence today.