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declared that, however powerful engines were made, they would be unable to draw very heavy loads on account of the want of adhesion; and all kinds of suggestions were made to remedy this supposed difficulty, such as sprinkling sand in front of the wheels, making the tyres rough like files, etc., all of which were found to be quite unnecessary, owing to the apparently unforeseen fact that as engines became more powerful they became heavier.
On the heath about a mile and a half north of Leighton there was a tumulus, and I was very anxious to know if there was anybody or thing buried under it. The whitesmith was equally interested, and he agreed to go with me some morning very early when we should not be likely to be interfered with. So we started one morning about five, with a couple of spades, and began digging straight down in the middle of the tumulus. It was light sandy soil, easy to move, and we dug a good large hole till we got down about five feet deep, which was the height of the barrow, and then, having found nothing whatever for our trouble, we filled the hole up again, laid on the turf, and got back to breakfast, very tired, but glad to have done it, even though we had found nothing.
Having finished our plans of Soulbury, and made the three copies needed with their books of reference, with some other odd work, my brother took me up to London on Christmas Eve, travelling by coach to Berkhampstead, and thence on to London by the railway, which had been just opened. We went third class for economy, in open trucks identical with modern goods trucks, except that they had hinged doors, but with no seats whatever, so that any one tired of standing must sit upon the floor. Luckily it was mild weather, and the train did not go more than fifteen or twenty miles an hour, yet even at that pace the wind was very disagreeable. The next day we went home to Hoddesdon for a holiday. It had been settled that, as no more surveying work was in view, I should go back to Leighton to Mr. Matthews for a few months to see if I should like to learn the watch and clock-making business as well as
surveying and general engineering; and as there seemed to be nothing else available I did so.
Mr. William Matthews was a man of about thirty. He had been married two years, and had a little girl under a year old. Both he and Mrs. Matthews were pleasant people, and I felt that I should be comfortable with them. He had been partly educated under Mr. Bevan, a civil engineer of some reputation, who had made experiments on the strength of materials, the holding power of glue and nails, etc., and had invented an improved slide-rule. My brother had one of these rules, which we found very useful in testing the areas of fields, which at that time we obtained by calculating the triangles into which each field was divided. To check these calculations we used the slide-rule, which at once showed if there were any error of importance in the result. This interested me, and I became expert in its use, and it also led me to the comprehension of the nature of logarithms, and of their use in various calculations. Mr. Matthews had also charge of the town gas-works, which involved some knowledge of practical chemistry, and a good deal of mechanical work. I spent about nine months in his house, and during that time learnt to take an ordinary watch to pieces, clean it properly, and put it together again, and the same with a clock; to do small repairs to jewellery ; and to make some attempts at engraving initials on silver. I also saw the general routine of gas manufacture ; but hardly any surveying, which was the work I liked best. I was, therefore, very glad when circumstances, not connected with myself, put an end to the arrangement. Mr. Matthews received the offer of a partnership on very favourable terms in an old-established wholesale watchmaking firm in the city of London. Although he would have much preferred the more varied interests of a country life, he could not give up the certainty of a good income with prospect of increase, and thus be able to provide for his wife and family. Fortunately, about the same time my brother had engaged to go to Kington, in Herefordshire, to assist the Messrs. Sayce, with whom he had
been articled, and who had a large business in the surrounding districts.
A younger brother of Mr. Matthews, who was an amateur chemist, was to take over the management of the gas-works, and this led to a thorough overhauling of the whole plant, including the mains and street lamps, so that everything should be handed over in good working order; and though I had generally to mind the shop while the master was away, I heard every detail discussed in the evening, and sometimes went out with them after closing hours, to examine some street lamp or house connection that showed indication of a leak or water stoppage. Before quitting this episode in my early life, I may just note that in after years we became almost neighbours, first in North-West London, and afterwards at Godalming, and kept up a neighbourly friendship for many years. A son, William Matthews, jun., was brought up to watchmaking, with the prospect of succeeding his father as head of the London firm; but the business was distasteful to him, and when he came of age he entered the office of a building surveyor. But the strain of London life, and an insatiable love of work when work was to be had, undermined his health, and he died in middle age. Mr. Matthews himself was also an example of an intelligent man with considerable ability entirely lost in the narrow round of a small old-fashioned city business, which absorbed all his energies, and, combined with a habit of excessive snuff-taking, affected both his mental faculties and his physical health. I am, therefore, thankful that circumstances allowed me to continue in the more varied, more interesting, and more healthy occupation of a land-surveyor.
This may be considered the first of several turning-points of my life, at which, by circumstances beyond my own control, I have been insensibly directed into the course best adapted to develop my special mental and physical activities. It was the death at this particular period of the senior partner in the city watchmaking firm, and his having offered to Mr. Matthews the opportunity of being his successor on exceedingly advantageous terms, that prevented me from becoming
a mechanical tradesman in a country town, by which my
life would almost certainly have been shortened and my mental development stunted by the monotony of my occupation. If I had completed the year with Mr. Matthews, I should have been formally apprenticed to him ; and if he had gone into the City business afterwards, I should either have been passed over to his successor at Leighton, or my training would have been completed in London. This latter, though perhaps better financially, would have been far worse for me mentally and physically, since this wholesale business was the most monotonous and mechanical possible, as I learned some years afterwards when I visited the London office. To my surprise I then found that the business, which brought in a clear profit of about £1200 a year, had no factory, no machinery, no sign of watchmaking except in a very small room behind the office, where a single workman examined and tested the various portions of the watches as they were brought in by the outside piece-workers, the whole business being thus carried on in two small rooms in Bunhill Row. The movements of the watches dealt in were purchased in Coventry, where the various kinds in general use were designed, the separate parts cast, machine-cut, and filed to their proper gauges, and put together. The mainsprings and balance-springs, chains, hands, dials, and cases were usually purchased separately; and for each class of watch a fitter was employed, whose business it was to put the parts together, find out any small defects, and correct them by hand, while any larger defect in any particular part was sent back to the workman or manufacturer responsible for it. The man at the office made a final examination of the completed watches, tested their performance, corrected any minute defect that was discoverable, and finally, in consultation with one of the firm, determined the grade or quality of the watch and the consequent price. What I should have learnt there would have been how to fit a watch together, how to test it for definite defects, how to judge of the design and workmanship, how to keep accounts, pay the workmen, and probably to act as a traveller for the firm. But even if my health
would have stood the office-work I should never have succeeded as a man of business, for which I am not fitted by nature. I rather think that this particular firm was the last which carried on business in so old-fashioned a way, as the good-will was, I believe, sold some thirty years later, when Mr. Matthews retired. My short experience as a shopboy and watchmaker, and the association with a man of Mr. Matthews's extensive knowledge in certain departments of mechanics and engineering, no doubt helped in the all-round development of my character, although I did not learn anything of much practical use in my after-life.