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BY MR. GEORGE GENT,
MACHINIST AXD TOOL MAKER, MAXCHESTER
(A Paper med at a meeting of the Masters, Foremen, and Draughtsmen's
Association, Manchester, 1858.)
Ir speaking of the mechanical trades of Great
, I do so with much diffidence, because I know
rare circumstances. By the aid of the steam engine, the position of our mines is immaterial, and the depth of little consequence. By this power, we are now raising to the surface of the earth 70,000,000 tons of coal annually in Great Britain alone; and an amount of iron-stone from which is annually made about 4,000,000 tons of pig-iron. Thus our minerals are raised in abundance, and by the further aid of our railways, coals are brought from the most distant parts of the country, and distributed throughout at à cheap rate; which promotes the comfort and civilisation of the people, and is especially a manifest blessing to the poorer classes of society. Our system of railway and commercial marine, facilitates business, and saves much time, by quick transit, and punctuality; cheapens every article of produce and manufacture by low rates of carriage; and places our competitive system in a more favourable and healthy position; and is at all times contributing to our wants, convenience and comfort. What could have brought our friends to us this evening, from distant parts of the country to enjoy this rich repast, but this wonderful power-steam—which gives us an opportunity of seeing their good-natured faces; to partake of their intellectual ideas; and to have that mutual interchange of thought and social goodwill, which is so agreeable to ourselves, and truly beneficial to the general good of mankind.
The most important era in connection with the mechanical trade, was near the termination of the last century.
Inventions were introduced at that time, which gave a footing to all the prosperity and wealth-not only of Great Britain, but to the greatest part of the civilized world. Previous to the inven. tions alluded to, we had no factories erected; spinning and weaving were done by the workpeople in their own dwellings. Spinning by the wheel was a slow process, and also that of weaving; but more inconvenience existed for want of yarn and weft, than that of weaving; for the spinners could not supply the looms, which were all worked by hand.
In 1769, a patent was taken out by Richard Arkwright, a native of Preston, for the application of rollers for spinning. The following year, another patent was secured by James Hargreaves, of Blackburn; and in 1779 Samuel Crompton, of Halli'th'-Wood, near Bolton, also took out a patent for a similar purpose.
The produce of yarn and weft from these machines, was very considerable, and necessitated improvements in the loom.
In 1789, Dr. Cartwright obtained a patent loom intended to be worked by power; but not being a practical man, and having no connexion with the mechanical trades, he did not carry it out effectually. Others, however, subsequently took it in hand, and lvought it to a state of comparative perfection. In 1809, parliament granted Dr. Cartwright the sum of £10,000 for his exposition of natural talent, deep thought, and ingenuity as to the practicability of applying power to the loom. The men of the mechanical trades at this time performed their work, as may be expected, in a rude way; and their niechanical genius was as much required in the making of tools for the due performance of their Fork, as in the making of the patented machinery they had to construct. The spinning, weaving, and other machinery soon came to be in a very efficient state. A great drawback was however experienced in the want of steam power adequate to the times; and it is remarkable how circumstances dove-tailed, as it were, into each other, for the promotion of commercial developement. About this time, as if by a providential act, the renowned James Watt, a native of Greenock, and mathematical instrument maker at the College of Glasgow, had occasion to repair a model of an atmospheric engine of Newcomb's, which drew his attention more particularly to its itu provement; the result of which, was one of the most important discoveries ever made, viz. :—the practicability of forming a separate condensation apart from the cylinder. This being fully accomplished, he soon after applied steam to force down the piston in the cylinder, instead of using the atinosphere for that purpose as heretefore. The double-acting steam engine being now made, ( the importance of which cannot be over estimated, the demand for them was very great, and they were distributed through the country as rapidly as circumstances would permit. Men capable of managing them were in active demand; factories were built in rapid succession, and driven by steam power; the members of the mechanical trades of Great Britain became a highly distinguished class,—and I may venture to say, that by their industry, enterprise, and ingenuity, Great Britain's greatness was secured, and her position made enviable to all the world !
At this stage of prosperity, the manufacture of cotton and other goods became immense ; but the means of transit were inadequate,—the only means of carriage being by waggons and horses on the highway, or boats drawn by horses on the canal. The demand for conveyance became so extensive that the companies became haughty, independent, and insolent, and it was too common for cotton, timber, and other merchandise to remain at Liverpool and other seaports for weeks, and in some cases months, and no possibility of the owners obtaining their removal to their places of business. Before a committee of the House of Commons, in 1925, Mr. Adams, in opening the case of the promoters of the bill for the construction of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, said—“It was a curious fact, that in the year 1790, there was not one steam engine in Manchester, though in 1824 there were above two hundred. In 1814, there was not one loom in Manchester worked by steam, whilst in 1824 there were thirty thousand i" He also said, in reference
to the conveyance, that “Cases liad occurred of goods taking a longer time to pass from Liverpool to Manchester, than from America to Liverpool. Cotton had been delayed eighteen, twenty-two, and even twenty-four days. Timber sent to the Old Riser Company in December, 1824, had not been delivered on the 14th of March following. Corn had been obliged to be landed and warehoused, for want of means of forwarding it into the interior. The new Quay Company had seventeen flats: between June and December, 1824, each of those flats made eighteen trips,-a trip a-week, and one to divide amongst the seventeen. Thus a vessel required a week to make a trip from Liverpool to Manchester, unload its cargo, take in another, and find its way back again."
I have no particulars of the general state of our manufactories about this period, -say 1824; but a gradual increase took place, and in 1838, the number of factories was 4,217; and in 1856, 5,117: the number of looms in 1856 was 369,205, and that of spindles, 33,503,580. The number of horses-power used at this time was estimated at 161,495. The average value of cotton goods and yarn exported in the three years, 1853, 1854, and 1855, was £31,000,000. Woollen and worsted goods and yarn, £10,000,000. At the early part of the 18th century, our import of raw cotton was about £2,000,000; but by the extraordinary inventions and improvements of the steam engine and other machinery, we required in 1856 about that amount every two days, our consumption being 43,269 bales a-week, or 2,250,000 bales a-vear. Necessity is the mother of invention. -Great Britain may well rejoice, if not all the world, that men have been providentially raised up in the mechanical tradles adequate to the apparent insurmountable difficulties of our inland transit. I need not mention the names of George Stephenson and Timothy Hackworth, whose names will be handed