- Jun 15, 2010
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Indeed he was an incredibly talented 'mechanician' using the Victorian term for the technician engineer. He started his career with an apprenticeship in the workshops of the famed London locksmith Joseph Bramah. Bramah was also an hydraulic engineer who invented the hydraulic press among other things, he was extremely demading in his standards and even today an outstanding example of something is often descried as a 'real Bramah'.Henry Maudsley was a wonderful man, and his works at Lambeth in London was the training ground of many brilliant engineers who were his pupils, Amongst others who worked in his factory were Naysmith the scotsman who invented the pillar shaping machine (The normal design of shaper still in use today,) Others were Whitworth who invented the travelling head shaper, And the greatest of all Richard Roberts, who invented the planing machine,
It is of note that the production of true flat faces in those far off days was a stumbling block to engine and machine production, At this time the planing of large engine components of a heavy nature was a real bugbear, Until the invention of the Wall slotting Machine in the works of James Watt at Birmingham, It is sad that the true inventor of this machine , plus the horizontal wall planing machine was William Murdock, a Scotsmam who was one of Watts colleagues, These machines enabled the machining of large castings which were clamped to a stationary bed plate, or in the case of the wall slotting machine , the castings were mounted on a table which was fed past the travelling tool block, As there was not in those days enough horse power to move heavy castings back and forward on the table of a conventional pattern of planing machine.
Watts sons greatly overlooked any of his many inventions in the story of Bolton & Watt Some years later in the works Of Maudsley Sons & field, another genius W.W. Hulse, ( Who was married to Whitworths daughter) designed and built, a very large combined vertical & horizontal planing machine , combining the best of both of Murdocks two machines , Some of this pattern of planing & slotting machine in an advanced pattern were manufactured up until the early 1960 period, all be it with a modern powerful electrical drive, by Loudon Brothers machine tool builders in Johnstone near Glasgow.
The last big wall slotting machine was scrapped in Paisley Scotland, in 1974, Thus ending the direct link going back to the era of William Murdock, A great shame, this old machine had been constructed by the predecessors of Loudon Brothers a firm called J.McCarthur & Co. Should you folks be able to lay your hands on a superb book Machine Tools by Steed , published about 1965 It tells of the many wonderful things achieved in Maudsleys works. He also seems to have been a jovial happy sort of fellow.
When Bramah refused Maudslay a promotion and pay rise Maudslay left and founded his own engineering company. He worked with and influenced many eminent engineers of the day as you so rightly point out. I went to an exhibition of his work in the British Science Musem in South Kensington. While there among other things I was able to inspect one of his screwcutting lathes, possibly the one that Maudslay himself worked at. It was eye opening to see such a beautiful machine. The flat surfaces were just that and finished to a burnished glass effect, much nicer than todays ground finishes and the fit of components was incredibly precise and would shame all but the very best that we have today. It should be pointed out though that Maudslay was not necessarily the inventor of the screwcutting lathe with leadscrew and change gears as is commonly accepted. Jesse Ramsden a celebrated instrument maker working in london developed such a machine earlier than Maudslay he published drawings of he macine in 1777 having developed it years earlier ( he also developed a micrometer screw for adjustmen before Maudslay):
"The lathe for the circular dividing engine's screw used a leadscrew to traverse a toolholder sliding on a triangular bar. The leadscrew had a pitch error of 1%, which Ramsden corrected on the workpiece by means of change wheels of 198 and 200 teeth (with an idler gear between). " - Graces Guide
At the exhibition there was also a model of the admiralty's block making production line from Portsmouth which he developed with Marc Brunel, (a famed engineer who was a refugee from the French revolution), a mass production line producing near identical interchangeable parts which preceded Henry Ford by over a century and Remington's manufactory. The story goes that Brunel approached Maudslay to engineer the machinery for the system and then approached the Admiralty. Apparently Brunel showed Maudslay his initial drawings without explaining the product upon which Maudslay stated that they were for a block making system - he was so very analytical. I perhaps should explain for the non seafaring members here that the sailing warships of the day used up to a thousand 'running blocks' for the rope rigging and these blocks frequently wore out and the navy had many ships. The block making plant and it's machinery reduced the manufacturing time for pulley blocks by a factor of 10 and was producing 130,000 blocks a year in full production.
This however is only a tiny part of Maudslays achievements and it is well worth reading his entry in Samuel Smiles great book "Industrial Biography".
As an aside, another little known but important character from the early 17th Century (C1620) is Dud Dudley, who, it is claimed pioneered the use of coal (possibly coke) in the production of iron instead of charcoal as the forests of the UK were being depleted to the extent that there was a threat of a possible shortage of suitable timber for shipbuilding. His autobiography "Metallum Martis" tells a story that would make a great film and is well worth reading and includes a description of his escape from a Parlamentarian prison in the English Civil war. Dudley himself was the illegitimate child of the Earl of Dudley born at Dudley at the centre of the English Midlands 'Black Country' in the late 16th century (C1580).
The recent history of engineeering technology is fascinating (and so is it's prehistory).