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British Industrial History

Robert Hawthorn

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Robert Hawthorn (1796-1867)

1839 Robert Hawthorn of Newcastle, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1868 Obituary [2]

Robert Hawthorn was the eldest son of Robert Hawthorn, who for upwards of fifty years was Engineer to the owners of Walbottle Colliery, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

To old Robert Hawthorn, the late George Stephenson was indebted for much valuable mechanical information, which he afterwards successfully applied to work intrusted to him for execution, and when he became a resident at Killingworth, he made many journeys to Walbottle to obtain the benefit of Mr. Hawthorn’s advice.

Though really the servant of the owners of Walbottle Colliery, Robert Hawthorn, senior, was frequently consulted on engineering questions, and more than once by the Caledonian Canal Company on important features in connection with their works.

The subject of this Memoir was born on the 13th of June, 1796, in a cottage on the north side of Dewley Burn, near Walbottle.

The rudiments of his education were acquired at country village schools, first under a master named Henry Milburn, at Penny Hill, near Dissington, till about the year 1806; he was then placed at a school under the rector of Newburn; and later on, he went to Walbottle village school, to which a person named William Mack had been appointed from the Rothbury Grammar School, and to him Robert Hawthorn and his younger brothers were chiefly indebted for the education they received.

His apprenticeship to the owners of Walbottle Colliery commenced under the management of Mr. Thomas Ramsay, and the latter part of it under Mr. William Potter, though he was really under the tuition of his own father, than whom no one at that period was more competent to impart a thoroughly practical knowledge of mechanical engineering.

Toward the end of his apprenticeship he was intrusted with the erection of a small condensing engine, constructed under his father’s direction at Walbottle, for Mr. Potter’s brewery at Forth Banks, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

After this, in 1816, he erected a pumping engine at Brinkburn Colliery, which long afterwards was a standard reference of his ability.

On his return from that work, having completed his apprenticeship in January, 1817, he became the tenant of premises behind Mr. Potter’s brewery already referred to, where he commenced business as a manufacturer of steam-engines, mill-work, and other machinery. At this time, besides himself, only four workmen were employed, who afterwards became foremen of departments, and who lived and died in his service.

In 1818 his brother William joined the works as an assistant and working foreman.

During this year orders for machinery rapidly increased, rendering more space necessary; and in 1819 a piece of ground on a sloping bank side was purchased; it was levelled and prepared for building on by the master and his workmen after the regular working hours, and the workshop erected on it yet remains, and forms a small fraction of the present erections.

In 1820 William Hawthorn became his partner, and the individual career of Robert Hawthorn was merged in that of the firm of R. and W. Hawthorn, in which he uninterruptedly continued the senior partner, his brother William being the only other partner.

This year the firm introduced a self-acting crane to deliver ballast from ship, and put one up for Mr. J. S. Bulman, at St. Anthony’s Quay, on the Tyne.

In 1824 the firm supplied a 50-horse power engine to Isaac, Cookson, and Co’s glass-works, of such excellent workmanship that for many years it was held up as an object of admiration to visitors, and it still does duty.

In the same year they also introduced a self-acting steam travelling-crane, and erected one on Hebburn Quay for the late William Rea.

Locomotive engines were first made by the firm in 1831, and this manufacture has been an extensive part of the business up to this time.

In 1832 Robert Hawthorn invented and arranged a new slide rule for the use of engineers, which was soon generally adopted in the trade.

In 1834 the first Cornish pumping engine made in this district was manufactured by them for the Newcastle Subscription Water Company; and in 1835 they applied fixed eccentrics in a locomotive engine supplied to the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway companies, and used at the opening of the line. This invention was afterwards adopted by other engine builders throughout this and other countries.

Subsequently, the firm continued to enlarge its business, and was for many years extensively employed in the construction of all kinds of steam engines for pumping water, for driving machinery, for locomotive and marine purposes, both in England and abroad.

Mr. Hawthorn was elected a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 13th of February, 1839.

He died on the 26th of June, 1867, and his remains were interred in the churchyard of Newburn, near Walbottle, on the 2nd July, in the presence of a large concourse of the operatives employed in many of the Newcastle engineering establishments, who spontaneously attended to manifest their respect for the deceased.


1868 Obituary [3]

ROBERT HAWTHORN, of Elswick Lodge, Newcastle-on-Tyne, was born in 1797 at Dewley Burn near Walbottle Colliery, five miles west of Newcastle, his father being the engineer of the colliery.

At an early age he was engaged under his father in the usual engineering work about the colliery, and occasionally in the construction of steam engines for various purposes, one special example being the pumping engine erected in 1816 at Brinkburn Colliery, which long after was considered a good specimen of his ability.

In January 1817 he started works in Newcastle on his own account for the manufacture of steam engines, millwork, and cranes, &c.; and in 1820 was joined by his brother William, under the firm of R. and W. Hawthorn.

In 1824 a 50 horse power double-acting condensing engine was made by them for the Plate Glass Works of Messrs. Cookson at Newcastle, which for many years was an object of much interest, and still continues to perform its duty satisfactorily and with precision.

In the same year they introduced a self-acting steam travelling crane to discharge ballast from ships. In 1831 the firm commenced the manufacture of locomotive engines; and in 1835 they introduced fixed eccentrics for working the slide-valves of locomotives, and first applied them in the "Comet" engine supplied to the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway on the opening of the line in that year.

Mr. Hawthorn became a Member of this Institution in 1848, and was one of the Vice-Presidents from 1864 to the time of his death, which occurred on 26th June 1867 at the age of 71.



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1839 Institution of Civil Engineers
  2. 1868 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  3. 1868 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries