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Benjamin Walker

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Benjamin Walker (1821-1891) of Tannett, Walker and Co

1867 of Goodman Street Works, Hunslet, Leeds.

1871 Living at 4 Newton Grove, Headingley, Leeds: Benjamin Walker (age 49 born Armley), Engineer. With his wife Sarah Walker (age 51 born Malton) and their six children; Elizabeth Artes (age 26 Holbeck) married with her husband John D. Artes (age 25 born Leeds), Insurance Clerk; Amelia Walker (age 22 born Hunslet); Arthur T. Walker (age 19 born Hunslet); Ann U. Walker (age 17 born Hunslet); Mary L. Walker (age 13 born Hunslet); Frederic W. Walker (age 11 born Hunslet). Two servants.[1]


1891 Obituary [2]

BENJAMIN WALKER was born at Armley, near Leeds, on 20th April 1821.

At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed for seven years to the engineering firm of Messrs. Newton and Taylor, Water Lane, Leeds; and at the age of twenty became foreman of a large shop.

The greater part of his book learning he acquired during this time at a night school at Armley, where he worked so hard that on the expiration of his apprenticeship at the age of twenty-one he was a good mathematician, and had a considerable store of scientific knowledge. He was one of the first members of a literary society which was formed at Armley about 1838.

Before he was twenty he had acquired such skill as a mechanic that his master used to send him to various mills in Leeds to put machines to rights when other men twice his age had failed to do so.

In 1845 at the age of twenty-four he went to Belfast to be manager of the works of Messrs. Combs and Dunfield afterwards Combs Barbour and Combs; but in 1847 he left these works, then in full operation and employing 300 hands, and returned to Leeds at a great pecuniary sacrifice to work as an ordinary engine-fitter, in order that he might devote his mind fully to the acquisition of mathematical and mechanical science, as he had found that having the direction of a large works prevented his gaining the knowledge he so much desired.

Later on he became foreman at Messrs. Kitson Thompson and Hewitson's works, Airedale Foundry, Leeds, and afterwards manager; and in 1851 invented several appliances for making forgings at reduced cost.

In 1860, in conjunction with Mr. Hewitson, he introduced an ingenious self-acting motion for double-acting steam-hammers, superseding the noisy and destructive tappet action then in use by one approaching more nearly to the gliding motion of an eccentric; a number of steam-hammers have been made on this plan, for which he received a medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1867.

He also designed the wrought-iron wheel for traction engines, in place of the old wooden wheel with metal tire; and the frame-slotting machine now universally used.

In 1862 he commenced business at the Goodman Street Works, Hunslet, Leeds, which are now among the largest in the world for the construction of hydraulic machinery and of machinery used in the manufacture of iron and steel.

As early as 1863 he proposed a hydraulic forging press for a Sheffield firm, to be used instead of a steam-hammer; and although the plan was not carried out at that time, more recently, since the masses of steel to be dealt with have gradually become so great, the superiority of the press over the hammer has become recognised, not only for working the steel into form, but also for pressing it to the very core, and making it denser, tougher, and stronger.

His firm have made forging presses for all the European governments, and for many of the largest works in this and other countries. He made the first hydraulic press for bending armour-plates, and has since supplied these presses to the largest works in the world. With improvements in Bessemer machinery he was early associated; and on the introduction of the basic process he made the first converters and hydraulic machinery.

In the rolling of weldless tires and in reversing apparatus for rolling mills, he introduced various improvements. He early proposed making Bessemer blowing engines compound, with the result of a saving of 30 per cent.; and the first compound reversing rolling-mill engines were made by his firms. He introduced the separate condensation engine for taking the exhaust steam from one or more engines; and also the three-cylinder blowing engine for cupolas and smiths' fires, which owing to its great economy and efficiency has to a large extent replaced fans and other blowers.

Among the many improvements he effected in hydraulic cranes, the most notable is the double-ram ingot crane for economising water. The original ingot cranes were plain centre- ram cranes with the water acting on the bottom of the rain; or else the rain was made of two different diameters, and the water pressing on the annular area raised the jib and the load. This arrangement was wasteful in pressure water, as it necessitated power to lift not only the load but also the dead weight of the jib. He therefore employed the centre rain as a guide and to take the strain only; and introduced two side rams, one in constant communication with the accumulator, nearly balancing the dead weight, and the other under control of the workman by means of a valve. Cranes on this double-rain plan have been supplied to nearly all the large steel works and arsenals.

His latest achievement was the combined vertical and horizontal press for forging steel slabs and ingots by hydraulic power. Increase in the pressure of steam, and in the sizes and speeds of ships, called for larger and thicker plates, which necessitated much larger ingots and a higher quality of steel. He early recognised the importance of working the plate ingot on the edge as well as on the flat; and in the horizontal and vertical forging press plate-ingots of any size can be squeezed both horizontally and vertically, the ends cut off; and the slab cut into pieces, with practically no hand labour, the quality of steel being improved and the waste greatly diminished.

In 1885 he was a member of the jury of the International Inventions Exhibition.

In 1887 he was made a magistrate of the borough of Leeds.

His death took place on 14th April 1891 at his residence, Moor Allerton Hall, Leeds, from inflammation of the lungs, brought about by a severe cold, in the seventieth year of his age.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1867, and was a Member of Council from 1885. He was a frequent attendant at the Meetings, and often took part in the discussions. He was also a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and a Member of Council of the Iron and Steel Institute.


1891 Obituary [3]

. . . . accepted the position of foreman at Kitson, Hewitson, and Thompson’s works, where he afterwards became manager.

In 1851 he invented several important appliances for making forgings at reduced cost, and in 1860 he introduced, in conjunction with the late William Hewitson, an ingenious self-acting motion for double-acting steam-hammers, substituting for the noisy and destructive tappet-motion then in use one more like the gliding motion of the eccentric of the steam-engine. A large number of steam-hammers have been made on this system, for which Mr. Walker received a medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1867.

He also invented a wrought-iron wheel for traction-engines, in place of the old wooden wheel with metal tires, and devised the frame slotting-machine now in universal use.

In the year 1862 he commenced business in Hunslet, Leeds, at the Goodman Street Works, now among the largest in the world for the manufacture of hydraulic machinery and for machinery used in the making of iron and steel.

As early as 1863 he proposed to make for it Sheffield firm a forging press to be used instead of a steam-hammer ; the proposition was not accepted at that time, and it is only during the past few years when the masses of steel to be dealt with have gradually increased that the superiority of the press over the hammer, not only for working the steel into form, but for pressing it to the core and making it denser, tougher, and stronger, has become recognized.

Mr. Walker’s firm has made forging-presses for all the European governments and for many of the largest engineering works of this and other countries. He made the first hydraulic-press for bending armour-plates, and supplied machines of this type to the principal shipyards in Europe.

Mr. Walker introduced improvements in the machinery for the Bessemer process, with which he was very early associated, and on the introduction of the basic process he made the first converters and hydraulic machinery. He also achieved repute in the rolling of weldless tires, and in reversing apparatus for rolling-mills. He was one of the first to propose making Bessemer blowing-engines compound, with the result of saving 30 per cent. of the fuel, and the earliest compound reversing rolling-mill engines were made by his firm. He was the first to introduce the separate condensation-engine for taking the exhaust steam of one or more engines. He also introduced the three-cylinder blowing-engine for cupolas and smiths’ fires, which has to a great extent, owing to its economy and efficiency, replaced fans and other blowers.

He carried out many improvements in hydraulic cranes, the most notable being the double-ram centre or ingot-crane for economizing water. The original machines of this type were plain centre-ram cranes, the water either acting on the bottom of the ram, or the said ram was made of two different diameters, so that the water pressing on the concentric area raised the jib and the load. This arrangement was wasteful in pressure water, as it necessitated power to lift not only the load but also the dead weight of the jib. Mr. Walker employed the centre ram as a guide and to take the strain only, and introduced two side rams, one in constant communication with the accumulator, nearly balancing the dead weight, and the other under the control of the workman by means of a valve. Cranes on Mr. Walker’s double ram system have been supplied to nearly all the large steel works and arsenals.

His latest achievement was the combined vertical and horizontal press for forging steel slabs and ingots. . . . [more]


1891 Obituary [4]

BENJAMIN WALKER, who died on the 14th April 1891, at Moor Allerton Hall, Leeds, was born at Armley, near that town, on the 20th April 1821. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to an engineering firm in Leeds—Messrs Newton & Taylor—and at the age of twenty he became foreman of a large shop. He received a large part of his education at a night-school in Armley, near Leeds, walking direct from the workshop in Water Lane to the school. At the age of twenty-one, when his apprenticeship was out, he was a good mathematician and had a considerable store of scientific knowledge.

Mr. Walker was well known for his skill as a mechanic, and he used to tell with pride how his master sent him to various mills in Leeds to put machines in order when other men of about twice his age had failed to do so.

Soon after he was twenty-four years of age, he went to Belfast to be manager of the works of Messrs Combe & Dunfield (now Combe, Barbour, & Combe, Limited). He left these works in the latter part of 1847, and returned to his native district with a view to working as an ordinary engine-fitter. He was anxious to devote his mind more fully to the acquisition of mathematical and mechanical knowledge. Years afterwards he stated that he found at that time that having the direction of a large works prevented his gaining the knowledge that he felt he so much needed, and he left Belfast at an immediate sacrifice of position and means. At a later date he became foreman at Messrs. Kitson, Hewitson, & Thompson's works (now Messrs Kitson & Co.), where he afterwards acted as manager.

In the year 1851 he invented several important appliances for making forgings at a reduced cost. In the year 1860 he patented (along with the late Mr. William Hewitson) a very ingenious self-acting motion for a double-acting steam-hammer, doing away with the noisy and destructive tappet motion then in use, and introducing one approaching more nearly the gliding motion of the eccentric of the steam-engine. Many steam-hammers have since been made on this system. At the Paris Exhibition of 1867, Mr. Walker received a medal for his invention. He also invented the now well-known wrought iron wheel for traction engines, instead of the old wooden wheel with a metal tyre, and the frame slotting machine, now also universally used. In the year 1862 he commenced business as a manufacturing engineer at the Goodman Street Works, Hunslet, Leeds, giving special attention to, and earning an important reputation for, special hydraulic appliances and for machinery used in the making of iron and steel. As early as 1863 he proposed making a forging press for a Sheffield firm, to be used instead of a steam-hammer. The proposition was not accepted at that time, and it has only been during the past few years, since the masses of steel to be dealt with have gradually become so great, that the superiority of the press over the hammer has become recognised, not only for working the steel into form, but for pressing it to the very core and making it denser, tougher, and stronger. In this direction he attained so much success that his firm has made forging presses for many European Governments, and for a number of the largest works in this and other countries.

Mr. Walker made the first hydraulic press for bending armour plates, and has since supplied it to some of the largest works in the world.

Mr. Walker gave early attention to improvements in Bessemer machinery, and on the introduction of the basic process, he made the first converters and hydraulic machinery, and appliances for rolling weldless tyres, as well as reversing apparatus for rolling-mills. He was one of the earliest, if not the first, to propose making Bessemer compound blowing engines, with the result of saving some 30 per cent. in the fuel, and the first compound reversing rolling-mill engines were made by his firm. He was also the first to introduce the separate condensation engine for taking the exhaust steam of one or more engines, and he was the introducer of the three-cylinder blowing engine for cupolas and smith's fires, which has to a very great extent, owing to its great economy and efficiency, replaced fans and other blowers.

Mr. Walker had at different times carried out many improvements in hydraulic cranes, the most notable being his patent double ram-centre or ingot crane for economising water. The original cranes of this type were plain centre ram cranes, the water either acting on the bottom of the ram, or, the ram being made of two different diameters, the water, pressing on the concentric area, raised the jib and the load. This arrangement was wasteful in pressure of water, as it necessitated power to lift not only the load, but also the dead weight of the jib. Mr. Walker employed the centre ram as a guide to take the strain only, and lie introduced two side rams, one in constant communication with the accumulator, nearly balancing the dead weight, and the other under the control of the workmen by means of a valve. Cranes on Walker's patent double ram system have been supplied to nearly all the large steelworks and arsenals. The latest mechanical achievement of Mr. Walker was the combined vertical and horizontal press for forging steel slabs and ingots. Increase in the pressure of steam, and in the sizes and speeds of ships, brought about larger and thicker plates, necessitating much larger ingots and a higher quality of steel. Mr. Walker early recognised the absolute necessity of working the plate ingots on the edge as well as on the flat, and the horizontal and vertical forging press was the outcome of this necessity. On Walker's system, plate ingots of any size can be squeezed horizontally and vertically, the ends cut off and the slab cut into pieces with practically no hand labour, the quality of steel being improved, and the waste greatly lessened.

In the year 1880, Mr. Walker read a paper before the Institution of Civil Engineers, entitled "Machinery for Steel Making by Bessemer and Siemens Processes," and obtained the Telford Medal. In the year 1885 he was a member of the jury of the International Inventions Exhibition, of which His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was president, and Sir Frederick Bramwell chairman; and he received a certificate and medal for services rendered. He attended regularly, and frequently spoke at, the meetings of the Iron and Steel Institute, and of kindred bodies.

Mr. Walker was a magistrate of the borough of Leeds, and it may be mentioned that when his name was placed upon the Commission of the Peace, the managers and foremen of the works presented him with an address of congratulation. The following is a copy of the address in question:—

"To B. WALKER, Esq., J.P., M.I.C.E., M.I.M.E., &c.

"DEAR Sir,— It is with great pleasure that we, your foremen, draughtsmen, clerks, and other officials whose names are appended, observe that you have been placed on the Commission of the Peace for the borough of Leeds.

"We feel sure that by this appointment our town has gained a magistrate whose wide experience of life, insight into character, and clear judgment, will make him a great acquisition to the bench.

"We take this as a seasonable opportunity for expressing to you our unbounded personal respect and regard. The majority of us have been in your employ for many years; but whether for a long or a short time, we all have learned to appreciate your high sense of justice, your deep sympathy, and your unvarying kindness towards us.

"We feel that your aim has always been to make us all contented and happy in your service; and that you have succeeded in this is shown by every one remaining in it while you have honoured them with your confidence.

"Our hope is that greater success and still higher honours are awaiting you, and we also wish long life and happiness to yourself, your wife, and your family.

"We each trust that our fortunes may long be connected with your own, confident in your goodness and kindness towards ourselves, and that your services will continue, as they have hitherto done, to be valued by those who are desirous of calling in the aid of engineering skill, quickness of perception, sound judgment, and integrity of character of the highest order.

"HUNSLET, 2nd Ally 1887."

Mr. Walker was a man of great determination and force of character, and to these qualities, coupled with his geniality and uprightness in every phase of life, may be ascribed the success which attended his business career. His geniality found expression for a number of years in giving an annual dinner to the recipient of the Bessemer Medal of the Iron and Steel Institute, and a short time ago the Bessemer Medallists gave him a return banquet, which was a compliment he highly prized.

Always a hard worker himself, he had great sympathy with working men, and in him they always had a friend. In his career and experience of more than fifty years he has seen troublesome times, but he was always treated by the workmen, even by those who thought he was wrong, with the utmost respect.

Mr. Walker was a member of the Council of the Iron and Steel Institute and of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He was twice married—in 1847 to Miss Tannett, who survives him. He has two sons and two daughters, who also survive him; the former, Arthur Tannett Walker and Frederick William Walker, being now the sole members of the firm of Tannett, Walker, & Company.


1891 Obituary [5]



1891 Obituary [6]



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1871 Census
  2. 1891 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  3. 1891 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  4. 1891 Iron and Steel Institute: Obituaries
  5. The Engineer 1891/04/17
  6. Engineering 1891 Jan-Jun: Index: General Index