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British Industrial History

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Bennet Woodcroft

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Bennet Woodcroft FRS (1803-1879) was an English textile manufacturer, industrial archaeologist, pioneer of marine propulsion, a leading figure in patent reform and the first clerk to the commissioners of patents. He was the founder of the Patent Office Library, now part of the British Library, and of the Patent Museum, whose collections are now in the Science Museum.

1803 December 29th. Born at Heaton Norris, Stockport, the son of John Woodcroft, a textile printer, and his wife Ann Boocock

1827 Patent 5480. Printing of textiles

1831 Partnership changed. John Woodcroft, John Gould and Bennet Woodcroft of Manchester, cotton manufacturers and patent yarn printers. John Gould leaves.[1]

1841 Listed as Bennet Woodcroft, patent tappet and Jacquard manufacturer, 7 Port street, Piccadilly [2]

1841 Living at Chorlton Upon Medlock: John Woodcroft (age c60), Printer. With his wife Ann Woodcroft (age c55) and their children Bennet Woodcroft (age c30), Artist and patentee; and Cooper Woodcroft (age c20 (female)). Two servants.[3]

1843 Commenced as a consulting engineer in Manchester

1846 Moved to London at 1 Furnival's Inn.

1847 April. Appointed Professor of Machinery at University College London.

1851 A visitor in the home of John Graham (a calico printer) at Rusholme, Lancs: Bennett Woodcroft (age 45 born Manchester), Professor, London University.[4]

1852 Woodcroft patented fundamental improvements in textile machinery and ship propulsion, and this in turn led to an absorbing interest in the history of the patent procedure. As a result of a reorganization of the British Patent Office in 1852, he became Superintendent of Specifications. This gave him the opportunity to develop a private collection of historical machinery.

Published a catalogue of patents from 1617 to 1852 followed by a second volume taking the record up to 1853[5]

When the South Kensington Museum was being planned in the mid-1850s, the Patent Office, through Woodcroft, was invited to assemble a collection of industrial devices for display. When the Museum opened in 1857, the building incorporated a separate Patent Office Museum and Woodcroft remained its driving force until his retirement in 1876.

1866 Married in Hampstead to Agnes Bertha Sawyer (7 September 1833 – 10 March 1903). She was born in Bosworth, Leicestershire. At this time he was 63 and she 33. They had no children. On the 1871 census they lived alone with servants, on the 1881 census she is widowed living with the cook only.

1871 Living at Rucliffe Gardens, Kensington: Bennet Woodcroft (age 67 born Stockport), Clerk Patent Office. With his wife Agnes B. Woodcroft (age 35 born Bosworth). Three servants.[6]

1876 March 31st. Retired

A born collector Woodcroft, displayed a passion for securing notable items of historical machinery. 1862 was a particularly fruitful year, when due to his efforts, his museum secured ‘Puffing Billy’ the world’s oldest surviving steam railway locomotive (1814), Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ (1829), which set the design standard for locomotives, and the engine of Henry Bell’s ‘Comet’ (1812), the first steamship to be operated commercially in Europe.

A letter to his subordinate at South Kensington typifies his single-minded approach: ‘Get the Comet engine in all its filth’ he commanded, emphasising the urgency of the quest. The Patent Office Museum also acquired several examples of stationary steam engine, including a Boulton and Watt beam engine which was the oldest surviving of its type in the world.

Without Woodcroft it is doubtful that some of the most important artefacts of the first industrial revolution would have ever been preserved.

1879 February 7th. Died and is buried in Brompton Cemetery.

His portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery.


1879 Obituary' [7]

(very long and detailed account of his life)


1879 Obituary [8]



Note: His name is variously spelt Bennet and Bennett but the former is shown clearly on his gravestone and in the register of Deaths.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Perry’s Bankrupt Gazette - Saturday 24 September 1831
  2. 1841 Pigot and Slater's Directory of Manchester and Salford
  3. 1841 Census
  4. 1851 Census
  5. [1] 'Titles of patents of invention, chronologically arranged covers period from Mar. 2, 1617 to Oct. 1, 1852' by Bennet Woodcroft, 1854
  6. 1871 Census
  7. The Engineer 1879/02/14. p118
  8. Engineering 1879 Jan-Jun: Index: General Index