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Charles William Lancaster

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Charles William Lancaster (1820-1878)

1866 C. W. Lancaster, the noted Gun Maker of Bond Street and the inventor of the Lancaster or elliptical-bored ordnance.[1]


1878 Obituary [2]

MR. CHARLES WILLIAM LANCASTER was born in London on the 24th of June, 1820, and was educated at a private school. He was the eldest son of Charles Lancaster, an eminent gunmaker, who made the fame of the celebrated Joe Manton, the founder of all that is good in the English sporting gun.

Mr. Lancaster left school at an early age, and was at once placed by his father to learn his future trade in a factory full of the best machinery of the period. Here he worked zealously, the mechanical genius of the father, and constant association with eminent inventors, developing his latent talents. He was a clever designer of the numberless models required in his business, a thoroughly skilled workman, and a mechanician of high order. The study of rifled projectiles and the construction of rifles was Mr. Lancaster’s chief pleasure, and he soon attained the highest skill as a rifle shot.

In 1846 he constructed a model rifle, and his shooting at 1,000 and 1,200 yards, at Woolwich, was considered marvellous. This exhibition of young Lancaster was mentioned to the Duke of Wellington, who personally complimented him on his performance. The Duke also ordered a small number of similar rifles for special service of the Rifle Brigade at the Cape. , These arms received a most flattering report from Colonel Butler. From small to large rifled projectiles was an easy step. Mr. Lancaster thirsted to solve the problem of rifled cannon, and the years 1844 and 1845 were devoted to testing his different ideas. In July, 1846, he submitted a plan to the Board of Ordnance for using from rifled cannon smooth-sided conical projectiles, and imparting the necessary rotatory motion by driving a sabot on to the base of the projectile, the base having a V crosspiece cast on it. He also used a leaden ring to effect the same purpose. The experiments with artillery grooved on the old poly-groove system soon showed him that it was impossible to carry out this plan with success or endurance to the gun.

In 1850 Mr. Lancaster conceived the idea of the oval bore as the proper form for all rifled arms and cannon, and with this system his name will ever be intimately associated. He took out a patent, and submitted his plans to Government in March 1851. In order to make this invention known, he constructed full-sized working models of the 68-pounder (the largest gun then in the service), with its corresponding shells, for the Great Exhibition of that year. Sir Thomas Hastings, of the Ordnance Office, hearing of this, requested him to reserve his plans for the Government and not to exhibit them; Nr. Lancaster complied with the request. A 68-pounder oval-bore gun, made and rifled at Birmingham, with accurately-turned shells, was sent to Shoeburyness for trial. The shooting of this gun directed marked attention to the oval-bore system, and the machinery for this particular boring was at once removed to Woolwich Arsenal, where several guns of the same kind were ordered to be manufactured, and Mr. Lancaster assisted the War Department in the erection of plant both for boring the guns and for manufacturing the projectiles, and for some time in superintending their production in the Royal Arsenal.

In 1852 Mr. Lancaster experimented upon the -577 pattern Enfield rifled musket, and sent to the School of Musketry at Hythe some specimens of this arm bored on his peculiar system, which arms were considered highly satisfactory, and led to the introduction, in January, 1855, of the Lancaster carbine as the arm for the Royal Engineers, which carbine was used by that corps until it was superseded by the Martini-Henry rifle. The Crimean campaign afforded an. opportunity of testing the advantages of the oval-bored rifle cannon, and a number of them were sent to the seat of war, where they did good service. It may be said that these were the first rifled guns used in active operation by the British army and navy. But the machinery for making the shells of wrought iron, however ingenious, was radically defective, and press of time led to inefficient workmanship, causing in some of the guns inaccurate shooting, and in others the bursting of the shells. Shortly after the war, it became necessary to build heavier guns especially adapted for armour piercing ; and an exhaustive series of experiments mere carried out at Shoeburyness, in which Mr. Lancaster assisted, which led to a complete revolution in rifled artillery. The records of the Patent Office show Mr. Lancaster’s energy of mind.

The following is a list of the principal patents taken out by Mr. C. W. Lancaster -

  • 1850. "Improvements in the manufacture of fire-arms and cannon, and of percussion tubes.”
  • 1851. "Improvements in the rnanufacturc of fire-arms and cannon, and of projectiles.”
  • 1853. "An appendage to bullet moulds.”
  • 1853. "A method of and machinery for manufacturing or producing certain descriptions of gun and pistol barrels.” Rifles with oval bores.Rifles with oval bores.
  • 1854. "Improvements in fire-arms and in cartridges to be used therewith.” Breech-Loaders. Cartridges.
  • 1857. "An Improvement in breech-loading guns, and in projectiles for the same.” A communication.
  • 1858. "An instrument or apparatus for charging cartridges for breech-loading arms.”
  • 1858. "A metal or metallic alloy specially adapted to the manufacture of fire-arms and ordnance.”
  • 1860. "Improvements in cannon and other ordnance.”
  • 1860. "Improvements in sights for rifles and other fire-arms.”
  • 1862. "Improvements in strengthening cast-iron ordnance.“
  • 1864. "Improvements in projectiles.”
  • 1861. "Improvements in fuzes.”
  • 1865. "An improvement in cartridges for breech-loading guns.”
  • 1865. "Improvements in fire-arms, and in apparatus for extracting cartridges and cartridge cases therefrom.”
  • 1867. "Construction of cannon and other fire-arms.”
  • 1869. "Wadding for breech-loading cartridges.”
  • 1869. “Improved apparatus for concentrating shot.”
  • 1872. "Improvements in shot, shell, and other similar missiles.”

He proposed a plan for the destruction, by submarine vessels, of the obstacles, before Cronstadt, new system of iron fagoted built fortifications, &c. He also from time to time submitted suggest,ions in regard to submarine rockets, and he always evinced an earnest desire to render service to his country. But the oval-bore system of rifling is especially identified with his name, and in respect of his successful efforts in this direction, he received substantial recognition at the hands of the Government. Nevertheless, as is usual with inventors, his transactions with the Government produced a plentiful crop of grievances, and there is little doubt he felt himself a badly-used man, which led to his latter years being troubled by constant correspondence, and embittered by disputes. He scheduled his claims in an 8vo. pamphlet of forty-four pages, but was unsuccessful in obtaining that recognition of his services to which he considered himself entitled.

Mr. Lancaster’s last patent was an ingenious gas-check, as applicable to large rifled projectiles. This was highly thought of, and has been adopted by a foreign government. He was a first-rate sportsman, and his power of judging distance, and the knowledge of the qualities of his weapon made him a dead shot at extraordinary ranges.

He was associated with many of the most celebrated inventors and artillerists of the day, was a most entertaining companion, and master of almost any subject to be conversed on in general society. He had travelled much in Russia (the Czar had a special gold medal, of large size, struck in his honour, and sent it to London with a personal letter), and was. full of anecdote of the country and people. Latterly Mr. Lancaster had made arrangements for quitting the business which he had followed during the whole of his eventful career, and he looked forward to spending the remainder of his life in peaceful retirement. But, only a fortnight before he had completed the necessary dispositions, he was seized with paralysis, which terminated fatally on the 24th of April, 1878.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 6th of April, 1852, and was the Author of a Paper “On the Erosion of the Bore in Heavy Guns,” published in the “Minutes of Proceedings“.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1866/07/13
  2. 1878 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries