Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,352 pages of information and 245,904 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

G. and J. Rennie

From Graces Guide
c1830s. 0-4-2 Rennie's Outside Cylinder Engine.

G. and J. Rennie, marine engineers, 6 Holland Street, Blackfriars.

1791 The old works were established by John Rennie in Blackfriars.

1821 On the death of John Rennie, the business was divided between his two elder sons, who remained in partnership as regards the works with George Rennie (1791-1866) managing the principal part of the mechanical business while (Sir) John Rennie (1794-1874) was responsible for the completion of the engineering works. The firm carried on engine-making in the old works.

1824 G. and J. Rennie was established by the 2 sons of John Rennie senior at 52, Stamford-street, Blackfriars.

1818-26 G. and J. Rennie were Engineers-in-Chief for the New Works for Sheerness Dockyard. This was one of the most important works they completed. The cast-iron dock-gates were a novelty, which led many years later to the construction, under Messrs. Rennie's direction, of the ten pairs of large dock-gates at Sebastopol.

1826 The Rennie brothers, assisted by Charles Vignoles, designed the layout of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and carried the Bill through Parliament.

1828 G and J Rennie designed the new Staines Bridge[1]

1831 Under the direction of Messrs. Rennie, the first machinery ever used for making biscuits was constructed for the Government establishments at Weevil, near Gosport (Royal Clarence Victualling Yard). They also worked on the corn and chocolate mills at the Deptford Royal Victualling Yard, as well as the Royal William Victualling Yard, at Cremil Point, near Plymouth.

1833 The works were moved from Stamford-street to Holland-street, Blackfriars, to the site of a large flour mill, after the latter had been destroyed by fire.

c1836 The Rennies, at their mechanical engineering establishment, in Holland Sheet, Blackfriars, constructed important works, of a novel and difficult character, including the second of the two shields for the Thames Tunnel, one of the earliest machines on which large-scale planing of iron was used.

1830s The shipbuilding yard of J. and G. Rennie was established at Norman Road, Greenwich, which dovetailed with the building of engines for the Navy by Rennie Brothers.[2]

Other works included the armoury at Constantinople, capable of making five hundred muskets a day for the Turkish Government; machinery for the arsenals of France, at Chatellerault, Toulon, and Rochefort; machinery for the Russian Government for producing biscuits and for making blocks at Nicolaieff and at Sebastopol, as also for coining at St. Petersburgh; besides engines for several large vessels of war propelled by the screw, and dredging machines for Cronstadt, Odessa, and the Danube.

Messrs. Rennie also designed a factory at Cronstadt powered by steam, and another at Astrakhan.

1838 Started to build railway locomotives

1838 Provided engine for SS Archimedes - the first successful screw steamer in the world. (Rennie Brothers of Millwall).

Also constructed many marine engines for the navy.

1838-42 See 1839-1842 Marine Engine Makers for details of engines made for the Admiralty.

1840 The Rennies introduced the screw propeller into the navy.

c.1840 Boiler shop at Bankside in the old retort house of Phoenix Gas Co[3]

1848 'PROGRESS OF SCIENCE. At the first meeting of the session, a paper by Mr. Shears was read, descriptive of the iron dock-gates constructed by Messrs. Rennie, for the Russian Government, and erected at Sevastopol on the Black Sea. Sevastopol is very peculiarly situated amidst rocky ground, rising so abruptly from the shore that there was not space necessary for a dockyard. On account of the depth of water close in shore, and other natural advantages, the Emperor determined to make it the site of an extensive establishment; and as there is not any rise of tide in the Black Sea, and the construction of coffer dams would have been expensive and difficult in such a rocky position, it was decided to build three locks, each having rise of ten feet, and at this level of thirty feet above the sea, to place a main dock with lateral docks, into which vessels of war could be introduced, and the gates being closed, the water could be discharged by subterranean conducts to the sea, and the vessel being left dry, could be examined and repaired even beneath the keel. A stream was conducted from a distance of twelve miles to supply the locks and to keep the locks full; this, however, has been found insufficient, and a pumping engine in aid has since been erected by Messrs. Maudslay and Field. The original intention was to have made the gates for the docks of timber, but, on account of the ravages of a worm, which it appears does not, as in tbe case of the Teredo navalis or the Terebranea, confine itself to tbe salt water, it was resolved make them with cast iron frames, covered with wrought iron plates. There are nine pairs of gates, whose openings vary from sixty-four feet in width, and thirty-four feet four inches in height, for ships 120 guns, to forty-six feet seven inches in width, and twenty-one in height for frigates. The manipulation of such masses of metal as composed these gales demanded peculiar machines. Accordingly, Messrs. Rennie fitted up a building expressly, with machines constructed by Mr. Whitworth, by which all the bearing surface could placed [planed], and the holes bored in the ribs and all the other parts, whether their surfaces were curved or plane. Travelling cranes were arranged take the largest pieces from the wharf and place them in the various machines, by the agency of very few men, notwithstanding their formidable dimenaions; the heel-posts in some cases being upwards of thirty four feet long. Each endless screw for giving progress motion to cutting tools was forty-five leet long. Some idea may be formed of tbe manual labour avoided by the machines, when is stated that the surface planed or turned in the nine pairs of gates, equals 717,464 square inches, and in some cases a thickness of three-quarters of an inch was cut off. The surface in the drilled holt-boles equals 120,000 square inches'[4]

1851 Various models of engines and ships exhibited at the Great Exhibition

1852 Dissolution of the partnership between George Rennie and Sir John Rennie, as Engineers, carrying on business at Holland-street, Blackfriars, in the county of Surrey, under the style or firm of George and John Rennie, by mutual consent, as from the 4th day of December, 1852[5]

Presumably succeeded by George Rennie and Sons

Short Histories of Famous Firms' by Ernest Leopold Ahrons [6]

Amongst a number of well-known London engineering firms of the early Victorian period, most, if not all, of which have since disappeared, the firm of G. and J. Rennie was at one time in the front rank. The first engineering works associated with the name appear to have been founded in 1791 by John Rennie, the father of George and Sir John Rennie, who had been engaged in the erection of engines and mill machinery by Messrs Boulton and Watt. The designs for the London Bridge were originally made by John Rennie senior and the work was completed by his sons after his death in 1821.

The firm known as G. and J. Rennie was established by the sons in 1824 at 52, Stamford-street, and in 1833 the works were removed to Holland-street, Blackfriars, to the site of a large flour mill, after the latter had been destroyed by fire. The machinery for this mill had been designed and erected by George Rennie. Although both brothers were in partnership, the mechanical engineering side and the management of the works developed upon the elder brother George, whilst John devoted himself to civil engineering, in which branch he became famous as Sir John Rennie.

At Holland street works the first biscuit-making machinery, and also machinery for chocolate works, was made. The extension of the railway systems in this country, especially after 1836, created a demand for locomotives, with the result that a number of general engineering firms in London and elsewhere decided to add the manufacture of them to their general business and for some years Messrs, Rennie took up this branch of mechanical engineering.

The first locomotive made by them of which the writer has any record were built for the London and Southampton Railway in 1838, in which year the first section of that line was opened between London - Nine Elms - and Winchfield. There were four of these engines, named London, Victoria, Garnet and Reed. They were of the six-wheeled single driving wheel type with inside cylinders 13in. by 18in. and ...[more]

Apparently locomotive building in the London area was accompanied by too many disadvantages to make that branch of engineering a profitable trade in competition with the Newcastle and Lancashire firms, and Messrs. Rennie then devoted their energies more especially to marine engines, in the design and manufacture of which they attained considerable fame. For the Royal Navy the firm constructed the engine of the Dwarf, the first vessel in the Navy to be propelled by screw. Many of Messrs. Rennie's earlier marine engines were designed with four horizontal cylinders, placed in pairs on either side of a central crank shaft. The air pumps were placed in an inclined position beneath one end of the shaft, and were driven by a single-throw crank.

Although both of the original partners had died many years earlier, the firm of Messrs. G. and J. Rennie continued to exist under the old name until about 1890, as ship and dock builders, boiler makers, and marine engineers, with works at Thames-street, Greenwich, in addition to the old works at Holland street, Blackfriars. The latter works appear to have been abandoned in 1890, and in 1893 the name of Rennie also disappeared from the list of firms in the Greenwich district.

Steam Locomotives

1841 G and J Rennie built broad-gauges locomotives for the Great Western Railway[7]:

  • Mazeppa
  • Arab

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Times, Apr 24, 1832
  2. Obituary of Sir John Rennie, ODNB
  3. The Engineer 1862/03/21
  4. Kentish Independent - Saturday 23 January 1847
  5. London gazette 20 march 1855
  6. The Engineer 1921/04/08, p 366.
  7. The Engineer 1910/12/16 Supplement