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HENRY MAUDSLAY (1771-1831) by CYRIL C. MAUDSLAY, M.A. Published 1943.
In writing this sketch of Henry Maudslay’s life, I have had, perforce, to rely very largely on accounts already published of his life and work. It will be seen that I have quoted freely from Samuel Smiles in his work, Industrial Biography, also from James Nasmyth’s Autobiography, edited by Smiles, and Beamish’s Memoir of Marc Isambard Brunei. I have also gleaned some information from Professor Joseph Wickham Roe’s excellent book, English and American Tool Builders; from the article on “Block Machinery” in the 9th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica; and from the Dictionary of National Biography. To the authors of the above works, I acknowledge my indebtedness. Lastly, but by no means least, I am indebted to the kindness and courtesy of the Directors of the Departments concerned at the Science Museum, South Kensington, who were good enough to place all possible information at my disposal. I have not attempted to write a full biography of Henry Maudslay, but I trust that the following pages will serve to show the manner of man he was, and the important part he played in the evolution of Mechanical Engineering.
Henry Maudslay was born at Woolwich on August 22, 1771. He came of humble parents, his father being a storekeeper in the Arsenal, who, some years previously, had run away from his home in Yorkshire and enlisted in the Royal Artillery. Being wounded in action, he was forced to retire from the Army, and afterwards secured the above-mentioned post of storekeeper. Henry was the fifth of nine children; none of his brothers or sisters rose to distinction in any way, but the eldest brother became a coach builder of some repute in Calcutta, whilst the youngest sister kept a well-known girls’ school at Putney.
The family can be traced back to one Richard Maudslay, of Long Preston, Yorkshire; he died there in 1554? Will being proved in York the same year. Among this man’s descendants we find many described as “Yeomen” or Husbandmen. For the most part, the family seem to have remained in Yorkshire until Henry Maudslay’s father came South, as already related. There was, however, another branch which migrated to Lancashire and established themselves at Maudesley Hall, in the village of Maudesley, in the early part of the 16th Century. This house still exists as a farm house. Parts of it are beautifully panelled in oak, on which is carved the crest and coat of arms of the family. Henry Maudslay s birthplace was a two-roomed wooden house in Salutation Alley, Woolwich, at the back of the Salutation Inn, and close to the gates of the Arsenal.
Smiles, in his Industrial Biography, relates that: “Throughout his life Henry Maudslay never forgot Woolwich, his birthplace, whither he often returned. He liked its green common with the soldiers about it; Shooter’s Hill, with its outlook Kent and down the valley of the Thames; the river busy with shipping and the Royal craft unloading their armaments at the dockyard wharves. He liked the clangour of the Arsenal smithy, where he first learned his art, and all the busy industry of the place. It was natural, therefore, that, being proud of his early connection with Woolwich, he should wish to lie there, and Woolwich on its part has equal reason to be proud of Henry Maudslay.”
Henry Maudslay was set to work at the early age of 12, so that his book learning can only have been of a most elementary character. His first job was that of a “powder monkey,” filling cartridges in the Arsenal. After two years, he was transferred to the carpenter’s shop, but working in wood quickly palled upon him, and he used to seize every opportunity of escaping to the smithy next door, and earned many a cuff from his foreman for so doing. At length it was recognised that his propensity for working in metal was so strong that he was moved to the smithy in his 15th year. Here was work after his own heart, and he threw himself into it with such vigour and determination that he made good progress and soon began to acquire that rare mastery over metals that was the admiration of his workmen in later years.
It is told of him that, while still a lad of 15 or 16, he excelled in the forging of trivets in one piece, a task which only the most skilled hands in the shop had hitherto been successful in accomplishing. This work was naturally done “on the sly” out of hours, and it is probable that many a humble fireside in Woolwich still has a trivet made by Henry Maudslay. His dexterity increased so rapidly that he soon began to be talked of in London as one of the most skilled hands in the trade.
It will be seen, as we follow Henry Maudslay’s career, that it is not only as an inventor that he has claim to distinction, but as a “Master of Metals.” He possessed an instinctive flair which enabled him to attain a desired result not only in the most direct way but with the least complication of parts, and with the least weight of metal employed. He had a remarkable faculty of knowing “what to do without.” His attitude towards some intricate piece of work awaiting execution is best illustrated by some of his recorded sayings:—
“First get a clear notion of what you desire to accomplish, and then, probably, you will succeed in doing it ”;
“Get rid of every pound of material you can do without; put to yourself the question, ‘What right has this to be there ?’ ”;
“Avoid complexities ”;
and many others to the same purport. Thus, it was as a skilled mechanic that he obtained the reputation which fairly launched him on his career, and led to his important association with Joseph Bramah.
Joseph Bramah had at this time (1789) invented his famous locks, and had made samples of them by hand. He saw that, to make a commercial success of the invention, he would need machinery capable of producing the locks in quantities, and it was here that his technical knowledge failed him. Accordingly, he cast about for a mechanical engineer of sufficient skill to tackle this problem, and happened to hear of Henry Maudslay, whom he sent for.
Maudslay came to Bramah’s workshop one morning, “a tall comely young fellow, then only 18 years old. Bramah, on seeing him, seems to have felt ashamed at consulting anyone so youthful, and felt some natural doubts as to his ability. Maudslay, with characteristic directness, set himself to dissipate them by deeds, not by words. Pointing to a worn vice bench, he said to Bramah: “Perhaps if I can make that as good as new by 6 o’clock to-night, that will satisfy your foreman that I am entitled to rank as a tradesman and take my place among your men. The proposal was at once acceded to. Off came Maudslay’s coat, and he set about the job with a will, and by 6 o’clock the old vice was screwed up into its place, its jaws hardened and let down to the correct temper, and the old bench was made to look so smart and neat that it threw all the neighbouring benches into the shade. Thus convinced, Bramah engaged Henry Maudslay forthwith, and the latter at once set to work to design and manufacture the lock-making machines, a task which he appears to have accomplished with complete success.
Although Bramah s name has been handed down to posterity as the inventor of the famous locks, perhaps a more important contribution to engineering science was his hydraulic press. There again Bramah evolved the principle of the machine perfectly, but was unable to make the press a commercial success owing to a difficulty in keeping the joints tight. Henry Maudslay was consulted, and hit on the simple expedient of the cup leather, his first really important invention. It is unnecessary to describe this invention as almost every schoolboy knows what a cup leather is. It completely solved Bramah’s difficulties and made the hydraulic press a successful production tool in much the same form as we know it to-day.
Henry Maudslay was, before long, promoted to be manager of the works, and remained with Bramah eight years. Shortly after he entered Bramah’s service his father died, and it is told of the son that he used to walk down to Woolwich every week to hand over to his mother a substantial share of his week’s wages, which practice he continued as long as she lived.
Another important event occurred a little later: Maudslay fell in love with his employer’s pretty housekeeper, Sarah Tindale, and married her in 1791. The wedding took place at St. James’s, Westminster, on September 20. He made a very wise choice, as it is on record that “she went hand-in-hand with him through life, an admirable helpmeet in every way, worthy of the character of the great Mechanic.”
It must have been while he was with Bramah that Maudslay began work on the slide rest, as he appears to have produced his first attempt in 1795. It was, however, a light and flimsy affair, and very different from those he evolved a little later. James Nasmyth, speaking of this slide rest in his Autobiography, says: “I have seen the slide rest, the first that Henry Maudslay made, in use at Messrs. Bramah’s workshops, and in it were all those arrangements which are to be found in the most modern slide rest of our day.” The slide rest afterwards underwent many important modifications and improvements at Henry Maudslay’s hands, but the principle of the device was there from the first.
Now that he was a married man, and with an increasing family, Maudslay found it impossible to keep himself, his wife and children on the 30s. per week which Bramah paid him; he accordingly asked for a rise in salary, but his request was curtly refused, and he decided to leave and start in business on his own account. He had no capital; consequently he had to start in a very humble way, and had some difficulty in finding premises that he could afford. He was successful, after a while, in securing a small shop and smithy in Wells Street, off Oxford Street, which, it being in a terrible state of dilapidation and dirt, he was able to lease at a low rent. He entered into possession on a Friday; he and his wife worked hard all Saturday in cleaning it and whitewashing the walls, and all was ready for work to start on Monday morning. Smiles tells us how “He then had the pleasure of hearing the roar of his own forge fire, and the cheering ring of the hammer on his own anvil, and great was the pride he felt in standing for the first time in his own smithy and executing for customers on his own account.”
Henry Maudslay was now 26 years of age, and it must have been about this time that he completed his second great invention—the screw-cutting lathe. This tool is still preserved at the Science Museum, South Kensington, and is described as follows:—
“This lathe is believed to be the first workshop machine in which Henry Maudslay combined a leading screw and change wheels for producing screw threads. The bed consists of two triangular bars secured at a fixed distance apart and supported on feet in which it was secured to a bench; the height of the centre is 1 ft. 5 in. and the length of the bed about 3 ft. The headstocks are fixed to the back bar only, but the slide rest, which is of gunmetal, slides on both bars and carries a tool holder, which can be moved to or from the work in V slides by means of a screw fitted with a graduated disc, and a winch handle. Between the two guide bars is a metal leading screw 1 in. diameter by .25-in. pitch, cut with a square thread, which is, however, exceptionally narrow. This leading screw was geared to the lathe spindle by change wheels, while a split nut and a clamping device at the bottom of the saddle formed a connection between the saddle and screw which could be released when desired.”
It will be seen from the foregoing description that this was a clumsy machine compared with those which Henry Maudslay was producing a few years later but it is of great interest as having all the rudiments of a machine for producing accurate and interchangeable screw threads, and embodying in its design a practical form of slide rest.
Henry Maudslay’s first customer was an artist, for whom he made the ironwork of a large easel. Other orders followed, and he soon became fully employed, but, being his own master, he was now able to give rein to his inventive genius, and devoted himself continuously to discovering devices for ensuring accuracy and finish of work, and for eliminating errors that are inevitable if the human factor be allowed to play too big a part.
In 1800 he produced an improved type of screw-cutting lathe, a model of which is in the Science Museum, South Kensington. In this machine the combination of his mechanical tool holder or slide rest with a power-driven screw feed was the prototype of the screw-cutting lathe of to-day. This lathe was arranged to be driven by hand power. The piece of work on which the screw was to be cut was carried between centres, while the leading screw was low down in the bed. A wide saddle carried the upper rest or tool holder, and was connected to the leading screw by a form of split nut, adjustable from below. The saddle also carried an adjustable stay to prevent any springing of the rod upon which the screw was being formed; the depth of the cut was controlled by a hand wheel with graduated edge. This lathe was provided with 28 change wheels, with teeth varying in number from 15 to 50. The intermediate wheel had a wide face and was carried on a swinging adjustable arm so that it could connect wheels of various diameters at the fixed centres.
Following his investigations in connection with the formation of perfect and interchangeable screws, Maudslay also made a beautiful experimental set of taps and dies about this time; these also are preserved in the Science Museum South Kensington.
It was on one of these early lathes that he cut a screw 5 ft. in length by 2 in in diameter and having 50 threads to the inch. The nut engaging with this screw was 12 in. long and contained 600 threads. The screw was principally employed m astronomical-instrument work where sub-divisions of the minutest accuracy were required. It gained for Maudslay a special grant of 1,000 pounds from the
There had, it seems, been attempts at making a slide rest prior to Maudslay’s time, notably in France in 1772, but Professor Willis states that Maudslay’s slide rest was so different from its French prototype that the two cannot have had a common origin. “At all events, in the eyes of all practical mechanics, Maudslay stands the parent of its introduction to the workshops of England.”
The importance of these two inventions, the screw-cutting lathe and the slide rest, cannot be over-estimated. Before Maudslay’s time, every screw had to be chased by hand, involving great skill on the part of the workmen, and, even so, resulting in a very imperfect article, inasmuch as every nut had to be made to fit its own screw and each was specially marked so that they should not become separated. The confusion and delay resulting from this state of things can be easily imagined.
As regards the slide rest, the effect of its invention was soon felt in every department of mechanism. It had to encounter some derision in the early days of its introduction, and was known for a time as Maudslay’s “Go-cart,” but its advantages were so undeniable that it soon became an established tool in all the best workshops of the day. Professor Roe, in his English and American Tool Builders, says: “Its principle, as invented by Maudslay, is used in some form in almost every machine tool, and it is one of the great inventions of history.” It may be mentioned that, without its principles, it would have been impossible to construct the block-making machinery which Maudslay built for Brunei, as presently referred to.
Before the introduction of the slide rest it was only the most highly skilled mechanics who could produce identical pieces of work; the cost was excessive and the task laborious, and, even so, human error crept in. There are, possibly, many better-known names than Maudslay’s in the history of engineering development, but his inventions were those that made much of this development practicable. The progress made by his own firm and by other engine and tool builders, during the 19th Century, came to pass owing to the ability of Maudslay’s tools to turn out accurate repetition work for the first time, and it is not too much to say that our rapid and accurate output of machinery to-day is carried out on tools which, for the most part, are based on the principles incorporated in Maudslay’s original designs.
Maudslay’s love of accuracy, and his ability to turn out accurate work owing to the inventions previously described, led him to seek more exact methods of measurement; hence his invention of the micrometer, nicknamed by him “The Lord Chancellor.” The first machine of this type was invented by him in the early years of the 19th Century. It consisted of a gunmetal bed on which were two saddles fitted with end measuring faces; the saddles had bevel-edged slots through which the graduations on the bed could be read.
One of the saddles extended through the bed and formed a split nut, which, by means of set screws, could be delicately tightened on a horizontal measuring screw of 100 threads per inch. This screw carried a collar which was held against a stationary abutment beneath the bed by a plate adjusted by screws to eliminate end play. The end of the measuring screw had a milled head with a graduated edge of 100 divisions, so that each division indicated a movement of the measuring face of 0.001 in. This machine is preserved in the Science Museum, South Kensington.
As a matter of interest, it was put through tests by the National Physical Laboratory in 1918 to determine its degree of accuracy, and, while it was found that, owing to a certain springiness and want of rigidity, there were minute errors on small lengths, yet the degree of accuracy was quite extraordinary considering the date of its construction.
An association now occurred which formed another turning point in Maudslay’s life history — his connection with Sir Marc Isambard Brunel; and a short account of Brunei’s early life may be given here to show how it came about that he sought Maudslay’s help in the construction of his block-making machinery.
Marc Isambard Brunel was born in 1769 at the village of Hacqueville in Normandy. He was the son of a small farmer. Educated for the priesthood it was soon seen that the carpenter’s shop and the drawing board had more attraction for him than scholarship, so the idea of making him a priest was given up. When Brunel was 18, he was nominated to serve as Volontaire d'Honneur in a corvette. On his ship being paid off in 1792 he went to Paris, but, being in danger of arrest for his Royalist sympathies, he escaped to America in 1793.
About the year 1798, Brunel met, at the table of General Hamilton (Washington’s secretary), a Mr. Delabigane, who had lately come from England. The principal subjects of conversation were the British navy and its achievements at Cape St. Vincent and Camperdown; this led to a discussion on the fitting out of ships and the manufacture of ship’s blocks. Brunel listened attentively as Mr. Delabigane described the machinery of Messrs. Fox & Taylor, of Deptford and Southampton, who had, for many years, enjoyed the monopoly of making blocks for the Royal Navy.
Brunei turned this all over in his mind, and conceived a scheme for improving block machinery. He came to England in 1799? and obtained an introduction to Messrs. Fox & Taylor, and inspected their works at Deptford. By 1800, he had gone far to developing his plans for the construction of block machinery, but was hindered by want of mechanical skill. A friend of his, Mr. Bacquancourt, had been in the habit of passing Henry Maudslay’s shop in Wells Street and admiring the specimens of workmanship exhibited there; they became acquainted, and, on Brunel confiding his difficulties to Mr. Bacquancourt, he advised him to seek Henry Maudslay’s assistance.
Brunel thereupon called on Henry Maudslay and submitted a drawing of part of a machine, as, like most inventors, he was chary of disclosing his ideas. Later he called with one or two other drawings, till, on his third visit, Maudslay exclaimed: “Now I see what you are at, you want machinery for making blocks.” From then on, Brunei decided to confide wholly in Maudslay, and showed him his complete designs. The latter at once entered into the task of working out the inventor’s ideas and embodying them in practical machinery. Thus, once again, as with Bramah’s press, though the conception of the machinery was not Maudslay’s, without his fertile brain and expert mechanical knowledge the plant could never have come into being.
Brunel had, meanwhile, taken out Letters Patent for the machinery, and placed his invention before the Admiralty, and asked to be allowed to erect a plant in Portsmouth Dockyard. He was introduced to Sir Samuel Bentham, Inspector General of Naval Works, who had already conceived a system of machinery for making blocks, but acknowledged the superiority of Brunei’s invention, and recommended it to the Lords of the Admiralty, by whom it was adopted in 1802.
Maudslay thereupon made a start on this work for Brunei. It was his first large, and one of his most important, contracts. He was taken into the service of the Navy Board, and spent most of his time during the next few years in completing the necessary machinery and erecting it at Portsmouth. He soon saw that this work was beyond the capacity of his little shop in Wells Street, so in 1802 he moved into larger premises in Margaret Street, Cavendish Square, where he could employ more men. The complete plant took eight years to build and erect at Portsmouth, and though the design was substantially Brunel’s, Nasmyth is reported to have said, “Every member of it was full of Maudslay’s presence; and the mechanical perfection of its details, its practicability and adaptability show his handiwork at every turn.”
The plant was finally completed in 1809, and thenceforward the Admiralty produced their own blocks. It was said that, whereas 50 men had previously been necessary to complete shells of the requisite blocks, with the help of this machinery four were sufficient; to prepare the sheaves 60 men had been employed, whereas six could now do the work.
There were 44 machines in all, including straight cross-cutting saws, circular cross-cutting saws, reciprocating ripping-saws, boring machines, mortising machines, shaping machines, and many others too numerous to mention here. These machines were beautiful examples of workmanship and efficiency, and the fact that they are still working at Portsmouth Dockyard to-day, substantially as their designer and builder left them, enables us to realise how, both in conception and construction, they were far in advance of their time. The whole system of blockmaking was completely revolutionised by this plant, which, with its ten operators, was found to be capable of an output of 160,000 blocks a year, of a value of £541,000. Not only were these machines the first practical means of making blocks economically, but many of them were the parent machines and embodied many of the principles of present-day woodworking machinery.
The design and manufacture of the block-making machinery would have been sufficient to engage the whole attention and energy of most men, but not so of Henry Maudslay. We find that, in 1805, he was also making improvements in calico-printing machinery, and patented a process for so doing (No. 2872), and, in 1808, a further improvement of the same process. In 1806, he patented, with Bryan Donkin, a differential motion for raising weights (No. 2945), which was the forerunner of the differential pulleys that are used in every workshop to-day. During this time he was also giving much attention to the improvement of steam engines, and, in 1807, he patented what was known as “Maudslay’s Table Engine” (No. 3050), in which the movement of the piston in a vertical cylinder mounted on a table was communicated by a return connecting rod to the crankshaft, carried in bearings beneath the table.
Smiles relates how James Nasmyth, speaking of this engine, says: “On account of its great simplicity and get-at-ability of parts, its compactness and self-contained steadiness, this engine has been the parent of a vast progeny all more or less marked by the distinguishing features of the original design, which is still in as high favour as ever.” This design of engine continued for 40 years to be a favourite type for engines of small power.
It was now, or a little later, that Maudslay turned his talent for invention to the designing and manufacture of machinery for the Royal Mint. Joshua who became Maudslay’s life-long partner and collaborator, joined him while he was still in Margaret Street. Field was himself an inventor of great ability, and did much to bring about the enlargement and increase in prosperity of the firm, which subsequently became known as Maudslay & Field, and later still as Maudslay, Sons & Field.
The completion of the block-making machines brought the firm considerable fame and a vast accession of business, and still more business, though of quite a different nature, was brought by one Robert Dickinson. Dickinson had, for some time, been devoting himself to buoys made of iron instead of the old-fashioned wooden type, which were very apt to leak, and were consequently unreliable; he also invented a system for the storage of fresh water (for sea-going vessels) in iron tanks instead of in the wooden tanks which had hitherto been employed.
The manufacture of these articles necessitated the working, shearing and punching of iron plates of considerable thickness, work which had, at that time, to be done by manual labour with the hammer, chisel and drill. This involved immense labour and high cost of production, and was very slow. Dickinson brought his problems of manufacture to Maudslay and asked him to consider how the work could be facilitated and made less costly. This led to the invention by Maudslay of the punching and shearing machine in very much the same form in which it is used to-day — another parent machine of vast importance in the production of tanks, boilers and constructional ironwork.
Dickinson had offered his tanks to the Admiralty, and the fact that they could now be produced at an economic price led to their general adoption in vessels of war. It is recorded that the average cost of preparing a tank for the rivets by hand had been 7/-, but with Maudslay’s machine this was reduced to 9d.
This business, on the top of a great increase in general work, led to the necessity of again seeking larger premises, and in 1810 Maudslay and Field moved to Westminster Bridge Road, where they bought a bit of land which had hitherto been partially occupied by a livery stable and riding school. These buildings formed the nucleus of the new factory, and here Maudslay, “with the aid of his excellent partner, built up the world-famed establishment of Maudslay, Field and Co.
Henry Maudslay’s life story must necessarily, from this time forward, be merged in the story of the firm of which he was the leading spirit. The plant was moved from Margaret Street, and fresh plant was added from time to time, and the firm carried on with steadily increasing business as machine-tool makers and general engineers. An example of their activities in the manufacture of machine tools is the lathe described below, which is also preserved at the Science Museum, South Kensington. It is a beautiful piece of work and far in advance of its time, and cannot better be described than by the label issued by the Museum authorities, which runs as follows:—
“This treadle lathe with triangular bar bed and overhead gear is of a type manufactured for sale to amateur mechanics and small workshops by Henry Maudslay, the foremost toolmaker of his time, and an engineer to whom the lathe in particular owes much of its development. The lathe is shown with the slide rest as developed by Maudslay set up with an attachment for screw cutting.”
“The bed is carried on two short standards fixed to a bench, and, except when a gap is required for work of large diameter, slides into a triangular hole in the body of the headstock. For ordinary purposes the slide-rest fits directly upon the bed, but for screw-cutting it is mounted, as shown, upon an adapter which protrudes at right angles. In this position the long lower slide of the rest is parallel to the line of centres, and the traversing screw is connected through a keyed shaft to an appropriate train of wheels which is mounted upon a radial arm and driven from a pinion on the mandrel. The upper slide of the slide-rest is carried on a swivel and can be set at any desired angle. The design of the loose headstock is unusual in that the steel centre, and the screw which moves it, are not made in a single piece, but separate; the centre slides in a long bearing and is pushed forward by contact with the end of the screw.”
“In order to keep the driving cords taut, the overhead pulleys are mounted on a pivoted frame which is balanced by counterweights.”
“The lathe is equipped with a hand rest and collar plate, a two-jaw independent chuck, which is shown in position, and various other chucks and tool holders.”
“Fully equipped, it was placed on the market at a price approximating to £200.”
It is difficult to say exactly when Maudslay began to devote his attention to marine engines. Possibly his interest in marine matters, first whetted by the installation of the block machinery in Portsmouth Dockyard, had again been aroused by his manufacture of the plant for Dickinson’s buoys and ships’ tanks, and doubtless this work brought him into contact with marine engineers and ship-builders. It was in 1812, two years after the move to Lambeth, that he took out a patent with Dickinson (No. 3853), for a method of purifying water on board ship by blowing air through it.
In any case, he must have been at work on the designs of his marine engines by 1812, for only three years later, in 1815, the “Richmond” was fitted with propelling machinery by the firm, and plied between London and Richmond, the first steam vessel to ply for hire on the Thames. Her tonnage was 112 and i.h.p. 42. In 1818, a considerable advance was made in the size of the vessels and the power of the machinery, the "Quebec” of 500 tons being fitted by the firm with engines of 100 i.h.p. This vessel ran between Quebec and Montreal. In the same year, the firm also engined the “London Engineer,” to ply between London and Margate, her tonnage being 315 and the i.h.p. 120.
In a letter written by Joshua Field to a Mr. Fattock, who had evidently sent the firm an inquiry for marine engines, he states: “It is recorded that the ‘Richmond’ performed the journey between London and Richmond in two hours, the distance being 16 miles; and the ‘Regent’ (the journey to Margate) in 9, 10 or 11 hours according to the state of the tide, the distance being 85 miles.” It is interesting to note that Mr. Field goes on to recommend the advantages of steam cooking and steam heating for use on shipboard, in the same letter.
A few particulars of the machinery of the “London Engineer” may be of interest. There were two vertical cylinders, 36 in. in diameter by 30 in. stroke, driving a paddle shaft which had overhung cranks with a pair of paddle wheels between them. Steam was supplied by three copper boilers, each with a single furnace, the working pressure being 5 lb. per square inch. The paddle wheels were each 12 ft. 6 in. in diameter and 6 ft. 6 in. wide, with eight radial arms carrying floats, and made 28 revolutions per minute. The two wheels were arranged in an airtight casing built amidships.
From these small beginnings, the firm gradually became established as marine engineers, building the engines of two cross-channel packets in 1822, and receiving their first order from the Admiralty in 1823. This was for H.M.S. Lightning, 296 tons and 192 i.h.p., and was followed soon afterwards by H.M.S. “Echo” (200 i.h.p.), H.M.S. “Confiance” (200 i.h.p.), and H.M.S. “Columbia” (240 i.h.p.).
In 1825, thee firm engined the “Enterprize,” which made the first steam passage from England to Calcutta; her tonnage was 500 and i.h.p. 240. In 1826, two of the earliest Liverpool to Dublin steam packets and a Weymouth to Jersey packek were engined by the firm. In 1828, an interesting departure was made in the machinery of the “Endeavour,” which plied between London and Richmond, as this vessel was the first to be fitted with oscillating engines. In all, upwards of 40 vessels were fitted with propelling machinery by the firm between 1815 and 1821 so that it can be truly said that their reputation as marine engineers was founded m Henry Maudslay’s lifetime.
Many men who afterwards rose to eminent positions in the world of engineering were pupils, or received their early training, at Maudslay and Field’s. Whitworth and Nasmyth were perhaps the most famous, but among others may be mentioned Clement, Roberts, Seaward, Muir, Lewis and Moon, and it is not too much to say that these men bore the stamp of thoroughness and love of accuracy that was impressed on them by Maudslay for the rest of their lives.
During the last few years of his life, Maudslay became much interested in astronomy. His taste for this science was first aroused in Berlin, where he visited the observatory, and was allowed to study some of the most striking and beautiful heavenly bodies. On his return to England, he consulted Nasmyth about building an astronomical telescope of his own.
Nasmyth carried out some experimental work for him, while Maudslay sought for a suitable site for his observatory and was in treaty for the purchase of a residence at Norwood when he was called away to Boulogne to visit the bedside of a dear friend. He remained there for about a week, until assured of his friend’s convalescence, but, on crossing the Channel on the return voyage, he caught a severe chill, from which he never recovered. On reaching London he took to his bed, and lingered on for three or four weeks, but died on February 15, 1831.
Henry Maudslay was a big man, 6 ft. 2 in. in height, with a large round head and a wide forehead, a good-humoured face and keen straightforward eyes. His ringing laugh and cordial manner made friends everywhere, and his kindliness and unvarying integrity held them. “No one could be more faithful and consistent in his friendships, nor more firm in the hour of adversity.” In fine, Henry Maudslay was, as described by his friend, Mr. Nasmyth, “the very beau ideal of an honest, upright, straightforward, hard-working, intelligent Englishman.”
If ever there was a man of whom the saying “His work was his hobby ” is true, that man was Henry Maudslay. Till late in life he delighted in handling the tools of his craft and “having ago” at some particularly intricate or difficult piece of work that had baffled his mechanics. lie had a beautifully equipped private workshop next to his library, where, during the latter years of his life, he and James Nasmyth, his keen and devoted personal assistant, spent many an hour tackling jobs that could not be entrusted to the factory hands. While thus employed, he often had a large musical box going in the adjoining library, as he was very fond of music.
Nasmyth, in his Autobiography, lays the greatest stress on Maudslay’s personal skill with the tools of his craft, and writes: “By a few masterly strokes [of a file] he could plane surfaces so true that when their accuracy was tested by a Standard planed surface of absolute truth they were never found defective, neither convex concave or cross-winding (that is, twisted).” ’ ’
This tribute was fully borne out by an old workman of Maudslay’s, who stated: It was a pleasure to see him handle a tool of any sort, but he was splendid with an 18-inch file”
It was his love for, and ability to produce work, of such accuracy that led him to introduce the method of making planed surfaces three at a time, using them to correct each other. Many of them were placed on the bench alongside the workmen in order to enable them to test their work. These planed surfaces were so accurate that, when placed face to face, they would float upon the thin stratum of air between them and, when that had become dislodged, they adhered so closely that they could only be separated by sliding them apart.
When working in his private workshop, Maudslay used to like his personal friends to drop in and converse with him while they watched him at work —such men as Faraday, Sir Samuel Bentham, Brunei, Chantrey the sculptor, Barton of the Royal Mint, and Bryan Donkin the engineer. Nasmyth relates how interesting and instructive it was to hear Maudslay and Bentham talking over the problems associated with the block-making machinery, and writes: “It was a great treat to hear him [Bentham] and Maudslay fight their battles over again in recounting the difficulties, both official and mechanical, over which they had so gloriously triumphed.”
And here it is fitting that we should leave Henry Maudslay, among his distinguished and favourite cronies, in the private workshop that he loved, handling the tools over which he had such a wonderful mastery, and by means of which he had worked his way to the foremost rank as a mechanical engineer.