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Henry Maudslay was born at Woolwich towards the end of last century, in a house standing in the court at the back of the Salutation Inn, the entrance to which is nearly opposite the Arsenal gates.
His father was a native of Lancashire, descended from an old family of the same name, the head of which resided at Mawdsley Hall near Ormskirk at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The family were afterwards scattered, and several of its members became workmen. William Maudslay, the son of Henry, belonged to the neighbourhood of Bolton, where he was brought up to the trade of a joiner. His principal employment, while working at his trade in Lancashire, consisted in making the wood framing of cotton machinery, in the construction of which cast-iron had not yet been introduced. Having got into some trouble in his neighbourhood, through some alleged liaison, William enlisted in the Royal Artillery, and the corps to which he belonged was shortly after sent out to the West Indies. He was several times engaged in battle, and in his last action he was hit by a musket-bullet in the throat. The soldier's stock which he wore had a piece cut out of it by the ball, the direction of which was diverted, and though severely wounded, his life was saved. He brought home the stock and preserved it as a relic, afterwards leaving it to his son. Long after, the son would point to the stock, hung up against his wall, and say "But for that bit of leather there would have been no Henry Maudslay."
The wounded artilleryman was invalided and sent home to Woolwich, the headquarters of his corps, where he was shortly after discharged. Being a handy workman, he sought and obtained employment at the Arsenal. He was afterwards appointed a storekeeper in the Dockyard. It was during the former stage of William Maudslay's employment at Woolwich, that the subject of this memoir was born in the house in the court above mentioned, on the 22nd of August, 1771.
While still occupied on the models, which were begun in 1800, Maudslay removed his shop from Wells-street, where he was assisted by a single journeyman, to Margaret-street, Cavendish-square, where he had greater room for carrying on his trade, and was also enabled to increase the number of his hands. The working models were ready for inspection by Sir Samuel Bentham and the Lords of the Admiralty in 1801, and having been fully approved by them, Brunel was authorized to proceed with the execution of the requisite machinery for the manufacture of the ship's blocks required for the Royal Navy. The whole of this machinery was executed by Henry Maudslay; it occupied him very fully for nearly six years, so that the manufacture of blocks by the new process was not begun until September, 1808.
We despair of being able to give any adequate description in words of the intricate arrangements and mode of action of the block-making machinery. Let any one attempt to describe the much more simple and familiar process by which a shoemaker makes a pair of shoes, and he will find how inadequate mere words are to describe any mechanical operation. Suffice it to say, that the machinery was of the most beautiful manufacture and finish, and even at this day will bear comparison with the most perfect machines which can be turned out with all the improved appliances of modern tools. The framing was of cast-iron, while the parts exposed to violent and rapid action were all of the best hardened steel. In turning out the various parts, Maudslay found his slide rest of indispensable value. Indeed, without this contrivance, it is doubtful whether machinery of so delicate and intricate a character could possibly have been executed.
There was not one, but many machines in the series, each devoted to a special operation in the formation of a block. Thus there were various sawing-machines, - the Straight Cross-Cutting Saw, the Circular Cross-Cutting Saw, the Reciprocating Ripping-saw, and the Circular Ripping-Saw. Then there were the Boring Machines, and the Mortising Machine, of beautiful construction, for cutting the sheave-holes, furnished with numerous chisels, each making from 110 to 150 strokes a minute, and cutting at every stroke a chip as thick as pasteboard with the utmost precision. In addition to these were the Corner-Saw for cutting off the corners of the block, the Shaping Machine for accurately forming the outside surfaces, the Scoring Engine for cutting the groove round the longest diameter of the block for the reception of the rope, and various other machines for drilling, riveting, and finishing the blocks, besides those for making the sheaves.
The total number of machines employed in the various operations of making a ship's block by the new method was forty-four; and after being regularly employed in Portsmouth Dockyard for upwards of fifty years, they are still as perfect in their action as on the day they were erected. They constitute one of the most ingenious and complete collections of tools ever invented for making articles in wood, being capable of performing most of the practical operations of carpentry with the utmost accuracy and finish. The machines are worked by a steam-engine of 32-horse power, which is also used for various other dockyard purposes. Under the new system of block-making it was found that the articles were better made, supplied with much greater rapidity, and executed at a greatly reduced cost. Only ten men, with the new machinery, could perform the work which before had required a hundred and ten men to execute, and not fewer than 160,000 blocks of various kinds and sizes could be turned out in a year, worth not less than 541,000L.
The satisfactory execution of the block-machinery brought Maudslay a large accession of fame and business; and the premises in Margaret Street proving much too limited for his requirements, he again resolved to shift his quarters. He found a piece of ground suitable for his purpose in Westminster Road, Lambeth. Little more than a century since it formed part of a Marsh, the name of which is still retained in the adjoining street; its principal productions being bulrushes and willows, which were haunted in certain seasons by snipe and waterfowl. An enterprising riding-master had erected some premises on a part of the marsh, which he used for a riding-school; but the speculation not answering, they were sold, and Henry Maudslay became the proprietor. Hither he removed his machinery from Margaret Street in 1810, adding fresh plant from time to time as it was required; and with the aid of his late excellent partner he built up the far-famed establishment of Maudslay, Field, and Co. There he went on improving his old tools and inventing new ones, as the necessity for them arose, until the original slide-lathes used for making the block-machinery became thrown into the shade by the comparatively gigantic machine-tools of the modern school. Yet the original lathes are still to be found in the collection of the firm in Westminster Road, and continue to do their daily quota of work with the same precision as they did when turned out of the hands of their inventor and maker some sixty years ago.
It is unnecessary that we should describe in any great detail the further career of Henry Maudslay. The rest of his life was full of useful and profitable work to others as well as to himself. His business embraced the making of flour and saw mills, mint machinery, and steam-engines of all kinds. Before he left Margaret Street, in 1807, he took out a patent for improvements in the steam-engine, by which he much simplified its parts, and secured greater directness of action. His new engine was called the Pyramidal, because of its form, and was the first move towards what are now called Direct-acting Engines, in which the lateral movement of the piston is communicated by connecting-rods to the rotatory movement of the crank-shaft. Mr. Nasmyth says of it, that "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."
Mr. Maudslay also directed his attention in like manner to the improvement of the marine engine, which he made so simple and effective as to become in a great measure the type of its class; and it has held its ground almost unchanged for nearly thirty years. The 'Regent,' which was the first steamboat that plied between London and Margate, was fitted with engines by Maudslay in 1816; and it proved the forerunner of a vast number of marine engines, the manufacture of which soon became one of the most important branches of mechanical engineering.
Another of Mr. Maudslay's inventions was his machine for punching boiler-plates, by which the production of ironwork of many kinds was greatly facilitated. This improvement originated in the contract which he held for some years for supplying the Royal Navy with iron plates for ships' tanks. The operations of shearing and punching had before been very imperfectly done by hand, with great expenditure of labour. To improve the style of the work and lessen the labour, Maudslay invented the machine now in general use, by which the holes punched in the iron plate are exactly equidistant, and the subsequent operation of riveting is greatly facilitated. One of the results of the improved method was the great saving which was at once effected in the cost of preparing the plates to receive the rivets, the price of which was reduced from seven shillings per tank to nine pence. He continued to devote himself to the last to the improvement of the lathe, - in his opinion the master-machine, the life and soul of engine-turning, of which the planing, screw-cutting, and other machines in common use, are but modifications. In one of the early lathes which he contrived and made, the mandrill was nine inches in diameter; it was driven by wheel-gearing like a crane motion, and adapted to different speeds. Some of his friends, on first looking at it, said he was going "too fast;" but he lived to see work projected on so large a scale as to prove that his conceptions were just, and that he had merely anticipated by a few years the mechanical progress of his time. His large removable bar-lathe was a highly important tool of the same kind. It was used to turn surfaces many feet in diameter. While it could be used for boring wheels, or the side-rods of marine engines, it could turn a roller or cylinder twice or three times the diameter of its own centres from the ground-level, and indeed could drive round work of any diameter that would clear the roof of the shop. This was therefore an almost universal tool, capable of very extensive uses. Indeed much of the work now executed by means of special tools, such as the planing or slotting machine, was then done in the lathe, which was used as a cutter-shaping machine, fitted with various appliances according to the work.
Maudslay's love of accuracy also led him from an early period to study the subject of improved screw-cutting. The importance of this department of mechanism can scarcely be overrated, the solidity and permanency of most mechanical structures mainly depending on the employment of the screw, at the same time that the parts can be readily separated for renewal or repair. Any one can form an idea of the importance of the screw as an element in mechanical construction by examining say a steam-engine, and counting the number of screws employed in holding it together. Previous to the time at which the subject occupied the attention of our mechanic, the tools used for making screws were of the most rude and inexact kind. The screws were for the most part cut by hand: the small by filing, the larger by chipping and filing. In consequence of the great difficulty of making them, as few were used as possible; and cotters, cotterils, or forelocks, were employed instead. Screws, however, were to a certain extent indispensable; and each manufacturing establishment made them after their own fashion. There was an utter want of uniformity. No system was observed as to "pitch," i.e. the number of threads to the inch, nor was any rule followed as to the form of those threads. Every bolt and nut was sort of specialty in itself, and neither owed nor admitted of any community with its neighbours. To such an extent was this irregularity carried, that all bolts and their corresponding nuts had to be marked as belonging to each other; and any mixing of them together led to endless trouble, hopeless confusion, and enormous expense. Indeed none but those who lived in the comparatively early days of machine-manufacture can form an adequate idea of the annoyance occasioned by the want of system in this branch of detail, or duly appreciate the services rendered by Maudslay to mechanical engineering by the practical measures which he was among the first to introduce for its remedy.
In his system of screw-cutting machinery, his taps and dies, and screw-tackle generally, he laid the foundations of all that has since been done in this essential branch of machine-construction, in which he was so ably followed up by several of the eminent mechanics brought up in his school, and more especially by Joseph Clement and Joseph Whitworth. One of his earliest self-acting screw lathes, moved by a guide-screw and wheels after the plan followed by the latter engineer, cut screws of large diameter and of any required pitch. As an illustration of its completeness and accuracy, we may mention that by its means a screw five feet in length, and two inches in diameter, was cut with fifty threads to the inch; the nut to fit on to it being twelve inches long, and containing six hundred threads. This screw was principally used for dividing scales for astronomical purposes; and by its means divisions were produced so minute that they could not be detected without the aid of a magnifier. The screw, which was sent for exhibition to the Society of Arts, is still carefully preserved amongst the specimens of Maudslay's handicraft at the Lambeth Works, and is a piece of delicate work which every skilled mechanic will thoroughly appreciate. Yet the tool by which this fine piece of turning was produced was not an exceptional tool, but was daily employed in the ordinary work of the manufactory.
Like every good workman who takes pride in his craft, he kept his tools in first-rate order, clean, and tidily arranged, so that he could lay his hand upon the thing he wanted at once, without loss of time. They are still preserved in the state in which he left them, and strikingly illustrate his love of order, "nattiness," and dexterity. Mr. Nasmyth says of him that you could see the man's character in whatever work he turned out; and as the connoisseur in art will exclaim at sight of a picture, " That is Turner," or "That is Stansfield," detecting the hand of the master in it, so the experienced mechanician, at sight of one of his machines or engines, will be equally ready to exclaim, "That is Maudslay;" for the characteristic style of the master-mind is as clear to the experienced eye in the case of the finished machine as the touches of the artist's pencil are in the case of the finished picture.
Every mechanical contrivance that became the subject of his study came forth from his hand and mind rearranged, simplified, and made new, with the impress of his individuality stamped upon it. He at once stripped the subject of all unnecessary complications; for he possessed a wonderful faculty of ‘knowing what to do without’ - the result of his clearness of insight into mechanical adaptations, and the accurate and well-defined notions he had formed of the precise object to be accomplished. "Every member or separate machine in the system of block-machinery says Mr. Nasmyth, "is full of Maudslay's presence; and in that machinery, as constructed by him, is to be found the parent of every engineering tool by the aid of which we are now achieving such great things in mechanical construction.
To the tools of which Maudslay furnished the prototypes are we mainly indebted for the perfection of our textile machinery, our locomotives, our marine engines, and the various implements of art, of agriculture, and of war. If any one who can enter into the details of this subject will be at the pains to analyse, if I may so term it, the machinery of our modern engineering workshops, he will find in all of them the strongly-marked features of Maudslay's parent machine, the slide rest and slide system -whether it be a planing machine, a slotting machine, a slide-lathe, or any other of the wonderful tools which are now enabling us to accomplish so much in mechanism."
One of the things in which Mr. Maudslay took just pride was in the excellence of his work. In designing and executing it, his main object was to do it in the best possible style and finish, altogether irrespective of the probable pecuniary results. This he regarded in the light of a duty he could not and would not evade, independent of its being a good investment for securing a future reputation; and the character which he thus obtained, although at times purchased at great cost, eventually justified the soundness of his views. As the eminent Mr. Penn, the head of the great engineering firm, is accustomed to say, "I cannot afford to turn out second-rate work," so Mr. Maudslay found both character and profit in striving after the highest excellence in his productions. He was particular even in the minutest details. Thus one of the points on which he insisted - apparently a trivial matter, but in reality of considerable importance in mechanical construction - was the avoidance of sharp interior angles in ironwork, whether wrought or cast; for he found that in such interior angles cracks were apt to originate; and when the article was a tool, the sharp angle was less pleasant to the hand as well as to the eye.
In the application of his favourite round or hollow corner system as, for instance, in the case of the points of junction of the arms of a wheel with its centre and rim he used to illustrate its superiority by holding up his hand and pointing out the nice rounded hollow at the junction of the fingers, or by referring to the junction of the branches to the stem of a tree. Hence he made a point of having all the angles of his machine framework nicely rounded off on their exterior, and carefully hollowed in their interior angles. In forging such articles he would so shape his metal before bending that the result should be the right hollow or rounded corner when bent; the anticipated external angle falling into its proper place when the bar so shaped was brought to its ultimate form. In all such matters of detail he was greatly assisted by his early dexterity as a blacksmith; and he used to say that to be a good smith you must be able to SEE in the bar of iron the object proposed to be got out of it by the hammer or the tool, just as the sculptor is supposed to see in the block of stone the statue which he proposes to bring forth from it by his mind and his chisel.
Mr. Maudslay did not allow himself to forget his skill in the use of the hammer, and to the last he took pleasure in handling it, sometimes in the way of business, and often through sheer love of his art. Mr Nasmyth says, "It was one of my duties, while acting as assistant in his beautiful little workshop, to keep up a stock of handy bars of lead which he had placed on a shelf under his work-bench, which was of thick slate for the more ready making of his usual illustrative sketches of machinery in chalk. His love of iron-forging led him to take delight in forging the models of work to be ultimately done in iron; and cold lead being of about the same malleability as red-hot iron, furnished a convenient material for illustrating the method to be adopted with the large work. I well remember the smile of satisfaction that lit up his honest face when he met with a good excuse for 'having a go at' one of the bars of lead with hammer and anvil as if it were a bar of iron; and how, with a few dexterous strokes, punching of holes, and rounded notches, he would give the rough bar or block its desired form. He always aimed at working it out of the solid as much as possible, so as to avoid the risk of any concealed defect, to which ironwork built up of welded parts is so liable; and when he had thus cleverly finished his model, he used forthwith to send for the foreman of smiths, and show him how he was to instruct his men as to the proper forging of the desired object." One of Mr. Maudslay's old workmen, when informing us of the skilful manner in which he handled the file, said, "It was a pleasure to see him handle a tool of any kind, but he was quite splendid with an eighteen-inch file!" The vice at which he worked was constructed by himself, and it was perfect of its kind. It could be turned round to any position on the bench; the jaws would turn from the horizontal to the perpendicular or any other position - upside-down if necessary - and they would open twelve inches parallel.
Mr. Nasmyth furnishes the following further recollections of Mr. Maudslay, which will serve in some measure to illustrate his personal character. "Henry Maudslay," he says, "lived in the days of snuff-taking, which unhappily, as I think, has given way to the cigar-smoking system. He enjoyed his occasional pinch very much. It generally preceded the giving out of a new notion or suggestion for an improvement or alteration of some job in hand. As with most of those who enjoy their pinch, about three times as much was taken between the fingers as was utilized by the nose, and the consequence was that a large unconsumed surplus collected in the folds of the master's waistcoat as he sat working at his bench. Sometimes a file, or a tool, or some small piece of work would drop, and then it was my duty to go down on my knees and fetch it up. On such occasions, while waiting for the article, he would take the opportunity of pulling down his waistcoat front, which had become disarranged by his energetic working at the bench; and many a time have I come up with the dropped article, half-blinded by the snuff jerked into my eyes from off his waistcoat front.
"All the while he was at work he would be narrating some incident in his past life, or describing the progress of some new and important undertaking, in illustrating which he would use the bit of chalk ready to his hand upon the slate bench before him, which was thus in almost constant use. One of the pleasures he indulged in while he sat at work was Music, of which he was very fond, more particularly of melodies and airs which took a lasting hold on his mind. Hence he was never without an assortment of musical boxes, some of which were of a large size. One of these he would set agoing on his library table, which was next to his workshop, and with the door kept open, he was thus enabled to enjoy the music while he sat working at his bench. Intimate friends would frequently call upon him and sit by the hour, but though talking all the while he never dropped his work, but continued employed on it with as much zeal as if he were only beginning life. His old friend Sir Samuel Bentham was a frequent caller in this way, as well as Sir Isambard Brunel while occupied with his Thames Tunnel works, (Among the last works executed by the firm during Mr. Maudslay's lifetime was the famous Shield employed by his friend Brunel in carrying forward the excavation of the Thames Tunnel. He also supplied the pumping-engines for the same great work, the completion of which he did not live to see) and Mr. Chantrey, who was accustomed to consult him about the casting of his bronze statuary. Mr. Barton of the Royal Mint, and Mr. Donkin the engineer, with whom Mr. Barton was associated in ascertaining and devising a correct system of dividing the Standard Yard, and many others, had like audience of Mr. Maudslay in his little workshop, for friendly converse, for advice, or on affairs of business.
"It was a special and constant practice with him on a workman's holiday, or on a Sunday morning, to take a walk through his workshops when all was quiet, and then and there examine the various jobs in hand. On such occasions he carried with him a piece of chalk, with which, in a neat and very legible hand, he would record his remarks in the most pithy and sometimes caustic terms. Any evidence of want of correctness in setting things square, or in 'flat filing,' which he held in high esteem, or untidiness in not sweeping down the bench and laying the tools in order, was sure to have a record in chalk made on the spot. If it was a mild case, the reproof was recorded in gentle terms, simply to show that the master's eye was on the workman; but where the case deserved hearty approbation or required equally hearty reproof, the words employed were few, but went straight to the mark. These chalk jottings on the bench were held in the highest respect by the workmen themselves, whether they conveyed praise or blame, as they were sure to be deserved; and when the men next assembled, it soon became known all over the shop who had received the honour or otherwise of one of the master's bench memoranda in chalk."
The vigilant, the critical, and yet withal the generous eye of the master being over all his workmen, it will readily be understood how Maudslay's works came to be regarded as a first-class school for mechanical engineers. Every one felt that the quality of his workmanship was fully understood; and, if he had the right stuff in him, and was determined to advance, that his progress in skill would be thoroughly appreciated. It is scarcely necessary to point out how this feeling, pervading the establishment, must have operated, not only in maintaining the quality of the work, but in improving the character of the workmen. The results were felt in the increased practical ability of a large number of artisans, some of whom subsequently rose to the highest distinction. Indeed it may be said that what Oxford and Cambridge are in letters, workshops such as Maudslay's and Penn's are in mechanics. Nor can Oxford and Cambridge men be prouder of the connection with their respective colleges than mechanics such as Whitworth, Nasmyth, Roberts, Muir, and Lewis, are of their connection with the school of Maudslay. For all these distinguished engineers at one time or another formed part of his working staff, and were trained to the exercise of their special abilities under his own eye. The result has been a development of mechanical ability the like of which perhaps is not to be found in any age or country.
Although Mr. Maudslay was an unceasing inventor, he troubled himself very little about patenting his inventions. He considered that the superiority of his tools and the excellence of his work were his surest protection. Yet he had sometimes the annoyance of being threatened with actions by persons who had patented the inventions which he himself had made.
His principal patent's were--two, taken out in 1805 and 1808, while in Margaret Street, for printing calicoes (Nos. 2872 and 3117); one taken out in 1806, in conjunction with Mr. Donkin, for lifting heavy weights (2948); one taken out in 1807, while still in Margaret Street, for improvements in the steam-engine, reducing its parts and rendering it more compact and portable (3050); another, taken out in conjunction with Robert Dickinson in 1812, for sweetening water and other liquids (3538); and, lastly, a patent taken out in conjunction "with Joshua Field in 1824 for preventing concentration of brine in boilers (5021).
He was much beset by inventors, sometimes sadly out at elbows, but always with a boundless fortune looming before them. To such as applied to him for advice in a frank and candid spirit, he did not hesitate to speak freely, and communicate the results of his great experience in the most liberal manner; and to poor and deserving men of this class he was often found as ready to help them with his purse as with his still more valuable advice. He had a singular way of estimating the abilities of those who thus called upon him about their projects. The highest order of man was marked in his own mind at 100 degrees; and by this ideal standard he measured others, setting them down at 90 degrees, 80 degrees, and so on. A very first-rate man he would set down at 95 degrees, but men of this rank were exceedingly rare. After an interview with one of the applicants to him for advice, he would say to his pupil Nasmyth, "Jem, I think that man may be set down at 45 degrees, but he might be worked up to 60 degrees - a common enough way of speaking of the working of a steam-engine, but a somewhat novel though by no means an inexpressive method of estimating the powers of an individual.
But while he had much toleration for modest and meritorious inventors, he had a great dislike for secret-mongers, - schemers of the close, cunning sort, - and usually made short work of them. He had an almost equal aversion for what he called the "fiddle-faddle inventors," with their omnibus patents, into which they packed every possible thing that their noddles could imagine. "Only once or twice in a century," said he, "does a great inventor appear, and yet here we have a set of fellows each taking out as many patents as would fill a cart, some of them embodying not a single original idea, but including in their specifications all manner of modifications of well-known processes, as well as anticipating the arrangements which may become practicable in the progress of mechanical improvement." Many of these "patents" he regarded as mere pit-falls to catch the unwary; and he spoke of such "inventors" as the pests of the profession.
The personal appearance of Henry Maudslay was in correspondence with his character. He was of a commanding presence, for he stood full six feet two inches in height, a massive and portly man. His face was round, full, and lit up with good humour. A fine, large, and square forehead, of the grand constructive order, dominated over all, and his bright keen eye gave energy and life to his countenance. He was thoroughly "jolly" and good-natured, yet full of force and character. It was a positive delight to hear his cheerful, ringing laugh. He was cordial in manner, and his frankness set everybody at their ease who had occasion to meet him, even for the first time. 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, straight-forward, hard-working, intelligent Englishman.
A severe cold which he caught on his way home from one of his visits to France, was the cause of his death, which occurred on the l4th of February, 1831. The void which his decease caused was long and deeply felt, not only by his family and his large circle of friends, but by his workmen, who admired him for his industrial skill, and loved him because of his invariably manly, generous, and upright conduct towards them. He directed that he should be buried in Woolwich parish-churchyard, where a cast-iron tomb, made to his own design, was erected over his remains. He had ever a warm heart for Woolwich, where he had been born and brought up. He often returned to it, sometimes to carry his mother a share of his week's wages while she lived, and afterwards to refresh himself with a sight of the neighbourhood with which he had been so familiar when a boy. He liked its green common, with the soldiers about it; Shooter's Hill, with its out-look over Kent and down the valley of the Thames; the river busy with shipping, and the royal craft loading and unloading their armaments at the dockyard wharves. He liked the clangour of the Arsenal smithy where he had 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, let us add, has equal reason to he proud of Henry Maudslay.
The boy was early set to work. When twelve years old he was employed as a "powder-monkey," in making and filling cartridges. After two years, he was passed on to the carpenter's shop where his father worked, and there he became acquainted with tools and the art of working in wood and iron. From the first, the latter seems to have had by far the greatest charms for him. The blacksmiths' shop was close to the carpenters', and Harry seized every opportunity that offered of plying the hammer, the file, and the chisel, in preference to the saw and the plane. Many a cuff did the foreman of carpenters give him for absenting himself from his proper shop and stealing off to the smithy. His propensity was indeed so strong that, at the end of a year, it was thought better, as he was a handy, clever boy, to yield to his earnest desire to be placed in the smithy, and he was removed thither accordingly in his fifteenth year.
His heart being now in his work, he made rapid progress, and soon became an expert smith and metal worker. He displayed his skill especially in forging light ironwork; and a favourite job of his was the making of "Trivets" out of the solid, which only the "dab hands" of the shop could do, but which he threw off with great rapidity in first rate style. These "Trivets" were made out of Spanish iron bolts - rare stuff, which, though exceedingly tough, forged like wax under the hammer. Even at the close of his life, when he had acquired eminent distinction as an inventor, and was a large employer of skilled labour, he looked back with pride to the forging of his early days in Woolwich Arsenal. He used to describe with much gusto, how the old experienced hands, with whom he was a great favourite, would crowd about him when forging his "Trivets," some of which may to this day be in use among Woolwich housewives for supporting the toast-plate before the bright fire against tea time. This was, however, entirely contraband work, done "on the sly," and strictly prohibited by the superintending officer, who used kindly to signal his approach by blowing his nose in a peculiar manner, so that all forbidden jobs might be put out of the way by the time he entered the shop.
We have referred to Maudslay's early dexterity in trivet-making - a circumstance trifling enough in itself - for the purpose of illustrating the progress which he had made in a branch of his art of the greatest importance in tool and machine making. Nothing pleased him more in his after life than to be set to work upon an unusual piece of forging, and to overcome, as none could do so cleverly as he, the difficulties which it presented. The pride of art was as strong in him as it must have been in the mediaeval smiths, who turned out those beautiful pieces of workmanship still regarded as the pride of our cathedrals and old mansions. In Maudslay's case, his dexterity as a smith was eventually directed to machinery, rather than ornamental work; though, had the latter been his line of labour, we do not doubt that he would have reached the highest distinction.
The manual skill which our young blacksmith had acquired was such as to give him considerable reputation in his craft, and he was spoken of even in the London shops as one of the most dexterous hands in the trade. It was this circumstance that shortly after led to his removal from the smithy in Woolwich Arsenal to a sphere more suitable for the development of his mechanical ability.
We have already stated in the preceding memoir, that Joseph Bramah took out the first patent for his lock in 1784, and a second for its improvement several years later; but notwithstanding the acknowledged superiority of the new lock over all others, Bramah experienced the greatest difficulty in getting it manufactured with sufficient precision, and at such a price as to render it an article of extensive commerce. This arose from the generally inferior character of the workmanship of that day, as well as the clumsiness and uncertainty of the tools then in use. Bramah found that even the best manual dexterity was not to be trusted, and yet it seemed to be his only resource; for machine-tools of a superior kind had not yet been invented. In this dilemma he determined to consult an ingenious old German artisan, then working with William Moodie, a general blacksmith in Whitechapel. This German was reckoned one of the most ingenious workmen in London at the time. Bramah had several long interviews with him, with the object of endeavouring to solve the difficult problem of how to secure precise workmanship in lock-making. But they could not solve it; they saw that without better tools the difficulty was insuperable; and then Bramah began to fear that his lock would remain a mere mechanical curiosity, and be prevented from coming into general use.
He was indeed sorely puzzled what next to do, when one of the hammer-men in Moodie's shop ventured to suggest that there was a young man in the Woolwich Arsenal smithy, named Maudslay, who was so ingenious in such matters that "nothing bet him," and he recommended that Mr. Bramah should have a talk with him upon the subject of his difficulty. Maudslay was at once sent for to Bramah's workshop, and appeared before the lock-maker, a tall, strong, comely young fellow, then only eighteen years old. Bramah was almost ashamed to lay his case before such a mere youth; but necessity constrained him to try all methods of accomplishing his object, and Maudslay's suggestions in reply to his statement of the case were so modest, so sensible, and as the result proved, so practical, that the master was constrained to admit that the lad before him had an old head though set on young shoulders. Bramah decided to adopt the youth's suggestions, made him a present on the spot, and offered to give him a job if he was willing to come and work in a town shop. Maudslay gladly accepted the offer, and in due time appeared before Bramah to enter upon his duties.
As Maudslay had served no regular apprenticeship, and was of a very youthful appearance, the foreman of the shop had considerable doubts as to his ability to take rank alongside his experienced hands. But Maudslay soon set his master's and the foreman's mind at rest. Pointing to a worn-out vice-bench, he said to Bramah, "Perhaps if I can make that as good as new by six o'clock to-night, it will satisfy your foreman that I am entitled to rank as a tradesman and take my place among your men, even though I have not served a seven years' apprenticeship." There was so much self-reliant ability in the proposal, which was moreover so reasonable, that it was at once acceded to. Off went Maudslay's coat, up went his shirt sleeves, and to work he set with a will upon the old bench. The vice-jaws were re-steeled "in no time," filed up, re-cut, all the parts cleaned and made trim, and set into form again. By six o'clock, the old vice was screwed up to its place, its jaws were hardened and "let down" to proper temper, and the old bench was made to look so smart and neat that it threw all the neighbouring benches into the shade! Bramah and his foreman came round to see it, while the men of the shop looked admiringly on. It was examined and pronounced "a first-rate job." This diploma piece of work secured Maudslay's footing, and next Monday morning he came on as one of the regular hands.
He soon took rank in the shop as a first-class workman. Loving his art, he aimed at excellence in it, and succeeded. For it must be understood that the handicraftsman whose heart is in his calling, feels as much honest pride in turning out a piece of thoroughly good workmanship, as the sculptor or the painter does in executing a statue or a picture. In course of time, the most difficult and delicate jobs came to be entrusted to Maudslay; and nothing gave him greater pleasure than to be set to work upon an entirely new piece of machinery. And thus he rose, naturally and steadily, from hand to head work. For his manual dexterity was the least of his gifts. He possessed an intuitive power of mechanical analysis and synthesis. He had a quick eye to perceive the arrangements requisite to effect given purposes; and whenever a difficulty arose, his inventive mind set to work to overcome it.
His fellow-workmen were not slow to recognise his many admirable qualities, of hand, mind, and heart; and he became not only the favourite, but the hero of the shop. Perhaps he owed something to his fine personal appearance. Hence on gala-days, when the men turned out in procession, "Harry" was usually selected to march at their head and carry the flag. His conduct as a son, also, was as admirable as his qualities as a workman. His father dying shortly after Maudslay entered Bramah's concern, he was accustomed to walk down to Woolwich every Saturday night, and hand over to his mother, for whom he had the tenderest regard, a considerable share of his week's wages, and this he continued to do as long as she lived.
Notwithstanding his youth, he was raised from one post to another, until he was appointed, by unanimous consent, the head foreman of the works; and was recognised by all who had occasion to do business there as "Bramah's right-hand man." He not only won the heart of his master, but what proved of far greater importance to him, he also won the heart of his master's pretty housemaid, Sarah Tindel by name, whom he married, and she went hand-in-hand with him through life, an admirable "help meet," in every way worthy of the noble character of the great mechanic. Maudslay was found especially useful by his master in devising the tools for making his patent locks; and many were the beautiful contrivances which he invented for the purpose of ensuring their more accurate and speedy manufacture, with a minimum degree of labour, and without the need of any large amount of manual dexterity on the part of the workman. The lock was so delicate a machine, that the identity of the several parts of which it was composed was found to be an absolute necessity. Mere handicraft, however skilled, could not secure the requisite precision of workmanship; nor could the parts be turned out in sufficient quantity to meet any large demand. It was therefore requisite to devise machine-tools which should not blunder, nor turn out imperfect work; machines, in short, which should be in a great measure independent of the want of dexterity of individual workmen, but which should unerringly labour in their prescribed track, and do the work set them, even in the minutest details, after the methods designed by their inventor. In this department Maudslay was eminently successful, and to his laborious ingenuity, as first displayed in Bramah's workshops, and afterwards in his own establishment, we unquestionably owe much of the power and accuracy of our present self-acting machines.
Bramah himself was not backward in admitting that to Henry Maudslay's practical skill in contriving the machines for manufacturing his locks on a large scale, the success of his invention was in a great degree attributable. In further proof of his manual dexterity, it may be mentioned that he constructed with his own hands the identical padlock which so severely tested the powers of Mr. Hobbs in 1851. And when it is considered that the lock had been made for more than half a century, and did not embody any of the modern improvements, it will perhaps be regarded not only as creditable to the principles on which it was constructed, but to the workmanship of its maker, that it should so long have withstood the various mechanical dexterity to which it was exposed.
Besides the invention of improved machine-tools for the manufacture of locks, Maudslay was of further service to Bramah in applying the expedient to his famous Hydraulic Press, without which it would probably have remained an impracticable though a highly ingenious machine. As in other instances of great inventions, the practical success of the whole is often found to depend upon the action of some apparently trifling detail. This was especially the case with the hydraulic press; to which Maudslay added the essential feature of the self-tightening collar, above described in the memoir of Bramah. Mr. James Nasmyth is our authority for ascribing this invention to Maudslay, who was certainly quite competent to have made it; and it is a matter of fact that Bramah's specification of the press says nothing of the hollow collar, on which its efficient action mainly depends.
The words Bramah uses in describing this part of his patent of 1795 are these - "The piston must be made perfectly watertight by leather or other materials, as used in pump-making." He elsewhere speaks of the piston-rod "working through the stuffing-box." But in practice, as we have above shown, these methods were found to be altogether inefficient. Mr. Nasmyth says "Maudslay himself told me, or led me to believe, that it was he who invented the self-tightening collar for the hydraulic press, without which it would never have been a serviceable machine. As the self-tightening collar is to the hydraulic press, so is the steam-blast to the locomotive. It is the one thing needful that has made it effective in practice. If Maudslay was the inventor of the collar, that one contrivance ought to immortalize him. He used to tell me of it with great gusto, and I have no reason to doubt the correctness of his statement." Whoever really struck out the idea of the collar, displayed the instinct of the true inventor, who invariably seeks to accomplish his object by the adoption of the simplest possible means.
During the time that Maudslay held the important office of manager of Bramah's works, his highest wages were not more than thirty shillings a-week. He himself thought that he was worth more to his master - as indeed he was, - and he felt somewhat mortified that he should have to make an application for an advance; but the increasing expenses of his family compelled him in a measure to do so. His application was refused in such a manner as greatly to hurt his sensitive feelings; and the result was that he threw up his situation, and determined to begin working on his own account.
His first start in business was in the year 1797, in a small workshop and smithy situated in Wells Street, Oxford Street. It was in an awful state of dirt and dilapidation when he became its tenant. He entered the place on a Friday, but by the Saturday evening, with the help of his excellent wife, he had the shop thoroughly cleaned, whitewashed, and put in readiness for beginning work on the next Monday morning. He had then 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 within his own smithy and executing orders for customers on his own account. His first customer was an artist, who gave him an order to execute the iron work of a large easel, embodying some new arrangements; and the work was punctually done to his employer's satisfaction. Other orders followed, and he soon became fully employed. His fame as a first-rate workman was almost as great as that of his former master; and many who had been accustomed to do business with him at Pimlico followed him to Wells Street. Long years after, the thought of these early days of self-dependence and hard work used to set him in a glow, and he would dilate to his intimate friends up on his early struggles and his first successes, which were much more highly prized by him than those of his maturer years.
With a true love of his craft, Maudslay continued to apply himself, as he had done whilst working as Bramah's foreman, to the best methods of ensuring accuracy and finish of work, so as in a measure to be independent of the carelessness or want of dexterity of the workman. With this object he aimed at the contrivance of improved machine-tools, which should be as much self-acting and self-regulating as possible; and it was while pursuing this study that he wrought out the important mechanical invention with which his name is usually identified - that of the Slide Rest. It continued to be his special delight, when engaged in the execution of any piece of work in which he took a personal interest, to introduce a system of identity of parts, and to adapt for the purpose some one or other of the mechanical contrivances with which his fertile brain was always teeming. Thus it was from his desire to leave nothing to the chance of mere individual dexterity of hand that he introduced the slide rest in the lathe, and rendered it one of the most important of machine-tools. The first device of this kind was contrived by him for Bramah, in whose shops it continued in practical use long after he had begun business for himself. "I have seen the slide rest," says Mr. James Nasmyth, "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 own day, all of which are the legitimate offspring of Maudslay's original rest. In this lathe the slide rest and frame were moveable along the traversing-bar, according to the length of the work, and could be placed in any position and secured by a handle and screw underneath. The Rest, however, afterwards underwent many important modifications; but the principle of the whole machine was there. If this tool be yet extant, it ought to be preserved with the greatest care, for it was the beginning of those mechanical triumphs which give to the days in which we live so much of their distinguishing character."
The effects of the introduction of the slide rest were very shortly felt in all departments of mechanism. Though it had to encounter some of the ridicule with which new methods of working are usually received, and for a time was spoken of in derision as "Maudslay's Go-cart," its practical advantages were so decided that it gradually made its way, and became an established tool in all the best mechanical workshops. It was found alike capable of executing the most delicate and the most ponderous pieces of machinery; and as slide-lathes could be manufactured to any extent, machinery, steam-engines, and all kinds of metal work could now be turned out in a quantity and at a price that, but for its use, could never have been practicable. In course of time various modifications of the machine were introduced--such as the planing machine, the wheel-cutting machine, and other beautiful tools on the slide-rest principle,--the result of which has been that extraordinary development of mechanical production and power which is so characteristic a feature of the age we live in.