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British Industrial History

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James Reilly

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Patent (no. 711)*
Patent (no. 711)*
Patent (no. 711)*
Patent (no. 711)*
Patent (no. 711)*
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Patent (no. 0403)*
Patent (no. 0403)*
Patent (no. 0403)*
Patent (no. 0403)*
Patent (no. 0403)*
Patent (no. 02479)*
Patent (no. 02479)*
Patent (no. 02479)*
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Patent (no. 4229)*
Patent (no. 4229)*

James Reilly (1825-1889) Manchester Chair Manufacturer by Max Kite

James Reilly was a chairmaker first, but an inventor and an innovator in the leisure industry.

1825. Born in Liverpool to Irish parents his father, also James, was a chairmaker.

1851. (Census) Living at 11 Edge Street, Manchester and described as “Cabinet and chairmaker, employing 4 men”, whilst his father, at the same address, was “Master Cabinet and chairmaker employing 5 men”. The surname appears as “Rully” but it is clearly our subject. [1]

1851. 11th May 1851 James Riley(sic), “Cabbinette maker” and son of James Riley, Chairmaker, marries Hannah Wovenden, daughter of William Wovenden, Confectioner, at the Church of St John in Manchester. [2]

1852, 28th June. His son, William Wovenden Reilly born. [3]

1853. 2nd December. Patent (no. 2800) for “Improvements in machinery or apparatus for tenoning, mortising and sawing wood, metal or other materials”.

“My invention consists of a peculiar arrangement of mechanisms, by which I cut or form tenons and mortises, and is peculiarly adapted for chair work, cabinet and cabriole work, joiner’s work, ship carpenter’s & railway work, or other similar manufactures, but the principle is equally applicable to other and larger work, by making the machine of proportionate size and strength. It consists of a frame made of any suitable metal or material, the cutters, planes or centre part of which, work with a quick vertical motion in slides or slots. The article or material to be operated upon rests upon a moveable table upon which is fixed a moveable fence or block, against which the article to be operated on is held, and causes it to move to any bevel or angle required, by means of bolts and thumb screws. The vertical or up and down motion of the planes or cutters acts upon the wood or material, and forms the tenons or mortises as may be required, either square, bevel or to any angle or cant. I also use one or more saws for cutting the wood or material, and give them either a vertical or circular motion as may be found most convenient.” Reilly supplies drawings in illustration of the mechanisms which may be worked by hand, treadle levers or steam power.[4]

185?. Opens factory at 13-17 Mather Street, Ancoats, Manchester. [5]

1858. 7th January. Patent (no. 27) for “Improvements in chairs and seats of various descriptions”.

Reilly claimed his invention as "the combination of cylinders, pistons and springs, with the necessary apparatus for working the same, to give various motions to chairs and seats". It involved a cylinder(s), or guide, inside which was a spring, through which would pass a piston(s). The cylinder(s) would be attached to the frame of the chair and the piston(s) to the seat, or vice versa. The frame could be attached to rockers or made partly spherical, thus allowing a further range of movement. "By placing the cylinder on a ball or universal joint, any description of see-sawing or oscillating movement may be achieved".

He listed several potential uses: 1) Domestic chairs and stools, 2) Easy chairs, for ease and comfort, 3) Seats in railways, carriages, cabs, ships' cabins, gardens, places of amusement, 4) Sofas and couches, 5) Perambulators- using India rubber or Gutta-percha to reduce noise, 6) Rocking horses, 7) Music stools.[6]

1858. 13th May. Sale of 2000 mahogany chairs at “The New Globe Mahogany Chair Works” Ancoats factory, “which is to be let”, prior to the move to Hulme. [7]

1858. Moves to “more extensive premises” in Clarence Street, Chester Road, Hulme. (ibid) These premises were formerly known as Pooley's Mill, and had been advertised for sale the previous year. [8]

1863. 24th March. Patent (no. 769) with William Martin “Lubricating horizontal shafting and bearings”. [9] (See The Engineer 1863/12/04)

1864. Patent (no. 711)*(see images at right) for “Improvements in the manufacture of mahogany and other wood chairs, tables, couches, sofas and other similar articles of furniture”. [10]

The first account of the “bolt back” method in which chair backs are bolted to the seat frame. In this case, either with a nut embedded between tenons in the back rail and the bolt passing from inside the side rail on the inside of the chair or where the bolt passes from the back, through the stile and side rails to a nut visible inside the seat frame.

1867. 14th January. Patent (no. 91) for “improvements in making and repairing highways, roads or walls, which improvements are also applicable to bedding and adjusting railway sleepers and other similar purposes”. [11]

Here Reilly claims the use of organic matter, such as wood turnings, borings, blocks of any size or even sawdust, covered with tar or preservative, to provide a stratum on which stones, used to form the road, would be laid. He then fills in the spaces between stones (which he prefers to be of smaller than usual size) with more and similar organic matter, the purpose being to bind or lock the stones together. The use of heavy rollers on the top surface would further bind together the stones preventing friction and wear, and thus deterioration of the road surface. In the case of railway sleepers, he felt the treatment would “prevent the ordinary unpleasant jar and at the same time give additional elasticity to the sleepers and prevent decay”. He would apply 1cwt. (hundredweight) of organic matter to 1 ton of stone, the lower stratum being about 1” thick, and the rest used to infill the crevices. A wonderful re-purposing of the waste material from his chair works!

1867. Reilly extends his interest to the leisure industry by opening the Manchester Swimming School.

“Mr. Reilly...has constructed a Large and Commodious SWIMMING BATH , upon a vacant portion of his extensive premises, which is being fitted up with appliances (the subject of letters patent) of a novel and automatic character, by which the hitherto tedious task of learning to swim may be accomplished with certainty in a few visits……” [12] The bath was 60 yards by 13 yards, supplied with a constant supply of pure water from a well, augmented by 24,000 gallons per day of warm condensed water, presumably from the steam operated machinery in the chair works. A substantial gallery would accommodate 2,000 spectators.

1867. Patent (no.1396) for “an improved system of mechanical aids, worked by hand or motive power, for enabling the arts of swimming, floating and diving to be rapidly acquired”. This patent concerns five separate devices to assist in the acquisition of swimming and diving skills. The first is a frame or table which supports the body out of the water. The hands and feet are encased in gloves, shoes or straps and a mechanical system simulates the movements of swimming. The second device supports the swimmer in the water and allows the limbs to be moved in a manner produced by the first device. The third involves a radial device allowing the swimmer to proceed in a circular path through the water. The fourth involves a steam or machine powered continuous chain, running the length of the pool from which swimmers are suspended as they progress. The fifth is a mechanical system to assist in the learning of diving skills.[13]

1868. Purchases the Pomona Palace Gardens from the Beardsley brothers. See here for a history of the gardens.

1870. Friday 9th December. “Destructive Fire at Hulme: Great Loss of Property” A major fire breaks out in “Mr Reilly’s' chair manufactory, Barrack street, Chester, Road, Hulme, when nearly the whole of those extensive premises was destroyed together with a large and valuable stock”. [14] For a transcription of the newspaper article see here

1871. Patent (no. 0403)*(see images at right) Invention for improvements in the manufacture of mahogany and other wood chairs.

One object of the invention was to allow “chairs to be manufactured of different patterns by the addition of certain parts so as not to require such large stocks as are at present necessary.” The second object was to make chairs economically by using screws and bolts in improved positions.

The additional part was to be a smaller rail fitted atop the side rails of the seat frames so that smaller slip seats could be used. He pointed out that he would employ this on chairs where bolts were being used as well as chairs made “in the ordinary manner.”

The improved position of screws involved the use of bolts passing 1) through the stile from the back and into a nut let into the side rail, or 2) in the case of spoon back, balustrade or similar chairs passing from under the side rail into a nut located in the back. He also indicated that “when desired I substitute for the ordinary strengthening corner pieces or braces metal plates fastened by screws or bolts.” The bolts would be notched or perforated so they could be turned by a driver or key.[15]

1872. Patent (no. 0615) Invention for “Improved arrangements for communicating between the passengers, guards and engine drivers of railway trains.”

This was an early version of what came to be known as the “communication cord”. In Reilly’s case, it involved a continuous cord running from one end of a train to the other, being connected to the body or uniform of the driver at the front, and to the body or uniform of the guard at the rear. The cord would run across the tops of the carriages, and at various points would pass through pulleys at the tops of rods which descended through insulated holes in the roof, vertically down into the passenger compartment, to a handle. A passenger could turn the handle which would cause a change in tension in the cord, alerting driver and guard. [16]

1872. Patent (no. 0918) Apparatus for Preventing Accidents on Railways.

This rather long winded specification concerns a system of gas lights and semaphore signals alongside railway track which block the line for a determined distance to prevent collisions and which dispense with the need for men to work signals at various parts of the lines. [17]

1874 Patent (no. 02586) Improvements in Four Wheeled Carriages.

Relating to Broughams and other similar four-wheeled carriages Reilly proposed the construction of a platform between the front of the body and the splashboard. It could be used for luggage, carrying young people or for the occupant to enjoy the air. He also proposed a communication cord to signal the driver which way to turn, and a brake so the occupant would have control over the horse and vehicle. [18]

1875. Patent (A.D. 1875, 16th June. No. 2213). “Casings and Sealings for Steam Boilers” for “saving fuel, time and labour and for heating water and generating steam”.

1876 Patent (no. 04936) Improved Endless and non-Endless Counting Machines Applicable to Turnstiles or Other Counters Used in Places of Amusement, Tram Cars, Omnibuses, or Other Vehicles and Places Wherever They May Be Required.

Presumably associated with Reilly’s involvement in the leisure industry and tracking numbers of visitors to Pomona Palace Gardens. [19]

1878. Patent (no. 4229)*(see images at right) for “improved abutments or support for the protection of the ordinary castors used in furniture and other articles, and for improvements in the wheels and axles of castors, which improvements are also applicable to the wheels and axles of wheelbarrows, tram cars and other vehicles”.

The object of the first part of his invention was "to prevent the breakage which frequently occurs with the ordinary castor". To achieve this he added, "to the castor, a foot or roller, having its bottom end slightly above the floor when there is not more than the average weight on the article but which rests on the floor when there is an overweight". To ensure stability he made "the vertical centre of the foot or roller in line with the axis of the bearing on which the bracket of the castor works, thereby relieving the castor from the extra weight".[20]

1880. Patent (no. 02479)*(see images at right) “Improvements in Manufacturing, Upholstering and Gimping Chairs, Seats, Sofas, Couches, and Other Furniture Made of Mahogany or Other Woods, or of Iron or Other Metals, or of Wood and Metal Combined, and in the Machinery or Apparatus Connected Therewith”.

This Provisional Specification is full of ideas: 1) Dispensing with the bottom rail of the back of a chair and introducing it into the back of the seat frame. In this way, the seat and back can be separately upholstered and slip seats are unnecessary. 2) A cramping table with studs arranged in the shape of the chair back or front. The component pieces are assembled and laid inside the studs which have adjustable shoes which can be tightened to hold the piece firmly to shape. 3) A table with associated horizontal circular saw which can level chair legs to sit squarely on the ground. 4) A set-up for boring concentric and vertical holes into chair legs to receive Reilly’s patent caster of 1878. 5) Abandoning the use of steam or power bending wood in favour of cutting components from solid timber. 6) Countersinking holes for external bolt heads (plain or ornamental) so they would be flush with the surface of the wood, or more deeply countersinking and filling the gaps with plugs 7) The use of moulds for the forming of upholstered seats or backs. 8) To create a stronger solid-seat wooden chair, he proposed tapping holes to receive the front legs which would have a screw thread cut at the top. The legs could be glued and screwed into the seat. Nuts would be mortised into the backs of the solid seat to accept bolts passing through the stiles of the backs. 9) To combat the scourge of moths on upholstered seats he proposed the use of coiled steel wire, built up in a former, or laced and worked to the desired shape, or wire netting woven to the shape of a seat and attached to the seat frame by springs or bands of India rubber, to give elasticity. Another method was to place a metal disc, with a central hole and many smaller holes radiating from the centre, in the middle of the seat frame. Wires would be threaded through the holes and fixed around the frame.[21]

1881. 26th September. Opening of Reilly's Great St. James's Hall. [22]

See also here

1887, 22nd June. Explosion at the chemical works of Roberts, Dale & Co, Cornbrook causes extensive damage to Pomona Palace and the Agricultural Hall. [23]

See also here

1887. Patent (A.D. 1887, 21st September. No. 12790). “Improvements in Manufacture of Ordinary Chairs”.

The provisional specification is possibly the most poorly written and least punctuated of all the patent documents. It does, however, read easily when Reilly rails against bugs and vermin in upholstery! “The Public has for years had their Homes made very uncomfortable by the breeding of Moths, Grubs and all other sorts of vermin in consequence of the filthy sorts of materials, which has been used for inside stuffing of middle and other Class of Furniture, this sort of material is principally old Rags, Flocks and other rubbishy materials, gathered from all parts of the Country, ground up and carrying sickness and even Death to many Homes.” His solution is to build a more substantial seat frame, and to use wire instead of webbing. Over this is stretched sacking or strong carpet which is, in turn, covered by Morocco leather, damask, Utrecht velvet, or something similar.

He goes on to describe the use of lathes and fly cutters to produce decorative chair parts, or to achieve consistency in the carving and shaping of parts. He describes machinery used for the work. To produce a cheap chair for indoor or outdoor work he assembles a strong round frame with a hole in the middle. The front legs have a screw thread and are glued and screwed into tapped holes at the front of the frame. Nuts are mortised into the rear quarters and holes drilled to accept bolts which pass through the stiles of the rear legs. Finally, he refers to the machinery he uses to create gimp from thin sheets of metal.[24]

1888, The whole of the contents and the materials of the Pomona Palace and the Agricultural Hall offered for sale by James Reilly and the Manchester Ship Canal Company, following the purchase of Pomona by the MSCC. [25]

1889, 18th Sept. Death of James Reilly [26]

1892, 6th December. “James Reilly Ltd” registered as a company with capital of £25,000., “to acquire and take over as a going concern, the business of chairmaking, now being carried on by the Trustees and Executors of the late James Reilly, in Great Bridgewater Street, Manchester, and also the trades of chair makers, furniture makers, upholsterers, casters, polishers, and general furnishers.” [27]

1893, March. James Reilly Ltd, New Globe Mahogany Chair Works removes from 86 Great Bridgewater Street to Trentham Street, Chester Road, Hulme. [28]

1913, 19th March. James Reilly Ltd. Placed in receivership. [29]

1917, 15th April. William Wovenden Reilly dies.

1919, 20th December. Company finally wound up. [30]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1851 England Census. Class: HO107; Piece: 2229; Folio: 478; Page: 36. Ancestry.com 2005
  2. Manchester, England, Marriages & Banns 1754-1930. Ancestry.com, 2013
  3. England, Select Births & Christenings, 1538-1975. Ancestry,com 2014
  4. British Library. GB1853 02800A
  5. Inferred from advertisements in Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser [MCLGA] e.g. 25th April 1857
  6. British Library GB185800027A
  7. MCLGA 8th May 1858
  8. Manchester Times, 21st February 1857
  9. British Library. GB1863 00769
  10. British Library GB1864 00711A
  11. British Library GB1867 00091
  12. MCLGA 5th June 1867
  13. British Library GB1867 01396
  14. Manchester Times 10th December 1870
  15. British Library GB1871 00403A
  16. British Library GB 1872 00615A
  17. British Library GB1872 00918A
  18. British Library GB1874 02586A
  19. British Library GB1876 04936A
  20. British Library GB1878 04229A
  21. British Library GB02479
  22. Manchester Times Saturday October 1st 1881
  23. The Times 23rd June 1887
  24. British Library GB012790A
  25. MCLGA 4th September 1888
  26. MCLGA 19th September 1889
  27. MCLGA 12th December 1892
  28. MCLGA 25Th March 1893
  29. Liquidators' Accounts. National Archive BT 34/2652/37698
  30. Liquidator's Accounts