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James Smith (1789-1850)

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James Smith (1789-1850) of Deanston

1834 Gained a patent for a self-acting mule.

Mr. Smith's mules were first employed on a large scale at his mill at Deanston, and they were shortly after adopted to a considerable extent in Scotland and England. For several years afterwards, the self-actors of Smith of Deanston, and Roberts of Manchester, were the principal competing machines. Both of these mules were gaining ground, in being substituted for the hand mule - especially for spinning low numbers - in this country and on the Continent[1]

1836 James Smith of Deanston Works, a Civil Engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[2]

1847 Overshot water wheel as installed at Shaw's Water Cotton Spinning Co of Greenock.[3]


1851 Obituary [4]

Mr. James Smith (Deanston) was born at Glasgow, on the 3rd of January, 1789; his father, who was a merchant of that city, dying during his infancy, left the widow and three children to the care of her brother, Archibald Buchanan, then the managing partner of the extensive cotton-works at Deanston, near Doune, Perthshire, and afterwards of the Catrine Works, in Ayrshire.

To this excellent man, who had been a pupil of the famous Arkwright, and who possessed a fund of solid practical ability, both as a cotton-spinner and an agriculturist, being the inventor of the self-acting mules, carding and other machines, as well as the introducer of improvements in thorough draining, young James Smith probably owed the first direction, as he did the subsequent cultivation, of his natural tastes, both for mechanics, and for agriculture.

Mr. Smith received the rudiments of his education at Glasgow, and completed his studies at the College there, attaining a very good position as a mathematician, and distinguishing himself in mechanics and chemistry.

He left college very early, and as during all the vacation, he had studied, practically, the subjects of machinery, and entered into all the details of cotton-spinning, his ability and judgment inspired such confidence, that at eighteen years of age he was entrusted with the management of the Deanston Works, which had then been re-purchased by the firm in which his uncle was a partner.

Here Mr. Smith had abundant occupation, in regenerating a dilapidated work, and in training a band of work people, who under his able tuition soon acquired a very high reputation.

The building of the new village of Deanston, gave him an opportunity of exhibiting the benevolent interest he felt in the physical comfort, as in the moral training of those dependent on him.

His active life thus commenced, the events crowded so fast on each other, that it would be impossible, within the limits of this memoir, to enumerate the useful inventions and improvements he undertook: it must suffice to name a few of them.

By a local arrangement, he was enabled to concentrate the water of the river Teith, across which he constructed an extensive weir, whence a canal of large dimensions, and nearly a mile in length, conveyed the water to a building, intended to have contained eight water-wheels, each 36 feet diameter and 12 feet wide, having a combined power of 800 H.P. Only half of them were however erected by Mr. W. Fairbairn.

About this time Mr. Smith introduced his self-acting mule, which is stated to have been more generally used, and been a greater source of profit to the firm at Deanston, than any other of his ingenious inventions.

The obstruction offered by the Deanston weir, to the upward passage of salmon, was so great, that he devised and constructed the salmon-ladder, which has been imitated, in many similar weirs, on the Clyde, the Don, and other rivers. It consists of two beams extending from the foot to the crest, on the slope of the weir, with cross beams at intervals, placed alternately from either side, so as to break the force of the current, and to form a series of pools, or eddies, in which the salmon rest, as they pass through on their way upwards, which they do with facility, during a flood of 30 inches over the dam.

Bridge-building, putting foundations into bad ground, and in fact, any difficulty, attracted him, and success generally attended his efforts.

His most valuable achievements were, however, in the field of agriculture, on which he brought to bear, very successfully, his mechanical and engineering knowledge; and it is with his admirable system of land drainage, his thorough draining, and subsoil ploughing, that his name will be most intimately associated by posterity.

His works are so well recorded in the Transactions of the Highland Society of Scotland, that it would be presumption to attempt any repetition of them here; it will suffice to say that the farm of Deanston became even more completely a model for agriculturists, than the mill was a pattern for cotton-spinners.

In the latter, as early as 1813, lighting by gas was introduced; there were three hundred power-looms, managed by about one hundred and fifty young girls, assembled in one fire-proof apartment, of half an acre in extent, completely ventilated, and so arranged as to permit perfect supervision of the whole, from one point. After the hours of labour, the same kind of sound instruction was afforded to these children, as during the day, had been provided for those who were too young to be admitted to the factory. It thus became a privilege to be employed in these works, or on the Deanston farm, and Mr. Smith’s care and consideration was rewarded by the love and attachment of all around him. By kindly personal intercourse, he had striven to improve and lead them to a higher aim, than merely living for the present day; he was eminently successful, and was rewarded by that truest of all blessings, the consciousness of having striven to do his duty.

It was difficult to quit scenes so dear to him, where every face was 'familiar in household words,' but as he stated, 'having found it might be conducive to his prosperity and honour, whilst he felt it to be a great duty, he deemed it proper to leave the beautiful country, and delightful scenes in which he had so long mixed.' He, therefore, removed to London, and soon became absorbed in engineering and agricultural pursuits, being consulted from all parts of the United Kingdom.

He devoted much of his time to improvements in Irish agriculture, giving practical lectures at the meetings of the Agricultural Society of that country.

In 1843, and the following years, he was deeply engaged in the valuation of land, for railway purposes. He was appointed one of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the sanitary condition of large towns, on which subject he wrote some valuable papers.

He took up the question of the use of sewage manure, and during his whole career was an enthusiastic assistant in the prosperity of the Agricultural and other Societies of which he was a member.

He joined this Institution, as a Member, in the year 1836, was a frequent attendant, at the meetings, and took an animated part in the discussions. His robust frame and active habits, appeared to promise a long life; but whilst on a visit to his cousin, Mr. Archibald Buchanan, of Kingencleuch, Ayrshire, on the 10th of June, 1850, without any previous indication of illness, he expired suddenly. during the night, apparently without any suffering, in his 61st year, loved and regretted by all who enjoyed the privilege of his acquaintance in public, or his friendship in private life.


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