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British Industrial History

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Samuel Brown (Captain)

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Captain Sir Samuel Brown of Netherbyres KH FRSE (1776–1852) was an early pioneer of chain design and manufacture and of suspension bridge design and construction. He is best known for the Union Chain Bridge of 1820, the first vehicular suspension bridge in Britain.

1776 Born in London, the son of William Brown of Borland, Galloway, Scotland.

1795 He joined the Royal Navy, serving initially on the Newfoundland and North Sea stations. He served as lieutenant on HMS Royal Sovereign (1803) and in 1805 joined HMS Phoenix as first lieutenant. The following year he was appointed to HMS Imperieuse, followed by periods of service aboard the HMS Flore and HMS Ulysses

During his service, he carried out tests on wrought iron chain cables, using them as rigging for HMS Penelope in 1806 on a voyage to the West Indies. This so impressed the Admiralty that on his return in 1808 it immediately ordered four vessels of war to be fitted with chain cables.

In 1808 Brown took out patents for twisted open chain links, joining shackles and swivels. His shackle and swivel designs were scarcely improved on for the next 100 years.

By 1811, he was promoted to Commander (in 1842 he accepted the rank of retired captain), and his chains were introduced to hold ships' anchors.

1812 May. He retired from the Navy.

1816 The Royal Navy standardized on iron chain instead of hemp for all new vessels of war.

He established a company (known as Samuel Brown and Co and also Brown, Lenox and Co) with his cousin Samuel Lenox, based initially at Millwall in east London from 1812 and then, from 1816 at a larger works (a nail works previously operated by William Crawshay Brown), establishing the Newbridge Chain and Anchor Works (Pontypridd) at Ynysangharad, beside the Glamorganshire Canal, in Pontypridd, south Wales, close to large reserves of iron and coal.

His firm went on to supply all the chain to the Royal Navy until 1916, and made the chains for Brunel's SS Great Eastern, famously photographed by Robert Howlett.

1816 He took out a patent for chain-making, and patented wrought iron chain links suitable for a suspension bridge in 1817. In the same year, others built Dryburgh Bridge, the first chain-supported bridge in Britain. Brown had been experimenting with a chain-supported suspension bridge already, building a 32m span test structure in 1813. His method allowed the construction of larger suspension bridges than had been achieved previously.

Brown was also invited to participate in abortive proposals for a suspension bridge at Runcorn.

In September 1818, he submitted drawings for Union Bridge over the River Tweed, which was completed in 1820.

Brown went on to build several further chain bridges, including the Trinity Chain Pier in Newhaven, Edinburgh (1820–21) and the Chain Pier, Brighton (opened in 1823 but ultimately destroyed in a storm in 1896).

1822 Married Mary Horne of Edinburgh

Most of his designs used an un-stiffened bridge deck, before it became clear that this form was vulnerable to wind forces and unstable under concentrated loads. His designs were reviewed by eminent engineers including John Rennie and Thomas Telford, and generally approved. However, Brown's designs were significantly less conservative than his contemporaries.

Major bridges

One of his homes was close to the Brighton project, at 48 Marine Parade, now known as Chain Pier House. In 1827, Brown purchased Netherbyres, a country house near Eyemouth in Berwickshire, south-east Scotland. He had the existing house demolished and a new house built (c.1836), which he later sold on 5 March 1852, days before his death.

1831 February 7th. Elected a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

1838 Knighted by Queen Victoria.

1852 March 13th. Died, aged 75, at Vanbrugh Lodge, Blackheath, London and was buried at West Norwood Cemetery

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