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British Industrial History

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The Basic Industries of Great Britain by Aberconway: Chapter IX: Part 1

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CHAPTER IX. PART I. LANCASHIRE ENGINEERING

In the district of which Manchester is the centre, extending into Yorkshire and embracing in a radius of 50 miles, the whole of Lancashire and part of Cheshire, there are more engineering works of the first rank, and of every variety, than are to be found in a similar area in any other part of the world. Yorkshire firms have been referred to in a previous chapter. The Lancashire works are classed as makers of machine tools, textile machinery, bleaching and finishing machines, boilers, stationary engines, steam turbines, pumps, dynamos, gas works plants, paper machinery, locomotive engines and constructional iron and steel work. The firms engaged in these branches are very numerous, and mostly well known. To refer to all of them in detail would be impossible in a work of this character, but a few of the more prominent and older firms, giving also the largest employment, may be taken as typical of the different branches of the mechanical engineering to which they belong. Some are referred to in more detail in other chapters, dealing with Electrical Engineering, Shipbuilding, and Marine Engine Work.

Unlike most of the districts in the United Kingdom in which metallurgical industries on a large scale are carried on, Lancashire is not primarily a producer of raw materials in the shape of crude iron or steel. The hematite furnaces and rolling-mills of the North-west Coast, which are dealt with in Chapter VIII, are of later date than the engineering trades, which might be supposed to rely on them for supplies of pig iron and blooms. But in point of fact these trades are not really dependent on the iron output of the North-west Coast. As in the cotton trade, in which the manufacturer imports all his raw material and turns it into the most perfectly finished products that the world can supply, so the innumerable engineering works of Lancashire, while buying their raw material largely from other districts, produce not only the finest heavy machine tools and engines made in this country, but also the most elaborate and delicate machinery for every class of textile industry.

The expansion of these engineering trades has not been accompanied by any marked increase in the number of iron and steel plants in the county. The only firms south of Carnforth which turn out pig iron are the Darwen and Mostyn Iron Co and the Wigan Coal and Iron Co. The first is a private company with two furnaces usually in blast at Darwen and two at Mostyn, on the North Wales coast. It is known as a maker of spiegeleisen, ferromanganese, silicon spiegel, silicious iron and chrome iron, all metals of fine quality, which find markets amongst steelmakers everywhere, and are produced largely from foreign ores, which are easily discharged from steamers at the furnace depots on the Dee. The Wigan Coal and Iron Co. is a public company with four furnaces in blast, and is more fully referred to on a later page. It is known as a maker of ordinary foundry iron, equal in most respects to Middlesbrough brands. Its ores are largely drawn from Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire, as well as from Ireland, and the pig iron is sold in Lancashire in competition with similar qualities from Derbyshire and Yorkshire.

The machinery makers of Lancashire are, therefore, largely dependent upon Yorkshire and the Midlands for their supplies of the higher qualities of malleable iron and steel. The wide development of their industry is due partly to historic and partly to economic causes. It was established there for generations before any rival came into the field. For 100 years from the middle of the eighteenth century Lancashire was the home — the exclusive home — of the manufacture of textile machinery for the whole of the world, and during the succeeding fifty years, and down to the present day, she holds without question the leading position in this trade. It is, therefore, natural that the ever-growing demands of cotton spinners during those long periods for power and for improved and new machinery should have created in that county and on the Yorkshire border a trade in engines, textile machinery and machine tools connected with these industries which has scarcely been paralleled in any other part of the world. Not only have the machine-makers of this region furnished the mills of Lancashire and Yorkshire, which have year by year increased in number and capacity of output, with engines and every kind of spinning and weaving machinery, but they have supplied since the middle of last century all foreign countries where, under the influence of protective tariffs or otherwise, cotton and worsted spinning and weaving were first started and have since become established industries. Russia, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the United States all obtained their earlier machinery from Lancashire, and even though that machinery is now, to a large extent, made by those countries themselves, a great and increasing export trade from this country still goes on, especially to India and the Far East. It is stated that in one year something like £14,000,000 have been expended in the construction of new cotton mills in Lancashire alone, and it is therefore clear that unless the higher price of steel and iron reduces their profits (and this does not count for much in light work), the makers of textile machinery in Lancashire must have been enjoying a degree of prosperity which has rarely of late years been equalled in any engineering trade. The skilled hands employed in this industry are the descendants of generations of clever workmen and designers, and just as, for similar reasons, the Sheffield steel-maker holds his own to-day against the world, so the Lancashire machine-maker fears no rival in fields where the conditions are equal.

In speaking of Lancashire in this connection, it must, however, be remembered that large quantities of textile machinery are made in the Keighley and Bingley districts of Yorkshire, as well as in Leeds and many other places on the border, but outside Lancashire itself. These are referred to in detail in Chapter VI. No statistics are available of the actual output in this trade or of the number of men employed, for most of the firms engaged in producing textile machinery are makers of engines, many of them of machine tools, and others are makers of various appliances and products used in the engineering world. There are, for example, in Lancashire alone nearly eighty makers of stationary steam engines. These include ordinary low-pressure mill-driving engines, colliery winding engines, engines for pumping, dynamo and fan driving, underground haulage work, and for milling machinery, and every class of prime movers. Thirty of these firms, comprising such well-known makers as Beyer, Peacock and Co, Mather and Platt, Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth and Co, and Galloways, have their works in Manchester itself. Blackburn, Bury, Burnley, Bolton, Oldham, Stockport, Stalybridge, St. Helens, Rochdale, Liverpool and Wigan are all homes of the engine-building trade. But it is impossible, until returns are obtainable under the Census of Production Act, to obtain any statistical information as to the number or the indicated horse-power of the engines turned out by these firms. In the same way, the manufacture of electrical machinery and machine tools has been largely taken up by many of these firms, because the experience gained by years of study of the niceties demanded by cotton spinners has imparted unrivalled skill to the Lancashire engineer in all branches of the industry.

Bolton may be taken as a typical Lancashire engineering and cotton-spinning town. For the last fifty years the large mill engines made there have enjoyed the highest reputation. Bolton engine-builders were among the first to take up the Corliss engine, with its advantage of closer speed regulation and high economy of steam. Some of the Bolton firms will completely equip a cotton mill in England or in any part of the world; and now they are developing a large business in building engines for electrical power stations. In the early years of electrical power, one of the difficulties with which engineers were confronted was to obtain engines to drive their dynamos at a constant speed under a fluctuating load, a need which was specially important in the case of power stations with independent generating sets working in parallel. The Bolton firms had already solved this problem for the necessities of cotton spinning, and hence their success in applying their experience to electrical power. They have developed their works so as to include not only the heavy and slow-speed type of mill-driving engine, but a different class of engine altogether, in order to meet the demand for higher rotatory speeds and for compactness put forward by electrical engineers.

About 7,000 men are employed in the engineering trades of Bolton, while the capital involved is probably several millions. John Musgrave and Sons, Hick, Hargreaves and Co, and John and Edward Wood are engine-building firms. Dobson and Barlow take the lead in textile machinery, and Thomas Ryder and Sons in machine tools. Mechanical stokers are made by E. Bennis and Co. The firm of Dobson and Barlow, founded in 1790, in the days when Crompton and Arkwright invented the spinning-mule and the jenny, now employs about 4,000 hands. The firm of John Musgrave and Sons was established early in the last century, and its operations originally covered not only engineering, but fine cotton-spinning on a large scale; it is only recently that the engineering works and spinning mills have been separated into distinct undertakings. The mechanical products of the Bolton firms include, besides engines, boilers, turbines, hydraulic and electrical appliances, and machine tools, such textile machinery as saw gins, openers and scutchers, draw and fly frames, carding machines, ring frames and self-acting mules. Mining machinery is sent from Bolton all over the world, and is to be found not only in collieries, but in diamond, tin, zinc, copper and clay mines. Busy as Bolton may be in all these departments, however, its trade is inconsiderable as compared with the enormous and varied output of the Manchester and Oldham centres.

There are about sixty firms in the Manchester and Oldham districts engaged in manufacturing textile machinery either alone or with other classes of machines. About one-third of these firms are limited companies. The others are private concerns. The capital invested is very large, and has in the past produced great profits. Platt Brothers and Co of Oldham is, perhaps, the largest, with a capital of £3,710,000. Asa Lees and Co is another large firm, with about half the output of the other. The capital of Platt Bros. and Co. is partly invested in collieries, coke-ovens and rolling-mills. Other leading firms are Mather and Platt, Taylor, Lang and Co, J. Hetherington and Sons, and Brooks and Doxey. These firms stand far above the others in the magnitude of their operations, and though they carry on various businesses of a subsidiary character, they are known to the world as makers of textile machinery, and they, with the other smaller firms, employ probably 50,000 hands.

The number of engine-building firms in the Manchester and Oldham districts is about sixty, half of which are limited companies. Among the best known are Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth and Co, Galloways, the National Gas Engine Co, Crossley Brothers, Lancaster and Tonge, the Vulcan Foundry and the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Co, referred to in another chapter, whose output comprises locomotives, stationary steam engines, gas and oil engines and boilers. Crossley Bros. makes gas engines, and with the National Gas Co. has paid high dividends. Beyer, Peacock and Co. is referred to in Part III of this chapter. The Galloways firm makes boilers and does a large trade with India, South Africa and Egypt. Dick, Kerr and Co, of Preston, makes electric motors. The firm is now amalgamated with the English Electric Co, referred to in a later chapter. The Lancashire engine-builders have done great business with South America. The Vulcan Ironworks of Newton-le-Willows, near Manchester, have designed many special engines for the Buenos Ayres Great Southern Railway, which have proved to be economical on that company's lines. The high-pressure cylinders are outside the frame and the low-pressure inside. The works at which these are made are historically interesting, as they date from the days of Stephenson. Some of the earliest locomotives were built there. It is now associated with Hadfields of Sheffield.

The heavy machine-tool makers of Manchester since the days when Nasmyth, of Salford, invented the steam hammer have supplied, and still continue to supply, all the requisites for turning out the steel products of Sheffield. Nine-tenths of the machinery used in the manufacture of armour-plates, shafting, gun forgings and the other heavy trades of Sheffield are made in the district around Manchester, and, curiously enough, are largely made of Yorkshire and Derbyshire iron and Sheffield steel. The machine tools of the great Manchester firms are used wherever accuracy combined with power is required. The name of Joseph Whitworth alone is a key to their quality and excellence, for it was his firm, now amalgamated with Armstrong's, which introduced standardisation and absolute accuracy of gauge, and made these qualities indispensable requisites in machine tools, both large and small. Three of the Manchester firms in this trade—viz., Hulse and Co (founded in 1852 by J. S. Hulse, then in the firm of Joseph Whitworth and Co.), Craven Brother, and Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth and Co. employ together large numbers of skilled men, including those engaged at the foundries of the two latter firms. W. Muir and Co, Nasmyth, Wilson and Co, Smith and Coventry, Kendall and Gent, Culpan, Spencer and Co, Melgrum Brothers and Higginbottom and Mannock are representative types among many smaller limited companies. Their trade covers a very wide ground, and includes crane-building, the construction of colliery haulage and hydraulic plants, light machine tools, and the usual variety of engineering requisites.

The class of heavy tools turned out by the trade in and around Manchester comprises complete plants for gun-making up to 13.5 in., rough and finished boring machines, rifling machines, special lathes for roughing and finishing, shell plant, armour-plate rolls and presses, and planing, cross-planing, drilling, slotting and grinding machines. As to the markets, Manchester has supplied complete equipments of arsenal tools to at least one foreign Government. Glasgow, although a keen rival in the trade, is also a buyer; but the Tyne, Wear and Tees districts are better customers still, although their shipyard machinery is procured mostly from Glasgow.

In electrical engineering Manchester again takes the leading place. There are at least eight firms, representing a capital of many millions, who confine themselves exclusively to this branch. The British Westinghouse Co, founded by the late George Westinghouse, stands at the head, now amalgamated with the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Co. The firm of Dick, Kerr and Co, above mentioned, has always taken the lead in tramway construction and equipment. The firm owns works at Kilmarnock, but its Preston works cover 12 acres of ground. It has always been a profitable concern, in a trade which has not hitherto produced very good results to shareholders.

In constructional iron and steel work eight firms are engaged, five of which are limited companies. Heenan and Froude, Edward Wood and Co and the Manchester Ship Canal and Dry Docks Pontoon Co may be mentioned as types with up-to-date plant and works well outside the urban centres, with room for expansion. They have good foreign markets in India, Burma, South Africa, the Far East, South America and Australia, in spite of keen competition from Germany.

The manufactured iron trade of Lancashire has, like that of other parts of England, been dwindling for many years. Bar iron has been gradually supplanted by mild steel for all roof and bridge work, and for constructional work in which heavy sections and large quantities of material are required. Most of the engineering firms are, therefore, fortunate in not having rolling plant to carry. With the exception of Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth and Co., none of them makes its own steel, but some make steel castings from Sheffield ingots. The Wigan Coal and Iron Co makes basic steel for sale. The Bolton Iron and Steel Co, which now belongs to Henry Bessemer and Co of Sheffield, makes open-hearth steel for the manufacture of tyres and axles. P. R. Jackson and Co is another independent steelmaking firm. It may safely be said that its forgings and castings are absorbed locally, and do not compete with the great steel-making centres of the Midlands and the North.

In finished iron Pearson and Knowles, Monks, Hall and Co, and Platt Brothers and Co should be mentioned. The first firm has abandoned its manufacture of pig iron. Most of the iron used in Lancashire rolling-mills is obtained from the North Derbyshire furnaces. It is a curious fact that much of the finished iron trade in Lancashire is made financially possible by the disposal of the flue cinder and tap cinder produced as bye-products of its iron furnaces, the demand for which by steel works and blast furnaces elsewhere, at good prices, is very large. It must, however, be understood that none of the conditions referred to in this chapter is applicable to the hematite furnaces and steel works of North Lancashire and Cumberland, which are described in Chapter VIII and form an industry by themselves.

John Summers and Sons

The Iron Sheet Works of John Summers and Sons are at Shotton, near Chester. The firm owns the Globe Ironworks at Stalybridge, and has acquired the control of the Wolverhampton Corrugated Iron Co and the Shelton Iron Steel and Coal Co, probably the largest company of the kind in North Staffordshire. It owns also the Talk o' the Hill Colliery, near Stoke-on-Trent, and the Buckley Colliery Co, near Chester. The Directors represent the family of Mr. Walter Summers, the Chairman, with the exception of Major the Hon. E. B. Butler Henderson, the son of Lord Farringdon, the owner, before the union with John Summers and Sons, of the Shelton Works. The capital is £4,000,000 in £1 Ordinary Shares, £2,000,000 in 7 per cent. Preference Shares, and £100,000 Mortgage Debentures. The Shotton Works consist of fifty-seven sheet mills, two cogging mills, three strip mills and eighteen basic open-hearth furnaces.

Taking the Lancashire and Cheshire engineering firms together, it is estimated that in normal times 48,000 hands are employed in making textile machinery, and 126,000 in heavy machinery. It is impossible to procure accurate figures as to the capital employed by private firms, but, taking £13,517,000 as the capital of limited companies engaged in textile machine making, and £42,400,000 as that of limited companies making heavy machinery, and adding 33 per cent. to cover all other firms, the capital employed in the trade is over £75,000,000. In Parts II and III of this chapter further details are given of the constitution and scope of many of the best-known firms referred to in the previous pages, with figures as to the capital and the number of hands they employ.

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