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Walter Hunter

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Walter Hunter (1772-1852)

1827 Walter Hunter of Bow, Engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1853 Obituary [2]

Walter Hunter was born in the parish of Newbattle, near Edinburgh, in the year 1772, and from his father, who was a 'Wright,' combining the trade of a carpenter with the construction of the rude agricultural machinery of that period, he learned the first rudiments of the craft, in which he subsequently became a greater proficient, whilst in the employment of Messrs. Moodie, of Leith-walk, who had then a considerable business as millwrights.

By that firm he was sent, at about twenty years of age, to erect a threshing-mill in, the neighbourhood of Nottingham, and being attracted by the fame of the Soho Works, he was so fortunate as to be engaged by Mr. Watt, and worked under him for some time.

From Soho he went to London, and obtained employment under the late Mr. Rennie, by whom he was intrusted (as foreman) with the direction of several important works.

When the attention of the mercantile world was directed to the importance of providing a greater extent of accommodation for the increasing shipping, the necessity for some better mechanical means of clearing away accumulations of mud in tidal locks, and of shoals formed in rivers, became evident, and Mr. Hunter was sent by Mr. Rennie, to examine and report upon a dredging-boat, which was supposed to have been the first machine of the kind introduced from Holland, and then working, with horse-power, in the river Humber, at Hull.

The result of this mission was the adaptation, by Mr. Rennie, of steam-power to move the dredging-buckets and ladders, and the ultimate introduction of that branch of millwright’s work, on which Mr. Hunter was eventually so extensively engaged, in the establishment of dredging-vessels, on the Thames and elsewhere.

On the completion of the Phoenix Oil and Flour-mills, at Dartford, where he acted as foreman of works under Mr. Rennie, Mr. Hunter commenced business on his own account at Dartford, as a millwright, but there was, at that period, so little employment for mechanics, that he was obliged again to become a journeyman; and he used to relate, as an example of the difference of engineering, at the beginning and the termination of his career, and of how much depended on the skill and experience of the foreman of works, that the only drawing he received for the erection of the Phoenix Mills was a rough sketch of the first frame for the moving power, all the details of the machines, the connexions, and the modifications of speed, &C., being left to be filled in by the foreman, during the progress of the work.

In 1807, or 1808, he entered into partnership with the late William English, and founded the establishment at Bow, where the machinery for so many important works has been executed.

The connexion between Messrs. Hunter and English arose from their being intrusted by Mr. Rennie to frame a pair of large lock-gates for the East India Docks, which task they performed in such a style as to attract the attention of Ralph Walker, by whom they were subsequently employed, until they entered into business on their own account, when he intrusted to them a great amount of work, to which they did full justice.

They were extensively employed in the distilleries and breweries of the metropolis, in the numerous mills around London, in the construction of sluices, valves for water supply, iron bridges, dock-gates, &c.; and the excellence of their workmanship, their mechanical skill, and general uprightness of conduct, induced the confidence of the heads of the profession and the formation of a business, by which a large fortune was amassed by both partners.

Mr. Hunter was a very old member of the Institution, having joined it in 1827, but his occupations seldom permitted his attendance at the meetings. His decease occurred on the 8th of February 1852, in the eightieth year of his age, deeply regretted by all who knew him, and in him disappears almost the last of the race of clever English millwrights.


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