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British Industrial History

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Wren and Bennett

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Iron casting from rim of 30 ft dia, 18 ft wide waterwheel at the mill of William Fison and Co, on display at Bradford Industrial Museum
Other side of casting. Advanced concept, fine foundrywork
Single screwing machine

Wren & Bennett of Manchester

Makers of screwing machines (see illustration) [1]

1832 Partnership of Henry Wren and William Bennett [2]. This followed the death of T. C. Hewes, who was Wren’s partner in Hewes and Wren. Wm Bennett married James Nasmyth’s sister, and provided funding for Nasmyth’s 1842 steam hammer patent. [3].

1835 Large casting (part of water wheel) dated 1835 on display at Bradford Industrial Museum

1841 Listed in Pigot & Slater's directory as millwrights, machine makers and engineers, of 31 Dale Street and 6 Newton Street. Henry Wren lived at 43 Dale Street.

1847 Supplied a large waterwheel for Arkwright's Masson Mills[4]

1848 An advertisement for the sale of two cotton mills in Wharfedale, known as Burley Mills, included several waterwheels, the largest of which was made by Wren & Bennett, of 140 HP and 30 ft diameter by 18 ft wide.[5]

1849 There is evidence to suggest that Wren & Bennett made some of the earliest sewing machines. It is known that Barthélemy Thimonnier went to Manchester in 1849 to manage the manufacture of his patented sewing machines (couso-brodeur)[6]. A transcribed reference from an 1849 newspaper says that the Manchester company involved was Wren and Bennett [7]. Burley mills presumably came under the ownership of William Fison and Co. See photos of 1835 wheel casting.

The company's address in the 1850 Slater's Directory for Manchester & Salford was Newton Street Works, Dale Street. This was in the street in which James Nasmyth rented a floor (a 'flat') in a former cotton mill, referred to in his autobiography. See James Nasmyth by James Nasmyth: Chapter 10. In his autobiography, Nasmyth says that his early work included planing cast iron inking tables for printing machines made by Wren and Bennett, and that these machines were used in considerable numbers, and refers to the involvement of Ebenezer Cowper, brother of the inventor (presumably Edward Shickle Cowper, who worked with Applegarth).

1850 Slater's Directory for Manchester & Salford records the following as engineers at Wren & Bennett: William Bennett, Henry Wren, Henry Wren Jr., and John Hopkinson.

1849-1850 Wren & Bennett were the designers/engineers/millwrights for Brinksway New Mill, Stockport, where 13 people were killed when part of the cast iron structure collapsed. John Hopkinson was called as a witness at the inquest. Another witness, the eminent Eaton Hodgkinson, criticized the use of cast iron columns of cruciform section to support the large beam which failed (located above the waterwheel). Hopkinson had earlier defended their selection on the basis of their being more amenable to detecting the presence of casting defects. Another witness, William Fairbairn considered that the failed beam was badly designed, in that residual stresses would have inevitably been introduced by unequal shrinkage of the casting during cooling.[8] [9].

1851 Partnership dissolved. '...the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned, Henry Wren, William Bennett, Henry Wren the younger, and John Hopkinson, as Millwrights, Engineers, and Machine-makers, at Manchester, in the county of Lancaster, under the firm of Wren and Bennett, expired this day by effluxion of time, so far as regards the said William Bennett. All debts owing to and by the said concern will be received and paid by the said Henry Wren, Henry Wren the younger, and John Hopkinson, by whom the said business will in future be carried on, under the firm of Wren, Wren, and Hopkinson....'[10]

1851 Advert: 'TO BE LET, the PREMISES, situate in Newton-street, Port-street, and Dale-street, Manchester, now the occupation of Wren and Bennett, engineers and millwrights, consisting of:-
1st. A substantial and recently-erected BUILDING, used as an engineering and millwright's shop, of the dimensions of 145 ft. 6in. in length, fronting Newton-street, and 42ft. 6in. in breadth, four storeys high, and attic. Also various outbuildings adjoining, used as smithies, &c., a steam-engine of 14 horse power, with the gearing attached —These premises are well worth the attention of machinists, silk throwsters, doublers, calenderers, and other trades requiring power and warehouse accommodation.
2nd. A PLOT of LAND, opposite the last-mentioned, of the dimensions of 54ft. 8in. frontage to Newton-street, and 59ft. 6in. frontage to Friday-street, which may be let with the last mentioned premises.
3rd. A Large WORKSHOP, six storeys high, with attics, situate at the corner of Newton-street, Port-street, and Dale-street, having a frontage to street of 162ft., to Port-street of 130 ft. 6in., and Dale-street of 21ft. 3in.—Possession may be had in March next.
For further particulars, apply at the office of DAVID BELLHOUSE and SONS, Garratt-bridge, Manchester.'[11]

The larger premises described above can be seen on the 1848 O.S. map[12]. The 1st plot is shown as 'Newton Street Iron Works (Mechanical Engineering)', and occupied just over half of block bounded by Newton Street, Friday, Hilton and Port streets. The 2nd plot appears as a small L-shaped 'Iron Yard'. The 3rd was the one in which James Nasmyth rented a floor, and occupied half of a tapered plot with its apex on Dale Street and its long side on Newton Street.

The business was subsequently known as Wren and Hopkinson


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. ‘The Engineer and Machinist's Assistant. Published by Blackie and Son, 1863 edition
  2. The Manchester Guardian, 3rd March 1832
  3. J. A. Cantrell has provided a valuable source of information on James Nasmyth, which includes many references to other engineering companies of the era.'James Nasmyth and the Bridgewater Foundry' by J. A. Cantrell, published for the Chetham Society, 1984. ISBN 0 7190 1339 9
  4. [1] Online photograph: Matlock Bath: Masson Mill's Water Wheel, about 1930
  5. Leeds Intelligencer - Saturday 19 February 1848
  6. [2]Website 'Sewing Machines from the Past to the Present'
  7. [3]Liverpool Journal 27th Jan 1849 (note that the names Magnin and Thimonnier are incorrectly spelt in the transcription).
  8. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 3 August 1850
  9. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 10 August 1850
  10. The London Gazette Publication date:7 January 1851 Issue:21169 Page:39
  11. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 15 February 1851
  12. 'The Godfrey Edition Old Ordnance Survey Maps: Manchester Sheet 29: Manchester (Piccadilly) 1849' Alan Godfrey Maps website