Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 146,754 pages of information and 232,400 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.
Fairbairn & Lillie, engineers, of Mather Street and Canal Street, Ancoats, Manchester
1817 William Fairbairn had established a partnership with James Lillie - the two produced advanced mill machinery, which soon earned them the reputation of being both innovative and forward looking. They hired a small shed to house a lathe of their own making, capable of turning shafts between 3 and 6 inches diameter, and hired a strong Irishman (James Murphy) to drive the wheel and assist in the heavy work. Their first job was the erection of a callender, and their next a calico-polishing machine but orders came in slowly, and James Lillie began to despair of success. His partner was more hopeful. They issued cards among the manufacturers, and made a tour of the principal firms, offering their services and soliciting work.
1818 A large new mill, being erected for McConnel and Kennedy, provided an opportunity to demonstrate their ideas for improved drive-shaft system for the mill and a new system of gearing.
1821 Listed in Pigot & Dean's New Directory of Manchester and Salford, 1821-22 as Fairbairn & Lillie, millwrights & engineers, 14 Mather St. William Fairbairn's house: Marshall St
1824-7 Famous for building breast-wheels for Buchanan and Finlay's mill at Catrine.
1825 Listed as Millwrights and Engineers, 122 Canal Street, Great Ancoats Street 
1828 First installation of Fairbairn's ventilated waterwheel, at Duckworth's Handforth Print Works near Wilmslow.. H. Duckworth? With the "ventilated bucket," in which the air contained in the bucket, instead of having to make its way past the water entering the bucket, quietly escaped at the back of the bucket above. Fairbairn claimed credit for the invention, but this claim was challenged in a book review in 1849, which stated: 'as a detail of historical facts, we are doubtful if it does not err in its assignation of the date of construction, together with the merit of conception, of the ventilating water-wheel, the earliest example being, as far as we are aware, that at Egerton, in Lancashire, constructed by Mr. Bodmer, then of Bolton.. Bodmer was the Swiss-born engineer Johann Georg Bodmer. Of the Egerton waterwheel, the I.C.E. obituary stated: 'A further and altogether novel feature of this waterwheel, the plans of which are still in existence, consisted in a peculiar arrangement for providing for the free escape of the air, though not of the water, from the buckets, so as to prevent the disturbance and scattering of the water on its rushing into the buckets as each came round in succession to be filled. An internal wheel, composed of cast-iron segments gearing into a pinion, drove the first motion shaft at a considerable velocity. This waterwheel was partly finished by the well-known Engineers, Rothwell, Hick and Rothwell, of Bolton, when, Mr. Bodmer’s health completely failing him, he was obliged to leave England, on which occasion the completion of the whole was intrusted to Messrs. Fairbairn and Lillie.'
1829 William Fairbairn was asked to investigate the anomalous behaviour of a canal boat.
The firm became known as Fairbairn and Lillie Engine Makers at Mather Street, producing iron steam boats.
1831 Fire destroyed their Brook St, Manchester premises.
1831 James Lillie of Back Mather Street, Manchester, was one of 80 commissioners elected.
1831 A steam tug, made of iron, intended for use on the Forth and Clyde Canal, was transported from Ancoats to the River Irwell through the streets of Manchester, if with some difficulty. The steam engine would be installed at Runcorn. More information below.
1831 'Canal Iron Steam Vessel. — Last week, curiosity was excited in different parts of Manchester; by the transit through the streets of an enormous iron steam boat, constructed by Messrs. Fairbairn and Lillie, of that town, and intended to be used as a steam-tug on the Forth and Clyde canal. For the purpose of conveying this vessel from Messrs. Fairbairn and Lillie's yard in Ancoats to the river Irwell, it was placed on two drags, connected by planks, and forming a carriage the length of the boat; and the whole was drawn by fourteen horses. Owing to its great weight, and to the difficulty of making the various sharp turns which it had to encounter, the whole day was expended in conveying it as far as Quay-street. In passing St. Peter's Church it was delayed a long time in consequence of the carriage having run against a wooden post placed to protect the footpath. As backing was out of the question, it was found necessary to cut down the post. On Monday the conveyance was resumed, and on turning out of Quay-street into Water-street, the stern of the vessel, which was foremost, struck against the wall of a counting-house and battered it down. In turning into the field next to the New Quay Company's wharf, the boat blocked up the highway for two or three hours. The boat was at length got into the field, and it was attempted to launch it Tuesday afternoon, but without success, the wheels of the drags having slipped off the ways, and become so imbedded in the sand as to stop all further progress. On Wednesday morning a more successful effort was made, and the vessel was at length launched and floated on the river. The steam-engine is to be put on board at Runcorn.'
Made a very large waterwheel for Egerton Mill, Bolton.
Fairbairn and Lillie lost heavily in a cotton mill venture, which crippled their resources as millwrights and led to a dissolution of the partnership in 1832; Lillie wanted to follow their existing line of business but Fairbairn had broader goals.
1832 Partnership dissolved. '...the Partnership heretofore subsisting between the undersigned, William Fairbairn and James Lillie, as Civil-Engineers and Millwrights, carried on at Manchester, in the County of Lancaster, under the firm of Fairbairn and Lillie, is this day dissolved by mutual consent. Each Partner will in future carry on the business on his separate account; and all debts owing to or by the late concern, will be received and paid by the said William Fairbairn, at the Works in Canal-Street...'
Note: It is probable that Fairbairn & Lillie's large Canal Street Works, known as 'Shooter's Brook Iron Works No. 1' was developed on the site of the 'Shooter's Brook Iron Foundery' of Bassett and Smith and (later) Jarrett, Dawson and Hardy
Fairbairn fairer than Lillie?
This 1826 newspaper report is transcribed in full, as it provides an insight into the 'master-servant' relationship at that time, and hints at the characters of Messrs Fairbairn and Lillie :-
'SALFORD QUARTER SESSIONS. SATURDAY.
IMPORTANT CASE TO MASTERS AND APPRENTICES.
A case of a rather unusual nature, respecting a dispute betwixt an apprentice and his masters, came on this day before the court — Although this case differed essentially from the nature of an appeal, the counsel on both sides had agreed to consider it as such, and it had therefore, been classed among them ; but at the time it should have come on, in regular course, the requisite number of magistrates (four being required by the act to hear and decide on cases of this nature) were not upon the bench, and the case was, therefore, deferred until Saturday, when, as had been arranged by the Chairman, Mr. Brierley, Mr. Hibbert, and Mr. Entwistle, together with the Chairman himself, attended in court for the special purpose of trying the cause.
'Mr. COURTNEY, who appeared on behalf of the apprentice, David Price, opened the pleadings by stating, that this was a case under the statute 5th Queen Elizabeth, cap. 4, sec. 86, by which it was provided, that if a master should ill-use an apprentice, or if a dispute should arise between them, then the party having cause to complain should bring the matter before a justice of the peace, who should make such order as the circumstances of the case should require, and if, from want of conformity on the part of the master, the magistrate found it impossible to compound and agree the matter, he was to take bond for the appearance of the parties at the next sessions, and if, at least four magistrates, sitting in quarter sessions, should, upon hearing the parties, think it meet and proper to discharge the apprentice of his apprenticeship, then they should have power to issue a declaration to that effect, and the apprenticeship should, thereupon, be discharged accordingly. After reciting, as above, the substance of the particular clause in the act under which the cause came to be tried, the learned gentleman briefly stated the facts of the case. He then called
'David Price - On the 21st. March, 1822, I was bound apprentice to Messrs. Fairbairn and Lilly, machine-makers and joiners; the apprenticeship was to endure for seven years, at progressive wages, from 7s. a-week, during the first year, to 20s. a-week during the last; I continued to serve my masters till Monday the 5th September, 1825, being about three years and six months; on that day, four or five of the workmen went to drink at a public-house, and I and another apprentice, named John Anderson, were induced to accompany them; we got quite intoxicated, and formed the resolution of going to Liverpool. About six o'clock in the evening, as we were coming down Market-street, a Liverpool coach was just going off, and we got upon it; we remained in Liverpool until Thursday, when we returned to Manchester; on Friday morning, Anderson and I went to our work ; we stopped till Mr. Fairbairn came, when he called us into the counting-house, and after asking where we had been, gave us a severe reprimand ; he then took Anderson by the shoulders, and me by the back the neck, and pushed both out of the counting-house; we started working at the job we had left on Monday; about eleven o'clock, Mr. Lilly came into the shop, he said to Anderson he would send for two constables and get us taken to prison ; he then called me a d—d young rascal, and said he had a mind to get us both sent to the tread-mill, but that neither of us were worth wasting so much trouble upon ; we continued at work all Friday, and came again on Saturday morning ; about two o'clock on Saturday, Mr. Lilly brought me a pedestal, which he desired me to fit up, and to have it finished by four o'clock, as a cart was waiting for it: I got it ready by that hour ; in the evening, at six o'clock, I went to receive my wages; while I was standing on the stairs, Mr. Lilly came down and asked what I wanted ; I said I would thank him for my wages, if he pleased ; he immediately said ' I'll give you your wages," and taking me by the shoulders, kicked me down stairs, and told me never to enter the place any more. Having neither father nor mother, I went to my brother's house and told him what had happened, and he said it was a bad job ; on Monday morning, a young man and I set off for London ; as soon as I reached London I got into the employment of one Mr. Richard Cope, with whom I stopped the whole time remained in London, which was upwards of ten months ; I got 30s. a-week from Mr. Cope; I was afraid to come back to Manchester, lest my masters should send me to prison ; but I sent them a letter to which I never received any answer ; I thought they had a right to discharge me as they had done, until I was told to the contrary ; as soon as learned this I came down to Manchester; I went to Mr. Fairbairn, and said I was come to inquire if he would allow me to return to my work ; he said he would not take me back any more ; I then asked him if he would give me up my indentures, as I would serve out my time somewhere else, and I informed him I had been working in London ; he said the sooner I went back there the better, as he could put me in prison ; I then went to an attorney, and summoned my masters before the magistrates, who considered that I should be taken back; I then went, accompanied by another person, to the workshop of my masters, and said I was come to attend my work, according to the orders of the magistrates ; but they said they would not take me back, and would sooner have given me my indentures a thousand times.
'Cross-examined Mr. COLTMAN — When John Anderson and I went to Liverpool we did not work for any master there ; Messrs. Anderson and Jackson, of that town, gave us job, but we never went to it; I don't recollect of trying to persuade Anderson not to return to Manchester; I won't swear that I did not do so ; I thought if we returned to Manchester we should be put prison ; we were told by two men that mechanics were wanted in America; we went to make inquiry respecting this ; but found that the persons we applied to wanted us to as sailors ; upon finding that, we refused to go ; I do not know that I was in my masters' debt for £2 13s. 9d. at the time I asked for my wages ; I never kept any written account of my wages ; I can't say whether there were any wages due to me; but I had worked a day and three quarters, and did not know that I owed them any thing ; when in London, my standing wages were 30s. a-week; but when I worked over time I sometimes earned as much two guineas a-week ; I was receiving 11s. a-week under my indentures when I was turned away.
'Re-examined by Mr. Courtney — At the time I applied for my wages, Mr. Lilly did not say that I owed any thing to him or Mr. Fairbairn.
'James Prince, a co-apprentice with Price, was present when the latter applied for his wages and was turned away, and he corroborated his evidence as to the particulars of that scene.
'Mr. Courtney, in his opening speech, after briefly stating the facts of the case, as afterwards detailed in evidence, (and which we have preferred giving in the words of the witnesses themselves), addressed the court on the law of the case. After obtaining from the magistrates an order on the masters to take his client back into their service, the latter had been compelled by what appeared to him (Mr. C.) to be harsh conduct, on the part of the masters, to bring the case before that court. This was an alternative which there would have been no occasion whatever to have resorted to, if the masters had been at all reasonable. An application had been made to them to assign Prince over to some other master. This they might at least have consented to, even if they could not agree with him themselves—
'The Chairman here inquired of Mr. Coltman, whether his clients were now willing to assign over Price, as if this were the case the dispute might very easily be settled.
'Mr. Coltman said his clients were, by no means, willing to do so. The court had the power of discharging the apprenticeship, if they thought proper; and his clients were willing to grant a certificate as to the time the apprentice had served them ; but an assignment would be attended with very different effects, and to which his clients had very strenuous objections. Mr. Courtney resumed –
'Under the act of parliament the court certainly had a power to discharge the apprenticeship ; but this he was not applying for ; he was applying for an order on the masters to take the apprentice back into their service. He contended that by the act the court was authorized to do this. It was entirely a matter of construction. He remembered a case before that court in which a question similar to the present arose, and the court were of opinion, that it was not necessary for them to discharge the apprenticeship, although they had a power to do so. It might, in many cases, as it would in this, be an act of gross injustice to discharge the apprenticeship The learned gentleman then referred, in rapport of his argument to the case of the King and Easeman, and the King and Davies. In this latter case, Lord Hardwicke gave it as his opinion, that the court had power to compel the master to take back the apprentice—Mr. Courtney proceeded to say, that supposing a case, in which the master was entirely in the wrong and the apprentice in the right, but yet where the master, as in the case of the King and Davies, refused to take back the apprentice, it would be as illegal, as it would be unjust, to rob the apprentice of his rights, by discharging the apprenticeship.
'The Chairman here observed, that the question simply was whether the apprenticeship should or should not be discharged. If the court were of opinion that it ought to be discharged, they would do so; If otherwise, they would decline to discharge, and, this event, the apprentice would continue to be bound to his masters.
'Mr. Courtney resumed. He understood that the other party intended to found their case upon the alleged misconduct of the apprentice. He submitted, however, that this would not be sufficient Supposing a master came and complained of his apprentice running away for a few days, that alone would not be held by the court as sufficient to induce them to say that the apprentice must loose his service. But that was not the present case. In this case the masters received the apprentice back into his service upon the Friday morning; they threatened to take him before a magistrate, but did not do so ; so that even if the court were of opinion, that an absence of four days would be a sufficient ground for discharging the apprenticeship, yet this is offence was purged by the masters having subsequently received him back into their service. In regard to the absence of ten months, if an apprentice should absent himself, of his own accord, for that space of time, that might furnish a strong case against him ; but that was not the case here. The apprentice had been kicked down stairs, and told to go away and never to shew his face again. The misconduct, therefore, only extended to a period of four days ; and his client, in ignorance of his rights, submitted to be turned away in the summary manner which had been described.—Mr. Courtney concluded by repeating, that this was a case which the court might well have been spared the necessity of hearing, as his client had offered to agree to an assignment the indenture. He hoped, however, that the court would reinstate him in his masters' service.
'Mr. Coltman now addressed the court. With regard to the cases cited by his learned friend, the court would bear in mind, that in that of the King and Easeman, various objections were stated, one of which was, that it did not appear that the masters had been summoned, and Hardwicke was of opinion, that their non-appearance was fatal to the case. His lordship, at the same time, observed, that the authority of the King and Davies was doubtful. Neither of these therefore, could avail his learned friend. By the statute, on the other hand, the court was merely invested with the power of discharging the apprenticeship. As to the case to which Mr. Courtney had referred, as having been sometime ago decided that court, upon principles favourable his client he (Mr. Coltman) was counsel in that case for the master, and upon being defeated at the sessions, his conviction that the judgment of that court was erroneous, was so strong, that he advised the master to carry the case to the Court of King's Bench, which was accordingly done, although it was not there pressed to a decision. Mr. Coltman then recited the clause of the act of Queen Elizabeth (of which we have the substance above) for the purpose of shewing that the authority delegated to the justices of the peace, (when not assembled in quarter sessions) in cases like the present, was not that of a judge, but merely that of an arbitrator, and quoted the opinion of Lord Hardwicke, that this was the extent of the magistrate's jurisdiction. He further contended that the authority of the court was confined by the statute to the simple question, whether or not the apprenticeship should be discharged. If the court should discharge the apprenticeship, then that was at an end, and ceased to exist; if not, then the rights of both parties remained entire and uninjured. If, in the present case, the court should think fit to discharge, his clients were ready to give a certificate for the time the young man had served them but they were averse to assign him over to another master, because this refractory apprentice would then get credit throughout the trade for having been a faithful and steady servant, and for having duly fulfilled his part of his indentures. He would, moreover, get the benefit of the time he had been in London, just the same as if that time had been spent in his masters' employ; and after enjoying, as it were, the pleasures of vice, he would thus obtain the reward of virtue. The court would observe that his clients, in this case, were extensive machine-makers, employing about 130 workmen, besides about a dozen apprentices. It was indispensable that they should maintain a strict discipline amongst a body so apt to run riot; and especially to take care that their apprentices did not set them at defiance, and gain any triumph over them. Independently altogether of the law on the subject, if the matter should be left to the mere discretion of the court, he would ask whether Price, after a view of his conduct, had a right to ask any thing, by way of favour, of the court. According to his own account of the business, he first runs away from his employment, taking another apprentice with him ; and he won't swear that he did not dissuade the other apprentice from not returning ; and but for being thwarted their plans, they would even have gone off to America. Then, on his return, how was he dealt with ? Why, with extreme leniency ; being merely reprimanded, and allowed to resume his employment. Upon Saturday evening presents himself, like a meritorious servant, who had all the week been the regular discharge of his duty, and demands his wages, at a time too when, as would be proved to the court, his masters were in advance to him upwards of £2. His master being naturally irritated by such conduct, makes use of a few hasty expressions ; and this apprentice, instead of humbling himself before his master, and without any attempt at mediation, takes him at his word, and the next day but one goes off to London, where he remains for nearly eleven months. And was the court to be told, that in Manchester, where people were so excessively jealous of their privileges, (for which he did not blame them), there was no one to be found to tell him that his rights had been encroached upon, if that had been the case. The fact was, that as trade was then brisk he wished to get better wages, and voluntarily left his employment. The learned gentleman concluded by contending, that to take back into the service, or even to grant the assignment, would be holding out a bad example to other apprentices ; and he observed, that since this young man had unfortunately been guilty of such a gross dereliction of his duty, it was only right that he should now suffer the penalty his misconduct.
'Mr. Coltman was then about to call John Anderson, for the purpose of proving improper conduct on the part of Price, while in Liverpool; but the Chairman observed, that the court were already in possession of the material features of the case. Mr. C. then called
'Joseph Carter, book-keeper to Messrs. Fairbairn and Lilly, who stated, that at the time Price went to London, his wages had been overpaid by more than £2. Cross-examined
- I know this from the entries in a book which I keep ; the book is not here; I learn from the time-keeper how much time the workmen and apprentices make, and I calculate their wages accordingly, and pay the amount to a man, who pays them.
'Mr. Courtney replied on the whole case. He rose with considerable embarrassment, after the reprimand he had received from the Chairman, the other day, for using too strong expressions, in alluding to the conduct of a witness.—(We understood the learned gentleman to refer to the case of Ardwick and Chorlton Row, an appeal case, which was heard on the first day of the sessions, and in which the Chairman observed that Mr. Courtney had censured the conduct of a witness in terms unnecessarily strong.)— The Chairman (continued Mr. C.) had so much of the milk of human kindness in his breast, that he was averse to use harsh words towards those whose conduct deserved them. But it was otherwise with him, (Mr. C.) ; and when he met with baseness, tyranny, injustice, the blood boiled in his veins, and language failed him in expressing the abhorrence he felt. He thought that a more base, dirty, mean, oppressive, and cruel case, than the present, was never brought before a court of justice. He would have felt disgraced in being employed to bring such a case before the court. It had dropped out, in the course of the pleadings, what the motives of the other party were in bringing this case. His learned friend had given a clue to the case, and from the expressions that had fallen from him, it appeared, that it was not for the sake of justice that it had been brought forward, but in order that the apprentice might not get triumph over his masters. The learned gentleman then vindicated, at some length, the conduct of his client, which he contended had been perfectly correct with the exception of the absence of four days. He commented, at the same time, on the impropriety of the masters taking the law into their own hands, instead of bringing the boy before the magistrates, if he had done amiss ; and he contended that the advance wages had not been proved, the wages-book not having been produced, and the book-keeper having merely stated that he wrote down what he was told by others. With regard to what his learned friend had advised his client, in the parallel case, formerly tried in that court, the court were not bound to deliver their judgment into his keeping, and his learned friend's opinion, therefore, however valuable, must go for nothing. After some further observations, respecting the injustice of discharging the apprenticeship, Mr. Courtney , concluded, by expressing confident hope that the Court would order the masters to take back his clients into their service. The Court retired for few minutes to deliberate, and on their return, the Chairman said that this was a very important case, not only to the parties concerned, but also to masters and apprentices in general. The Court had, therefore, given it their best consideration, and were unanimously of opinion, that the apprenticeship should be discharged.'