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J. Windsor and Co

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Machine makers of Major Street, Portland Street, Manchester.

Most of this entry relates to a steam boiler explosion at the premises. Several reports are quoted, being of interest in providing an insight into aspects of early 19th century industry, as well as the dangers associated with high pressure cast iron boilers, introduced by Richard Trevithick.

1824 'Dreadful Accident at Manchester. — A little before five o'clock on Tuesday afternoon, the residents of this town within a quarter of a mile Major-street, near Portland-street, were alarmed by an appalling sound and shake, which had much of character of an earthquake. It had arisen from the bursting of the Boiler of the Steam-engine belonging to the works of Messrs. Windsor and Co., machine-makers, in Major-street.

'For the better understanding of the detail of this shocking affair, it may be well to copy a description of the premises, from a contemporary who has had an opportunity of examining them—The premises consisted of a large building, originally four stories high, but the first floor of which had been taken out, to make the room on the ground floor sufficiently lofty for a smithy ; that at the time of the accident, the building had only three floors ; the ground floor, used (as we have stated) for a smithy, and two others, used for mechanics' workshops. The building was 42 feet long inside, occupying the whole length one side of the plot of ground on which the premises stood. One end of the remainder was covered by a slight building, 6 yards wide, with a salt-pie roof; one part of which was used as the engine-house, and the other an iron foundry: the rest of the ground formed a yard which was inclosed from Major-street by a wall.

'—The boiler which caused the accident, was placed in the engine-house, alongside the wall of the principal building, from which it was distant about three feet. It was made of cast iron, of a cylindrical form, about 3½ yards long, but 5 feet in diameter, with a fire-place and flue in the inside. The engine which it worked was a high pressure engine, on Trevethick's principle, working against the atmosphere, and was, we believe, the only one in use in this town.

'—About half past four o'clock, Mr. John Windsor, one of the partners, examined the boiler, when all appeared to be right. About ten minutes before five, the engineer took his tea from the top of the boiler, and went with it into the smithy, to the end opposite the boiler. He had scarcely reached the spot, when a most tremendous shock took place, which was immediately followed by the falling of the greater part of the building, leaving only that end standing in which he then was. As soon as the terror and alarm which such occurrence was calculated to produce, had in some degree subsided, it was found that the boiler had burst, and forced in the lower part of the whole of the principal building, for above half its length; and the upper part, having nothing to rest upon, had fallen to the ground, burying in the ruins a number of work people. The other building, which, as we have already stated, comprised the engine-house and the foundry, was entirely destroyed; not one brick being left upon another, and the poor workmen and boys were buried in the common ruin. Those employed in the two upper stories, happily effected their escape from the windows, and by getting upon an adjoining house. Five persons were killed, and eight dangerously hurt.

'— From the Inquest which has been since held by the Coroner, it appeared that the boiler, besides being of the worst possible construction of high pressure engines, was of cast iron, and had been repaired with wrought iron. But we are happy to add, that it also that there is no engine now in Manchester, of that dangerous construction, viz. the high pressure on Trevethick's principle, one of which burst at Wednesbury, in Staffordshire the preceding Thursday (the instant), which Mr. Richard Adams, ironmaster, and proprietor of the works, his uncle, Mr. Charles Adams, and three workmen, lost their lives, one of whom (James Lowe) being blown, by the explosion the distance of 120 yards from the works into where his mangled remains were found.’[1]

1824: Another report:

'Another dreadful Accident at Manchester' —
On Tuesday evening last, a few minutes before five o'clock, in the neighbourhood of Portland street, for about half a mile every direction, was thrown into a state consternation and alarm the explosion of the engine boiler in the works of Messrs. Windsor, Hyde and Co., machine-makers, 65, Major-street, by which accident, nearly the whole of that building was blown up, and the windows of almost every house within five hundred yards, totally destroyed. So violent was the shock, that every adjacent inhabitant imagined his own house was falling, and ran into the street for self preservation. The cry of "fire," which immediately followed, and the tolling of the fire bell, quickly brought an immense multitude to the disastrous spot; which, however, was shortly dispersed, or driven out of Major street, by a detachment of the Scots' Greys, and a posse of constables, under Mr. Lavender. Then, amid the shrieks of women at the windows of the adjoining houses, and the groans of the unfortunate sufferers, tbe work of dis-entoinbing commenced, by torch-light. The following particulars relative to the lamentable catastrophe are taken from the Manchester Guardian:-
About half-past four o'clock in the evening, Mr. John Windsor, one of the partners in the firm, before going home to tea, examined the boiler, when he found that it contained a sufficient quantity of water, and all appeared to be right. About ten minutes before five, as nearly as we can learn, the engineer took his tea from the top of the boiler, and went with it into the smithy, at the end opposite the boiler. He had scarcely reached the spot, when a tremendous shock took place, which was immediately followed by the falling of the greater part of the building, leaving only that end standing in which he then was. As soon as the terror and alarm which such an occurrence was calculated to produce had in some degree subsided, it was found that the boiler had burst, and forced in the lower part of the wall of the principal building, for above half its length; and the upper part, having nothing to rest upon, had fallen to the ground, burying in the ruins a number of the work people. The other building, which comprised the engine-house and the foundry, was entirely destroyed, not one brick being left upon another. The attention of the people who had been assembled by the shock, was now directed to the situation of those persons who were buried in the wreck of the building, and those, who, having been in that part which had not fallen, were at first unable to make their escape, as the staircase was at the end next to the boiler, the latter, however, were speedily extricated — those in the uppermost story, getting upon the roof of an adjoining building ; and those in the middle story, some by leaping out of the windows, and others by letting themselves down with a strap. Every exertion was then made to extricate those who were involved in the fall the building. The two first found were moulders, who at the time of the explosion were at work in the foundry. Of these, one, a man named Thomas Wheeler, was quite dead ; the other, Henry Robinson, was still alive, but was so dreadfully injured that he died the same night in the Infirmary. The next person found was a young man named M'Laughlan, who attended the furnace for melting the iron, and who had been employed on the premises only about a fortnight. He was taken the Infirmary, but died during the night. Several persons who were more less injured were then got out in succession; and one who was quite dead. This was an old man, 70 years of age, named John Blaize, who was employed as a striker for his son, a smith, and worked in the smithy exactly opposite the centre of the boiler.— He was found in a horrible situation, with his head upon the hearth-fire; and the flesh of the face and neck nearly consumed. He was of course quite dead when found, and, from the other injuries he had received, there is reason to believe that he had been killed instantaneously. His son William was severely injured, and now lies in a doubtful state.
From a list of the sufferers it appears, that five persons have lost their lives, six been severely injured, two slightly hurt, by this dreadful accident.
At a Coroner's inquest held on Wednesday, Mr. R. Ormrod, iron founder, in his examination stated, that it was a high-pressure engine, and required more than ordinary care and attention in the engineer: none but a scientific man was fit to look after such an engine. He did not consider such engines safe, and if he had been passing along the street, and had known that such an engine was at work there, he would have gone on the other side the street; he would have kept as far as he could from it.— The Jury found the following verdict, viz. "That the deceased persons were accidentally killed by the bursting of a steam boiler." [2]

1824 Extract from a detailed report:
'DREADFUL ACCIDENT. [FURTHER PARTICULARS.] [FROM THE MANCHESTER GUARDIAN.] '......It will be seen below, that the engineer, in his evidence on the inquest, swore positively that no additional weight had been placed upon the safety valve; and weight with which it was usually loaded, 42lbs. to the inch, is by no means great for such engines. It is probable that the safety valve had by some means got entangled (and Mr. Windsor unfortunately did not try it when he examined the engine before he went to tea). But whatever might be the proximate cause of the accident, there can be no doubt on the mind of any rational man, that engines of this description are exceedingly unsafe. About two years and a half ago, we had to announce the bursting of a boiler at Ardwick. We believe the engine to which the boiler belonged, and the one now in question, were the only Trevethick engines in Manchester; and the boilers belonging to them are the only ones which have-burst in the town since the commencement of our editorial labours. We trust, that no person after this time, and with these examples before his eyes, will have so little regard to the lives of his fellow-creatures, as to erect another of these dangerous engines ; and if there should be still one in existence in this neigbourhood, it is to be hoped that the owner will forthwith pull it down......' [3]

1824 'Fatal Accident from the Boiler of a Steam Engine About half-past four o’clock on the afternoon of Tuesday week, in the neighbourhood of Portland Street was dreadfully alarmed by a noise like the explosion of artillery, accompanied a concussion which, from the shaking of their houses, terrified the inhabitants with the apprehension that it was an earthquake. The cause, it was soon ascertained, was the bursting of the boiler of a steam engine in the works of Messrs J. Windsor and Co., machine makers in Major Street, which had reduced the greater part of the building to a heap of ruins. As in the recent catastrophe of Salford, the utmost consternation prevailed in the neighbourhood, among the relatives and friends of the men and boys employed in the manufactory to the number of forty-five. Every exertion was immediately used to clear away the rubbish, in order to ascertain if any of the work people were buried beneath it. In a short time seven of the unfortunate, workmen were dug out. One of them, a smith, an old man, named John Blaize, was found with his face on the fire at which his son had worked, and which was on the same hearth with his own, and one of his hands on his own fire, quite dead, with his spectacles on his nose, which were perfectly uninjured. He was dreadfully burned and mangled, and was taken to the Volunteer public-house, in Minshull Street. His son had a narrow escape, since he had only just left his father when the accident occurred; he received, however, some severe injury. The other six were taken to the Infirmary, when it was ascertained that one of them (who was a partner in the Foundry,) had already expired. It was a sight truly horrible, not less from their apparent sufferings, than from the frightful disfiguration of their bodies. Wheeler’s lower jaw was completely comminuted; his head was fractured in various places, and his left hand and thigh were so torn and broken, that each formed an undistinguishable mass. The man who first died in the hospital, besides having a compound fracture of the tibia, was dreadfully scalded in the trunk and extremities. The ribs of the others were fractured the whole extent of the right side, and in this individual the cranium was severely broken. He died at 11 o’clock on the following morning. There still remains three in the house; one is but slightly injured; but of the other two, one is scalded, and has suffered some injury of the lungs, from which a considerable quantity of air has escaped into the surrounding integument, and the other has a simple fracture of the arm, with a wound on the occiput, and it is supposed, a fracture of the basis of the skull. It was a most fortunate circumstance, that at the time the explosion took place, the greater part of the men were getting their tea in part of the building which suffered the least from the shock. The effects of the concussion were felt in the under-mentioned streets, the inhabitants of which describe it as similar to the violent shock of an earthquake, which threw them instantaneously into such general dismay and consternation that they did not know which way to run to save themselves: —Fifty houses in Major Street, some of which are partially unroofed ; 80 houses in Silver Street; 100 houses in Portland Street; 100 houses in Hart Street, where the glass of the windows was forced out by the concussion; 65 houses in Bloom Street; 65 houses in Richmond Street—the above are all parallel streets. The following are cross streets : Minshull Street, 20 houses; Chorlton Street, 40 houses; Sackville Street, 30 houses; 100 dwellings in courts and alleys. As the concussion was felt smartly at Old Garret Hall, a distance of at least a quarter of a mile, it may easily be imagined how strongly it must have operated in the above streets in the immediate vicinity. An inquest has been held on the four bodies. Verdict— Accidental death. The boiler was an old one, and had a weight of 42lbs. on the safety valve, the pipe of which was one inch in diameter. Manchester Gazette.' [4]

1824 'Dreadful Accident at Manchester.—A few minutes after five o'clock on Tuesday s’ennight, the boiler belonging to the engine at the premises of Messrs, Windsor and Co., machine-makers and moulders, in Major-street, Portland-street, burst with such a violence as carried destruction all around. The building was completely destroyed, excepting a small portion at the west end ; there were forty-five persons at work on the premises at the time, and the concussion created terror in the neighbourhood equal to an earthquake. Immediately after the first alarm, hundreds flocked to the scene of destruction, and assisted to rescue the unfortunate individuals who were buried under the ruins; six were dug out alive, and immediately carried to the infirmary, since which four have died there. A poor old man named Blaze, was working at the forge as a blacksmith, and it appears, by the burnt state of his body, that he had been forced into the fire; his breast, neck, and face, were dreadfully mutilated. Three or four were taken to their respective homes very much wounded, but they are considered in a fair way of recovery. Parts of the boiler flew in every direction; a piece of cast iron, about a hundred weight, was carried upwards of 50 yards, and struck against the gable end of a house in Hall's buildings, and knocked out a considerable quantity of bricks; and another piece was forced into a joiner's yard, in Major-street, above one hundred yards distance, but did no material mischief. The loss to Messrs. Windsor and & Co. may be calculated at from £800 to £1000, and several of the dwellings in the neighbourhood have been very much injured. An inquisition was held on Wednesday upon the bodies of Thomas Wheeler, John Blaze, Henry Maclauchland, and Henry Robinson, and a verdict of accidental death returned. Since the inquest, another man, William Holden, has died in the Infirmary, making the fifth who has lost his life by the melancholy accident. The following is a list of the persons who have otherwise suffered from this dreadful accident:—Thomas Winstanly, now in the infirmary, with fracture and severe contusions; Jonathan Taylor, smith, also in the infirmary, severely bruised and lacerated; William Blaze, smith, severely hurt; John Hughes, filer, ditto, John Graham, turner, ditto; Richard Robinson, turner, slightly; James Richardson, turner, slightly; James Warre, filer.'[5]

Coroner's Inquest.— Mr. Richard Ormrod, iron-founder, was sworn, and stated, that he visited the premises where the accident happened on the same evening, but there was so much confusion at the time, that he did not see any thing which could assist him in forming an opinion as to the cause of the accident. He was there again tbe next day, and then saw a piece of cast iron in the street, which appeared to have formed part of the boiler: it seemed to be part of the door or front end. There was a piece of wrought iron fastened across the cast iron, from which he judged that the boiler had been repaired; and in his opinion it had been well repaired. That repair had not been done by him ; but he believed that his men had repaired the valves a few weeks ago. It was a high-pressure engine, and required more than ordinary care and attention in the engineer; none but a scientific man was fit to look after such an engine. He did not consider it safe, and if he had been passing along the street, and had known that such an engine was at work there, he would have gone on the other side of the street; he would have kept as far as he could from it.
Joseph Hopkins, a turner, in the employ of Messrs Windsor & Co. stated that the firm consisted of John Windsor, James Windsor, and Michael Hyde ; they were machine-makers ; witness had been in their employ since last Easter. The building they occupied had been for [four] stories high ; but they had taken out the first floor, in order to have more room; so that it was now only three stories high. On the day the accident happened, witness was at his work, in the second story, when his wife brought his "bagging," about 20 minutes past four, as near as he could judge: she brought a child in her arms. The men had no regular hour for bagging, and witness ate his at his lathe, where he remained about 10 minutes. He then went to a grindstone at the head of the stairs, to grind a tool. His wife accompanied him, intending to go home ; but when she offered to leave him, the child began to cry, wishing to come to him ; he therefore laid down the tool which he was grinding, and said he would take a turn up the shop to pacify it. He and his wife then walked towards the other end of the shop, and had nearly reached it when he saw the lathe-bearings at that end suddenly rise towards the ceiling. He at first thought a strap had lapped; but he soon found that the other end of the shop, with the grindstone at which he had been working, had fallen down. He did not at first know what was the matter; but on looking out of the window he saw something in the yard red hot, which he judged to be a part of the boiler, and he then concluded that the boiler had burst. There were, at tbe time when the accident happened, about 45 men and boys on the premises. Mr. James Windsor, one of the masters, was in the second story, and witness let him down through a window with a strap. He then let down his wife and child, and then made the strap fast, and slid down it himself. The engineer is a young man ; but I consider him a skilful man. He was on the premises, and within ten yards of the engine at the time of the accident. He was perfectly sober and steady. I conceive the cause of tbe accident was an over-pressure of steam in some way or other.
William Hall, the engineer, stated, that he was twenty-one years of age; he had been five years an engineer along with his father. He never saw anything wrong in the engine, except a flaw or crack in front of the boiler, which had had a plate put upon it. He never felt any doubts of the safety of the boiler; he never saw but two high-pressure engines in this town, besides the one in question ; one was a small one, near Kennedy's factory, which ran on wheels; the other was at Hollins's, in Ardwick. Both those engines had wrought iron boilers. Witness could not tell how the accident happened; he had a regular thing to go by — the safety valve - which was in good order at the time. He had just taken his tea off the boiler, and gone into the smithy to eat, or he should have been killed. There was the usual weight on the safety valve, viz. 42lb. which was 18lb. under the ordinary pressure at which such engines were worked; they were worked up to 60lb. This was all the evidence adduced.
The room was then cleared, so that the Jury might deliberate upon their verdict. In a few minutes it was announced that they had found "That the deceased were accidentally killed by the bursting of a steam boiler." [6]

Note: Hollins's, referred to above, were John and George Hollins of Tipping Street, Ardwick, iron and brass founders, who suffered a boiler explosion in 1822.

1825 John Windsor & Co listed as machine makers, Albion Mills, Trumpet Street. John Windsor's house: Mount Street, C.R. [Chorlton Row] [7]

1826 J. Windsor, M. Hyde, and J. Windsor, machine makers, listed as bankrupts [8]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Westmorland Gazette - Friday 24 December 1824
  2. Norfolk Chronicle, 24 December 1824
  3. Morning Chronicle - Tuesday 21 December 1824
  4. Fife Herald, 23 December 1824
  5. Coventry Herald, 24 December 1824
  6. Morning Post - Tuesday 21 December 1824
  7. History, Directory and Gazetteer of the County Palatine of Lancaster, 1825, by Edward Baines
  8. The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany, Volume 97