Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,136 pages of information and 245,598 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Joseph Bramah

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Joseph Bramah (1748-1814). The only known portrait. In 1936 the portrait was in the possession of Mr Val Wood whose father's mother had been born a Miss Bramah. After its authenticity was verified it was bought by Frank Towler and Lionel Daniels and presented to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Model of marine propeller based on a description contained in a patent taken out by Joseph Bramah in 1785. No evidence that the device was ever employed. The model is (or was) on display at the London Science Museum

Joseph Bramah (1748-1814), famous for the lock he invented and also for the hydraulic press [1] but also responsible for many other inventions including a type of flush toilet, a machine for automatically printing bank notes with sequential serial numbers, the beer pump, as well as developments in civil engineering. Gained about 20 patents.

1748 April 13th (2nd?). Born Stainborough, Yorkshire, the son of Joseph Bramah, Senior (1713-1800), a farmer, and his wife Mary Denton (1710-1774). His parents married on 16th September 1743. See Bramah Genealogy

1748 May 12th. Baptised.

Bramah started work as a farm worker in Yorkshire before an injury caused him to divert his attention to woodworking. He moved to London where he obtained employment as a cabinet-maker. While working fitting water closets, he found certain defects in the model he was installing. He designed his own model, obtained a patent in 1778 and began its manufacture [2].

Later he moved to a shop in Denmark Street, St. Giles's, and while there he made a further improvement in his invention by the addition of a water cock, which he patented in 1783.

1774 Soon after Bramah left home for London, his mother was killed when riding home pillion she fell off on Kereforth Hill

1778 Patent 1177 for a water closet. Of Cross Court, Carnaby Market, Golden Square, Middlesex, cabinet maker.

1781 Patent Five ways of converting reciprocating to rotary motion

1782 Renting property from Val Ancheatz at St. Giles in the Field possibly in Denmark Street

1783 Patent 1402 for a water cock

1783 Married Mary Lawton of Mapplewell, near Barnsley, and the couple set up home in London. They subsequently had a daughter and four sons. The couple lived at 124 Piccadilly and later moved to Eaton Street(sic), Pimlico [3].

Moved from St. Giles to 124 West End (Opposite fields that became Green Park)

1783 October. Joined the Society of Arts, where he attended some technical discussions on locks.

1784 Birth of son Timothy Bramah

1784 Patent 1430 for the lock on the 21st August 1784.

1784 Bramah started Bramah and Co at Denmark Street, St Giles, London, soon after moving to 124 Piccadilly. The locks produced by his company were famed for their resistance to lock picking and tampering.

1785 Patent. 1407 for 'Water Cock upon a New Construction'. Shown as a cabinet maker of Denmark street, St. Giles.

1785 Dissertation on the construction of locks, Joseph Bramah [4]. As his lock became more widely demanded, he invented a method of mechanising its production.

1785 First patent for a rotary pump

1785 Patent. 1478 entitled 'Hydrostatical Machine and Boiler, Propelling Vessles, carriages, etc.'

1786 Birth of his son Francis Bramah

1787 Patent for a Beer Pump

1788 Birth of son Edward Bramah

1789 Legal case to defend his patent. Bramah v. Hardcastle

1790 Listed at 14, Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner, London as an engine maker machine.[5]

1790 Patent 1720 for an improved rotary engine. Taken out with Thomas Dickinson of Bedworth Close in the county of Warwick

1790-3 Alongside his other business pursuits, Bramah also followed the profession of a civil engineer. He carried out the new water-works at Norwich, between the years 1790 and 1793.

1793 Patent 1946 for a fire-engine

1793 Second patent for a rotary pump

1795 Birth of daughter Hannah

1795 Patent. 2045 for 'Obtaining and Applying Motive Power' describing an hydraulic press. His most important patent.

1797 Henry Maudslay left the company

1797 Patent 2196 for a beer pump

1798 The lock patent 2232 was extended for a further 14 years.

1798 Partnership dissolved. '...the Copartnership between Thomas Winder, John Joseph, and Joseph Bramah, Iron-Founders, carrying on Trade at Narrow-Wall, Lambeth, under the Firm of Winder, Joseph, and Co. was dissolved by mutual Consent...'[6]

1799 George Rich from Stainborough working for him but role not known

1801 Patent 2560 for steam engines and boilers

1801 Brings legal action against Wormald, Fountaine and Gott for the return of ten hydraulic presses. Bramah had supplied presses to Benjamin Gott, but his employees resisted their installation. The litigation ended in Gott's favour.[7]

1802 Patent 2652 for 'Tools for producing straight smooth and parallel surfaces on wood and other materials...' This formed the basis of the planing machine supplied in 1805 to the Royal Carriage Department of what later became the Woolwich Arsenal. This was described in detail in Rees's Cyclopedia, and illustrated by two plates. The plates are available online at high resolution here[8] and here. Bramah also supplied the steam engine to drive the machine. Visits to the planing machine were included in the itinerary for eminent visitors to Woolwich Arsenal in the 1840s. It was said to be still in efficient use as late as 1881.[9]. The vertical spindle rotated at 90 rpm[10], and was raised, lowered, and held at the required height by a hydraulic ram.

1805 Patent 2840 for the manufacture of paper

c1806 Built a new manufactory on what is now known as Ebury Street but then a rural area. The workshops (when described in 1817) were 180 feet in length and 40 feet wide. Adjacent to the works he built himself a house

1806 Patent 2977 for the sequential numbering of bank notes

c.1807 Featured in the painting of 'Men of Science Living in 1807-8', reproduced as an engraving by George Zobel, and William Walker[11]

1808 Purchased the patent for the steel pen from his friend Bryan Donkin [12].

1809 Patent 3260 for writing pens

1809 Patent 3270 concerning wheeled carriages

1812 Patent 3611 for laying of water pipes

1812 Patent 3616 concerning wheeled carriages

1813 March 22nd. Public experiment of taking trees up by the root with a hydraulic engine was held in Hyde Park

1813 Timothy Bramah, his son, joined the business; company name changed to J. Bramah and Son.

1814 Patent 3780 to prevent dry rot by the application of Parker's Cement or Roman cement

1814 J. G. May, A visitor to Bramah's works, reported being shown a hydraulic press breaking a 12" wooden beam and iron plates 4" to 6" thick, and a hydraulic crane being used to lift a cylinder weighing at least 50 cwt. He reported that Bramah used a hydraulic crane to lift components onto and off a lathe.[13]

Bramah erected several large machines in his works at Pimlico for sawing stone and timber, to which he applied his hydraulic power with great success. New methods of building bridges and canal-locks, with a variety of other matters, were in an embryo state in his mind, but he did not live to complete them.

1814 Bramah was supervising his hydrostatic press at Holt Forest in Hampshire, where more than 300 trees of the largest dimensions were in torn up by the roots in a very short time, when he caught a severe cold, which settled upon his lungs.

1814 December 9th. He died at his house in Pimlico [14].

1814 December 16th. Buried in Paddington Churchyard age 66

1814 December 18th. Obituary.[15]

1815 March 20th. Will of Joseph Bramah, Engineer of St. George Hanover Square, Middlesex,

1815 Mary Bramah died [16].

1815 Wharves, warehouse and manufactory, leased by Joseph Bramah on the banks of the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge, were advertised for sale in part or as whole by order of the executors of his estate. As well as buildings, a 8 h.p. engine and a 12 h.p. engine, and machinery for sawing deals and stone, cutting wood, grinding mill for glazing bars, with connecting machinery invented by Mr Bramah were included in the sale [17]. Similar advert in March 1816.

A memorial was erected in the Parish Church of Silkstone.


  • 1819 Mr J. Bramah of Pimlico married Margaret Warren of New Road, Marylebone [18].
  • In 1824 the following advertisement was placed by the London Steel Co:-
    'To Engineers, Machinists, Builders, and Others.
    To be disposed of the undermentioned ENGINES and MACHINES, invented and designed by the late ingenious Mr. Bramah
    1. A large Sawing Machine for two spindles, and circular saws, with fixed and moving longitudinal frames, of great dimensions, similar to the one now in use Woolwich Dock Yard; also considerable number of the circular saws of various sizes.
    2. A complete planing Machine for plank and large timber, with moveable frames, machinery, and entire apparatus of singular invention, and excellent workmanship.
    3. A stone sawing machine, to work 12 perpendicular saws, together with a large assortment of saws.
    4. Two superior machines for shaping cask staves.
    5. Four patent hydraulic pumps, of different diameters.
    6. A large substantial lathe for turning and boring.
    7. A double-power 14 horse condensing steam engine, entirely complete, now in full work, and only parted with to make room for one of larger dimensions.
    For further particulars apply the London Steel Company. Thames Bank, near Chelsea.'[19]
  • 1862 It was noted in reference to William Walker's painting (sic) of "English World Winners" or "Men of Science living in 1807-8" that there had been no portrait painted of Joseph Bramah in his lifetime and that his bust by Chantrey had been destroyed by Lady Chantrey after the sculptor's death. Instead Walker based his view (of the rear of Braham's head) on memories of that of his nephew John Joseph Bramah who had taken over his uncle's business on his death and possessed his uncle's business skills and love of mechanisms if not his inventiveness. He had gathered together a huge business in railway plant at Pimlico, with the help of George and Robert Stephenson, and subsequently transferred it to Smethwick as the London Works, joining himself with Charles Fox and John Henderson as partners; out of their works came the Crystal Palace [20].
  • 1968 The Institution of Mechanical Engineers established the Joseph Bramah Fund at the instigation of Frank Towler, to commemorate Joseph Bramah, the inventor of a patent lock, the hydraulic press and other inventions concerned with pumps, water supply and the production of pipes and tubes by the extrusion process. The fund is used for scholarships and an annual medal.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. in 1857, a letter in The Times from "one of the family" reminded readers that Bramah had invented the hydraulic press, which was used to launch the Leviathan, The Times, 1 December 1857
  2. National Portrait Gallery: [1]
  4. National Archives relating to document in Warwickshire County Record Office, with MS. note by John Lucy (d. 1823) 'E Libris John Lucy Price 1s. 1788', and another on the front cover in the same hand 'The next Meeting is July ye 7th 1788'
  5. 1790 Wakefield's Directory of London
  6. [2] Gazette Issue 15057 published on the 8 September 1798. Page 7 of 12
  7. 'Joseph Bramah - A Century of Invention 1749-1851' by Ian McNeil, David & Charles, 1968, p.118
  8. [3] Wellcome Foundation: 'Engineering: side elevation of the Bramah planing machine. Engraving by Lowry, 1814, after J. Farey.' by John Farey.
  9. 'Joseph Bramah - A Century of Invention 1749-1851' by Ian McNeil, David & Charles, 1968, p.163
  10. 'Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts', Vol II, Ed. Charles Tomlinson, Virtue & Co, 1854
  11. National Portrait Gallery [4]
  12. The Times, 18 September 1930
  13. [5] 'Industrial Britain Under the Regency: The Diaries of Escher, Bodmer, May and de Gallois' by W.O. Henderson, Routledge 1968, p.161
  14. The Morning Post 12 December 1814
  15. The Examiner - Sunday 18 December 1814
  16. Will of Mary Bramah of Pimlico, Middlesex, Date 8 December 1815 - National Archives
  17. Morning Post 18 July 1815
  18. The Times, 30 September 1819
  19. Morning Advertiser - Thursday 29 January 1824
  20. Glasgow Herald 25 October 1862
  • Wikipedia
  • Joseph Bramah - a Century of Invention 1749-1851, by Ian McNeil. 1968
  • Worthies of Barnsley and District by Joseph Wilkinson. 1883?