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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Full Steam Ahead! Made in Manchester

Ancoats mills at dinnertime.
The earliest factories were water-powered, so they were built by fast-flowing streams. The advent of steam power meant that factories could now be built wherever coal was plentiful, so Manchester and Salford were prime spots for industry.

One of the first manufacturers to use steam to power his mill machinery was Peter Drinkwater, who built a cotton-spinning mill in Manchester in 1789. Drinkwater’s mill had the first Boulton and Watt steam engine in the city. Around this time, James Bateman and William Sherratt set up a factory in Salford which made mill machinery components, and a pirated version of Boulton and Watt’s rotary steam engine.

Cotton factories and their contents were highly combustible, and Philips and Lee built the first ‘fireproof’ mill in the area (with cast-iron beams) in 1801.This mill, on Chapel Street in Salford, was also the first factory in Britain lit by gas.

By 1816, Manchester contained forty-three working mills; the largest employer was McConnel & Kennedy, with over 1,000 workers. These early factories ran day and night, which was very hard on their child workers.

The Manchester Statistical Society reported in 1837–8 that Manchester had 5,272 cotton spinning and weaving mills powered by steam; Salford had 761 steam-powered cotton mills. Manchester had 756 bleaching, dyeing and print-works powered by steam, and Salford had 521 steam-powered factories. Foundries, silk mills, breweries, saw-mills, collieries and chemical works in the area were also steam-powered.
Nasmyth's factory flat at Manchester. 

Scotsman James Nasmyth (1808–90), one of the most famous engineers of his day, set up his own business at Dale Street in Manchester in the 1830s.

He later founded the Bridgewater Foundry at Patricroft, Eccles, and the first steam hammer in Britain was forged there.

Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803–87)’s Chorlton Street works in Manchester made machine tools, guns and cannon. William Fairbairn had a huge works on Canal Street in Ancoats which made boilers and bridges. Platt Brothers made textile machinery at Oldham; this firm also had its own forges, rolling-mills and brick-works. Sharp, Roberts & Co.’s world-famous Atlas Works, founded in the late 1820s in Manchester, made locomotive engines.

As Victoria’s reign advanced, Manchester’s industries continued to thrive. At Gorton, Beyer-Peacock began manufacturing locomotives in the 1850s, the Ashbury Railway Carriage Company made railway carriages and waggons, and Crossley Brothers made engines and pumps.

The steam-engine galleries at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry often have the engines in steam, and you can get a real sense of their sound and energy when they are busy working!

Nasmyth’s restored steam hammer on display near Eccles. Copyright Sue Wilkes.
Nasmyth’s Dale Street factory.
A steamer passing Trafford Swing Bridge. Illustration by H. E. Tidmarsh, Manchester Old and New Vol. III., Cassell & Co., c.1894.
James Watt’s first rotary steam engine.
Ancoats mills at dinnertime, Manchester. Illustration by H. E. Tidmarsh, Manchester Old and New Vol. II, (Cassell & Co., c. 1894). 

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