July 1856: A riveting time in Manchester

A tour of Manchester had our reporter seeing red and dodging imaginary hot spots. Jason Ford reports.

Chapter VI of The Engineer’s ‘Tour of the Provinces’ - our first forays into site visits - took our Victorian reporter to Manchester and a day with Messrs. W&J Galloway at Knott Mill in the city centre.

The firm was best known for boiler making, manufacturing screw jacks,  and rivets by patent machinery. Steam engines and mill gearing were also undertaken by them ‘to a considerable extent’.

“The general appearance and management of the place is that of a steady-going, substantial, unpretending manufactory,” our reporter observed. “The first workshop I entered was full of the shafting and other details of a series of six gunpowder mills, which the Messrs. Galloway are engaged in constructing for the Turkish government.”

The mills were to be driven by a 60-horsepower condensing engine and each of the mills had two edge rollers weighing 13 tons.

“To prevent the explosion of one mill communicating with another, they are each placed 70 feet apart, and, as they are all driven by the same engine, there is a continuous line of heavy wrought iron shafting extending underground to the distance of 420 feet,” said The Engineer.  “As a further security against explosions, a system of water is placed over each mill and so arranged that in the event of an explosion taking place, all are upset simultaneously.”

The little fellows seemed to be in high spirits, whistling in chorus the unmistakable toodle-oodle of the Ratcatcher’s daughter

Our reporter noted ‘one rather startling peculiarity in the workshops’, namely that all the tools, pillars, wall plates and brackets were painted a bright red.

“I did not inquire the reason of this strange fancy, but I certainly was rather alarmed at it as everything had at first sight the appearance of being red hot and made me gather up my coat tails whenever I passed them for fear of getting them singed!” said our surprised scribe.

Less startling but no less impressive was the flooring of the principal workshops, which was ‘supported by a transverse malleable iron girder, in the middle of which there is a socket for the top spindle of a cast iron crane; as the planking of the floor is connected with this girder, the strain arising from lifting heavy weights by the crane is distributed equally over the four walls, in place of being pushed against particular points by rods and struts, as is usually the case.’

It was also noted that the lathes in the turner’s shop, instead of being placed along the walls beside the windows, stretched across the breadth of the room from wall to wall, a measure that economised space but gave ‘rise to some awkwardness in the arrangement of the driving gear.’

“To obviate the difficulty of placing and removing the work in a floor so obstructed, the windows have sliding panels in the lower half, so as to allow the exit and entrance from the combing yard to be effected without traversing the length of the shop,” said The Engineer.

In a half-sunk floor adjoining the engine room, our reporter went onto observe half a dozen rivet making machines at work.


“The shop occupied by the rivet making machines presents a various curious spectacle,” said The Engineer. “The constant splashing of water and the lurid gleam of the hot iron rods, which are being handed about from the furnaces to the machines, seen through clouds of steam, give the place the appearance of a scene in a pantomime. The machines are entirely managed by boys, of whom there are, I should think, a score with a man who is supposed to keep the machines in working order and superintend the operations of the boys.

“The little fellows seemed to be in high spirits, whistling in chorus the unmistakable toodle-oodle of the Ratcatcher’s daughter. The rivets meanwhile were being struck off at the rate of two tons to each machine daily.”

Prior to describing factory visits (the original article is two pages long), our Victorian predecessor began Part VI by declaring: “This this matter-of-fact city is about to put forth a blossom, a flower with a corrugated iron calyx and crystal petals. Its roots are laid in the underground galleries of the mine, along the seams of coal and iron. The bows and leaves which have elaborated the sap for this bud of beauty are chimney stalks and dingy, cellular-looking factories.”

Our reporter was referring to the building that would house the Manchester Exhibition of Art Treasures, which was built Messrs CD Young & Co and opened in October 1857.

Our reporter was quick to point out that Messrs CD Young & Co had previously built a ‘corrugated anomaly at Kensington Gore’ and both buildings ‘were doubtless influenced in the determination of their style by the presumed requirements of each case’.

“The results in this instance reflects much credit on the good taste and discrimination of those who represented the City of Manchester and shows that although Messrs Young erected a barn for the Royal Commissioners at Kensington Gore, they can build palaces for those who want them,” said The Engineer. “Judging from the designs which I had an opportunity of examining…the building for the Manchester Exhibition of Art Treasures promises to be a really elegant and well-proportioned edifice. I hope soon to be able to give an illustrated description of it in the pages of The Engineer.”

Click here to read original article.