September 1856: Forging ahead in Manchester

Three months into an assignment and our roving reporter delivered details of a nut forging machine and orders to take a trip to the seaside.

In our July 2022 edition we recalled the adventures of a reporter sent to Manchester in 1856 to appraise the city’s manufacturing capabilities, a task executed thoroughly and with great enthusiasm.

By 1856 Manchester was well on its way to becoming the world’s first industrial city and our reporter was still there in September the same year to record the day-to-day activities in all manner of manufactories and the ebb-and-flow of daily life.

“I have now been nearly three months in Manchester; have perambulated most of her principal thoroughfares and byways and watched the living stream of faces which surges along them,” our reporter enthused. “I have…listened to the converse of her citizens in all their various moods and phases, visited most of the large manufactories; and, seeing Manchester both at work and at play, I have derived both pleasure and instruction from contact with perhaps the most active and intelligent community in England.”

One such manufactory housed an American nut forging machine installed at The Engineering Works of Messrs. William Collier and Co.

Our reporter noted that several attempts had been made to produce a machine for forging nuts ‘but hitherto their success has not been such as to bring them into anything like general use’.

The machine in question had been at work since 1854 ‘and had given very great satisfaction’.

“On the occasion of my visiting the establishment of Messrs collier I had an opportunity of seeing the machine at work and testing the quality of the nuts which it turned out,” our Victorian predecessor said. “One man only was required to attend to the machine, and the nuts were stamped out of a flat bar of iron at the rate of about three in a minute. The only difficulty seemed to be in keeping up a supply of bars heated to the proper temperature, with sufficient regularity to keep the machine constantly employed.”

The dyes were supplied with a constant stream of cold water to prevent them getting heated. The cold-water supply also caused scale to crack off from the finished nuts, leaving them ‘as clean and well defined as if they had been cast in a mould’. Our reporter added the nuts could be finished in a minute with a grindstone.


“The principle feature of novelty in the machine is the employment of a female die or die box to cut off portions from the bar and to receive the blank or portions cut off, swages to compress the blank into the desired shape, and a punch to perforate the hole or eye in the blank,” our reporter said, noting that the female die, or die box, was formed out of cast iron, ‘being a block with a square or hexagonal hole through its centre’.

Our reported continued: “The hole is larger on the upper side and is lined with cast steel plates neatly fitted in, with the upper ends wider and thicker than the lower ends to prevent them from dropping downwards; and they are prevented from rising by a circular wrought iron plate let into a recess in the cast iron block; the plate having a square or a hexagonal hole in its centre for the reception of the upper swage to enter the box dye.

“This swage is made of wrought iron, its lower edge being faced with steel and made to correspond in size with the die box, which it is to work; the upper end is larger, to prevent it from dropping out when the die box is made to rise. The hole through which the punch is made to ply is usually larger at the upper end, and small enough at the lower end, for about half an inch, to fit that part of the punch which makes the whole in the nut.

“The lower end of the swage is recessed or dished to form the impression of a washer upon the upper face of the nut. The stationary dye is made of steel and is also perforated for the reception of the punching, forced out by the punch.”

Our reporter’s Mancunian sojourn appears to have led to a case of Victorian burn out. Chapter 10 of Tour of the Provinces, published on September 26, 1856, had the subheading ‘Morecambe Bay’. In it, our exhausted reporter recalled leaving Manchester by train and the reasons for doing so.

“It may perhaps be remembered that my last contribution from Manchester was of a rather bilious character, and that we ‘babbled’ somewhat incoherently,” our reporter explained. “The consequence was, that the very next post brought a letter from our munificent editor, enclosing a cheque for a large amount, and ordering me to betake myself forthwith to the seaside.”

Our reporter’s description of the journey was typically florid, but it was Morecambe Bay’s manufactories and not the sea air that motivated this latest journey in the provinces.