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The progress of the nation page 15


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Iron suspension bridges were also introduced towards the end of this reign. Chain bridges had been erected in China for nearly two thousand years, and rope bridges in India and South America still earlier. In England a foot-bridge of iron chains was erected at Middleton, over the Tees, in the middle of the eighteenth century. In 1816 a bridge of iron wire was thrown across the Gala Water; and another, on a different principle, the following year, was erected over the Tweed, at King's Meadows. But now much greater and more complete works of the kind were to be executed. Captain (afterwards Sir Samuel) Brown introduced great improvements into these structures. He had substituted iron ropes for hempen ones, for cable-chains, and such as are now used in Wales on the quarry tram-roads, and these he now applied to suspension bridges. In 1819 he was commissioned to construct an iron suspension bridge over the Tweed, near Kelso, called the Union Bridge, which he completed in 1820, at a cost of five thousand pounds. In 1827 the first suspension bridge -was thrown over the Thames by Mr. W. Tierney Clarke; and in 1818 Telford commenced his great work of throwing a suspension bridge over the Menai Straits, near Bangor, which he completed in 1825. The main opening of this stupendous work is five hundred and sixty feet wide, and one hundred feet above high water mark. The length of the roadway of the bridge is one thousand feet. The cost was one hundred and twenty thousand pounds. This wag Telford's chrf-d'œuvre. But the same neighbourhood was destined to see a more stupendous structure span the Straits from the Welsh shore to Anglesea. This was the tubular railway bridge, connecting the London and Holyhead line, within view of Telford's elegant suspension bridge. This was erected by Robert Stephenson, from his own design, greatly improved by suggestions from William Fairbairn, of Manchester. It was completed in October, 1850, at a cost of six hundred and twenty-five thousand eight hundred and sixty-five pounds. Further descriptions of this great work are not introducible here, as it lies far after our date, but seemed proper for a passing mention, as an evidence of the vast progression of the engineering science which arose in this reign.

Great improvements were made during this reign in our harbours, especially by Telford and Rennie. Telford's harbour work in Scotland we have already mentioned; Rennie's formation or improvement of harbours were at Ramsgate, London, Hull, and Sheerness; he also built the Bell Rock Lighthouse, on the same principle as the Eddystone Lighthouse, built by Smeaton, one of our great self-taught engineers, just before the accession of George III.

The mechanical invention, however, destined to produce the most extraordinary revolution in social life, was that of railways, which, during this reign, were progressing towards that point where, combined with the steam-engine, they were to burst forth into an activity and strength astonishing to the whole world. Tram-roads - that is, roads with lines of smooth timber for the wheels of wagons to run upon - had been in use in the Newcastle collieries for a century before. In 1767, at the Coalbrook Dale Iron Works, iron plates were substituted for wood, and by this simple scheme one horse could, with ease, draw as much as ten on an ordinary road. In 1776 iron flanges, or upright edges, were used at the collieries of the duke of Norfolk, near Sheffield, and after this time they became common at all collieries, both above and below ground. In 1801 an iron railway, by a joint- stock company, was opened from Wandsworth to Croydon. Three years before iron railways had been introduced to convey the slates from lord Penrhyn's quarries, in Caermarthenshire, to the Menai Straits for shipment, and they were attached to canals for the conveyance of goods to and from them. At the end of this reign there were two hundred and twenty-five miles of iron railroads in the neighbourhood of Newcastle-on-Tyne, and upwards of three hundred miles in the single county of Glamorgan.

Before the termination of the reign there were active preparations for putting steam-engines on all iron railroads. So early as 1758, Watt, who afterwards did so much in the construction of steam-engines, had an idea that locomotive-engines might be put on such roads. In 1770 such an engine was actually made and worked by John Theophilus Cugnot, in Paris, but he had not discovered sufficient means of controlling it. In 1802 Messrs. Trevethick and Vivian exhibited such an engine running along the streets in London. In 1805 the same gentlemen again exhibited one of their engines working on a tram-road at Merthyr-Tydvil, drawing ten tons of iron at the rate of five miles an hour; and in 1811 Mr. Blenkinsop was running an engine on the Middleton Colliery, near Leeds, drawing a hundred tons on a dead level at the rate of three and a half miles an hour, and going at the rate of ten miles when only lightly loaded. Blenkinsop had made the wheels of his engines to act by cogs on indented rails; for there was a strong persuasion at that period, that the friction of plain wheels on plain rails would not be sufficient to enable the engine to progress with its load. The folly of this idea had already been shown on all the colliery lines in the kingdom, and by the engine of Trevethick and Vivian at Merthyr. The fallacy, however, long prevailed. But during this time Thomas Gray was labouring to convince the public of the immense advantages to be derived from steam trains on railways. In five editions of his work, and by numerous memorials to ministers, parliament, lord mayors, &c., he showed that railroads must supersede coaches for passengers, and wagons and canals for goods. He was the first projector of a general system of railroads, laid down maps for comprehensive general lines for both England and Ireland, invented turn-tables, and very accurately calculated the cost of constructing lines. For these services he was termed a madman, and the " Edinburgh Review" recommended that he should be secured in a strait jacket. In his " Life of George Stephenson," Mr. Smiles makes exception to my statement, that Thomas Gray was the originator of railways, and transfers that term to Stephenson. Let us be correct: Gray was the projector, Stephenson the constructor of railways. But it is not to be supposed that Gray had sold five editions of his work without Stephenson, and perhaps every engineer, having read and profited by it. Yet, so little had Stephenson any idea of the real scope and capacity of railways, that it was not till five years after the running of his engines on such lines, by Mr. Smiles's own showing, that he ever imagined such a thing as that of their becoming the great medium of human transit. He tells us Mr. Edward Pease suggested to him to put an old long coach on the Darlington and Stockton line, attached to the luggage trucks, and see whether people might not incline to travel by them. Gray had demonstrated all this long before. He stood in the place of the architect, Stephenson only of the builder, who carries out the architect's design. Seven years only after the death of George III. the railway line betwixt Manchester and Liverpool was commenced, and from its successful opening, on the 15th of September, 1830, dates the amazing development of the present railway system.

Our space permits us only to take a glance at the several steps by which the steam-engine arrived at the dignity of being the great propeller of ships on the water, and of machinery and carriages on land. The earliest idea of such an engine was that given by the marquis of Worcester, in his " Century of Inventions," in 1663, which idea he obtained from de Caus, and reduced to action in London. The next step was to Papin's Digester, and then to Savery's so-called " Atmospheric Engine." This, improved by Newcomen in 1711, was introduced to drain mines in all parts of the kingdom, but especially in the coal-mines of the north and midland counties, and the copper mines of Cornwall. By its means, many mines long disused through the accumulation of water, were drained and made workable, and others were sunk much deeper. Smeaton, in 1769, greatly improved this engine, which, from its rapid working of a horizontal beam, was called by the miners a "Whimsey," as having a whimsical look. Watt, whose attention to the subject was drawn by his friend Robison, then a student in the university of Glasgow, commenced a series of experiments upon it, which, betwixt 1759 and 1782, raised the engine to a pitch of perfection which made it applicable not only to draining water out of mines, but, by the discovery of the rotatory motion, enabled them to propel any kind of machinery, spin cotton, grind in mills of all kinds, and propel ships and carriages. Watt was greatly aided in his efforts by Mr. Matthew Boulton, and their engines were manufactured at Soho Works, near Birmingham. They did not, however, enjoy the fruits of their patents for protecting their inventions without many and most unprincipled attempts to invade their rights by masters of mines and others, by which they were involved in many harassing lawsuits. The first application of the steam-engine to the machinery of a cotton-mill was at Papplewick, in Nottinghamshire, in 1785, and the first mill built for the express employment of machinery driven by an engine was in Manchester, in 1789. The first application of the engine to propel a vessel was at Dalswinton, on the Clyde, the boat being constructed by Patrick Miller, James Taylor, and William Symington. In the following year these gentlemen made a second experiment on the Forth and Clyde canal at the Carron Works, with perfect success, the vessel going at the rate of nearly seven miles an hour. Symington would seem to be the real machinist in this firm, and in 1802 he made a tug-boat on the Forth and Clyde canal, under the patronage of lord Dundas, which was worked extremely well by its engine. In 1807 Fulton followed up these experiments by launching a steam-boat on the Hudson, in America, after having in vain solicited the patronage of the English and French governments for his enterprise. The proposal of Fulton, submitted to the Royal Academy of Paris, was received with a burst of laughter, and Napoleon abandoned the project in deep disgust at having been, as he supposed, made a dupe of by Fulton. We have already pointed out the period of the first application of the steam-engine to railways.

By the marvellous aids of canals and steam-engines, manufacturing power became most immensely augmented in all directions, but especially in the spinning and weaving of cotton goods. For the details of this last great trade, we must refer to Mr. Baines's excellent history of it. The machines invented by Wyatt and Paul in 1733, and improved by Arkwright in 1767, if not invented anew, without knowledge of Wyatt and Paul's plan of spinning by rollers - a moot point; the spinning-jenny with seven spindles, invented by James Hargreaves, a weaver, near Blackburn, in 1768; and the mule-jenny, combining the working of the machines of Arkwright and Hargreaves, by Samuel Crompton, in 1778, completely superseded spinning cotton yarn by hand. These machines were first worked by water power, and, on the invention of the steam-engine, by that power 5 and the growth of cotton-spinning became rapid beyond conception, spreading over all Lancashire and the midland counties in a marvellous manner. The cotton-mills of Robert Peel, in Lancashire and Staffordshire; of the Strutts, at Belper, in Derbyshire; of Mr. Dale, at New Lanark; of Robinson, at Papplewick; and Arkwright, at Cromford, which raised these gentlemen to vast wealth, being only the leviathans amongst swarming concerns of less dimensions.

To these, in 1787, the Rev. Dr. Edmund Cartwright introduced a loom for weaving by water or steam power, which soon superseded hand-loom weaving. In 1803 Mr. H. Horrocks greatly improved this, and from this germ has grown up the now universal system of weaving cottons, Bilks, and woollens by machinery. Add to this the application of similar machinery to calico-printing, and the like to weaving of lace, invented by Robert Frost, of Nottingham, or by a working mechanic of that town named Holmes, which afterwards received many improvements, and we have the varied means by which the manufacturing power of England was raised far above that of all the world; and which, in spite of legislative impediments, reaching other countries, soon established similar manufactories in France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and America. In Great Britain alone the importation of raw cotton was increased from 4,764,589 lbs. in 1771 to 151,000,000 lbs. in 1818; and such was the spread of trade of all kinds from the use of machinery, that our exports of manufactured goods in 1800, when the European nations were incapacitated for manufacturing by Napoleon's général embargo, amounted to £116,000,000.

Almost every other manufacture shared in this surprising impulse from machinery, and from this spirit of invention. It was an age of new creations, and of unprecedented energies. In 1763 Josiah Wedgwood, of the Staffordshire Potteries, commenced that career of improvement in the biscuit, form, and printing of porcelain which constituted a new era in the art. At that time the French fine pottery was so much superior to the English, that it was extensively imported. Iu fact, it was a period when taste in every department of art was at the lowest ebb. Wedgwood, being a good chemist, not only improved the body of his earthenware, but, being a man of classical taste, introduced a grace and elegance of form before unknown to British pottery. He invented a new kind of composition, now well known in the mortars of medical men, so hard and marble- like, that it resisted both fire and acids; and in this he moulded statuettes, cameos, and medallions from the Greek Originals, of great beauty. Sir William Hamilton having brought over from Italy a quantity of antique vases, &c., Wedgwood benefited by them to introduce fresh forms and colouring in his wares, and probably on this account called his pottery Etruria, He had the aid of Mr. Chisholm, a practical chemist, in his researches into the best composition and colours for his porcelain, and his improvements laid the foundation of the present great pottery trade of Staffordshire.

Many improvements were made, also, in the glass manufactory during this reign, and more would, undoubtedly, have been made but for the very heavy duties upon it, to help to support the ruinous wars of the period. In 1760, the first wear of the reign, crown glass is said to have been introduced. In 1673 the first glass plates for looking-glasses and coach-windows were made at Lambeth. In 1779 flint- glass was first made; and about that time plate-glass. The duties on différent kinds of glass at that date were about one hundred and forty thousand pounds per annum. So oppressive were these duties, that, in 1785, the St. Helen's Plate-glass Company petitioned parliament, stating that, in consequence of the weight of taxation, notwithstanding an expenditure of one hundred thousand pounds, they had not been able to declare a dividend.

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