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 150,170 pages of information and 235,402 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.

Autobiography of Richard Tangye: Chapter 5

From Graces Guide
The Second Workshop
The First Smithy
Differential Pulley Block


SHORTLY before we received the order on account of the Great Eastern, our business prospects had so much improved that we felt justified in taking a larger workshop, for which we paid a rent of ten shillings per week. We also bought an old engine and boiler, and were then quite independent. This was a great advantage, as we often had to work through the night. My brother Edward, who had emigrated to America, now returned and joined us. We also ventured to engage our first workman, taking care to caution him that we could only guarantee three months' work; he is, however, still with us. During the next few years I travelled for orders, and kept the books; while my brothers often worked sixteen hours out of the twenty-four, without, however, feeling, like my grandfather, that they "wasted the rest."

While we were in this workshop, employing about half-a-dozen men, we made the acquaintance of a gentleman whose name has been associated with ours ever since, Mr. T. A. Weston, the inventor of the Differential Pulley Block. He was the nephew of the late Mr. Thomas Weston, of Temple Row, who was Mayor of Birmingham when Prince Albert visited the town.

Mr. Weston had been in America for some years and while living at Buffalo, a vessel had gone down off that city. Many schemes were tried with a view of raising it and after witnessing some of these, Mr. Weston thought he would try his hand at the work. It occurred to him that the necessary power could be obtained by using a Chinese windlass fixed over the vessel. This windlass consists of a barrel, which, instead of being of uniform diameter throughout, has one half of its length of larger diameter than the other. The ends of a rope are wound in opposite directions round the two parts of the barrel leaving in the middle a loop which carries a pulley block. In lifting a weight, each revolution of the barrel winds on the large end a length of rope equal to its large circumference, while there is unwound from the small end of the barrel a length equal to its smaller circumference. In this way the weight is lifted through a height equal to half the difference in circumference of the two ends of the barrel.

While Mr. Weston was engaged in scheming this apparatus, of which he made a rough model, the idea struck him that by joining the two ends of the rope together, instead of attaching them to the differential pulley, as in the Chinese windlass, a very much shorter length of rope would be necessary for a given lift than with that apparatus. This idea was undoubtedly a very good one, and he found that the rope need only be about one-eighth of the length that would otherwise be required. An apparently insuperable difficulty, however, presented itself, for how was the rope to be prevented from slipping? To obviate this difficulty, Mr. Weston proposed to employ chain, which should gear into the face of the barrel; and he quickly discovered that with the endless chain the barrel might be shortened to a little more than twice the width of the chain. On returning to England, he set about elaborating this idea, and in due course made a drawing of the differential block substantially as it has ever since been made. He endeavoured to get the apparatus manufactured, and, in succession, tried almost every mechanical engineer in the district; but only to be foiled in every instance.

It is difficult now to imagine why there should have been such difficulty, as the apparatus seems simple enough in its construction; but then, it was found difficult to make an egg stand on its end until Columbus had shown the way! But, as a matter of practice, very great difficulty was found in designing a tooth or projection in the grooves of the pulley which, while holding the chain, would permit of its rapidly disengaging itself as the pulley or wheel revolved. Engineer after engineer, after repeated trials, gave the thing up in sheer despair. The inventor never lost heart, although many of his friends were not slow in telling him that he was following a will-o'-the-wisp; and at last his uncle became seriously annoyed with him for spending so much time in following what he considered to be an abortive idea.

At the time of which I am speaking Mr. Weston lived with his uncle in Temple Row; and being naturally of a mechanical turn of mind, he frequently found his way to that Paradise of amateur and skilled mechanics, the warehouse of the late Mr. E. Townley, of Bull Street. Mr. Townley entered warmly into the young inventor's scheme, and furnished him with the names of many mechanical engineers, who, he thought, would be able to carry out the invention. But, as I have said, one after another they all failed to do so; and at last Mr. Townley told the inventor that he could give him one more name, and that he felt perfectly certain he would at last succeed; and, in mentioning the name of our young firm, he said that he felt sure they could make the apparatus if anyone could, as he knew them to be ingenious from the nature of the tools they were in the habit of buying from him.

Mr. Weston was not long in coming to us, and making the acquaintance of my eldest brother, who, in addition to being a first-class mechanic, both in wood and iron, possessed a thorough knowledge of mechanical principles. My brother was much pleased with the invention Mr. Weston laid before him, and did not apprehend much difficulty in carrying it into execution. The work was readily undertaken, but after many attempts we soon experienced the same difficulties which had been encountered by many others before us.

We were very anxious to assist Mr. Weston, and so prevent his suffering another disappointment; but at last we were compelled to abandon the attempt, as it necessitated the employment of too large a portion of our small staff, and caused neglect of orders upon which we depended for our living. Mr. Weston's enthusiasm for his invention was so great that he was quite ready to stake his last shilling upon it. It is at all times a most painful thing to be compelled to damp the ardour of a young man, but stern necessity compelled us to give up the attempt; and, sympathising deeply as we did with the inventor's disappointment, we were unwilling to take anything for what we had done. Mr. Weston, however, insisted upon paying, so we made him a nominal charge, and would take no more.

After a few months spent in endeavouring to get the apparatus made in other places Mr. Weston again came to us, and so worked upon us — enthusiasm kindling enthusiasm — that we were determined to make another great effort to overcome the mechanical difficulty. After repeated attempts and failures my brother George, who had now taken the invention in hand, one day told me he thought he had got the apparatus into such a state of forwardness that it might be tried that night, and that he had great hopes he had at last succeeded.

The chain used in connection with these pulley blocks is of the kind called "pitch" chain, and requires that the links shall all be exactly alike in shape and size, in the same way that tooth wheels require wheels of similar pitch to work in them. Previous to Mr. Weston's invention, chains requiring such exactness in manufacture had not been required, and it was almost impossible to get the chain-makers to produce them; and, as a matter of fact, our difficulty lay almost more in this direction than with the pulley block itself. Under these circumstances, Mr. Weston's attention naturally became directed to overcoming the difficulty, and the result was the invention of a "mould" having recesses for a score of links lying in the position called "ridge and furrow"— one link standing on its edge and the other lying on its flat. By the aid of this mould the chain-maker was able to check each link as made. Of course, this naturally added to the cost of the chains , but it ensured the smooth working of the machine — indeed, without this supplementary invention, it is difficult to believe that the differential pulley block could ever have been brought into practical use.

Mr. Weston, not being a manufacturer, had promised us the sole manufacture of the blocks in case we succeeded in solving the difficulty, and an agreement was duly drawn up ready for signature. Upon the night in question it was quite evident that the crisis had arrived, and that before long we should know whether success had at last crowned our efforts. At about one o'clock in the morning I was sitting in my office writing, when I heard a great shout proceeding from the workshop, and instinctively felt it was a signal that our object was accomplished. On going to the workshop I soon found I was right in my surmise, for there was one of the pulley blocks, with a load suspended to it of about a ton, which two men were able easily to manipulate. Great was the satisfaction expressed on all sides; and acting on the principle that there was no time like the present, I invited Mr. Weston to sign the license already agreed upon, which he thereupon did.

We found the invention a most useful one, and the demand speedily became very great. The advantages consisted in the great compactness and power of the blocks, and the remarkable property they possessed of not "running down" when the load was left suspended; it effected a revolution in the method of lifting and moving heavy weights, and has been the means of relieving the labourers in engineering works of half their heavy toil, and of preventing a multitude of accidents. All went merrily for two or three years, when one day it came to our knowledge that our patent was being infringed. Of course this could not be permitted; but Mr. Weston, who had in the meantime made a considerable sum in royalties upon the sales we bad effected, did not feel inclined to run the risk of losing the result of years of labour by trusting to the uncertainties of the law. Under these circumstances, being determined to uphold the patent, we agreed with Mr. Weston to purchase it and to take the risk ourselves, and this arrangement was duly carried into effect.

And now came the tug of war, for we quickly discovered that we had bought a Chancery Suit! The infringer was an ironmonger and smith in a small way of business; but we speedily found that he was backed up by some rich people who hoped to gain a great advantage by breaking our patent. The case was entered for hearing, and as required by law, our statements were duly made and furnished to our opponent, upon which he filed his replies. His contention was that the invention was not novel, that it had been anticipated by a person at Bristol thirty years before; and he also declared that he had been regularly manufacturing the article for some years before the date of Weston's patent. Of course, if he could have established these statements, he would have proved his case, and our patent would have been broken.

In support of his pretentious he produced a small model of a differential pulley block, as made by the Bristol inventor; but the way in which the chain grooved into the pulley was not only quite different from ours, but was altogether impracticable, as it relied upon the chain falling upon a series of spikes in the periphery of the pulley; whereas in "Weston's" block, the periphery was divided into a series of "beds" for the reception of the links. The infringer also produced a working example of the blocks and chains, which he declared had been made some eight years before the date of Weston's patent, and had been in constant use ever since. In support of this he produced the man who made the blocks, the chain-maker who made the chain, the salesman who sold the apparatus, the builder who bought it, and who swore he had been using it all those years, and to make the matter complete, he also produced the receipt given by the salesman.

The answer to our case seemed so complete and overwhelming, that our solicitor said he could not possibly go into court against it unless we could disprove our opponents' statements, and he did not see how that was possible in the face of such overwhelming evidence. I told the solicitor that I was perfectly satisfied that the whole thing was based upon perjury and forgery from beginning to end, and that it was capable of demonstration. My enthusiasm was of course lost upon our legal adviser; but seeing that I was determined to proceed with the case, he said the next step to be taken was to obtain an order from the Court to "administer interrogatories" to the defendant and his witnesses.

Upon the appointed day the parties met in a small room in Lincoln's Inn, and a number of very searching questions were put to the individuals before referred to. Our principal object in taking this course was to commit the various witnesses to certain absolute statements from which they could not afterwards disengage themselves. During the examination, one of the defendant's witnesses, viz.: the salesman, who stated he had given the receipt to the purchaser of the blocks, was observed to be extremely uncomfortable and evidently in a state of great trepidation, so much so as to make us feel certain that he would prove to be the breaking link in the defendant's chain of evidence, and consequently, we devoted special attention to him, so that before his examination was over, he seemed as though he would faint.

We were well satisfied with the result of this preliminary investigation, and followed it up by obtaining an order from the Court, giving us the right to thoroughly examine the various articles or "exhibits" relied upon by the defendant in making out his case. Upon the appointed day, accompanied by Mr. Weston, and armed with the inspection order, I went to the office of the defendant's solicitors for the purpose of examining their exhibits.

I have said that from the first I believed the whole case rested upon perjury and forgery, and upon that theory I carried out the investigation. The upper wheel of our pulley block was made of cast-iron, and had the words "Weston's Patent, Newt." cast in raised letters on its side. The pattern or model of this pulley was an expensive one to make; but when made, a casting from it if carefully filed, would make a tolerably good casting model for reproducing others, and I expected that this course had been adopted by the defendant; but of course I knew that he would not leave the words "Weston's Patent" upon the model, but that he would first remove them before proceeding to cast other pulleys from it.

Now, it is well-known that when raised letters are chipped off a casting, it is impossible to avoid certain depressions on its face, or if the letters are filed off, there is a certain hardness left on the face of the casting by which the position of the letters may be easily recognised. Believing the defendant had used one of our pulleys in this manner, in order to produce the block which he had sworn he had made eight years before we had made any, I took with me one of our castings of a size similar to defendant's exhibit, in order to compare with it. We found the pulley, with its chain complete, suspended from a hook, and proceeded to make our examination. With my finger I felt for the evidences of the letters having been removed from the casting model, and was satisfied they existed on the pulley, but the rust was so great that it was impossible to see them.

Subsequent events, however, proved my suspicion to be well founded. When these blocks and chains were first exhibited to us at the previous examinations, the defendant referring to the rusty state in which they were, accounted for it by saying that they had been used by the builder for the past eight years in out-door operations, and had so got rusty. Knowing that it was possible to produce rust artificially, I tested the rust on the pulley by tasting, and found unmistakable evidence of the presence of chemicals.

One other point remained. On the previous examination our counsel committed the defendant and his witnesses to the definite statement that the pulley block in question had been in constant use for all the previous eight years, and that it had never been altered or repaired during that time. At the commencement of this description of the differential pulley, I have stated that we had very considerable difficulties in getting the chain made with sufficient exactness; but it was even more difficult to get the "joining link," employed to form an endless chain, made of exactly the same size and shape as the other links. The result was that frequently they were larger and clumsier, and consequently would not pass in the limited space between the bottom of the hook and the top of the pulley, thus causing a jam.

Still acting upon my theory, I quite expected as a result of our experience, to find that the defendant had had the same trouble, and that he had not discovered the difficulty. Believing, as I did, that the block had never been used, I began to pull the chain around, my operations being covered from the view of the lawyers' clerks by Mr. Weston who stood behind me. As I expected, a certain link which I saw ascending, declined to pass through the before-named limited space. I carefully pulled it back again lest the enemy should discover the mistake and rectify it before the trial commenced. There remained only one other point upon which we relied to prove the falsity of our opponent's statement that the apparatus had been in constant use for eight years: our own experience had shown us that the result of one or two years' wear upon the chain working on the pulleys, was to cause considerable wear upon the shoulders of the links, as also upon the projections in the grooves of the pulley; but of course there was no sign of wear in either place.

Amongst the exhibits we examined there was the receipt given ostensibly some eight years before. We examined this carefully, but without result; but, as will be seen, this important document for the defendant's case was missing when the trial came on. Having made the examination, I returned to our solicitor's office to report progress, and need hardly say his difficulties as to proceeding with the case were removed by the discoveries we had made.

The case was now entered for hearing in December, in the Court of Chancery; but in the meantime we received an anonymous letter from Manchester, stating that the writer had evidence to prove that the whole case of our opponents was a base conspiracy, and if he could enable us to defeat our opponents without having to appear himself, he would be very glad to do so. We gave him this assurance, and upon a given day we met him in Manchester. Our correspondent then informed me that one of the defendant's witnesses had been struck with remorse for having suffered himself to be persuaded to commit wholesale perjury in support of the defendant's case, and that the man was exceedingly ill in consequence, and was most anxious to disburden his mind, but wanted to be sure of his personal safety. I told him that we could make no conditions, but that we had better all meet during the evening at my hotel. This was agreed to, and in company with my lawyer's clerk, at the appointed hour I awaited their arrival.

Presently I heard one person's footsteps coming down the passage towards my room, and feared that the witness had repented of his penitence. Our correspondent entered the room, and told us that he had the young man at the end of the passage, but that he did not like to come in fearing there might be a police officer present. I assured him he need be under no apprehension, and presently they both entered the room. When the young man saw a second person present he turned, as though he would leave the room, but I had locked the door and removed the key. At the outset I told the witness that having done what was wrong, his only safe course was to do his best to undo the mischief he had wrought. I explained to him that it was quite impossible that I could make any promise, as it would entirely invalidate his further evidence, and that he must be content to do right for right's sake. He seemed to be quite satisfied to leave the matter so, and then gave us a full account of the whole conspiracy.

This witness was the shop-man to the defendant who was stated to have sold the set of pulley-blocks produced in the case, and which were said to have been in use eight years, and who received the money and gave the receipt for it. He now told us that this pulley block, instead of having been made eight years, was finished on the previous Good Friday, and that they were engaged in trying it in the defendant's shop, when someone looking out said, "Take it down, for Tangye's traveller is coming down the street." He said it was then put into a basket and sent across to the lawyer's without further trial, having first been steeped in some acid to give it a rusty appearance. He further stated that the pulley was cast from one of our own, and so confirmed my suspicion.

But for the fortunate appearance of our traveller they would doubtless have discovered the large link which prevented the chain from making a single revolution, and would have rectified it, and would thus have taken away the most important "link" in our chain of evidence. Having completed his statement, which was taken down in writing by the clerk, the man signed it, and in doing so, said that for the first time in six months he was happy. His friend told us that the poor fellow had become so wretched under the sense of his crime, that he could neither work nor eat, and that his wife was in serious fear of his attempting his life, and certainly he presented a very ghastly appearance. It will be remembered that when we obtained an order to administer interrogatories, one of the defendant's witnesses appeared inclined to break down under our scrutinizing looks. This was the very man. We cautioned him to say nothing to the other side, and told him to accept their summons to appear in London to give evidence for them, while we should also summon him; but as we should require his evidence first, it was not likely they would put him into the box.

The day of trial came, and it is noteworthy that this was the first case tried in the Court of Chancery with a jury. The case was heard before the late Lord Hatherley, when he was Vice-Chancellor Sir William Page Wood; our leading counsel were Mr. Justice Grove and the late Lord Justice Giffard. The trial lasted eight days, and excited considerable interest in the engineering world because of the issues involved. We had been informed that the defendant was supplied with funds by others to enable him to fight the case, and we were not without hopes of being able to involve the parties in responsibility for the defendant's acts under the old law of "Champerty and maintenance;" with this view we compelled their attendance, and they had to sit in court during the whole trial.

The case having been duly opened, and the infringement of our patent proved, to the astonishment of all in Court who were not in the secret, our counsel called the defendant's shop-man, upon which the defendant's counsel interrupted by saying there must be some mistake, as the man was his witness. "He is also ours," said Mr. Grove, and amid the greatest excitement the witness unfolded such a tale of villany, in which he had been engaged, as rarely came before a Vice-Chancellor. He was under examination for nearly two hours, and was as pale as death; but no cross-examination could shake his evidence, or cause him to waver in the least. Every one felt that the evidence given by this man practically settled the business, but still it was necessary to go through the whole case.

I had posted myself at the doors of the Court during the trial, to prevent the defendant's witnesses from entering while evidence was being given, having become familiar with most of them by sight. It was evident that the defection of their co-conspirator had an alarming effect upon them, for before the defence was entered upon, more than one of their most important witnesses had left for parts unknown. But still some of the defendant's witnesses gave their evidence with the greatest hardihood. The builder who had declared that he had bought the blocks in question more than eight years before, and had constantly used them ever since, repeated his evidence, and moreover declared that one of the Messrs. Tangye had come to him at his place of business and had offered him £50 to induce him to withdraw from the defendant's case. Of course this was an absolute falsehood, and our counsel put each member of our firm into the witness-box, putting the question to us whether there was any truth in what the witness had stated, at the same time requesting the witness to look at each of us and to say if he recognised the person who (he had said) had offered him the money. I need hardly say he failed to do so.

The defendant's pulley blocks were produced in Court, and it was demonstrated that they could never have worked because of the "joining link " being too large, as we had already discovered; the repentant witness also deposed that the top pulley had been cast from one of our own, the letters having been chipped off; the rust was proved by Dr. Odling to have been produced by immersion in some acid; and, finally, when the receipt which the shop-man had deposed to having given, was called for, it could not be found; they declared they had lost it, and I have always believed that after I had examined it at the office of the defendant's solicitors, they had again examined it and found the watermark date in it was subsequent to the false date given in the receipt, and had consequently destroyed it.

After the evidence had been given, the judge summed up strongly in our favour, stating that "although, as in the case of every other mechanical invention, the principle had long been known, yet the plaintiff (Mr. Weston) as the man who had for the first time given life to that principle and produced an invention in such a perfected state that mankind could avail themselves of it, was entitled to be protected in the enjoyment of his patent."

The trial had taken more than a year of my time, and had cost some thousands of pounds and although the defendant was ordered to pay our costs, he was unable to do so. But our main purpose was answered, for we were secured in the full enjoyment of a valuable patent for the remainder of the term, and the experience we had gained in fighting the case has since been of very great value.

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