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British Industrial History

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Charles Berwick Curtis

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Charles Berwick Curtis (1795-1876) of Curtis's and Harvey

1842 Charles Berwick Curtis of Acton, Mddx., and Lombard Street, City of London, proprietor of extensive works for manufacturing gunpowder, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1877 Obituary [2]

MR. CHARLES BERWICK CURTIS, the youngest son of Sir William Curtis, Baronet, Lord Mayor of London in 1795, and for thirty-five years M.P. for the City, was born at Cullands Grove, Southgate, Middlesex, on the 18th of March, 1795.

Having been educated at Harrow, where he was contemporary with many men of note, including Lord Palmerston and Sir Robert Peel, he afterwards travelled, in the years 1815 and 1816, through Russia to Constantinople and parts of Asia Minor, returning to England through Greece and Italy.

In 1820 he, at the recommendation of his father, entered into. partnership with his cousin Thomas Curtis and William G. Harvey, the latter having for some time previously been associated with the manufacture of gunpowder. The business at first was small, and was carried on solely at the works, near Hounslow; but it gradually developed, and, by the acquisition of more establishments, the name became associated with every description of gunpowder, for mining, sporting, and Government purposes, until the firm’s transactions became equal to, if not larger than any other in the United Kingdom.

At the time of Mr. Curtis’s death the firm owned six factories, situated in Middlesex, Kent, South Wales, and Argyleshire, employing, in various ways, nearly a thousand

Mr. C. E. Curtis was in almost every branch of progress most intimately identified. He took special interest in the manufacturing department of the business, practically exercising his usefulness at the factories ; introducing methods of work which to this day arein use, and by his assiduity leading on the workmen to attain results which have greatly added to the firm’s success. In earlier times large transactions were entered into with the Board of Ordnance, and afterwards the War Department, and in the intercourse with the officials, Mr. Curtis invariably exercised an active part. In the manufacture of sporting gunpowder, too, his hand and head were ever ready to improve; and the increase to this special trade may, in a large degree, be attributed to Mr. Curtis’s great attention to the practical details in early times.

Mr. Curtis continued his activity in business for nearly half a century (from 1820 to l869), when he was compelled by illness to relinquish the. position he had so long held, and to spend the remainder of his. days - which were brought to a termination on the 26th of October, 1876 - in comparative retirement.

Mr. Curtis was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 1st of March, 1842, his nomination paper bearing the signature of Mr. John Farey as proposer, and the seconders being all men of. considerable professional eminence. In June of the same year he presented a “Description of a Self-acting Signal for Railways.” The invention, which was admitted by many persons competent to. judge to have been well devised and excellent in most respects, was "at work for a considerable period at the London and Birmingham, and Great Western railways,” and fully answered the. expectations entertained of its efficacy. But the companies preferred manual to mechanical working, and the invention has therefore remained dormant., though signals differing but little in principle from Mr. Curtis’s have recently been again brought forward.

Mr. Curtis was buried at Kensal Green cemetery, on the 1st of November, 1876, the funeral being attended by large numbers who, had been in his employ for many years.

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