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 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Frederick Joseph Bramwell

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Sir Frederick Joseph Bramwell (1818-1903).
1870. Portable engine with air-surface condenser.

Sir Frederick Joseph Bramwell (1818-1903) was a British mechanical engineer. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1873. He was created the 1st Baronet Bramwell on 25 January 1889.

1818 March 17th. Born the son of George Bramwell

Frederick was apprenticed in 1834 to John Hague, a mechanical engineer, whose works in Cable Street, Wellclose Square, were later bought by the Blackwall Rope Railway.

After his apprenticeship had ended, he spent some years with Hague as chief draughtsman and manager.

On leaving Hague's employ Bramwell became manager of an engineering factory in the Isle of Dogs, and was connected with the Fairfield Works, Bow, then under the management of William Bridges Adams.

1839 Frederick Bramwell of Finch Lane of the City of London, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

In 1847 Bramwell married his first cousin, Harriet Leonora (1814/15–1907), daughter of Joseph Frith. They had three daughters and two sons.

1851 Birth of George Frederick Bramwell (1851-1858)

In 1853 Bramwell set up in business on his own account, and soon left the manufacturing side of his profession almost exclusively for the legal and consultative side. His gift for describing complicated mechanical details in clear and simple language, intelligence, power of rapidly assimilating information, wit, and presence made him an invaluable witness in scientific and especially patent cases.

1854 of 29 New Bridge Street, Blackfriars, London

1872 Erected an evaporative condenser of the horizontal type in Belvedere Road, London, which was still working 26 years later[2]

1874 he was President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers

1903 November 30th. Died

1903 Obituary [3]

Sir FREDERICK BRAMWELL, Bart , was born on the 7th March 1818. He was the third son of Mr. George Bramwell, of the Firm of Berrien and Co., Bankers, of Finch Lane, London, (who eventually became amalgamated with the present Firm of Glyn, Mills, Currie and Co.), and was the younger brother of Baron Bramwell, the Judge, who died in 1892.

In 1834 he was apprenticed to John Hague, a mechanical engineer, of Cable Street, Wellclose Square, London, with whom, on the expiration of his apprenticeship, he remained for some years as chief draughtsman and manager. Amongst the matters on which he was engaged was that of the vacuum system for distributing power, with the prospects of which he was so impressed that, between the years 1846 and 1850, he, in conjunction with his fellow apprentice, Mr. Samuel Collett Homersham, worked out a proposal for Subterranean Atmospheric Railway, between Hyde Park Corner and the Bank. In connection with this subject, he read an interesting Paper at the Plymouth Meeting of this Institution, in 1899, on "The South Devon Atmospheric Railway.".

In 1843 he became associated with the Fairfield Railway Carriage Works at Bow, at that time under the management of the late Mr. W. Bridges Adams. While there he devised a means for making tyres without welding, but found that, as regards "subject matter" for a patent, his invention had been forestalled. A similar fate attended another of his projects—that of constructing an endless band-saw. He, however, persevered with the idea, and designed a multiple arrangement of four band-saws for breaking down timber. H

His early connection with the motor-car movement has been described by him in a Paper read before Section G of the British Association, at the Oxford Meeting in 1894.

To the present generation, Sir Frederick was known principally as a scientific witness, and it was in this particular branch of the profession that he made his reputation. As a witness, either in matters connected with engineering or with patent litigation, in the Law Courts, or in connection with Bills before Parliamentary Committees, his services were much sought after, and, as an Arbitrator, his judgments were sound, equitable, and marked with rare legal acumen.

He was elected a Member of this Institution in 1854, entering the Council in 1864, and being elected a Vice-President in 1868, and President in 1871. In the latter year he delivered his Presidential Address at the Cardiff Meeting — an interesting and instructive Address, wherein, from the storehouse of his marvellous memory, he set forth, with the skill of one who appreciated their significance, a statement of engineering facts dealing with the progress of civilisation.

It was at the York Meeting of the British Association, in 1881, that, during the discussion of Mr. Emerson Dowson's Paper on the subject of using cheap gas for gas motors, he prophesied that in 1931 the steam-engine would only be seen in museums as an interesting relic of a past age, having been superseded by the internal-combustion engine.

As long ago as 1851 he contributed a Paper to this Institution on an Improved Vacuum Gauge for Condensing Engines (Proceedings 1851, page 37); and, in 1867, he gave one on Floating Docks (Proceedings, page 80).

At the Liverpool Meeting, in 1872, he contributed a Paper on the Progress effected in the Economy of Fuel in Steam Navigation, being the first of a series of Papers t which have appeared decennially by various authors.

On the occasion of the Summer Meeting, at Portsmouth, in 1892, Sir Frederick contributed a Paper on the Sewage Outfall Works of that town (Proceedings, page 319).

He joined the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1856 as an Associate, being transferred to full membership in 1862. From the year 1867 he served continuously on the Council, becoming a Vice-President in 1880, and President in 1884. In 1873 ho was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, on the Council of which he served in the years 1877-78.

He was one of the most prominent of the Members of the Royal Institution, being elected one of its Managers in 1879, and acting as Honorary Secretary from 1885 to 1900. He was also a constant attendant at the Annual Meetings of the British Association, being selected as President of the Mechanical Science Section in 1872 and in 1884, and President of the Association itself at the Bath Meeting, in 1888. He joined the Society of Arts in 1874, and was for many years a Member of Council and a Vice-President, and at intervals filled the posts of Treasurer and of Chairman of the Council, and for a short period was President.

Always lamenting the fact that in his younger days there were practically no facilities for obtaining Technical Education, he was a warm supporter of the movement in the earlier stages of its development in this country. On the establishment of the City and Guilds of London Institute, lie was appointed by the Goldsmiths' Company (of which he was Past-Prime Warden) one of its representatives on the Governing Body.

In 1881 he received the honour of Knighthood. On the formation of the present Ordnance Committee in 1881, he was appointed one of its two Civilian Members, and served on this Committee continuously until his death.

In 1889, he was, in recognition of special services in connection with war material, created a Baronet. The success of the Inventions Exhibition, at South Kensington in 1885, was due, hi a great measure, to the indefatigable energy and tact which he displayed. He was a D.C.L., of Oxford and of Durham, and an LL.D., of Cambridge and of McGill University, Montreal.

His death occurred at his residence in Kensington, after a few days' illness, from cerebral hemorrhage, on the 30th November 1903, and in the eighty-sixth year of his age.

1904 Obituary [4]

Sir FREDERICK JOSEPH BRAMWELL, Bart., D.C.L. (Oxon. and Durham), LL.D. (Cantab.), F.R.S., Past-President of The Institution of Civil Engineers, died at his residence, la Hyde Park Gate, on the 30th November, 1903, in his eighty-sixth year, after a few days’ illness from cerebral haemorrhage.

Frederick Joseph Bramwell was the third son of a banker, Mr. George Bramwell, a partner in the firm of Dorrien and Co, of Finch Lane, London. He was born in the year 1818, the year of the foundation of the Institution, a fact in which be took delight.

At the age of sixteen he was apprenticed to John Hague, a mechanical engineer, whose works, situated in Cable Street, Wellclose Square, were bought by the Blackwall Rope Railway which originally terminated at the Minories and was afterwards continued to Fenchurch Street.

In those days specialization was not a feature in engineering industry, and Hague’s practice covered an unusually wide field. Amongst other matters in which the young engineer was engaged was the vacuum system for distributing power ; and it will be remembered that Sir Frederick Bramwell read a most interesting Paper at the Plymouth meeting of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, held in 1899, in which he described the South Devon Atmospheric Railway. He was so impressed with the prospects of the system that, in the period between 1846 and 1850, in conjunction with his former fellow-apprentice, the late Samuel Collett Homersham, he worked out a proposal for a subterranean atmospheric railway between Hyde Park Corner and the Bank. There was also a proposal for a short length, as an example of the system, to run from the then existing Hungerford Market, the site of the present Charing Cross Station, over the suspension bridge, at that time standing, to Waterloo Station.

When he was out of his time, young Bramwell became the manager of Hague’s works, and under his supervision a locomotive of the then considerable weight of 10 tons was built for the Stockton and Darlington Railway. This was in 1843, and the engine was taken north as deck cargo by the paddle-boat Emerald Isle, at that time the only steamer trading between London and Middlesbrough. Just 50 years later Sir Frederick, in speaking of the incident, said that 'having driven the engine between Stockton and Darlington, and having received my money, I returned to London by coach.'

Shortly after this he became connected with the Fairfield Railway Carriage Works, Bow, which were under the management of William Bridges Adams. There he devised a means, of making tires without welding, but experienced the disappointment, common to so many young inventors, of finding that someone had been before him. A similar fate attended the birth of another of his projects - that of constructing an endless band-saw ; but in spite of anticipation in the previous century, he persevered with the idea, and designed a multiple arrangement of four band-saws for breaking down timber.

Sir Frederick Bramwell’s early connection with what has grown to be the great motor-car movement of the present day has often been described, notably in his interesting Paper read in Section G of the Oxford meeting, in 1894, of the British Association. As an apprentice, he won the favour of Hancock, one of the earliest and most successful of the 'steam on common roads' engineers.

Summers, another pioneer in this field, was a relation of Hague, and Sir Frederick not long before his death told how his first job as an apprentice was to hold the chisel whilst a road locomotive boiler was being cut up for scrap.

To follow Sir Frederick Bramwell’s career through its earlier episodes would be largely to give a history of engineering progress of the day. To the present generation he was known as a 'consultant,' and it was in this field that he made his great reputation. Of the many societies to which he belonged, this Institution claimed him as essentially its own, although, as a mechanical engineer, he was strongly attached to the sister Institution at Storey’s Gate, and up to the last few months of his life he was a frequent attendant at its Council meetings.

In 1854 Sir Frederick Bramwell was elected a Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. In 1874 he was elected President; and older members will remember the interesting and instructive address he delivered at the Cardiff meeting of that Institution.

It was in the writing of an address such as this that he was particularly happy; the subject which he most loved was mechanical engineering-and from the rich storehouse of his memory he brought forth facts which he arranged with the skill of one who fully appreciated their significance in the march of engineering progress. In that address he said he could not indicate what would be the grand inventions of the subsequent half-century ; but some years later-at the York meeting of the British Association in 1881, in the discussion on a Paper read by Mr. J. Emerson Dowson, on the subject of using cheap gas for gas-motors, he did venture on a prediction which seems not unlikely to be fulfilled, in spirit if not in letter. At that time the gas-engine had not been introduced to anything like its present extent ; and the oil motor, as it is now seen, was practically unknown. Nevertheless, he prophesied that in 1931, when the British Association might be holding its centenary meeting in York, the steam-engine would only be seen as an interesting relic of a past age, having by then been superseded by the internal-combustion engine. To an engineer, realising what an imperfect instrument the evaporation of water affords for the generation of power, the forecast may not seem now a very bold one, with gas-engines up to 1,000 HP no longer a thing to wonder at, and with boats driven by oil-engines at a speed not to be approached by steam vessels of the same size.

In all cases, however, the fulfillment of a prediction such as this takes from its wonderment, and to Frederick Bramwell must be given all the credit of priority in his forecast.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1873, and occupied an important position in that learned body, serving for a time on its Council. He was also a most prominent Member of the Royal Institution, becoming Honorary Secretary in 1885, and from that time, until his retirement from the office in June 1900, taking a most active part in the affairs of the Institution. He was a constant attendant at the annual meetings of the British Association, being President of Section G - then known as the 'Mechanical Science Section' - in 1872, when he delivered another most interesting address, in which he again described, with a lucidity characteristic of him, certain mechanical inventions, the influence of which he traced.

In 1888 he was elected to the presidential chair of the Association, the meeting that year being held in Bath. On that occasion he delivered an address, his theme being 'Next to Nothing,' by which he worthily upheld the reputation of the branch of applied science which he represented. He joined the Society of Arts in 1874, and was for a number of years a Member of Council and a Vice-President, and filled also the posts of Treasurser and Chairman of the Council ; occupying for a short time the post of President before the present Prince of Wales accepted that office. His communications to the proceedings of these and other bodies were numerous, but it is unnecessary to select any for special mention here ; and still more numerous were his oral contributions to the discussions, in which he took a prominent and pertinent part.

In 1883 Sir Frederick Bramwell delivered before this Institution one of the special series of lectures on the Applications of Electricity, his subject being Telephones. During his period of office as President, he and Lady Bramwell gave a memorable Conversazione, in June, 1885, at the International Inventions Exhibition, of the Executive Council of which he was Chairman.

In this sketch of Sir Frederick Bramwell’s career mention has been made chiefly of his consulting practice and of his connection with scientific societies ; but he was also engineer to many undertakings of varied kinds during later years, being associated in such work with his partner, H. Graham Harris. Although Sir Frederick was born before the era, of technical education, he had a keen and just appreciation of the value of scientific attainments in the equipment of the engineer. He took a leading part in the movement which led to the great City Companies and the Corporation founding the technical schools which have become associated in the City and Guilds Institute. His work on the Ordnance Committee, to which he was appointed in 1881, and his labours in connection with the Inventions Exhibition are well known, the success of that most successful Exhibition being chiefly due to his energy and genial tact.

He received the honour of knighthood in 1881, whilst in 1889 he was created a baronet. The title, however, expires with his death, as he leaves no son.

He was a D.C.L. of Oxford and Durham and LLD. of Cambridge and McGill University, Montreal.

He was married in 1817, and is survived by Lady Bramwell and two daughters, of whom one is the wife of Sir Victor Eorsley and the other of Sir Henry Bliss.

To the last he was an active worker, with mind as vigorous and heart as warm as ever ; even when his bodily powers began to feel the increasing weight of advancing years, his zest for engineering and all its associated interests seemed to be but enhanced thereby. Seventy years of active work out of a life of eighty-five constitute a conspicuous example of energy combined with longevity. His experience during so long and active a life naturally embraced an extensive variety of subjects and of places, of which his reminiscences were continually cropping up, enlivened by a never failing touch of humour.

Sir Frederick maintained, even to the day of his death, a foremost position amongst engineers. His strong mechanical instinct, retentive memory, ready wit, and, not by any means least, his picturesque and venerable appearance, enabled him to hold his own, in his particular field, among those of a younger generation whose advantages for acquiring knowledge had been infinitely greater. It was as a debater and expert witness that he especially made his mark. The forensic ability which characterized his distinguished brother, the late Lord Bramwell, seemed to be his by right of inheritance. Never at a loss, he could baffle the most wily or most resolute cross-examiner, and probably no lawyer ever extracted from him anything he did not want to say. Many are the tales told, both in the Inns and at Great George Street, of the wordy duels between Sir Frederick and his would-be persecutors ; but whether the weapon used against him was the rapier or the bludgeon, he had a guard that seldom failed.

In the more peaceful atmosphere of discussion at the various scientific and technical societies, of which he was a member, his genial nature was more apparent ; and to the younger members of these institutions he was always kind and charming, so long as they were not presumptuous or affected.

His connection with the Institution was well summed up in the Resolution which, on the motion of the President, Sir William White, was adopted unanimously at the Council Meeting on the 1st December, 1903, the day after his death.

'This Council have received with great regret the intimation of the death of their esteemed colleague Sir Frederick Bramwell, Bart., F.R.S., etc., etc., Past-President.

'The Council desire to convey to Lady Bramwell and her daughters the expression of their sincere sympathy in this bereavement, and their high appreciation of the great services which Sir Frederick Bramwell has rendered to The Institution of Civil Engineers and to engineering during his long and distinguished professional career.

'He was elected an Associate in 1856, and transferred to full Membership in 1862. Since 1867 he has served continuously on the Council, having been elected Vice-President in 1880, and President in December, 1884, occupying the Chair until May, 1886.

'The Institution owes much to his unwearied service, his wise counsel, unfailing generosity and active work in connection with the initiation and foundation of the Benevolent Fund.

'His loss will be severely felt both in the business of the Council and at the Ordinary Meetings. No member of the Institution was a more faithful attendant at its Meetings or made more valuable contributions to the Proceedings. With wide and varied experience were united gifts of expression and humour, as well as a ready appreciation of what was most valuable and promising in novel proposals.

'His colleagues desire to record. their sense of his distinguished personal qualities, and will ever hold them in remembrance.'

In moving the approval and endorsement of this Resolution by the Ordinary Meeting in the evening (which was subsequently adjourned as a mark of respect to the memory of Sir Frederick Bramwell) the President said that he would like to add one or two words of personal acknowledgment, and personally to express his sense of the loss the Institution had sustained by the death of their dear friend, whose long connection with the Institution and whose faithful service could not be exaggerated.

Sir Frederick Bramwell was an example to them of loyalty and devotion to the work of their great association. It was nothing short of life-long devotion ; he never tired. They all remembered how only four weeks ago he sat among them, and in words which moved him deeply proposed a vote of thanks for the address which he (Sir William White) as President had just read. His great generosity, his interest in everything done for the welfare of those connected with the Institution, his continued work for the Benevolent Fund, were all signs of the great interest Sir Frederick took in the Institution.

Then, too, he was marvelously sympathetic, especially to young men, and he never seemed to grow old in regard to his interest for young men. He was ever interested in what was new, and ever encouraging those who were trying, with never one unkind word, although he said many clever things. He had the art of terse expression, and he could take an idea, clothe it in a new form, and give it back improved to the originator. Sir Frederick loved work ; and he remembered his saying, 'I shall never retire ; life to me is work, and I will work to the end.' And so he did. He never gave up, and last Sunday night he dictated to his daughter a message which said he had looked forward to the opportunity of supporting his dear friend Sir William White in the chair as President during the session, and it was a source of bitter regret that that could never take place. He was true till death and never forgot the Institution or his friends, and the resolution he moved expressed their recognition of the gratitude for such a life and for such a death.

Sir John Wolfe Barry, in seconding the motion, remarked that Sir Frederick Bramwell was essentially the father of the Institution, and it was as near to his heart as anything could be in this world. He was a man full of the greatest benevolence, and was ever performing acts of kindness to rich and poor, old and young alike. When they considered his life they could not but be struck with the extraordinary fulness of it. They knew Sir Frederick at the Royal Society, the Royal Institution, the British Association, and the Society of Arts, and each of those institutions, he was sure, would concur with him when he said that Sir Frederick's death left a blank that could never be filled. Of all the institutions he ornamented he loved none so much as this. On a melancholy occasion such as that it was a great satisfaction to be able to look back on the great work of benevolence which he did for members in the initiation of the Benevolent Fund. He was never weary of helping young men along the road he had travelled. They had, he was glad to say, the pleasure of looking back on his life as a very happy one; and in lamenting his loss it must be a satisfaction to those who loved him that the end had come as he had wished. He was in harness, happy in his work, and still occupied with the things he loved best.

A memorial service, held on the 4th December at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, was largely attended by members of the Institution and representatives of many learned and scientific societies.

Obituary 1903 [5]

"...death of Sir Frederick Joseph Bramwell, which took place on Monday last at his London house. By his death the engineering profession loses a figure which has been prominent and distinguished beyond the ordinary during the last fifty years. Sir Frederick was born in Finch-lane, Cornhill, on March 7th, 1818, and was, therefore, in his eighty- sixth year at the time of his death. His father, the late George Bramwell, was a banker, but neither Sir Frederick nor his brother, the late Lord Bramwe11, followed their father in his profession; possibly both of them became more famous men for this very reason, because in striking out new lines for themselves their talents were brought more prominently before the world at large. Of Sir Frederick's childhood and boyhood we need say but little. He received his first education at the Palace School at Enfield, and was apprenticed in 1834, at the age of sixteen, to John Hague, thereafter obtaining employment in the firm. Gradually he..."

1903 Obituary [6]

SIR FREDERICK BRAMWELL, Bart., died at his house in London on November 30, 1903. Born in 1818, the year of the foundation of the Institution of Civil Engineers, he was the youngest son of Mr. George Bramwell, banker of Finch Lane.

In 1834 he was apprenticed to John Hague, a well-known engineer of his time, and remained with him as head draughtsman for some years after his apprenticeship had expired. After some years' experience with various employers, he started practice on his own account as a civil engineer in 1853, and the following year became a member of the recently established Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers in the year 1856. In its discussions he from the first took an active part, adding much valuable information, chiefly of a practical kind. He rapidly made his mark, and in 1862 attained full membership. By degrees he was drawn from the constructive to the legal side of his profession. Partly this was due to the influence of his brother, who was ten years his senior, and after a brilliant career as leader in mercantile cases at the Guildhall, had, in 1856, been appointed to a Judgeship in the Court of Exchequer. As a witness Sir Frederick Bramwell was remarkably able; and rarely, indeed, was any evidence which he was indisposed to adduce drawn from him. As an arbitrator his judgments were clear and marked by rare legal acumen. In all disputes involving technical knowledge for their adjustment, his services were in demand, and his name will be found, either as arbitrator or witness, in nearly all the most important cases of the last thirty or forty years of the nineteenth century.

In 1874 he was chosen President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and delivered an address upon the duties and responsibilities of its members. To the civil engineers his address as the president of their institution eleven years later was more comprehensive in its aim. He had just been appointed by the King, then Prince of Wales, chairman of the Executive Council of the Inventions Exhibition. Choosing as his subject the scope of that exhibition, he confined himself to an enumeration of the chief factors of past progress. It will perhaps be mainly interesting to the iron trade for the strong advocacy which it contains of the treatment of large steel forgings by hydraulic pressure in place of steam hammers. Of the British Association for the Advancement of Science he was an earnest supporter.

After acting as president of the Mechanical Science Section in 1872, and again at Montreal in 1884, he received recognition of his past services and scientific eminence by his appointment as President of the Association for the Bath meeting in 1888. He then delivered an address full of humour and brilliant allusion to the greatness of the works which the engineer rears out of the minutest beginning. When the King on his accession resigned the presidency of the Society of Arts, Sir Frederick Bramwell was elected President. He was also a vice-president of the Institution of Naval Architects. He received many marks of recognition from public bodies and learned societies. In 1873 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

In 1881 he was appointed one of the two civilian members of the Ordnance Committee, and in that capacity assisted in the framing of the rules under which iron and steel for the construction of large ordnance are tested before acceptance. After serving on the council and as a member of the board of management he was, in 1885, made honorary secretary of the Royal Institution. Always lamenting the lack of facilities for technical education in his youth, he was a warm supporter of the movement for its advancement in this country. On the foundation of the City and Guilds of London Institute, he was appointed by the Goldsmiths' Company, of which company he was at one time prime warden, one of its representatives on the governing body.

A knighthood was conferred upon him in 1881 for his services in this direction. He received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from the Universities of Oxford and Durham, and that of LL.D. from Cambridge and McGill. In 1889 Queen Victoria bestowed a baronetcy upon him. He was elected a member of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1882. He was buried at Hever on December 4. A memorial service was held the same day at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, and was attended by numerous friends, and by representatives of the Iron and Steel Institute and of the other societies with which he was connected.

1903 Obituary [7]

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