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George Spencer, Moulton and Co: 1934 Review

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Note: This is an abridged version of a chapter in British Commerce and Industry 1934

TO-DAY, after eighty years of enterprise conducted amidst changes that have been revolutionary in many surrounding industries, George Spencer, Moulton and Co continues as the premier firm in the world for the manufacture of rubber products for use as essential accessories in the building of railway rolling-stock.

Smooth-running is the essence of travel. Safety and comfort are also the limits of fast travel. The use of rubber on vehicles is the secret of both. Here we are mainly concerned with the railways of the world, and with the record of the George Spencer Moulton group in supplying rubber of the right character and of correct design, and thereby laying the foundation of what has become world-practice in the annals of railway engineering.

For it is no exaggeration to place on record — omitting for the moment the intrinsic quality and supreme standard of a Spencer Moulton rubber product — that the Spencer Moulton engineering designs for buffer springs, draw springs and auxiliary bearing springs, have been copied in almost all countries, and are the basis of standard practice with engineers who are concerned with the construction of railway carriages and locomotives. Rolling rings and gland rings in vacuum brakes, rubber flooring, and hose are other important products used by railways and supplied by the company.

The founder of the firm, Mr. George Spencer, was an engineer, and an enterprising inventor. There are still in existence two volumes of patents taken out by him in the days when registration cost £100 per patent. These inventions extended from all kinds of mechanical appliances to a method for the drying and storage of corn.

It was Mr. George Spencer who made the drawings for what is known as the Crystal Palace. He developed his final design from the rough sketch of Mr. later Sir Joseph Paxton, who was awarded the prize for the best drawing of a palace for the 1851 Great Exhibition. The structure was built originally in Hyde Park for the Exhibition itself, and it remains to-day on its present site on the crest of Sydenham Hill.

He turned his inventiveness to rubber, which was then a new product from the forests of the Amazon, and conceived its use for railway springs, and as a shock absorber. About the same time, Stephen Moulton was using a vulcanizing process which was becoming well known through the methods of Goodyear Tyre and Rubber Co in the United States of America, arid the simultaneous experiments of Hancock in England. After prolonged experiments with several specimens of vulcanized rubber supplied by the leading manufacturers of those days, Mr. Spencer found that the Moulton product was the best suited for his purpose, and he adopted it.

In view of the success which instantly met the union of the Spencer engineering designs with the Moulton product, it is natural that the joint activities of the two pioneers were linked up with much of the railway engineering history of England in the second half of the last century. The connection between the two continued for nearly forty years until the death of George Spencer in 1891. In that year the two firms were amalgamated, and the Moulton establishment at Bradford-on-Avon became the factory.

This old-fashioned West of England town was once a centre for the manufacture of woollen cloth, and the Kingston Mills of the Spencer Moulton Company was originally a mill for the making of West of England cloth. It was taken over by Mr. Stephen Moulton in 1848.

It stands on an extensive property belonging to The Hall, a fine old Elizabethan mansion which was chosen as the representation of an old English house in the Royal Pavilion at the Paris Exhibition of 1900.

Until 1921 the railway companies in the United Kingdom numbered over fifty, most of which were users of the Spencer Moulton products. These companies, which were reduced in the latter year to the "Big Four" of the present time, still continue their close association with their traditional suppliers from Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire. Mr. Alexander Spencer, son of the founder, and chairman since 1919, has been in the service of the company since 1880 - a record of nearly fifty-four years. Mr. Spencer has been closely connected with other branches of engineering, particularly railway carriage building.

Spencer Moulton make their own raw material or rather commercialize their own rubber; and the suitability of the rubber for the task it has to perform is the secret of their success. Their rubber springs and shock absorbers have been known to be in constant service after twenty-four years.

An interesting sidelight on the success of Spencer Moulton methods has arisen in recent years in connection with the United States of America. The British industrialist is always ready to adopt American ideas, and generations of British railway experts have visited the States for this purpose. But the smooth running of British trains is a byword in all countries, and this is largely due to the British custom of utilizing rubber springs. All the designs now used on foreign railways have emanated from Spencer Moulton. American trains, on the other hand, are notorious for rough running and jolting at stops. Those with experience of an American sleeping berth are only too well aware of this

In 1928, however, two prominent railway engineers from the U.S.A. took sleeping berths on the London and North Eastern Railway from Edinburgh to King's Cross, and they were surprised to wake up at their destination without having undergone the usual American experience of being almost shaken out of their berths at every stop during the night. They sought an explanation, and were directed to seek it from the Spencer Moulton Company. As a result, the leading American and Canadian Railroads have begun to adopt the Spencer Moulton product. A growing export trade has followed, and in due course a separate American factory may be built in the United States as soon as the American President's Recovery Programme has made sufficient

Since 1866 the form of the rubber springs used by British railways has been consistently developed as required by the increase in wagon capacity and by the effects of "speeding up" methods in shunting. Also the increased speeds at which wagons are shunted when trains are made up brought to light the need of greater buffer protection. Parallel with the development of the rubber buffer springs, the use of rubber draw springs was also investigated, and it was found that here also rubber could be used, instead of steel, with greater advantage.

It was found that trains fitted with rubber draw springs suffered less from delays due to broken draw-gear, and less damage was done to the headstocks as the springs never went home also on passenger stock easier riding resulted.

The design of draw-gear has been developed with the increased tractive effort of the locomotives and weight of trains; so that now rubber draw-gear is designed for locomotives of twenty, thirty, or even fifty tons tractive effort, arid six thousand ton trains.

Apart from buffing and draw-gear, rubber is used extensively as auxiliary bearing springs on locomotives and vehicles in order to assist the main bearing springs, and prevent failure, by damping out the vibration. In this case the rubber has no appreciable stroke, as with buffers and draw-gear, but it is a flexible link in the suspension of the vehicle. When applied to locomotives the rubber auxiliary bearing spring results in at least 75 per cent less cases of broken bearing springs, and it eliminates the fatigue of the crews which is occasioned by the footplate vibration in cases where rubber is not fitted.

Rubber is a good servant, but it has to be treated with a consideration due to its peculiar nature and properties. It is essential, therefore, that it should be designed for the duty required so that it may give the life and services required. George Spencer Moulton and Co. Ltd. is the only firm which specializes on the design of rubber for railway purposes. For buffers, draw-gear, auxiliary bearing springs, every application is specially designed with a view to giving satisfactory service.

Rubber has many uses apart from railways. Rubber flooring has in recent years been largely developed and is now a thoroughly reliable product, obtainable in a great variety of colours and designs. Many kinds of rubber hose are made for special railway purposes, especially for the vacuum brake and heating pipe connections, and these too are additional products of the Spencer Moulton factory.

Rubber manufacture is as highly specialized an industry as any other, and each manufacturing group has one particular branch in which mastery has been won. As already mentioned, Spencer Moulton have chosen the application of rubber to railways, and in this branch of the industry they are supreme.

In the realm of sports and pastimes the Spencer Moulton tennis ball, being an official ball of the Lawn Tennis Association, is now recognized as one of the best playing balls in the world. Its use in leading championships and tournaments is a proof of this recognition. The sports accessory side of the business is an entirely separate organization from the main concern, both as regards manufacture and sales.

Unobtrusive in its methods, and direct and technical in its sales relationships, this solid and peculiarly English firm therefore occupies an excellent position in British industry. The company does an extensive trade with continental railways, South American railways, Indian railways, and from the above evidence, a growing trade with the United States of America. The Spencer collision buffer has invariably received the commendation of the Board of Trade and of the present Ministry of Transport. After every collision it has been found that the coaches provided with this buffer have received less damage than the others.

There is no substitute for rubber. It absorbs shock and it does not retaliate with the same amount of energy as is brought against it. It is capable of performing what a steel spring cannot, for every steel spring, however strong, can be broken or smashed with a blow. With the railway coaches of the future — even if stream-lined and engined with Diesels, and speeding at one hundred or more miles an hour — rubber can only play an increasingly important part. The Spencer Moulton Company is already playing its part in these developments, and the new engineering problems which have to be studied can only be solved in conjunction with the new and added services of rubber.

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