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James Atkinson Longridge

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James Atkinson Longridge (1817-1896)

1817 May 31st. Born the son of Michael Longridge at Hunter’s Hall, Bishop’s Wearmouth

1833 University of Edinburgh; first prize for Natural Philosophy in 1834

Apprenticed to George Stephenson, initially in the works of Robert Stephenson and Co

Surveyed various projected railways, of which George Stephenson was engineer, in Cheshire, Derbyshire and the Midlands.

Supervised construction of a section of the Midland Railway from Barnsley to the south.

1842/4 Negotiated contracts in Europe for railway and other work on behalf of the Bedlington Iron Co.

1843 Attended Cambridge but did not take a degree

1845 Constructed the Whitehaven and Furness Railway.

1846 Married Hannah Pembroke Josephine Stanley, eldest daughter of the Rev. William Hawks, at Saltash. They had at least one son.

1851 Living Tynemouth (age 35 born Durham), a Civil Engineer. With his wife Hannah (age 34 born Newcastle) and their son Michael (age 3 born Bedlington). Four servants. [1]

1855 Moved to London

1855 Submitted a cylinder illustrating his theory of gun design to the Ordnance Select Committee at Woolwich but the failure of the demonstration led the Committee to refuse further demonstrations of wire-bound gun barrels for avoiding longitudinal stress.

1856 Elected a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Surveyed routes for railways in India and Mauritius where he supervised work.

1858 James and his brother Henry sold the Barrington Colliery to Bedlington Coal Co; they left the Northeast to devote their time to their assurance company in Manchester.

1865 Settled in London

1881 retired to Jersey where he continued to study ballistics and the construction of artillery and published papers on the subjects.

1884 Published book on the design of wire-gun barrels, a design which was taken up in Russia but not at home.

1888 A 6-inch gun was constructed to his design by Messrs Easton and Anderson at the request of the War Office but it failed on first firing; nevertheless the makers repaired it and it was accepted into service in 1889 after trials at Shoeburyness.

1892 From this time, all British guns above 3-pounders were made following this design, but without using Longridge’s name.

1896 Died in Jersey on the 15th April


1897 Obituary [2]

JAMES ATKINSON LONGRIDGE, eldest surviving son of Michael Longridge, of Bedlington, was born at Hunter’s Hall, Bishop’s Wearmouth, on the 31st May, 1817.

He began his education at Mr. Thompson’s school at Plessey, in Northumberland, where his cousin, the late Sir Daniel Gooch, was one of his school-fellows.

On leaving Mr. Thompson’s school he had a private tutor. At thirteen years of age he had attained sufficient proficiency in Latin to translate the 'Hermit of Walkworth' into Latin verse, and at fourteen he had mastered the first three books of Euclid.

In the winter of 1833 he entered as a student at the University of Edinburgh, where, in the following year, he carried off the first prize for Natural Philosophy.

On leaving Edinburgh he was apprenticed to George Stephenson, and spent the early part of his apprenticeship in the works of Robert Stephenson and Co, South Street, Newcastle-on-Tyne. Later on he was engaged in surveying and preparing the parliamentary plans for various projected railways, of which George Stephenson was engineer, in Cheshire, Derbyshire and the Midland counties. During the construction of the Midland Railway he had the supervision of one section of the line-from Barnsley to the south during which period he resided at Darfield.

The winter of 1842 was spent at Naples, and the following eighteen months in Russia, Germany and Italy, in the negotiation of contracts for railway and other work on behalf of the Bedlington Iron Co.

In the autumn of 1844 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where his son, on visiting the University a few years ago, was gratified to find him remembered as one of the most promising men of his year. He did not remain to take his degree, but on the revival of trade in 1845 resumed the profession of engineering by undertaking the construction of the Whitehaven and Furness Railway.

In September, 1846, he married Hannah Pembroke Josephine Stanley, eldest daughter of the Rev. William Hawks, and on the completion of the Whitehaven and Furness Railway, went to reside at Newcastle-on-Tyne.

In 1852 he was elected a member of the North of England Institute of Mining Engineers, to which he presented Papers 'On the Steam Jet as a Motive Power for Purposes of Ventilation,' 'On Choke Damp and the Means of Counteracting its Effects,' and 'On the Relative Position of Upcast Shafts, and Loss of Temperature in the Same' - a mathematical investigation of some complexity for the time when it was written. He was subsequently elected an honorary member.

During his residence in Newcastle he was appointed, together with Mr. (now Lord) Armstrong and the late Dr. Richardson, by the coal-owners of Durham and Northumberland to ascertain and report upon the evaporative value and smokelessness of north country coals, with a view to competing with South Wales in supplying fuel to Her Majesty's Navy.

In 1855 he removed to London, and on the 5th February, 1856, was elected a Member of the Institution.

On the 4th October following he left England for Calcutta, to lay out a line of railway, to be called the Calcutta and South Eastern Railway, from the capital to the River Mutla, with extensions eastward to Dacca and the Burmese Provinces.

In 1857 he returned to England and presented a report strongly recommending the immediate construction of the first-named line, pointing out the great natural advantages of the Mutla in comparison with the Hooghly as a port for Calcutta.

He became Consulting Engineer of the line and in that capacity soon afterwards went back to India on account of difficulties which had arisen in the execution of the works, and particularly in obtaining satisfactory foundation for the Piallee bridge. These he successfully overcame.

In 1861 he presented a Paper on the Hooghly and the Mutla to the Institution,'

In 1858 he went to Mauritius at the request of Lord Stanley, Secretary of State for the Colonies, to lay out a system of railways in the island. His report, made on his return to England in 1859, was adopted, and in the latter end of 1860 the construction of the North and Midland lines was commenced by the Government, the execution of the works being entrusted to Brassey, Wythes and Co, whose chief agent in Mauritius Mr. Longridge then became.

In 1865 he finally left the island and settled in London, where he became co-partner in contracts for the construction of a railway from Bucharest to Giurgovo, and for the erection of a number of iron bridges in Wallachia and Roumania.

In 1869, at the request of the late Mr. Brassey, he undertook for a time the management of the Mont Cenis Summit Railway, by which passengers and mails were conveyed or not conveyed, according to the state of the weather, across the Mont Cenis Pass pending the completion of the great tunnel. During this time he lived generally at Chambery in Savoy. Other business engagements compelled him to give up the management in the following year. Among these were contracts for railways and other works in Cornwall, Sweden, Hungary, Italy, France and the Argentine Republic, in connection with the last of which he made a journey to South America in 1875.

Owing to the breaking out of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, to the great rise in prices in 1872 and 1873 and to other causes, these contracts resulted in heavy pecuniary losses.

The effect of the heavy burden of anxiety which he bore during these years, combined with frequent attacks of gout, compelled him to give up business, and in 1881 he retired to Jersey, where he resided for the remainder of his life, making however occasional visits to England, and devoted his time to the study of ballistics and the construction of artillery, subjects which had occupied his leisure for many years. Indeed so large a place in his mental life did these subjects hold that no memoir of him would be complete without some reference to the part he played in the acquisition by England of her present system of gun construction.

It was in the early part of 1855 that his attention was first drawn to the subject by the frequent failure of the cast-iron mortars in the Baltic during the Crimean War. After much consideration, he came to the conclusion that to obtain a gun of the greatest strength and safety, the longitudinal stress, due to the pressure of the powder gases on the breech, and the circumferential stress due to the pressure on the cylindrical interior, should be borne by different portions of the structure - the first by an outer jacket containing the breech-end, or to which the breech-plug (for Mr. Longridge always advocated breech-loading) might be secured, and the second by an internal cylinder in a state of definitely determined initial stress. This stress should vary from compression at the internal to tension at the external surface, in such a way that the stresses, when opposed by the stress produced by the explosion of the powder, would become uniform throughout the thickness of the cylinder and below the safe limit for the material of which the cylinder might be constructed.

To provide for the longitudinal stress was an easy matter about which he did not at the time concern himself, The point was to determine the requisite initial stresses in the cylinder and the best way of obtaining them.

Any method of reinforcing the gun by hoops shrunk on he dismissed as unadvisable on account of the impossibility of insuring the exact contraction required to produce the necessary stresses, and because of the uncertainty which would always exist as to the soundness of large masses of material. Finally he decided that a comparatively thin tube, strengthened by coils of wire laid on with definite calculated tensions, would effect the object sought. The next step was to determine the tensions with which the wire should be laid on - a mathematical problem of considerable difficulty, because the tension with which each coil would have to be laid on would not be the tension required in the completed gun, since each coil laid on would alter the tension of every coil below it. After several attempts, however, it was solved by Mr. Longridge and his friend Mr. Brooks and the solution was embodied in a general formula.

Experiments followed to determine the maximum pressure of gunpowder gases, and finally a brass cylinder about 3 feet long and 3 inches bore and 0.25 inch thick was made and covered, in accordance with the formula, with six coils of 1/16th-inch iron wire at the breech and decreasing to two coils at the muzzle. This cylinder had no trunnions. It was not a gun, and neither had, nor was meant to have, longitudinal strength. It was intended only to resist circumferential stress, and when fired, as it frequently was, with 14 lb. of powder and two shots (0.25 lb. powder and one shot more than the proof charge for a 3-pounder gun of that time), it was placed with its breech abutting against a stone wall so that the pressure of the gases on the breech end might not be transmitted through the tube but directly through the brass end to the masonry.

Satisfied by these experiments that the principles on which he was working were correct, Mr. Longridge submitted the cylinder to the Ordnance Select Committee at Woolwich on the 5th July, 1855, explaining the system upon which it had been constructed, the place it was intended to fill in the structure of the completed gun, and the way in which the breech end should be supported when it was fired.

On the 28th July, it was fastened by a clamp at the muzzle end to a block of oak without any support whatever for the breech, and was fired with 2 lbs. of powder and one shot, when, as any one might have foreseen, the breech end was blown off. No other result was possible since the pressure of the powder gases on the breech was about 105 tons and the sectional area of the 0.25-inch thick brass tube, by which the stress of the recoil was transmitted from the clamp at the muzzle to the breech was 2.5 square inches.

Mr. Longridge at once pointed out the cause of the failure and offered to supply the Committee with another cylinder. The Committee refused the offer, stating that 'they considered no further trial was necessary with a gun of that construction.' So ended Mr. Longridge’s first attempt to place the construction of artillery on a scientific basis. It has been described at length because the unfortunate mistake made by the Committee in tying the wire-bound cylinder by the muzzle instead of supporting it at the rear, undoubtedly originated the objection which was then, and for five and thirty years after, urged against the wire system, namely the impossibility of providing longitudinal strength.

To show the fallacy of this objection, Mr. Longridge at once constructed a small muzzle-loading gun 2.96 inches bore and 3 feet long, in which the longitudinal stress was borne by material entirely independent of the wire-coiled tube. It was fired on the 4th June with entire success. It threw a shot of 7.5 lbs. weight to a distance of 1,800 yards - a result not obtainable at that date with any 6-pounder in the service. This gun, and the experiments which led to its construction, were described in a Paper read at the Institution on the 14th February, 1860.

In the same year a 3-inch breech-loading gun was finished and was fired at Southport in the month of June. This gun is still in existence, and is identical in principle with the guns which are now being manufactured by and for the English Government.

Owing to absence in Mauritius in the autumn of 1860, Mr. Longridge was unable to take up the subject again till May, 1867, when he wrote to the President of the Ordnance Committee, offering the gun for the inspection of the Committee, and drawing attention to the applicability of the wire system to the construction of very large guns, to the absence of all longitudinal stress in the tube, and to the economy, simplicity, and safety which the adoption of the system would secure. With this letter he sent drawings of large guns, with calculations of strains and approximate estimates of cost, offering to give personal explanation of the details. On the 3rd August he was informed that, 'looking to the extensive novelties which his proposals involve . . . Sir John Pakington must decline to authorise any experiments.'

In June, 1878, he made a third attempt to obtain a hearing, but was informed this time that 'there was no novelty in the principle of his designs, and that, under these circumstances, Lord Eustace Cecil would not trouble him further concerning them.'

On the 18th February, 1879, he read a second Paper at the Institution 'On the Construction of Heavy Ordnance', showing by calculations that neither the 9-inch Fraser gun of 1869 nor the 81-ton gun of recent date could be relied upon, 'that it would not be surprising if such guns should fail by cracking the inner tube,' and that 'though they might resist for a time the force of the explosion, the ultimate result would be a failure.' These opinions have since been fully borne out by facts.

In June, 1879, he delivered a lecture on the subject of gun construction at the Royal United Service Institution, again pointing out the defects of the Woolwich system, and the risks to which guns so constructed were exposed.

In March, 1882, he published a small pamphlet entitled 'Modern Ordnance,' addressed to Mr. Childers, then Secretary of State for War, on the same subject. On the 1st August he received a letter from the War Office stating that the Ordnance committee was engaged on the consideration of the general question of gun-construction, and asking whether he would be willing to attend on the Committee and answer such questions as might be put to him. Gladly he accepted the invitation, hoping that at last he would have an opportunity of being heard, but again his hopes were doomed to disappointment, as the Committee would not see him and only submitted for his answer a few elementary questions.

In 1883, or thereabouts, he became aware that wire guns were being made, for experimental purposes, at Elswick and Woolwich, but not, as he ascertained later, in accordance with the fundamental principles of his system, either as regards the laying on of the wire, or the separation of the longitudinal and bursting stresses.

On the 14th March, 1884, he read his third Paper on 'Wire-Gun Construction' at the Institution, again explaining the importance of these principles, and giving the principal formula for determining the tension with which the wire should be laid on. In this year he also published his treatise on 'The Application of Wire to the Construction of Ordnance.' The book excited little interest in England at the time, though the formulas given in it have since been used in the construction of all wire guns at Woolwich. It was, however, well received in France, Germany and Russia, the result being that in 1885 he was requested by Admiral Kolokoltzoff, the chief of the gun-factory at Alexandroffsky, near St. Petersburg, to prepare a design for a wire gun to be tried by the Russian Government.

Thus the first service wire-gun, a 6-inch breech-loader, was constructed in a foreign country, on the principles advocated unsuccessfully in England for thirty years. It was a complete success. It fired 1,000 rounds, and then, being too much eroded to be serviceable, was taken to pieces and re-tubed, the old wire and jacket being used again, when, after firing 500 rounds more, it was accepted by the Russian Government as entirely satisfactory.

In March, 1885, he addressed another letter, 'Is England to be caught napping?' to Mr. Childers, protesting against the enormous expenditure then contemplated for the manufacture of forged steel guns, and asking that the money which was being spent on wire guns should be spent in constructing them according to the principles and formulas he had laid down and not by rule-of-thumb empiricism.

In the following July, possibly as an answer to this appeal, he was asked by the War Office to supply a 9.2-inch wire gun of his own design. The request was, however, coupled with conditions which made its acceptance impossible, while assistance from every Government Department, and even information as to the powder which would be required to be used, was refused. In fact, it was impossible for him to have a gun of this calibre made and rifled. After some correspondence, the War Office agreed that the gun should be a 6-inch instead of a 9 2-inch, and this Easton and Anderson kindly undertook to make.

The gun was tried in April, 1888, and at the first discharge was disabled by an accident which had nothing to do with the principles of construction. Mr. Longridge at once wrote to the War Office, explaining the nature and cause of the accident, and suggesting that the gun should be returned to the makers for repairs ; but was informed that 'it was not intended to carry out any further experiments with the injured gun.'

Messrs. Easton and Anderson, however, were so satisfied of the advantage of the system, that they made another 6-inch gun at their own expense, which was sent to Shoeburyness in 1889, and after long-continued trial was accepted and taken into the service.

The first order for wire guns, other than experimental, was received by Dr. (now Sir William) Anderson, Director-General of Ordnance Factories, in April, 1891, for forty 6-inch quick-firing guns; the first gun was issued for proof in July, 1892, and all guns above 3-pounders are now made on Mr. Longridge’s system, being in all but name 'Longridge' guns.

In September, 1892, Mr. Longridge applied to the Government for some recognition of his services, and on the 18th July, 1893, was informed that the Secretary of State for War had awarded him £200 a year for life. Mr. Longridge was then in his seventy-seventh year. To a further letter asking that, if no other public recognition could be made, at least the guns might be known by his name, as were those of Armstrong, Fraser, Nordenfelt and others, he received a curt refusal.

In addition to the treatise referred to, he published in 1889, 'Internal Ballistics,' and in 1891 'The Artillery of the Future and the New Powders,' as well as numerous papers and pamphlets dealing principally, but by no means exclusively, with gunnery questions. The proof-sheets of the last of these, on 'Naval Guns,' in which he made a last appeal for higher pressures, left his hands a day or two before his death, which occurred rather suddenly in Jersey on the 15th April, 1896.

He contributed several papers to the Minutes of Proceedings besides those mentioned in this memoir, and was the recipient of the Watt Medal, the Telford Medal, and the Telford and Manby premiums. He helped many in many ways, often with a total disregard of his own interests.

He acted from principle, not from expediency, enforcing what he believed to be the right and truth, without considering the consequences to himself. In addition to financial misfortunes he suffered bitter disappointment for many years, and when in his old age he saw the wire gun, the offspring of his youth, his child born out of due time, grown to maturity and taking its rightful place, he, its father, had to stand aside and watch its development from afar. He bore all with cheerful courage, without impatience, spite or rancour. He paid the penalty of men who live before their time, but his country and the profession are the richer for his life.



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