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John Robinson

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John Robinson (1823-1902) of Sharp, Roberts and Co

1853 Birth of son John Frederick Robinson

1859 John Robinson, Atlas Works, Manchester.[1]

In 1860 Sharp, Roberts and Co acquired sole rights to the Giffard injector

1902 July 9th. Died.


1902 Obituary [2]

John Robinson was born at Skipton on 27th March 1823.

He was educated at Skipton Grammar School, a school in Manchester, and the Wakefield Proprietary School.

In 1839 he was apprenticed to Messrs. Sharp, Roberts and Co., and in 1843 became a partner in the firm. The business was converted in 1863 into a limited company, and he became vice-chairman and co-managing director with the chairman, the late Mr. C. P. Stewart, on whose death in 1882 he became chairman of the company, and remained in that position till one year after the removal of the company to Glasgow, in 1889, when he retired.

He was called upon by Mr. Cobden to take part in the discussion of the French Treaty of Commerce in 1851, and was a Member of the Jury at the Paris Exhibition in 1878, when he was elected an Honorary Member of the Societe des Ingenieurs Civils of France. He joined the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1859, and was elected a Member of Council in 1866. On two occasions he was elected a Vice-President, and became President in 1878, being re-elected in 1879.

He contributed to this Institution a Paper on Giffard's Injector for feeding steam boilers, which was followed by a Supplementary Paper in the same year; and in 1866 he read a Paper on Seller's Self-adjusting Injector. He also read a Paper on the distribution of weight on the axles of locomotives. He was a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and of the Iron and Steel Institute, and was for many years a member of the Governing Body of the Owens College, Manchester, and afterwards of the Victoria University in that city.

His death took place at his residence, Westwood Hall, Leek, Staffordshire, on the 9th July 1902, at the age of seventy-nine.


1902 Obituary [3]

JOHN ROBINSON died on the 9th July, 1902, at his residence, Westwood Hall, Leek, in North Staffordshire, after an illness of some weeks.

The mention of his name recalls to memory an eminent mechanical engineer, identified throughout his generation with the construction of locomotive engines in every variety and for all quarters of the globe, as a partner in the Atlas Works of Sharp, Stewart and Co, originally in Great Bridgewater Street, Manchester, and now at Springburn, Glasgow.

At his advanced ago he had naturally outlived most of the contemporaries of his busier engineering years, and even many of the younger generation which furnished the host of pupils who enjoyed the advantage of serving their apprenticeship under his able and sound training.

He was the son of a banker at Skipton, where he was born in March, 1823, and received his earliest education at the Skipton Grammar School. Thence he was sent to a physical-science and general school in Manchester, conducted by Charles Cumber, who was an intimate friend of John Dalton, the originator of the atomic theory in chemistry.

His boyhood thus came under the joint influence of Dalton and of Peter Clare, whereby his mind may possibly have been turned to the subjects of which he afterwards obtained so thorough a grasp. After further study at the Wakefield Proprietary School, he was apprenticed at the age of sixteen to Richard Roberts, of the firm of Sharp, Roberts and Co locomotive-engine builders, Atlas Works, Manchester.

After the dissolution of this partnership in 1843, he joined Messrs. Sharp in the firm of Sharp Brothers and Co, which in 1852 changed to Sharp, Stewart and Company, on the accession of the late Charles P. Stewart, who was the same age as himself.

Being a practical workman in the fullest sense, Mr. Robinson took entire charge of the workshop department, diversifying this supervision by numerous business visits to the Continent, where he made the acquaintance of many of the leading locomotive engineers.

So closely were his energies devoted to the practical pursuit of his engineering avocations, that the Paper he read to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in January, 1860, was possibly his earliest contribution to the literature of the profession. The subject was the Giffard injector for feeding steam boilers, which at that time was attracting special attention, both from the importance of the object aimed at, and from the success with which this object had already been attained, as well as from the novelty and singular nature of the action of the instrument, and from the great simplicity of its arrangement.

On the announcement of the invention in France, its practical value was promptly recognized by him; and the manufacture and introduction of the injector were undertaken by his firm. After they had first worked out the details of the sizes and shapes of the conical nozzles, and the relative areas of steam and water passages, one of their engineering assistants was sent to visit all the leading locomotive and other engine works, with a view to the practical and extensive use of the injector, and its substitution in place of the feed-pump. John Barber, who was entrusted with this duty, acquired a wide renown as 'Injector Jack,' before settling in Leeds. As the instrument was a French invention, it was made throughout to millimetre dimensions; an internal gauge was used, consisting of a round steel template, tapering 1 millimetre in diameter in every 25 millimetres, or about 1 inch of length; this was divided into inches and tenths, enabling the men to work to millimetre or inch.

When the same subject was discussed five years later, at the Institution of Civil Engineers, Mr. Robinson was able to state that all the new engines on the London and North Western Railway were made to depend entirely upon the injector for the feed-water, and there were no pumps to the boi1ers.

In the following year, 1866, he read a second Paper to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, describing the arrangement of self-adjusting injector devised by William Sellers, of Philadelphia. He added that the increase in maximum delivery, due to improvements in the proportions of the injector subsequent to its introduction, had been much more considerable in England than in France; the greater degree of success attained in England, particularly at higher pressures, was to be attributed mainly to the adoption of a larger proportionate sectional area for the steam cone.

To the Institution of Civil Engineers he contributed in 1873 a Paper on modern locomotives, describing six prominent examples of passenger, goods, and tank engines, designed with a view to economy, durability and facility of repair; respecting each he gave some particulars of the duty performed, and of the cost of repairs. The tendency in the manufacture and use of locomotives, he rightly pointed out, had been to simplify their construction, and to secure, by the adoption of more durable, even if more expensive, material, a more serviceable engine, which, taking into account the continually increasing amount of work imposed upon it, was doing its work with considerably greater economy than formerly.

Having been a Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers from 1859, a Member of Council from 1866, and a Vice- President from 1870, he was elected President in 1878, and again in 1879. In his Presidential Address in 1878, delivered at the Paris meeting of the Institution on the occasion of the International Exhibition of that year, he combated the bugbear of 'over-production' in engineering, in its relations to agriculture, manufactures, transport, and warfare ; urging that, at times when the law of political economy - that supply and demand must of necessity adjust themselves to each other - seemed to have lost its place in the engineering world, engineers should nevertheless look around courageously, and take so comprehensive a survey of their position as to encourage them to hold on their course with vigour.

In 1879 he devoted his address to the consideration of cheap internal transport as a necessity for the prosperity of a country. At that time the cycle was still so great a rarity as to be looked upon more as a curiosity than as a practical means of locomotion. Even electric lighting was in an infantile state, while the motor car, if dreamt of at all, was a dream of which the most far-seeing minds could but indistinctly discern the dim fabric. Hence his suggestion, appropriate to the conditions then obtaining, of roadside railways or tramways for facilitating transport in districts devoid of adequate means of communication ; and he dealt with various practical points bearing upon the realization of such a plan, as well as with the collateral advantages of cheapening transport.

Perhaps as good an illustration as any of his shrewd mechanical insight is furnished by his attitude towards Le Chatelier counter-pressure steam brake. While he had at the outset seized upon the merits of the Giffard injector, and had made so great a success of it, he held aloof from similar association with the Le Chatelier brake, notwithstanding the fame of the inventor and the powerful and persistent advocacy of so eminent and scientific an engineer as Sir William Siemens. Many of the locomotives he built were fitted with the arrangement, at the desire of the railways ordering them ; but, while welcoming their orders, he did not urge its adoption as he had done that of the injector ; and on some lines on which the counter-pressure brake had been introduced it was ultimately discarded.

On the occasion of the summer meeting of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in Paris in 1878, during his presidency, he was elected an honorary member of the Societe des Ingenieurs Civils de France.

In 1863, when the firm of Sharp, Stewart & Co. was converted into a company, he became Vice-chairman and afterwards Chairman of the Board of Directors.

When, in 1888, the business had outgrown the Manchester premises, the locomotive and machine tool works were removed to the Clyde, and amalgamated with the Clyde Locomotive Works at Springburn, Glasgow. There the active participation in their control, from which he had retired some sixteen years earlier, passed into the hands of his son, John Frederick Robinson.

Having been one of the guarantors of the original Great Exhibition in 1851, he was more or less connected with many of the subsequent similar international exhibitions.

At the Paris Exhibition in 1878 he was a member of the jury for prime movers, and also of the international jury for engineering excellence in the exhibition.

In 1867 he gave evidence before the commission appointed to enquire into the organization of rules of trades unions and other associations; the report thereon was followed by the legalization of such unions. Among the many services he rendered to the cause of education were the responsibilities he undertook as trustee of the Owens College, Manchester.

In 1867 he took up his residence at Westwood Hall, which he purchased, with 700 acres of land adjoining. There he lived thence forth, except when latterly wintering at Torquay for the benefit of his health.

In 1869 he became a County Magistrate, and later, Deputy Lieutenant.

In 1882 he filled the office of High Sheriff of Staffordshire. In matters of local government and education, and other interests, he took an active and prominent part. From his early days he paid much attention to the cultivation of forest trees, and acquired an excellent knowledge of timber ; even in his later years the pruning and felling of trees formed his chief exercise.

In the local Press his death is announced as that of the Squire of Westwood and First Gentleman of Leek, full of years and full of honours ; and the warm tribute paid to his character and memory has its echo in the hearts of the large circle of engineering friends who appreciate his sterling worth, whether as a man or as an engineer.

Mr. Robinson was elected a Member of the Institution on the 9th April, 1872.


1902 Obituary [4]

JOHN ROBINSON died on July 9, 1902, at his residence, Westwood Hall, Leek, Staffordshire, at the age of eighty years.

He was born at Skipton in 1823 and received his earliest education at the Skipton Grammar School. After further study at a physical science and general school in Manchester, and at the Wakefield Proprietary School, he was apprenticed at the age of sixteen to Richard Roberts, of the firm of Sharp, Roberts & Co., locomotive engine builders, Atlas Works, Manchester.

After the dissolution of this partnership in 1843, he joined Messrs. Sharp in the firm of Sharp Brothers & Co., which in 1852 was changed to Sharp, Stewart & Co. Being a practical man in the fullest sense, Mr. Robinson took entire charge of the workshop department. So closely were his energies devoted to the practical pursuit of his engineering avocations that the paper he read before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in January 1860 was possibly his earliest contribution to the literature of the profession. The subject was the Giffard injector for feeding steam boilers, which at that time was attracting special attention. On the announcement of the invention in France, its practical value was promptly recognised by Mr. Robinson, and the manufacture and introduction of the injector were undertaken by his firm. After they had first worked out the details of the sizes and shapes of the conical nozzles, and the relative areas of steam and water passages, one of their engineering assistants was sent to visit all the leading engineering works, with a view to the substitution of the injector in place of the feed pump.

When the same subject was discussed five years later, at the Institution of Civil Engineers, Mr. Robinson was able to state that all the new engines on the London and North-Western Railway were made to depend entirely upon the injector for the feed water, and there were no pumps to the boilers.

In the following year, 1866, he read a second paper before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, describing the arrangement of the self-adjusting injector devised by Mr. William Sellers, of Philadelphia. He added that the increase in maximum delivery, due to improvements in the proportions of the injector subsequent to its introduction, had been much more considerable in England than in France; the greater degree of success attained in England, particularly at higher pressures, was to be attributed mainly to the adoption of a larger proportionate section area for the steam cone.

To the Institution of Civil Engineers, of which he was elected a member in 1872, he contributed in 1873 a paper on modern locomotives, describing six prominent examples of passenger, goods, and tank engines, designed with a view to economy, durability, and facility of repair; respecting each he gave some particulars of the duty performed and of the cost of repairs.

Having been a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers from 1859, a member of Council from 1866, and a vice-president from 1870, he was elected president in 1878, and again in 1879. During his presidency he was elected an honorary member of the Societe des Ingenieurs Civils de France. It was also during his presidency that the Research Committee of the Institution was established in 1879, for the investigation of mechanical questions.

In 1863, when the firm of Sharp, Stewart & Co. was converted into a company, he became vice-chairman and afterwards chairman of the Board of Directors.

When in 1888 the business had outgrown the Manchester premises, the locomotive and machine-tool works were removed to the Clyde, and amalgamated with the Clyde Locomotive Works at Springburn, Glasgow. Having been one of the guarantors of the original Great Exhibition in 1851, he was more or less connected with many of the subsequent similar international exhibitions. At the Paris Exhibition in 1878 he was a member of the jury for prime movers, and also of the international jury for engineering excellence in the exhibition.

In 1867 he gave evidence before the commission appointed to inquire into the organisation of rules of trade unions and other associations; the report thereon was followed by the legalisation of such unions. Among the many services he rendered to the cause of education were the responsibilities he undertook as trustee of the Owens College, Manchester.

In 1869 he became a county magistrate and later deputy lieutenant.

In 1882 he filled the office of High Sheriff of Staffordshire. In matters of local government and education and other interests he took an active and prominent part.

He was an original member of the Iron and Steel Institute.


1902 Obituary [5]



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