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British Industrial History

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Manchester Ordnance and Rifle Co

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1864 2 cwt hexagonal shot deck gun, on display at Fort Nelson
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Manchester Ordnance & Rifle Co of 51, Sackville Street, Manchester

Established by Joseph Whitworth.

1859 Whitworth was commissioned by the War Department to design a replacement for the Pattern 1853 calibre 0.577-inch Enfield rifle, whose shortcomings had been revealed during the recent Crimean War. The Whitworth Rifle had a smaller bore of 0.45 inch (11 mm) which was hexagonal, a longer bullet and tighter rifling than the Enfield, and its performance during tests in 1859 was superior to the Enfield's in every way. The test was reported in The Times on April 23 as a great success. However, the new bore design was found to be prone to fouling, so it was rejected by the British government, only to be adopted by the French Army. Some of these rifles found their way to the Confederate states in the American Civil War, where they were called "Whitworth Sharpshooters". Queen Victoria opened the first meeting of the British Rifle Association at Wimbledon, in 1860 by firing a Whitworth Sharpshooter from a mechanical rest. The rifle scored a bull's eye at a range of 400 yards (366 m).

Guns (rifles and cannon) made by Whitworth in the late 1850s and early 1860s were variously marked either with the name Whitworth or Manchester Ordnance & Rifle Co [1] The same source comments that the rifles were almost certainly constructed by J. W. Edge of Manchester, using Brazier locks and metal components from Preston and Palmer. Presumably the highly advanced barrels and the required precisely-made ammunition were made by Whitworth.

1863 Slater's Directory of Manchester and Salford, 1863 lists Joseph Whitworth and Co as 'Manufacturers of Whitworth patent rifles, cannon and ammunition', and also includes the Whitworth Ordnance Company of 44 Chorlton Street as manufacturers of Whitworth patent breech-loading rifled cannon and ammunition.

It is not possible from the 1863 Slater’s directory to pinpoint No. 51 Sackville Street. However, Goad's Insurance Plans Map No. 50, dated 1893 (updated 1899) shows No. 51 as one of a group of industrial buildings at the southern corner of a block bounded by Sackville Street, Canal Street, Chorlton Street and Whitworth Street. These buildings were built on the site of a former canal wharf, while the northern part of this block formerly accommodated Whitworth’s Chorlton Street Works. The site is now home to a college building and a garden.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. [1]American Civil War Round Table (UK) website: 'Whitworth Sharpshooter Rifle' by Bertil Häggman, LL.M.