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British Industrial History

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Salford Iron Works

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Hardman Street, Salford

Location

Green's Plan of Manchester & Salford (1787 - 1794) shows the iron works of Messrs Bateman and Sherratt. It occupied a narrow plot of land, approx 30 yds wide and 150 yds long, about half of which was occupied by buildings. Access was via Hardman Street, a short lane (~50 yds long) from Chapel Street. North and west of the foundry were fields and a few large houses. Bancks and Co's Plan of Manchester, 1831 showed that the foundry had enlarged, and that the surroundings had changed completely. The 1848 O.S. map marks the site as Salford Iron Works. Access was now from Garden Lane to the south, and possibly Posey Lane to the north, Hardman Street having been blocked off. Part of the former iron works property was now occupied by 'Salford Copper Roller Works'. The 1915 O.S. map shows that Salford Iron Works had been enlarged in all directions, and embraced the Cook Street Brewery. The site was now bounded in the south by the railway viaducts. An imposing part of the brewery has been preserved, which at least prominently marks the site, but there is nothing locally to serve as a memorial to this pioneering iron works.

History

In the eighteenth century, many cotton mills grew up in the same neighbourhood as iron works, and the textile industry and the engineering trades flourished side by side.

Salford Iron Works was founded by Bateman and Sherratt, and later traded as J. and T. Sherratt

As late as 1836, Sherratts still called themselves “iron founders, steam engine manufacturers, millwrights and hydraulic press manufacturers". In 1837, Thomas Sherrat died.

1839 Sherrat's trustees leased the Salford Iron Works to John Platt. Little is known about John Platt, for he is not described in the Directories until 1836, when he was described as a "machine maker", living in Roman Road Terrace, Higher Broughton. His workshop before he moved to the Iron Works was in Greengate.

Platt had entered into partnership with George Yates, the two of them continuing Sherratt's line of business.

1845 For reasons which remain obscure, the Mathers and the Platts became connected when John Platt leased part of the Salford Iron Works to William and Colin Mather, who occupied a small workshop in Brown Street. The premises were to grow substantially in size in later years, but this was the beginning of a larger "Mather" enterprise.

Stepping into the shoes of the Sherratts, they advertised themselves in the Directory as "Engineers, Machine-makers, Millwrights and Iron-founders", Garden Lane, Salford.

1847 invented a sewing machine for the batching of pieces.

1851 At the time of the Great Exhibition, they referred to their premises not as "Garden Lane" but as Salford Iron Works and went to London to display "A calico printing machine for printing eight colours at one operation with drying apparatus, a sewing machine and patent pistons". The patent pistons were made at Brown Street.

1852 Colin Mather entered into partnership with William Platt, the son of John Platt (who had died in 1847). The younger Platt, who had carried on iron founding work in the Salford Iron Works, provided land, buildings and money for the new partnership, while Colin, apparently, contributed technical skills and ideas.

"Cast Iron Colin", as he came to be called, was an engineer of ingenuity and brilliance. As the active head of the business, with Grundy as his manager, he not only built up an efficient organisation to produce textile finishing machinery, he also concerned himself with a wide range of ingenious ideas, including the design of piston rings, particularly for use in ships engines. There was also well boring, the production of magnesium in quantity in cast iron pots instead of expensive platinum and porcelain vessels which had been used previously; and the method of preventing coastal erosion with a system of cast iron plates. He had something of Wilkinson’s zest for turning iron into a universal material and it was easy to see from the list of his pre-occupations how he came to earn his nickname.

1850 William Mather junior (son of William Mather), at the age of twelve, began 3 years of apprenticeship in the family business

1852 the firm was employing about 125 men

The entry of William Wilkinson Platt into the partnership coincided with the withdrawal of Colin’s brother William. William had been more interested in public life and politics than in engineering and at the time of his death in 1858, he had few business interests. However, as a result of domestic circumstances, it was William's son, also called William, later Sir William Mather, who was destined to play the biggest part in the subsequent development of the business in the nineteenth century.

When Colin senior met with an accident at work and was compelled to take a less active part in the affairs of the firm, it was to William Mather, the second son of William senior, that he turned as successor, his own children being too young to accept important positions in the business. Colin Mather had three sons - the eldest, William Penn, spent a few years in the family business and then decided to emigrate to America. The second, John Harry was sent to Alsace to study tinctorial chemistry, in which the firm, as makers of dyeing machinery, had an active interest. The youngest, another Colin, spent over 40 years in the family business and in due course became a director of the Limited Company. Colin played a prominent part in the technical developments of the time and left his mark in many branches of engineering, especially that associated with the textile finishing trade.

1855 Colin Mather described an earth-boring machine to the Society of Arts; his works were in Garden Lane, Salford[1]

1856 William junior had broadened his industrial education by spending some time in Germany and had returned at the age of eighteen to work in the family business. It is on record that his hours of work extended from 6.00am to 6.00pm and most of his evenings were spent at night school in the Mechanics Institute, which both the Mathers and the Platts had sponsored.

This was learning the hard way, but it paid good dividends, for, as a result, William Mather always understood the value and dignity of manual work and the importance of establishing happy relations with his employees. As he said on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, in the course of a celebration at Belle Vue, he had "always loved working men from his youth". Because he knew so much of them in his early life, he had "a profound respect for the honest, diligent, earnest, working man".

In 1858, the year his father died, William was made assistant manager at the Salford Iron Works.

1862 the number of employees had increased to 300

1863 William was taken into partnership with Colin Mather and William Wilkinson Platt; the occasion was marked by a celebration at Belle Vue Zoological Gardens. All employees were given half a day’s holiday and invited to attend a social gathering, the first of many similar functions given by the firm. The programme included a characteristically Victorian meal and a feast of speech making and dancing.

1863 Colin Mather retired

1872 William Wilkinson Platt retired leaving William Mather junior in sole control

1873, adjacent property in Deal Street, known as Drinkwater’s Mill and the whole of Foundry Street were taken over. This increased accommodation provided new offices, a lodgeman’s house, stores, pattern and joiners shops and a light fitting shop and the number of employees increase to about 600.

1878 Mather took young John Platt, the son of William Wilkinson Platt, into partnership. John Platt (1848-1927) had served his apprenticeship at Hulses’ - machine tool makers - in Salford. He spent much of his time travelling in search of business and frequently visited Italy, Austria, Germany and Russia. A study of old order books indicates that as a result of his efforts in these countries, he left a definite imprint in the commercial history of the concern.

Between the beginning of the 1870s and the end of the nineteenth century, the firm was expanding rapidly, both in the size of its plant and the scope of its operations.

From 1888 onwards, land was being acquired from the Salford Corporation.

1894 agreement was reached concerning the closing of a portion of Union Street in order that the area covered by the street and two rows of cottages, could be absorbed into the Salford Iron Works, thus providing space for a fine erecting shop and new offices. The new erecting shop soon became known as "Klondyke" as it was being erected about the time when gold was discovered at Klondyke in Alaska. The men working in the building through the winter felt that the term was a bright and apt one. "Klondyke" was more up to date than the rest of the buildings, but it marked the effective limit to the expansion of the Salford Iron Works site. In order to expand further the firm had to look outside, just as William and Colin Mather had looked across the way from Brown Street nearly fifty years earlier.

Twentieth century: plans were developed for re-locating much of the business to what became the Park Works site at Newton Heath in Manchester. "The last section to be moved was the Iron Foundry, and on 31st December 1938, the old Salford Iron Works, cradle of the business, passed into other hands, its mission ended as the home of Mather and Platt Ltd., and in its place Park Works now stands for all that is best in engineering.", declared the company Journal for January 1939.

"The passing of 1938 marked the end also of Salford Iron Works as an engineering establishment, but what a difference, fortunately, for old employees to look back upon, from the closing down of some of the Lancashire engineering works which were flourishing during the height of activity at Salford Iron Works some 30 to 35 years ago."

As Park Works developed, the older ties with Salford were gradually broken and production in the old works ceased entirely after the heavy Iron Foundry was transferred to a new building at Park Works in 1938.

The old works had been a home of great character and tradition; its rambling bays and uneven floors still showed where a cottage had been absorbed or a neighbouring street roofed over. Its grimy walls end great wooden cranes epitomised the hard work and individual skill, which had carried the roller makers forward to become engineers with an international reputation. When the last moulders left the old Iron Works in Salford, they carried to their new modern Foundry at Park Works the skill that had helped to make the company’s products famous.

It was not without pangs therefore, that the ownership of Salford Iron Works passed from Mather & Platt Ltd. to Threlfall's Brewery, 'popular' neighbours in more senses than one during the nineteenth century. It is a legend of the old days that many Mather & Platt employees had their own methods of securing supplies of beer through a convenient hole in the wall, which separated the two buildings. From Threlfalls, part of the works subsequently passed to a well-known firm of motor car spring manufacturers. A few of the nineteenth century landmarks, including the weighing-in machine still survived in the 1950s.

The only production link between Mather and Platt and Salford, which still persisted mid-century was the Plate Metal Works, known as the Boiler Yard, which had an interesting history. Originally owned by one John Platt a man not related to the Platt of the Mather & Platt partnership, but who occasionally did some work for the firm — the Boiler Yard passed into the hands of the firm in 1870, when the same Platt was installed as foreman, in charge of about twenty-five men. Its one bay was extended in 1906, when the adjoining works of Edmondson and Co, General Engineers, were absorbed and used as a machine shop and plate shop.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Manchester Times, June 6, 1855