Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 150,170 pages of information and 235,402 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

W. Collier and Co

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1856. Shaping machine.
1857. lathe.
1876. Shearing machine and engine.
1877 Slotting machine
1879. Wheel-Centre and Tyre Boring Lathe.
1850s Collier shaping machine at the Museum of Bath at Work
1850s Collier shaper at the Museum of Bath at Work
Fine work, no doubt undertaken in less than ideal conditions in Collier's gloomy Salford factory.
JD WCollier01.jpg
June 1880.
1883. Radial drilling machines.
1886. Multiple drilling machine for carding cylinders.

William Collier and Co., of Greengate, Salford, Manchester.

The Business Develops

Initially fustian shearers and finishers, the firm was also making machine tools by 1836, a curious combination. They seem to have ended up solely as machine tool makers, and established a prestigious name for machine tools. Their premises, at least into the 1850s, were evidently something of a shambles (see below). A reporter for The Engineer in 1856 wrote that 'The interior is of a very labyrinthine character, as if half a dozen houses in some old-fashioned street had been knocked into one, with the floors meeting each other at all levels, with stairs, passages, closets and trap doors jumbled together in the most heterogeneous fashion.' He described it as one of the oldest tool-making establishments in Manchester.

In the company’s heyday, their factory was located at the southern end of Greengate, Salford, adjacent to the River Irwell. The factory had been demolished by 1884, the land being required for the extension of Manchester Exchange station.

Some time before 1849, production was moved to Worsley Street, Salford (off New Bailey Street, close to the River Irwell) [1]. This was probably occasioned by the construction of Exchange Station and the road over the River Irwell known as Cathedral Approach. The move seems to have occurred during been a period of hard times in the manufacturing business.

From 1849 the firm introduced a number of improved machine-tools, including a double-acting sliding and surfacing lathe, an apparatus for boring locomotive cylinders in situ, and a tool for planing locomotive valve-faces in their places. Also made various improvements in slotting and shaping machines, including the use of elliptical gearing to give a quick return.

1853 James Fletcher became a partner

1863 Death of the head of the firm, William Collier.

1863 Dissolution of the Partnership between William Collier, John William Fuller, and James Fletcher, carrying on business in co-partnership, in Greengate, Salford, in the county of Lancaster, as Machinists and Tool Makers, under the firm of William Collier and Company, as on and from the 31st day of March, so far as relates to the said John William Fuller, who retires from the partnership. All debts owing to and by the said partnership will be received and paid by the said William Collier and James Fletcher, who will continue the business. — Dated 17th April, 1863[2]

1864 James Fletcher presented a paper to the IMechE in 1864 which described many of the firm’s machines [3]. Machines mentioned in the Paper include the following: A large lathe being made for the Lancefield Forge (Glasgow) which could accommodate, for example, marine engine crankshafts up to 40 tons in weight, and screw propellers up to 20 ft dia. The faceplate diameter was 12 ft, and the total weight of the lathe was over 70 tons. The writer mentioned having a planing machine in his own works with a bed 54 ft long, that had been working upwards of 20 years. A heavy duty planing machine had also been at use for 20 years at Messrs Napier’s. He also referred to their multiple hole drilling machines in which the table was raised hydraulically to the drills. These were in use by Messrs Kennard for drilling plates and bars for the new Blackfriars Bridge. He had also supplied to the Crumlin Works three machines for machining the edges of iron plates by means of discs 6 ft diameter carrying about 36 cutters (i.e. milling machines, in effect). He referred to the edges of plates being machined for the SS Great Eastern by such a machine.

1867 After the death of William Collier, the company was headed for many years by James Fletcher.

1875 Producing Shaw and Justice's patent (USA) dead blow steam hammer.[4]

1876 James Fletcher's sons, Edward, Joseph and David, were made partners

1881 James Fletcher died

1884 His son David died

1887 David's brother Edward died

1888 The company closed.

1888 Auction sale: 'WEDNESDAY NEXT. The Engineering Works of Messrs. William Collier and Co., Salford, Manchester.—Pursuant to an order of the Court of Chancery of the County Palatine of Lancaster, Manchester District, made in an action, Wainwright v. Fletcher, with the approbation of the Vice-chancellor. WILLIAM MACPHERSON & SONS are in receipt of instructions SELL BY AUCTION, in one lot, as a going concern, Wednesday, the 14th day of March, 1888, at 12 o'clock noon prompt, on the premises of Messrs. William Collier and Co., situate in Worsley-street, Salford, Manchester, the GOODWILL, STOCK-IN-TRADE, PLANT, MACHINERY, and TOOLS, &c, in and about the said premises, comprising the whole of the engineering tools, sliding and screw, cutting, surfacing and boring lathes; screwing machines, planing machines, to plane from 3ft. to 37ft. long; shaping machines, vertical and radial drilling machines, horizontal boring machines, punching and shearing machines, smithy plant and tools, steam hammers. &c, together with the whole of the iron and wood patterns, workmen's loose tools, stock-in-trade, stores, weighing machines, office furniture, &c.....'[5]


1825 William Collier & Co listed as patent fustian shearers and silk dressers; Works: bottom of Greengate. The 'streets' listing of this directory has, at the bottom (River Irwell end) of Greengate, the following occupants: No. 114 Rev. R. Elsdale; Wm. Collier & Co; Solomons and Marshall. William Collier's house address was 12 Waterloo Place, Salford.

For a time the partners were William Collier, John Platt, and Thomas Fuller. A John Platt was listed in 1825 as a 'silk dresser &c., 1 St. Stephens' Street, Salford.

A 'capital hand planing machine, by Collier and Platt' was included in the sale of the contents of the mill of John Holden and Co (Bacup) in 1838.[6]

1842 William Collier & Co. listed as machine and tool makers and fustian shearers, 125 Greengate, Salford; Partners' home addresses: William Collier, machine maker, Roman Road Terrace, Higher Broughton; John Platt, machine maker, Roman Road Terrace, Higher Broughton; Thomas Fuller, machine maker, Roman Road, Stony Knolls, Higher Broughton [7]

1842 Partnership dissolved: William Collier, John Platt, and Thomas Fuller of Salford, Lancashire, machine makers [8]

1852 'NOTICE is hereby given, that the PARTNERSHIP heretofore subsisting between the undersigned WILLIAM COLLIER and THOMAS FULLER, carrying on business in Salford, in the county of Lancaster, machinists and tool makers, and at Bradford, in the county of York, as wool combers by patent machinery, under the firm William Collier and Company was DISSOLVED on the first day of October instant, As witness their hands….
WE, the undersigned, in retiring from the business hitherto carried on by us, under the firm of WILLIAM COLLIER & CO., toolmakers and machinists, at Salford, in the county of Lancaster, beg most respectfully to return our very sincere thanks to our numerous friends and connections, both at home and abroad, for the very kind and liberal support we have received from them for a long course of years, and to inform them that the business will in future be carried on by the same firm, by William Collier, jun., John William Fuller, and James Fletcher, the latter of whom having had the mechanical management of our business for the last eleven years, and for whom we respectfully solicit a continuance of the liberal patronage we have experienced.

1863 William Collier & Co., machinists, engineers, and tool makers, 2 Greengate; William Collier, machinist, 1 Newport Street, Great Cheetham Street, Higher Broughton; James Fletcher, machine maker (W. Collier & Co.), Crumpsall Cottage, Blackley [10]

1863 'NOTICE is hereby given, that the PARTNERSHIP heretofore subsisting between us, the undersigned WILLIAM COLLIER, JOHN WILLIAM FULLER, and JAMES FLETCHER, carrying on business in co-partnership, in Greengate, Salford, in the county of Lancaster, as machinists and tool makers, under the firm of "William Collier and Company." has been DISSOLVED by mutual consent, as and from the thirty-first day of March last, so far as relates to the said John William Fuller, who retires from the partnership. All debts owing to and by the said partnership will be received paid by the said William Collier and James Fletcher, who will continue the business. …..'[11]

1879 William Collier & Co. listed as machine tool makers, engineers, and brassfounders, 7, Chapel Street, Salford. James Fletcher listed as 'engineer (W. Collier & Co.), Crumpsall Cottage, Blackley [12]

1881 'DEATH OF MR. JAMES FLETCHER. Mr. James Fletcher died at his residence in Crumpsall this morning - . The deceased took an active part in the conduct of public affairs in Salford, and was for many years an alderman of that borough. He was the head of the firm of Messrs. William Collier and Co., the well-known iron founders and tool makers, Worsley-street, Salford. He has been in failing health for some time, and at the time of his death was about 74 or 75 years of age.'[13]

Collapse of Factory Building, 1836

'Falling of the River Wall at Hunts' Bank.— On Saturday morning, a very serious occurrence took place at Hunt's Bank, where the Improvement Committee are making extensive alterations for the purpose of forming a new street to connect the new Bury road with Cateaton-street. From Hunt’s Bank Bridge to the Old Bridge, a river wall is course of erection, and a considerable portion of it has been completed. On Saturday morning, about seven o'clock, it was perceived that part of the wall which has been recently erected, had given way, and in consequence the surveyor to the commissioners was immediately sent for. On his arrival he found that the wall had been pressed about eight inches from its original situation, and that it was gradually giving way towards the river. About twenty-five minutes past eight o'clock, while the workmen were at breakfast, the new erection, to the extent of about 100 feet in length, and 30 feet in depth, fell with tremendous crash into the river, which is here about forty yards wide. Immediately afterwards a building on the Salford side of the river, directly opposite to the wall, which was occupied by Messrs. Collier and Co., fustian-shearers and finishers, fell down, and in a moment became one heap of ruins. Fortunately the workmen employed in this establishment were all at breakfast, otherwise, so sudden was the crash, they must all have been buried in the ruins, and the loss of life would have been dreadful. As it is, we have not heard of a single individual being hurt. Whether this second accident was caused by the pressure of the water forced against the building by the falling mass of stone and earth from the wall, or by the concussion of the air, is a matter for philosophical speculation, as we have no evidence to form a decisive opinion upon the subject, but it seems unlikely that at the distance of 40 yards, and with an open space in all directions, there could have been such a pressure of air as would cause the destruction of the building to such an extent as have been described. It may be remarked, however, that the building was very weak in its construction, and very old. The cause of the river wall falling in, appears to have been the saturation with water of the loose sand and earth which had been employed backing it up; it has since been discovered that a lead pipe connected with the pipes of the Water Works Company had burst and had discharged an immense quantity of water under ground, before means could be taken for remedying the evil. Added to this, the very heavy falls of snow and rain for the preceding three or four days must have produced considerable effect. Of the probable damage to the wall no correct estimate has yet been formed, but on a rough calculation it is supposed that the amount will be about £300. With respect to the damage done to Messrs. Collier's premises, no data have been furnished upon which to form even a guess, but we have heard the sum of £1000 mentioned as the probable amount. We understand that, at the request of the Improvement Committee, Jesse Hartley, Esq., the Surveyor to the Dock Trustees in Liverpool has paid a visit to this town for the purpose of investigating the causes of this unfortunate accident, and of reporting generally to the Committee on the subject. Pending such investigation it would scarcely be acting with common fairness to publish the rumours that are abroad.'[14]

Storm Damage, 1837

'...But the most extensive injury in this part was sustained by Messrs. W. Collier and Co., fustian-shearers and lathe-makers, Greengate, whose works, it will be recollected, were almost destroyed by the falling of the embankments at Hunts-bank. Their establishment is near the edge of the angle opposite the junction of the River Irk with the Irwell, and consisted of a long building, two stories high, a portion of which was new. Though partially protected by a wall, the water at eleven o’clock had reached the height of three-and-a-half feet to the lower story, and the men were called in to save as much of the goods and machinery as possible. They succeeded in saving nearly every piece of fustian; but two out of three lathes on that floor, the value of which was upwards of 300l were, in spite of their exertions, washed into the river. The water continuing to rise, the front wall and roof of the old portion of the building fell in and completely destroyed a quantity of valuable machinery and the mill gearing. The steam-engine-house, unable to bear the pressure of the waters, was swept away about four o'clock, leaving the engine standing alone, but so much disjointed that it will have to be entirely reconstructed before it will be in a condition for work. The proprietors, at a rough guess, estimate their loss at 1000l.' [15]

Another Collapse, 1844

'Serious Accident—Providential Escape. On Thursday evening last, about five minutes past six o’clock, a portion of the building (about 20 yards length) used as machine tool-making establishment, by Messrs. W. Collier and Fuller, on the banks of the Irwell, near Victoria Bridge, Salford, suddenly fell down, by which a large portion the building materials and some machinery, chiefly lathes, were precipitated into the river. During the day, a number of men had been employed in removing machinery out of this part of the premises, and no sooner had the last man quitted for the day, than the building suddenly fell; thus no one was either killed or injured in the slightest degree. The catastrophe had for some time been anticipated; and Messrs. Collier had been for some days previous engaged in removing the machinery preparatory to rebuilding the premises. The loss will not be very great to Messrs. Collier & Co., probably from £500 to £700 will cover it. The loss to the landlord, however, it will be difficult to estimate, as there are almost insuperable difficulties to encounter before a good foundation can be obtained. The obstacle anticipated arises from the fact that there is now a compact piece of masonry on the river, and exactly opposite the site of the premises referred to. This masonry, it will be recollected, is what once formed an immense wall, (about 30 yards long and 40 feet high,) built on the south-east or opposite side of the river, but which being insufficient in strength, fell in one compact mass into the river, on the 30th January, 1836, and such was the concussion of wind and water produced by the fall, that a building then occupied by Messrs. Collier and Co., was instantly levelled with the ground, thus rendering very difficult, if not altogether impracticable, the forming of a coffer dam. Providentially too, on that occasion, no one was either killed or hurt, the accident occurring whilst the men were at breakfast. The cause of the present accident is said to be, indeed there can be doubt of it, that, the second erection was built on the old pile foundation, and which was originally very insecurely done, as will be manifest, when it is stated, that it is within the memory of many now living, that the piles were hand driven. To this must be added the fact, that nearly all the earth with which the piles were originally surrounded was literally washed away; and a by-stander on the Manchester side of the river, clearly saw the piles topple over.' [16]

Works Accident in 1876

Newspaper article: 'SERIOUS ACCIDENT IN SALFORD. About half-past nine on Thursday morning an alarming accident happened at the works of Messrs. Wm. Collier and Co., engineers, Chapel-street, Victoria-bridge, Salford. An iron casting, weighing seven tons, was being lifted from a planing machine in the fitting room, when one of the "travelling" beams broke near the centre, causing the crane to fall with a terrific crash. Two men, named John Harwood and Ralph Babbington, who were standing on the stage of the crane engaged in hoisting the casting, were precipitated to the ground. A portion of the broken woodwork fell upon them, and it was with some difficulty that they were extricated. They were then conveyed to the Manchester Royal Infirmary, where it was found that they had both sustained very severe injuries. Harwood's skull was fractured, and his condition is such that no hope is entertained of his recovery. He is a man about 50 years of age, and resides in St. Stephen Street, Salford. The injuries of Babbington, who is also an elderly man, consisted of a broken arm and leg, and it is thought he will recover. It is believed that the accident waa caused by the breaking of one of two iron truss rods supporting the travelling beam which gave way. The beam itself is about two feet deep and ten inches wide, and appears to have been in good condition. The crane was erected on an ordinary wooden "gantry" at a height of about 40 feet from the ground, and frequently carried as much as 20 tons.'[17]

Examples of some of their machines and customers

1850s Supplied planing and shaping machines and lathes to the Phoenix Ironworks (Hanley).

1860s Made a machine to drill 72 holes at a time in structural iron plates, in two rows of 36, for Lloyds, Fosters and Co, of Old Park Ironworks, Wednesbury.[18]

Supplied a large vertical boring machine, having a 9" diameter spindle, to Dennystown Forge Co of Dumbarton [19]

The following Collier machines were supplied to Kincaid, McQueen and Co’s Dunedin (NZ) ironworks: Slotting machine capable of accommodating a wheel 4' 6" dia; a shaping machine with a 6 ft long bed; a lathe with a 5 ft dia faceplate, capable of swinging 6 ft dia in the gap, with a capacity of 20 ft between centres [20]

Supplied a double shaping machine for the railway workshop at Fort Britomart, New Zealand [21]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Mechanical World & Steam Users’ Journal, 28 May 1885
  2. London Gazette 7 July 1863
  3. [1]'On Improvements in Heavy Tools for General Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Work'
  4. Manchester Times, 18th September 1875
  5. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - 10 March 1888
  6. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 15 September 1838
  7. Pigot & Slater's Directory of Manchester & Salford, 1841
  8. Sheffield Independent, 30th July 1842
  9. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 16th October 1852
  10. Slater's Directory of Manchester and Salford, 1863
  11. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 4th July 1863
  12. Slater's Directory of Manchester & Salford, 1879. [Part 1: Alphabetical Directory]
  13. Manchester Evening News, Wednesday 23rd March 1881
  14. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, Saturday 6th February 1836
  15. London Standard, 26th December 1837
  16. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, Saturday 20th April 1844
  17. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 7th October 1876
  18. Engineering, 30 Nov 1866, p.413
  19. [2] Engineering Facts and Figures for 1866 A Fullerton & Co., 1867
  20. [3] Otago Witness, Issue 1287, 29 July 1876, Page 19
  21. [4]Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXXI, Issue 5524, 7 May 1875, Page 3