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British Industrial History

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Bryan Donkin and Co

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1870. Horizontal compound engine with intermediate steam heater.
April 1870.
April 1870.
January 1872.
January 1872.
January 1872.
January 1872.
14th June 1872.
21st June 1872.
28th June 1872.
1872. Rotary rag boiler.
January 1888.
March 1903.

of 55a Blue Anchor Road, Bermondsey, London (1876)

of Southwark Park Road, Bermondsey, London

Note: the company later became the Bryan Donkin Co.

Mechanical, chemical and gasworks plant engineers, ironfounders and manufacturers of various process engineering components;

1803 Company established by Bryan Donkin at Fort Road, Bermondsey[1]. Donkin's first major venture was the development of the Henry Fourdrinier papermaking machine. Although the original idea was not his, the development work on the machine was due to him. He was involved in three other major projects, concerned with printing, canning, and scientific instrument making. His reputation led him to be involved as a consultant on many civil engineering projects, such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel's design of pumping machinery for the Thames Tunnel[2].

A patent disc water-meter, a patent disc engine, and a disc pump were all exhibited at the 1851 Exhibition. Note: Two disc engines had been supplied to the Bromsgrove Alkali Works c.1839[3]

1851 Award at the 1851 Great Exhibition. See details at

Details of their products shown at

1855 On the death of his father Bryan Donkin (1809-1893) became a partner in the Bermondsey works, at first in conjunction with his brothers, John and Thomas.

1858 The company received a contract from the Russian government for the building of a complete paper mill at St. Petersburg, with steam power plant of 2,000 hp.

1858 A second Scheutz Difference machine was built by the company for the General Register Office to prepare life tables;it comprised a calculator and printer[4].

1862 Exhibited at the 1862 London Exhibition. Details of their products shown at

c.1878 Engine for pioneering gas booster at the South Metropolitan Gas Works, Old Kent Road

1868 Bryan Donkin, Junior became a partner; at around this time E. B. Donkin, and B. W. Farey also became partners.

1870 Description of horizontal compound engines incorporating Farey's reheater (patented by Barnard William Farey).[5]

1874 Frank Salter joined as manager

1881 Dissolution of the Partnership between Bryan Donkin the elder, Thomas Donkin, Barnard William Farey, Bryan Donkin the younger, Bryan William Donkin, and Edwin Bryan Donkin, carrying on business as Engineers, in Southwark Park-road, Bermondsey, under the style of Bryan Donkin and Co. All debts would be paid by Bryan Donkin the younger, Bryan William Donkin, and Edwin Bryan Donkin, and Frank Salter, of the same place, Engineer, who continued the business under the old style of Bryan Donkin and Co.[6].

1886 Dissolution of the Partnership, by mutual consent, between Bryan Donkin the younger, Engineer, Bryan William Donkin, Engineer, Edwin Bryan Donkin, Engineer, and Frank Salter, Engineer, carrying on business as Engineers at Southwark Park-road, Bermondsey, under the firm or style of Bryan Donkin and Co., so far as relates to the said Bryan William Donkin. [7]

1889 Perret furnace applied to a Lancashire boiler. [8]

1889 Incorporated as a limited company Bryan Donkin and Co Ltd. Engineers, brass founders, machinery manufacturers etc. [9]

1894 Superheating Apparatus. Have built 424 of these. mentioned in article in 'The Engineer'. [10]

1894 Antwerp Exhibition. Gas exhauster. [11]

1894 Antwerp Exhibition. Awarded Gold Medal for Large Mechanical Constructions. [12]

1897 Rotative beam Engine with gear drive for Southampton Waterworks (Timpsbury Station).

1900 Amalgamated with Clench and Co of Chesterfield; re-registered as Bryan Donkin and Clench Ltd. Bryan Donkin, Junior continued as chairman but relinquished active participation in the management of the works.

1903 Company moved to Chesterfield.

1905 Company wound up. Of Lincoln Works, Chesterfield.[13]

1906 Private company. Renamed as Bryan Donkin Co Ltd.

The Early History of Bryan Donkin and Co

The first Bryan Donkin was a man of varied attainments. He was born in 1768 at Sandoe, Northumberland, his father being the land agent to several large estates in that county, and at the age of twenty he himself was agent to the Duke of Dorset at Knowle Park, Sevenoaks. But the work did not appeal to him, and he bound himself for three years to John Hall, of Dartford, a millwright, who had a connection with the paper-making industries. As soon as he was out of his time young Donkin started in business in Dartford on his own account, and was joined by Davis and Marshall. But he retained his friendship with John Hall, whose firm, carried on by his sons, became the J. and E. Hall which exists to this day.

Through this early connection with Hall and paper-making Bryan Donkin became interested in the Foudrinier paper-making machine, and took over a factory at Bermondsey which had been set up for the manufacture of the machine. The same connection brought him into touch with Richard Mackenzie Bacon, of Norwich, with whom he collaborated in the invention of a rotary printing press in 1813. A few years before that date he had patented and practised a method of making steel pens, and about the same time he, with Hall and Gamble, purchased for £1000 the rights in a process for preserving meat which after various difficulties gained considerable success. Business did not flourish in the early days of the nineteenth century, when the war with France was drawing to an end, with results not unlike those of today.

Hence Donkin had to look for other work and engaged in a good deal of civil engineering of one kind and another. Amongst the many notable men with whom he was associated mention must be made of Congreve of war-rocket fame who brought his invention of a machine for printing in two colours to the firm, and Babbage, for whose calculating machine Bryan Donkin and Co. carried out much of the work. In 1846 he retired from the business, which he left to his sons, and in 1855 he died at the age of eighty-seven.

His son Bryan followed in his footsteps, but his grandson, Bryan Donkin, Junior, the son of his eldest son John, is best known to engineers. He took a keen scientific interest in the steam engine, and it is to him that we know, through the "revealer," much about the condition of steam in steam engine cylinders.

In 1902 the firm decided that the Bermondsey works were unsatisfactory, and it removed to Chesterfield just after the conclusion of a century in London. The new works belonged to Clench and Co and after the amalgamation the firm was known for some years as Bryan Donkin and Clench, but subsequently took the style of the Bryan Donkin Co, by which is is now known (1925).[14]

See Also


Sources of Information

  • The Steam Engine in Industry by George Watkins in two volumes. Moorland Publishing. 1978. ISBN 0-903485-65-6
  1. The Times, 18 September 1930
  2. National Portrait Gallery: [1]
  3. Illustrated London News, 6 September 1851
  4. National Archives [2]
  5. [3] Engineering 7 Jan 1870
  6. London Gazette 7 October 1881
  7. London Gazette 3 December 1886
  8. The Engineer of 8th Feb 1889 p111 and p114
  9. The Engineer of 21st June 1889 p537
  10. The Engineer of 9th February 1894 p121
  11. The Engineer of 1st June 1894 p469
  12. The Engineer of 2nd November 1894 p387
  13. [4] Gazette Issue 27770 published on the 3 March 1905. Page 33 of 88
  14. The Engineer 1925/05/15