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Charles Wicksteed

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Charles Wicksteed (1847-1931) of Charles Wicksteed and Co

his brother was Joseph Hartley Wicksteed


1931 Obituary [1]

BY the death of Charles Wicksteed, which took place at his home in Kettering on Thursday last week, March 19th, we lose one of the earliest members of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and an engineer of singular ability and wide talent. Had he lived until the end of this month he would have attained his eighty-fourth year.

He was born at Leeds in 1847, and his father was a famous Unitarian minister, the Rev. Charles Wicksteed. One of his brothers was the late Rev. P. F. Wicksteed, a renowned Dante scholar, and another the late Hartley Wicksteed, for many years managing director of Joshua Buckton and Co., Ltd., of Leeds, and President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 1903-4.

Charles Wicksteed went to school at Lancaster, and was apprenticed to Kitson and Co., Ltd., of Leeds, where he received a thorough training in locomotive and general engineering work.

At the early age of twenty-one he began business for himself at Swaffham, in Norfolk, as an owner and operator of steam ploughing tackle. Some of the early experiences in Norfolk, Northamptonshire, and other districts, which are set down in Mr. Wicksteed's own book "Bygone Days and Now," throw an interesting light on the varied and often difficult circumstances which led later to the formation of the engineering works in Kettering. It is recorded that often when taking in water for an engine at Barton Seagreave, he expressed the wish that one day he might own that land.

He went to Kettering in 1872 and four years later the firm, which later became Charles Wicksteed and Co., Ltd., was founded at the Stamford-road Works. More than once the need of one industry has led to the beginning of a new industry. In the operation of ploughing tackle, Charles Wicksteed had often felt the need of spare parts and special tools and devices which would facilitate engine repairs. The absence of such tools and appliances at the time led him to invent and make his patented tube expanders and other tools, such as saws for hand and power operation, with which he began his later business in small machine tools.

In 1874 he gave up the ploughing tackle side of his work and handed them to Mr. J. P. Grundy, in order to give more time to his machine tool business. Incidentally, we may mention that in the early days of the cycle he was the maker of an excellent bicycle.

During the war the Wicksteed works were mainly occupied in the making of munitions, but they also specialised in the production of limit gauges and gears, which later added new branches to the business.

The idea of creating a park for the children and people of Kettering was uppermost in the mind of Charles Wicksteed before 1914, and a few years later he presented the Barton Seagreave Hall and Estate to the community. It was first named the Barton Park at his own request, but by general consent the name was altered to that of the donor, and will always be a lasting memory of the man and his work.

Whilst designing and laying out the park and its artificial lake Charles Wicksteed considered the problem of designing safe playground equipment, and again this new development added a fresh and growing department to his business. Once during a period of depression at the works, he transferred his men to the park and was thus able to give them continued employment, an incident which showed the manner of man he was. He constructed a notable racing track in the park, and at the present time a miniature railway is under construction and will shortly be completed to his designs.

He was an engineer of the old school, who gamed experience alike in difficult and successful times, and applied his knowledge to break up new fields of development. Possessed of a strong personality and determined views, he was a good speaker and could always hold an audience by the energy and raciness of his diction. Up to the last he retained extraordinary vigour, and at the summer meetings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers he entered into all the entertainments, including dancing, with even more enthusiasm than the younger people.


1931 Obituary [2]

CHARLES WICKSTEED was the brother of the late J. Hartley Wicksteed, President of the Institution in 1903 and 1904. He had been a Member of the Institution since 1897, and though nearly 84 years of age at the time of his death, on 19th March 1931, he was a familiar figure at each Summer Meeting of the Institution until the last, at Bristol, 1930, held during his lifetime.

He served his apprenticeship in the works of Messrs. Kitson and Company of Leeds, and at the early age of 21 began business for himself as owner and operator of steam-ploughing tackle at Swaffham, in Norfolk. The need for spare parts and special tools led him to devise and make his own, amongst them his patented tube expanders, and his resourcefulness in this direction resulted in the foundation in 1876 of the Kettering firm, which was later entitled Charles Wicksteed and Company.

He soon devoted himself to the manufacture of machine-tools, though in early days he also manufactured an excellent bicycle, and in 1907, when his firm was converted into a limited liability company, he commenced the manufacture of an ingenious motor-car gear which was not a commercial success.

His success was attained in the development of mechanical hack-saws of various types, for which the firm became famous, and one of the most interesting of his early products was a machine for dressing off the edges of flanged boiler plates, largely used in locomotive works.

In 1911 Mr. Charles Wicksteed read a paper on the subject of hack-saw machines before the Institution. During recent years he was able to realize a long-cherished ambition by presenting to the town of Kettering a large park, the lay-out of which, including a 25-acre lake, he himself designed. One of his chief interests in the park was the equipment of safe and hooligan-proof playthings for children, and here again his resourcefulness brought him opportunities, for his firm soon gained a great reputation for the manufacture of such equipment, and Mr. Wicksteed's appliances are now to be found in playgrounds all over the country.


1931 Obituary[3]

"THE LATE MR. CHARLES WICKSTEED.

An unusually large circle within and without the ranks of engineers will deeply regret the death, which occurred oh Thursday, the 19th inst., of Mr. Charles Wicksteed, of Kettering. To mechanical engineers this means the loss of an old stalwart who had struggled against and successfully come through vicissitudes which would have taken the heart out of most others, while in a much wider circle there is a gap which can never be filled just in the way Mr. Wicksteed played his part in the world, intent as he was on bringing happiness to others, and especially to young people and children.

At the time of his death Charles Wicksteed was approaching 84. Born at Leeds, the son of the Rev. Charles Wicksteed, a Unitarian minister who afterwards retired to a farm in Wales, Charles received his early education in Lancaster, after which he was articled to the firm of Messrs. Kitson and Company, Limited, of the Airedale Foundry, Leeds, in 1863. It is interesting to recall that Mr. J. Hartley Wicksteed, his senior by some five years, received his education in Manchester, to be followed by apprenticeship to Messrs. Joshua Buckton and Company, Limited, also of Leeds. As soon as his apprenticeship was completed Charles Wicksteed commenced business on his own account, hiring out steam ploughs, with Swaffham, Norfolk, as his headquarters. This business he continued with for some twenty-five years. During this time Mr. Wicksteed often found himself at a loss for suitable repair equipment, and devised tools to meet these needs. In this way be first brought out his tube expanders and other appliances, and in course of time the business developed into a more Strictly engineering enterprise devoted to the repairs and supply of duplicate parts for steam ploughs and the manufacture of small tools. In the’seventies, when farming was in the throes of a crisis, Mr. Wicksteed encountered great difficulties and suffered severely from had debts. Having started with barely sufficient capital, advanced by friends, this placed him in great straits, from which, however, he successfully extricated himself.

His engineering works were opened, we believe, in Kettering in 1878, and in about 1907 this business was converted into a limited company, for the purpose of developing a change-speed gear for motor-cars. This gear was quite a notable one for its day. It was described and illustrated in Engineering (vol. lxxxiii, page 491), and embodied gears always in mesh and the liberal use of ball bearings and ball thrusts. The gear, however, was not a commercial success, and it was not until Mr. Wicksteed turned his attention to cutting-off machines that the reputation of the firm began to spread to all parts of the world, as it certainly did very quickly soon after this development.

The reduction of hack-sawing to a mechanical process adaptable to a variety of uses has undoubtedly revolutionised a great number of workshop processes. When it is remembered that structural steel sections had to be cut in shapers or Blotters or by hand, that gear blanks, &c., were parted off in a lathe, and that risers had to he removed by hand in the foundry, the changes which have occurred in the last twenty years or so will be realised. The great development of machine-cut gears probably had a good deal to do with the rapid adoption of hack-sawing. Mr. Wicksteed’s firm was among the early pioneers in this movement, and its products were marked by very considerable ingenuity and appreciation of the exact circumstances to be met, and a variety which greatly widened the sphere of usefulness of such appliances. Our columns have borne testimony on very many occasions to the fertility of invention in this direction, for which Mr. Charles himself was very largely responsible. It may be recalled also that in 1912 Mr, Wicksteed read a paper on the subject before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. In this ; he gave generous credit to other workers in the same field, whom he mentioned by name. Though ' quite properly on such an occasion, suppressing that of his own firm, the paper dealt, naturally, with . some of his own- products. Among one of the : prettiest machines of the hack-saw type developed ! fairly early, was one for dressing off the edges of flanged boiler plates, largely used in locomotive work.

Not confining himself solely to hack-saws, Mr. Wicksteed also developed circular saw machines, mainly of the inserted tooth type, one of which, with hydraulic feed, we described as recently as August of last year (vol. cxxx, page 149).

As is well known the machine tool industry suffered very severely from post-war conditions, and Mr. Wicksteed, in endeavouring to steer his firm through those difficult times, found an outlet in a very unexpected direction. He had placed under the control of the Charity Commissioners a trust for the maintenance and management of what is now known as the Wicksteed Park, Kettering. This magnificent gift to that town covers some 85 acres, and its development for the pleasure of the public was for many years one of Mr. Wicksteed’s . greatest joys. He utilised a stream flowing through the park to form a lake of no less than 25 acres, on which regattas are held, and recently completed a further attraction in the form of a racing track. But his greatest pleasure undoubtedly lay with the little ones, and the playing grounds at Kettering under Mr. Wicksteed’s stimulus opened the way to practically a new world of open air amusements for ' children. This was the new enterprise added to the firm, and it has probably spread the firm’s name as widely over a large part of the globe as did the business in small machine tools. There are few public authorities controlling playgrounds for children, at least in this country, who have not seen the advantages of some or other of the appliances Mr. Wicksteed produced, embodying in them as he did sound engineering practice, with every regard for safety and ease of operation.

Always a cheery companion he was at his best perhaps with children, and was always welcomed among them in the park and elsewhere. Socially, among elder folk he was a very pleasant friend, with a fund of anecdotes and thoroughly enjoying himself if those round him were laughing with him. From his youth he held strong political opinions, and indeed his views on the land question were responsible for much of his early trouble when running the business of a steam ploughing contractor. He was much in request as a political platform speaker, and was very pronounced in his views and trenchant in his style. This, and his public work in his town, are somewhat outside our sphere, and we may more appropriately mention his connection with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, of which he became a member in 1897, and where-he was always welcome. He was a member of the Machine Tool Trades Association for twenty years, and a vice-president for twelve, and as such was a staunch upholder of the view that British quality and workmanship should make it easily possible for us to secure a fair share of the world trade, without resort to fiscal expedients. Among his professional and business friends, although often of differing views, as may he imagined, Mr. Wicksteed’s genial personality will undoubtedly be sorely missed, no less than among the little folk for whom especially in recent years he has done so much."


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