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British Industrial History

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Fawcett, Preston and Co

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1891. Cyclone hydraulic baling presses.
1904. Hinkford pumping engines.
1904. Vertical compound pumping engine.
Portable Riot Shield. Exhibit at the Museum of Liverpool.
Portable Riot Shield. Exhibit at the Museum of Liverpool.
Portable Riot Shield (detail). Exhibit at the Museum of Liverpool.

Fawcett, Preston and Co of Phoenix Foundry, York Street, Liverpool. Subsequently at Bromborough, Cheshire.

See William Fawcett, Robert Preston and his nephew William Preston

Historical Development

1758 Foundry established by George Perry as the Liverpool branch of the Coalbrookdale Co, specialising in three-legged cast iron cooking pots.[1]

1771 George Perry died and was replaced by Joseph Rathbone

1784 William Fawcett joined the management,

1811 Fawcett was declared bankrupt, but the Littledale family came into the business under the style of Fawcett and Littledale. New works were built.

1816-7 Supplied steam machinery for four sugar plantations in Cuba.

The firm provided engines for the wooden paddle steamer Conde de Palmella, the first ocean-going steamer to leave this country. She made the voyage Liverpool to Lisbon in four days. The firm went on to provide engines for all types of steam vessels.

1823 This partnership dissolved; Robert Preston joined the firm which became Fawcett, Preston and Co.

1836 Partnership dissolved. '...the Partnership heretofore subsisting between the undersigned, as Engineers and Iron-Founders, at Liverpool, under the firm of Fawcett, Preston, and Co. is dissolved, so far as regards the undersigned Isaac Shakespeare. Signed Isaac Shakespeare, Willm. Fawcett, Willm. R. Preston'[2]

1838 'PLATES OF IRON.— There are in Messrs. Fawcett, Preston and Co.'s yard, London[?], two plates of iron, which are said to be the largest ever made. They measure 10 feet 7 inches long, 5 feet 1 inch wide, 7-16ths of an inch thick, and weigh between 7 and 8 cwt. They are intended for the bottom plates of two steam generators on Mr Howard's plan, and were made by the Coalbrook Dale Iron Company, Shropshire, who, we are informed, are the only company in Britain (we may say in the world) that can make plates of this size, or even approaching it.'[3]

1840 Lengthy newspaper description of the works [4]

1843 Major fire at the York Street works. Subsequently the following advert appeared:-

'THE LATE FIRE IN YORK-STREET. In consequence of the FIRE which occurred at Messrs. Fawcett, Preston, and Co.'s Establishment, in York-street. upon the 7th day of March, the MILLWRIGHTS, MODEL MAKERS, and JOINERs have lost their TOOLS, which, from the extent of the Premises, and the rapid progress of the Fire, it was found impossible to save, by which they have sustained a loss, amounting to £393; and most of them having Families, they feel themselves necessitated to appeal to the liberality of the Public to mitigate their heavy loss, and beg to state, that several Gentlemen have formed themselves into a Committee, to apportion the amount received in proportion to the loss sustained by each individual. They have to add, that Books have been left at the various Newspaper Offices. ....' There follows a list of 36 contributing firms and their donations.[5]

1843 'A LARGE SPINDLE.-Yesterday week a large cylindrical mass of wrought iron, weighing no less than 22,400 lbs., was conveyed from the foundry of Messrs. Fawcett and Preston to the Clarence Dock, where it was to be shipped for London This immense piece of metal is intended for the spindle of one of her Majesty’s steam frigates. It was placed on two strong trucks, and was drawn through the streets by eleven powerful horses, twenty or thirty men holding by drag ropes in the rear to prevent the trucks attaining too much velocity in descending inclined planes.'[6]

1848 Built one railway locomotive and this was bought by the East Lancashire Railway.

1854 Announce they have acquired a large plot of ground fronting the Birkenhead Great Float to where they will move their boiler works.[7]

1859 Patent No. 1710 to Henry Berthon Preston for improvements in apparatus for superheating steam [8]

1863 The firm consisted of Herman James Sillem, William Thompson Mann, Jacob Willink, Henry Berthon Preston and David William Thomas.[9]

The firm supplied equipment for sugar refineries in many parts of the world, sending employees out to erect and install the equipment.

1869 Partnership change. '...the Partnership heretofore subsisting between the undersigned, Herman James Sillem, William Thompson Mann, Jacob Willink, and Henry Berthon Preston, carrying on business, under the style or firm of Fawcett, Preston, and Company, in Liverpool in the county of Lancaster, as Engineers and Iron and Brass Founders, was, on the 31st day of December, 1867, dissolved and determined so far as the said Jacob Willink was concerned...'[10]

1872 Partnership change. '...the Partnership heretofore existing between the undersigned, Herman James Sillem, William Thompson Mann, and Henry Berthon Preston, carrying on business at Liverpool, as Engineers and Ironfounders, under the firm of Fawcett, Preston, and Co, was this day dissolved by mutual consent, so far as respects the said Herman James Sillem and Henry Berthon Preston...'[11]

1872 Partnership change. James Gregson Chapman and his brother Alfred Chapman became partners in the firm having worked for the firm overseas for many years and joining William Thompson Mann

1881-2 John Shield Pattinson was in charge of the electrical department including the manufacture of secondary storage batteries.

1888 Conversion to limited liability. '...subscriptions in Fawcett Preston and Co. Limited, which has just been formed, the proposed capital being £100,000, in 10,000 shares of £10 each, and £60,000 in 600 debentures of £100 each.....Consequent on the death of Mr. W. T. Mann, the senior partner in the firm of Fawcett Preston and Co., of Liverpool, the surviving partners, who have for many years conducted the business, have formed this company for the purpose of carrying on the business under the provisions of the Limited Liability Acts, and have agreed to act as managing directors for a term of not less than five years. During the last three years the works have been to a very large extent reconstructed, and new buildings have been erected and fitted with powerful plant and tools of improved type, suitable for the economical manufacture of the various specialities of the firm. The works cover an area of about 13,669 square yards, of which about 11,640 are freehold and the remainder Liverpool Corporation...'[12]

1891 Description of their works in 1891 The Practical Engineer. Also manufactured the Cyclone press of Mr. James Watson, used for pressing jute, cotton, silk, feathers, etc.

1894 Two Woolf Compound Beam Engines for Wallasey Waterworks (Liscard Station).

1894 Pumping engine for Bournvale Pumping Station, Walsall. Scrapped in the 1930s [13]

Producing machinery for the manufacture of nitrate of soda which was supplied to nitrate works abroad.

1901 Mention of Alfred Chapman as managing director.[14]

1905 The company was registered in 8 June, to take over the business of the company of the same name, engineers. [15]

1907 Produced a light goods chassis.[16]

1927 See Aberconway for information on the company and its history.

General Engineers, of Bromborough Port, Cheshire

1948 Acquired by Metal Industries

1949 Reconverted to private company

1955 Joint sales and service operation Fawcett-Finney for Finney Presses and Fawcett, Preston (see advert)

1958 Merged with another Metal Industries subsidiary, Finney Presses; operations concentrated at Bromborough; the Fawcett facility at Birmingham was closed[17].

1961 Hydraulic and general engineers, manufacturing presses, rubber and plastics machinery, electrical resistors. 800 employees. [18]

1967 Metal Industries sold Fawcett, Preston and Co, rubber and plastic extrusion machinery makers to Tube Investments[19].

Location of Phoenix Foundry: The foundry fronted onto Lydia Ann Street. Map here.

Marine Engineering

1817 The firm was among the earliest manufacturers of marine steam propulsion machinery, building the engines for the PS Etna, which began to ply on the Mersey in 1817

1829 Made the side lever engine for the French Navy's first steam ship, the Sphinx. A large scale model of the engine, made in 1843, is on display at the Musée des Arts et Métiers. See PS Sphinx: Side Lever Engine.

1830 Steam packet 'Paul Pry' advertised for sale, with 14 HP engine by Fawcett, Preston.[20]

1834 Made the engines for the Carlisle and Annan Steam Navigation Co's 'City of Carlisle', to ply between Liverpool, Carlisle and Annan, built by Mottershead, Hayes and Son of Liverpool.[21] Vessel advertised for sale in 1843[22]

1836 Made 270 HP engines for the Roscommon, built for the Dublin Steam Packet Co by Wilson (Liverpool?). [23]

1838 Advert: TRANSATLANTIC STEAM SHIP COMPANY prospectus: 'The first two vessels now building, of 450 horse power and 1,250 tons burthen each, by Messrs. Fawcett, Preston, and Co., and Messrs. W. and J. Wilson, will, it is expected, be launched early next year; and the well-known character of those houses cannot fail of giving confidence to the public, and ensure the utmost perfection in build and machinery of which steam navigation is at present susceptible.'[24]

1838-42 See 1839-1842 Marine Engine Makers for details of engines made for the Admiralty.

c.1839 320 HP engines for the Dublin-Liverpool mail packets Medusa and Merlin (designed by Sir William Symonds).[25]

1840 Made side lever engines for the French frigate 'Gomer' ('La machine ... a été construite en 1840, par Fawcett et Preston, pour la frégate le Gomer').[26]

1840 The firm made the machinery of the President, the largest Atlantic steamer built up to that time. 'The President's Engines.— Our readers are already aware that the fine steam-vessel, the President, now lying in the Trafalgar Dock, has been brought from London to this port to be fitted and take on board her engines, manufactured our townsmen, Messrs. Fawcett, Preston, and Co., who have obtained considerable celebrity in the annals of steam-engine making on account of the high character which their engines bear in the mercantile world. The engines in question, which have in the usual preliminary way been fitted in the yard of these gentlemen, in York-street, in order to their completion, are now in course of being taken down, preparatory to their removal on board the President. They are the largest marine engines hitherto made in this or any other country, being of 540 horse power, and are said by competent judges to be unrivalled for strength and neatness. They are certainly of colossal magnitude, and cannot fail to elicit the admiration of the spectator, scientific or otherwise. Their style is that of the gothic, and no pains have been spared to render them worthy of the establishment in which they have been manufactured. The respected proprietors of the works kindly permitted a considerable portion of the public to inspect them, and for the last two or three weeks the parties who have visited the Phoenix Foundry have been very numerous. To give our readers some idea of ihe magnitude of these splendid specimens of human skill and ingenuity, we subjoin a few particulars of the engines.
Height of columns 23 feet 0 inches.
Diameter of each cylinder 6 feet 8 inches
Stroke of piston 7 feet 6 inches
Diameter of each air pump 3 feet 10 inches
Stroke of ditto 3 feet 9 inches
4 beams, each 6 tons
4 columns, each 15 tons
Weight of shaft 10 tons
Plates for engines to stand on 32 tons
Total weight of metal in engines, including boilers 500 tons. [27]

1842 Supplied 520 HP engines for the PS Hindoostan. Cylinders 79 inches; 'stroke — the largest of any engine in England — 8 feet. ... The engines are by Messrs. Fawcett, Preston. They are ponderous pieces of mechanism, and beautifully finished.'[28]

1844 Contract for 210 HP engines for a vessel to be built for the Steam Navigation Co by Vernon and Co. of Liverpool[29]

1845 Two steam packets being constructed by P. Cato at Brunswick Dock, with 40 HP screw engines by Fawcett, Preston[30]

1847 Made 200 HP side lever engines for the Guadalquiver, built by Thomas Vernon and Co for a Cuban company.[31]

1848 Steamship 'Antelope' advertised for sale. Engines by Fawcett, Preston. [32]


1845 'LARGE CANNON.- An immense cannon, intended for the American navy, is just being finished at the foundry of Messrs. Fawcett and Co., in this town. It is of malleable iron, of a superior quality, manufactured for the the purpose at the Mersey Iron works. The weight of metal previously to being bored was upwards of eleven tons, and the gun will be about eight tons when finished. The length is l3 feet, and bore 12 inches; outside diameter of the widest part 27 1/2 inches, the iron varying in thickness from 3 1/2 inches at the mouth to 7 3/4 inches at the opposite extremity. The exterior is beautifully finished, bearing a polish similar to engine work, which has cost considerable time and labour. This ponderous piece of ordnance will, on its completion, be placed on board the American frigate Princeton, which is expected here shortly to receive it, and mounted on the same carriage which supported the huge cannon that burst some time back, when several persons lost their lives. It is the largest ever made in this country, and will rank as one amongst many in other efforts of mechanical skill and ingenuity in iron work, which have emanated from Messrs. Fawcett and Co.'s establishmment. Before its delivery, the gun will be tested with a double charge of gunpowder, (45lbs.) and two balls, made for the purpose.'[33]

1845 'Trial of the Monster Gun.— On Friday, and again on Saturday, the monster gun, recently manufactured by Messrs. Fawcett, Preston, and Co.'s foundery, Liverpool, for the American war steamer Princeton, was repeatedly tested on the sands, about three miles beyond Waterloo. The gun was conveyed from the foundery to the place selected for the trial about four o'clock on Friday morning, when very few of the inhabitants were astir in the streets. About half-past five it passed through Bootle, almost unobserved, most of the good people of that locality being in the enjoyment of their morning dreams at the time. It was drawn by nine horses. On arriving at its temporary destination, it was firmly embedded in the sand, and the muzzle, which was pointed out to sea, was slightly elevated in a line above the surface of the water. The first ball, weighing 219lbs., was then driven home, the gun being charged with 30lbs. of powder, and the first shot was fired at ten, in the presence spectators. The result was most satisfactory. The report was deafening, and was distinctly heard nine miles off. At the distance of about three miles, as nearly as could be judged, the ball was seen bounding the surface of the water, occasionally dipping and springing again, until at length it became wholly lost to view. The second was the trial shot. Two balls, each weighing 219lbs., were " driven home," 45lbs. of powder being the charge. This shot was equally satisfactory. The report, of course, was terrific, but the gun withstood the shock, and thereby proved that it had been manufactured on a principle and with a material which render bursting almost, if not altogether, an impossibility. A great number of single shots, with balls of 219lbs. each, were fired during the afternoon of Friday and the whole of Saturday, with the like successful result. We understand the gun will be shortly shipped by vessel for America, there to be taken on board the war steamer for which it was manufactured.'[34]. Note: the forgings for the gun were produced by the Mersey Steel and Iron Co.

'The Monster Gun for the Princeton. —The enormous gun made in this town to supply the place of Captain Stockton's gun, which burst on board the Princeton, American war steamer, with such dreadful results, is now ready for use, and was tried on the shore near Formby, on Friday, Saturday, and Monday. Not less than 24 shots have been fired from it, all of them with a larger charge of powder than that which will be used under ordinary circumstances, and in one case with charge of double the ordinary strength. It stood the trials well, and may safely be considered one of the strongest as well one of the largest pieces of cannon ever made. We sincerely trust that it will never be turned to worse use than it was on Friday, Saturday, and Monday. The following are some interesting particulars with regard to the gun and its trials :— " Proved 40th[!] May, 1845, at Formby, near Liverpool. Twenty-three shots were fired out of it, and the proving of it occupied the whole of Friday, 30th, Saturday, 31st May, and Monday, 2d June. To prevent as much as possible the crowd from hindering the operations, the day fixed for proving it was kept a secret, and early in the day there were not more than 200 people present, but it was very soon known what was going on, and people began to arrive pretty thickly about two and three o'clock. The gun was removed from Fawcett, Preston and Co.'s yard at two a.m. Friday, and, just outside the town, the bushes of the under wheels came out, and the men were detained till two more timber carriage wheels could be obtained. The first shot was fired about ten o'clock.
1st— 30lbs. powder, single shot, weighing 2201bs
2d— 40lbs. " double shot, 220lbs. each.
3d- 44lbs. " " 220lbs.
This was the grand proof charge, and the gun stood the whole of the trials very well. It was forged at the Mersey Steel and Iron Company's forge, Sefton-street, (C. Horsfall and Co.), and turned and bored at Fawcett, Preston and Co.'s yard, York-street. Weight in the rough, 11 tons, 3 cwt., 3 qrs., 11lbs.; finished, tons, 16 cwt., 2 qrs., 13 lbs. Length of gun , 18 feet ; length of bore, 12 feet ; diameter of bore, 12 inches; thickness of metal at breech, 8 inches ; ditto at muzzle, 3 1/4 inches. The wads used weighed 15lbs. each. It was beautiful to see the recocheting of the balls along the water, and when double shot were fired, they looked like two birds playing in the air, being quite visible throughout their course,—Liverpool Times.' [35]

1855 'At Fawcett’s foundry, Liverpool, mortars of large size are being cast, and the shells and the mortars are said to be superior to those supplied from other places. The mortars are all proved by hydraulic pressure before they leave the foundry. One of the engineers at Fawcett’s has made an important discovery in the construction of a shell, and the Admiralty and the War-office are delighted with the improvement. The shell is cast very thin, and lined inside in a way (which is secret) to resist the influence of molten iron. With molten iron the shell is to be filled, and, while in fluid state, fired. Each shell will contain 50 lb. of iron a state of fusion; and, where the shell falls, destruction extends around it, on damp ground no man can live within fifty yards of it. The filling of each shell will take twenty-five minutes, and there will be no difficulty, in ship or trenches, in preparing the molten metal. in ancient times forts were defended by pouring molten lead on the besiegers ; now, we shall project the molten metal upon the besieged.'[36]

Note: For more information on molten iron-filled shells, see HMS Colossus.

1860 'DESPATCH OF CANNONS, GUNS, AND STEAMSHIPS FOR GARIBALDI. (From the Liverpool Daily Times, August 4.) This morning, at one o'clock, a noble paddle-wheel steamer, the second of two which have been purchased in this port for Garibaldi, rounded the rock on her way to the coast of Sicily. Although, as upholders of constitutional government, we have no right to interfere in the distractions which have fallen upon Naples, yet the sympathy of England is ever with the oppressed, and pervades even commercial circles. Everyone has, more or less, felt unusual interest in the movements of Garibaldi ; and we have already mentioned that MM. Feletti and Orlando, his agents, have been busy in this town negotiating for the purchase of steam-vessels and war materiel for that distinguished chief. MM. Feletti and Orlando are men of judgment and extensive experience, and the illustrious Dictator has shown a wise discretion in his selection of them as his agents for this delicate and important mission. M. Feletti, to whom we have had the pleasure of being introduced, once held a command the Sardinian army, in which he served during the war with Austria 1848. His colleague, K. Orlando, is an eminent engineer in Genoa, owning large works there, and having upwards of 900 men in his employ. These gentlemen, in their arrangements for the purchase of the required steamships, have wisely reposed unlimited trust in Messrs Curry, Kellock, and Co., the eminent shipbrokers of this town ; and the result, we need not say, has amply justified their confidence. Not only have vessels of first-rate character been secured, but they have been bought up on advantageous terms (being paid for cash), refitted, loaded, and despatched with true business-like celerity. The paddle-wheel steamer Independence, which sailed this morning for Sicily, .... The Independence takes out no guns or ammunition, but she has a first-rate supply of coal. The Queen of England, which left Liverpool on Thursday last was provided with formidable armament, having on board some of Captain Blakeley's patent rifled cannon, manufactured by Messrs Fawcett, Preston and Co., engineers, of this town. They are six to seven inches diameter, and will throw shell, with eight or ten degrees elevation, three miles. We believe the amount of materiel purchased from Messrs Fawcett, Preston, and Co. amounts to upwards of £1200. One of the guns is mounted on the forecastle upon a traversing carriage, and she also carries 12 other heavy guns. .... The four Whitworth guns subscribed for in Manchester for Garibaldi did not arrive in time for despatch by this vessel.' [37]

Produced many guns to the design of Alexander Blakely.

1876 Photos of details of an 1876 2.5" Blakely rifled field gun here.

Machinery for Sugar Production

Fawcett, Preston were pioneers and major producers of equipment for processing sugar cane.

1816-1817 Supplied steam machinery for four sugar plantations in Cuba [38]

c.1830 Supplied sugar cane processing machinery, including a waggon boiler, beam engine, and crushing rolls to a plantation in the Approuague region of French Guiana.[39]

1834 Supplied a 36 HP stationary engine to the New Orleans Sugar Refining Co.[40]

c.1850 Produced some curious combined engines and boilers, in which the beam engine's central column and cylinder were mounted on the cast iron boiler. Recipients included the mill at Ajangua and the mill of Longoni. Drawing and photos here [41]

1862 Exhibited equipment for cane mill and engine including Aspinall's patent evaporating pan; vacuum apparatus; centrifugal machines.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. National Archives
  2. The London Gazette 15 November 1836 Issue:19437 Page:2053
  3. Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, Glamorgan, Monmouth, and Brecon Gazette, 14 July 1838
  4. Liverpool Standard and General Commercial Advertiser - Friday 06 March 1840
  5. Gore's Liverpool General Advertiser, 6 April 1843
  6. Liverpool Mercury, Friday 13 October 1843
  7. Liverpool Mercury - Friday 21 April 1854
  8. [1] London Gazette, 19 August 1859
  9. Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 23 June 1863
  10. The London Gazette Publication date:5 March 1869 Issue:23476 Page:1531
  11. The London Gazette Publication date:27 December 1872 Issue:23932 Page:6489
  12. Liverpool Mercury - Saturday 14 April 1888
  13. [2] Black Country History: Bournvale Pumping Station; Walsall
  14. St James's Gazette - Monday 24 June 1901
  15. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  16. Complete Encyclopedia of Commercial Vehicles. Edited by G. N. Georgano
  17. The Times, Jul 9, 1958
  18. 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
  19. The Times, 1 July 1967
  20. Gore's Liverpool General Advertiser, 23 September 1830
  21. Carlisle Patriot, 5 April 1834
  22. Liverpool Mail - Saturday 06 May 1843
  23. Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 17 September 1836
  24. London Courier and Evening Gazette, 19 October 1838
  25. Waterford Mail, 7 September 1839
  26. [3] Les Merveilles de la science, 1867 - 1891, Tome 5
  27. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 4 April 1840
  28. Northern Whig, 6 September 1842
  29. Carlisle Journal - Saturday 18 May 1844
  30. Dublin Evening Post, 9 October 1845
  31. Liverpool Mail, 27 March 1847
  32. Gore's Liverpool General Advertiser, 1 June 1848
  33. Liverpool Mercury, 11 April 1845
  34. Lincolnshire Chronicle - Friday 6 June 1845
  35. Kendal Mercury - Saturday 7 June 1845
  36. Illustrated London News - Saturday 01 September 1855
  37. Western Daily Press, 7 August 1860
  38. [4] 'The Sugarmill' by Manuel Moreno Fraginals, translated by Cedric Belfrage: Monthly Review Press, 1976, 2008
  39. [5] Une Saison en Guyane: 'The forgotten remains of the Approuague : Industrial treasure' by Philippe Goergen. Includes several photographs of the abandoned machinery
  40. [6] 'Steam Engines: Letter from the Secretary of the Treasury' by United States Dept. of the Treasury, 1838, p.308
  41. [7] Les vestiges industriels a Mayotte: Machine a vapeur FAWCETT (1853)
  • British Steam Locomotive Builders by James W. Lowe. Published in 1975. ISBN 0-905100-816
  • The Steam Engine in Industry by George Watkins in two volumes. Moorland Publishing. 1978. ISBN 0-903485-65-6