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British Industrial History

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Joseph Clement

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Joseph Clement (1779–1844) was a British engineer and industrialist.

1779 June 13th. He was baptised Joseph Clemett at Great Asby, near Appleby in Westmorland, the son of Thomas Clemmet, a hand-loom weaver, and his wife Sarah. Although he was taught to read and write at the local school, he learned mechanics and natural history from his father, Thomas, who had built himself a lathe.

He worked, first as a weaver, then as a slater, and learned metalwork from the local blacksmith. With these skills, he built himself his own lathe, on which he turned woodwind musical instruments, which he then learned to play.

By 1805 he was making looms at a factory in Kirkby Stephen, then moved first to Carlisle, then to Glasgow where he learned draughtsmanship from Peter Nicholson.

By 1812 he was with Leys, Masson and Co in Aberdeen, where he attended lectures in natural philosophy at Marishal College.

In 1813, he moved to London, first at Galloways of Holborn then progressing to be works manager for Joseph Bramah at Pimlico.

By 1815 he was chief draughtsman for Maudslay, Sons and Field.

1817 He set up his own firm at 21 Prospect Place, Newington, specialising in technical drawing and precision machinery.

c.1820 Produced a planing machine

c.1820 Lathe drawing here[1]

1823 Charles Babbage employed him on his project to design and build his mechanical calculating device, the difference engine. The high prices of his large precision tools led to a falling out with Babbage, but his skill and the quality of his products kept him in employment for many years.

1825 Produced a very large planing machine that could handle six feet square.

He introduced headless and fluted screw-cutting taps, and urged the adoption of a standard system of screw threads. One of his employees was Joseph Whitworth. He was awarded three medals by the Society for the Encouragement of Arts.

1827 Produced a facing lathe which surpassed any previously produced. Drawing here.

In later years, he returned to music and constructed an organ.

1828 Second award from the Society of Arts for a 'two armed self-adjusting driver'

1841 Living at Knight Hill, Norwood, Lambeth (age c60), an Engineer. Only occupant listed at this abode. [2]

1841 Listed at 31 Prospect Place, St George's Round, Boro' as 'Clement J. engineer and machinist' [3]

1844 February 28th. He died at 31 St George's Road, Southwark. He was buried in the South Metropolitan Cemetery under the name of Joseph Clemmet. Although he had never married, he had a "natural" daughter, Sarah Clement, by one Agnes Esson from County Durham.

His business was carried on at the same premises by one of his nephews, Joseph Wilkinson

An Obituary

To the Editor of the Kendal Mercury.
Mr Editor, —On arriving in London a short time ago, after an absence of some years, I found to my regret, that my friend Joseph Clement, the celebrated engineer, whom I was anticipating the pleasure of seeing once again, had been dead nearly eighteen months. I was astonished at such an event having taken place, without its being publicly known, and could not help exclaiming in the language of the poet Thomson, on the death of Sir Isaac Newton—
" Shall the great soul of Newton quit this earth
To mingle with his Stars, and every tongue
Be silent ?"
Comparing smaller things with great, may we not exclaim "Shall Joseph Clement, who was a far greater honour to his native county of Westmorland than many who have been celebrated in its annals, —shall such a genius depart this life and neither of its journals, owing no doubt, to the great modesty of his friends, be called upon to record the mournful event? This were not only robbing the departed of his just meed of praise, but depriving the rising generation of one of its strongest motives for generous exertion in a like course, when they see the death of such a man passed over without a comment, like that of any ordinary person.
Now Clement was no ordinary man. The gold medal of the Society Arts, awarded to him and hung round his neck by their then President, his Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, for inventing and making a machine for drawing ellipses of almost every focus, was not what falls to the lot of every ordinary man. Nay further, to be called upon by such a man as Babbage to construct his famous calculating machine, which, strange to say, was not completed, though enough was done ascertain its practicability, and a model placed in King's College for the use of the students of that Institution ; to have it said of him by such a man, as was said of him by Babbage, when asked if this famous piece of machinery was likely to be completed, "If Clement lives, I have no doubt of it," was his answer " but if not, I cannot say, for I know not another man in the world capable of doing it except himself ;" to be closeted with the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, for hours previous to the purchase of this famous invention by the Government, and employed during that time in explaining its complicated machinery, all made by himself, is not what falls to the lot of every individual, certainly, and I know not why the inhabitants of Westmorland should not be told that such honours did actually fall to the lot of one of their fellow-natives, who had no education but what he picked up the school of his native village of Asby, near Appleby, and not the best even of that, for the school of Asby is a Grammar school, and Clement had not classical education. He had no friends but such as every young villager, half agriculturist, half weaver, for such he was, may boast of. He afterwards became a slater, accompanying the beautiful slate of his native county to its different places of destination, probably for the sake of seeing a little more of the world than his first occupation afforded him the opportunity for. In spite of all difficulties, he at length worked himself into fame and competency, entirely by the force of his genius and industry combined, and I know not why the natural curiosity of his fellow-natives of Westmorland, should not be gratified by some one much more capable than your humble servant of achieving it; by one more conversant with scientific pursuits, and better acquainted with that part of his existence which was spent in Scotland superintending the machinery of certain mills there, previous to his coming to London, in 1812.
During his whole life, Clement had a love for music, and in his youthful days made clarionets, and I believe violins for his amusement on which he used to play tolerably well, as I have been informed. Of late he constructed under tbe direction of Mr Hight, the organ-builder, an Apollonion or organ, calculated to play either with the fingers or with barrels, which cost him nearly one thousand guineas, and which, melancholy to relate, was only finished a short time before his death, so that his enjoyment from it was of short duration, and it remains an inconvenient legacy in the hands of his niece. He died in London, unmarried, where he had resided during the last 30 years of his life, sometime during the month of February 1844, at the age of 64, and was interred in the New Cemetery, of Norwood, in the parish of Lambeth, and county of Surrey.
I am, Mr Editor,
Your humble Servant,
London, July 23rd, 1845' [4]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] Wellcome Collection: An engineering lathe mechanism: long section, cross-section, and details. Engraving by G. Gladwin after J. Clement.
  2. 1841 Census
  3. 1841 Post Office London Directory
  4. Kendal Mercury, 2 August 1845