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Richard Reynolds by Samuel Smiles

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Richard Reynolds was born at Bristol in 1735. His parents, like the Darbys, belonged to the Society of Friends, and he was educated in that persuasion. Being a spirited, lively youth, the "old Adam" occasionally cropped out in him; and he is even said, when a young man, to have been so much fired by the heroism of the soldier's character that he felt a strong desire to embrace a military career; but this feeling soon died out, and he dropped into the sober and steady rut of the Society. After serving an apprenticeship in his native town, he was sent to Coalbrookdale on a mission of business, where he became acquainted with the Darby family, and shortly after married Hannah, the daughter of Abraham the second. He then entered upon the conduct of the iron and coal works at Ketley and Horsehay, where he resided for six years, removing to Coalbrookdale in 1763, to take charge of the works there, on the death of his father-in-law.

By the exertions and enterprise of the Darbys, the Coalbrookdale Works had become greatly enlarged, giving remunerative employment to a large and increasing population. The firm had extended their operations far beyond the boundaries of the Dale: they had established foundries at London, Bristol, and Liverpool, and agencies at Newcastle and Truro for the disposal of steam-engines and other iron machinery used in the deep mines of those districts. Watt had not yet perfected his steam-engine; but there was a considerable demand for pumping-engines of Newcomen's construction, many of which were made at the Coalbrookdale Works.

The increasing demand for iron gave an impetus to coal-mining, which in its turn stimulated inventors in their improvement of the power of the steam-engine; for the coal could not be worked quickly and advantageously unless the pits could be kept clear of water. Thus one invention stimulates another; and when the steam-engine had been perfected by Watt, and enabled powerful-blowing apparatus to be worked by its agency, we shall find that the production of iron by means of pit-coal being rendered cheap and expeditious, soon became enormously increased.

We are informed that it was while Richard Reynolds had charge of the Coalbrookdale works that a further important improvement was effected in the manufacture of iron by pit-coal. Up to this time the conversion of crude or cast iron into malleable or bar iron had been effected entirely by means of charcoal. The process was carried on in a fire called a finery, somewhat like that of a smith's forge; the iron being exposed to the blast of powerful bellows, and in constant contact with the fuel. In the first process of fusing the ironstone, coal had been used for some time with increasing success; but the question arose, whether coal might not also be used with effect in the second or refining stage. Two of the foremen, named Cranege, suggested to Mr. Reynolds that this might be performed in what is called a reverberatory furnace, (Reverberatory, so called because the flame or current of heated gases from the fuel is caused to be reverberated or reflected down upon the substance under operation before passing into the chimney) in which the iron should not mix with the coal, but be heated solely by the flame.

Mr. Reynolds greatly doubted the feasibility of the operation, but he authorized the Cranege, to make an experiment of their process, the result of which will be found described in the following extract of a letter from Mr. Reynolds to Mr. Thomas Goldney of Bristol, dated "Coalbrookdale, 25th April, 1766 ": "I come now to what I think a matter of very great consequence. It is some time since Thos. Cranege, who works at Bridgenorth Forge, and his brother George, of the Dale, spoke to me about a notion they had conceived of making bar iron without wood charcoal. I told them, consistent with the notion I had adopted in common with all others I had conversed with, that I thought it impossible, because the vegetable salts in the charcoal being an alkali acted as an absorbent to the sulphur of the iron, which occasions the red-short quality of the iron, and pit coal abounding with sulphur would increase it. This specious answer, which would probably have appeared conclusive to most, and which indeed was what I really thought, was not so to them. They replied that from the observations they had made, and repeated conversations together, they were both firmly of opinion that the alteration from the quality of pig iron into that of bar iron was effected merely by heat, and if I would give them leave, they would make a trial some day. I consented, but, I confess, without any great expectation of their success; and so the matter rested some weeks, when it happening that some repairs had to be done at Bridgenorth, Thomas came up to the Dale, and, with his brother, made a trial in Thos. Tilly's air-furnace with such success as I thought would justify the erection of a small air-furnace at the Forge for the more perfectly ascertaining the merit of the invention. This was accordingly done, and a trial of it has been made this week, and the success has surpassed the most sanguine expectations. The iron put into the furnace was old Bushes, which thou knowest are always made of hard iron, and the iron drawn out is the toughest I ever saw. A bar 1 1/4 inch square, when broke, appears to have very little cold short in it. I look upon it as one of the most important discoveries ever made, and take the liberty of recommending thee and earnestly requesting thou wouldst take out a patent for it immediately.... The specification of the invention will be comprised in a few words, as it will only set forth that a reverberatory furnace being built of a proper construction, the pig or cast iron is put into it, and without the addition of anything else than common raw pit coal, is converted into good malleable iron, and, being taken red-hot from the reverberatory furnace to the forge hammer, is drawn out into bars of various shapes and sizes, according to the will of the workmen."

Mr. Reynolds's advice was implicitly followed. A patent was secured in the name of the brothers Cranege, dated the 17th June, 1766; and the identical words in the above letter were adopted in the specification as descriptive of the process. By this method of puddling, as it is termed, the manufacturer was thenceforward enabled to produce iron in increased quantity at a large reduction in price; and though the invention of the Craneges was greatly improved upon by Onions, and subsequently by Cort, there can be no doubt as to the originality and the importance of their invention. Mr. Tylor states that he was informed by the son of Richard Reynolds that the wrought iron made at Coalbrookdale by the Cranege process "was very good, quite tough, and broke with a long, bright, fibrous fracture: that made by Cort afterwards was quite different."*

Though Mr. Reynolds's generosity to the Craneges is apparent; in the course which he adopted in securing for them a patent for the invention in their own names, it does not appear to have proved of much advantage to them; and they failed to rise above the rank which they occupied when their valuable discovery was patented. This, however, was no fault of Richard Reynolds, but was mainly attributable to the circumstance of other inventions in a great measure superseding their process, and depriving them of the benefits of their ingenuity.

Among the important improvements introduced by Mr. Reynolds while managing the Coalbrookdale Works, was the adoption by him for the first time of iron instead of wooden rails in the tram-roads along which coal and iron were conveyed from one part of the works to another, as well as to the loading-places along the river Severn. He observed that the wooden rails soon became decayed, besides being liable to be broken by the heavy loads passing over them, occasioning much loss of time, interruption to business, and heavy expenses in repairs. It occurred to him that these inconveniences would be obviated by the use of rails of cast-iron; and, having tried an experiment with them, it answered so well, that in 1767 the whole of the wooden rails were taken up and replaced by rails of iron. Thus was the era of iron railroads fairly initiated at Coalbrookdale, and the example of Mr. Reynolds was shortly after followed on all the tramroads throughout the Country.

In the mean time the works at Coalbrookdale had become largely extended. In 1784, when the government of the day proposed to levy a tax on pit-coal, Richard Reynolds strongly urged upon Mr. Pitt, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, as well as on Lord Gower, afterwards Marquis of Stafford, the impolicy of such a tax. To the latter he represented that large capitals had been invested in the iron trade, which was with difficulty carried on in the face of the competition with Swedish and Russian iron. At Coalbrookdale, sixteen "fire engines," as steam engines were first called, were then at work, eight blast-furnaces and nine forges, besides the air furnaces and mills at the foundry, which, with the levels, roads, and more than twenty miles of iron railways, gave employment to a very large number of people. "The advancement of the iron trade within these few years," said he, "has been prodigious. It was thought, and justly, that the making of pig-iron with pit coal was a great acquisition to the country by saving the wood and supplying a material to manufactures, the production of which, by the consumption of all the wood the country produced, was formerly unequal to the demand, and the nail trade, perhaps the most considerable of any one article of manufactured iron, would have been lost to this country had it not been found practicable to make nails of iron made with pit coal. We have now another process to attempt, and that is to make BAR IRON with pit coal; and it is for that purpose we have made, or rather are making, alterations at Donnington Wood, Ketley, and elsewhere, which we expect to complete in the present year, but not at a less expense than twenty thousand pounds, which will be lost to us, and gained by nobody, if this tax is laid upon our coals." He would not, however, have it understood that he sought for any PROTECTION for the homemade iron, notwithstanding the lower prices of the foreign article. "From its most imperfect state as pig-iron," he observed to Lord Sheffield, "to its highest finish in the regulating springs of a watch, we have nothing to fear if the importation into each country should be permitted without duty." We need scarcely add that the subsequent history of the iron trade abundantly justified these sagacious anticipations of Richard Reynolds.

He was now far advanced in years. His business had prospered, his means were ample, and he sought retirement. He did not desire to possess great wealth, which in his opinion entailed such serious responsibilities upon its possessor; and he held that the accumulation of large property was more to be deprecated than desired. He therefore determined to give up his shares in the ironworks at Ketley to his sons William and Joseph, who continued to carry them on. William was a man of eminent ability, well versed in science, and an excellent mechanic. He introduced great improvements in the working of the coal and iron mines, employing new machinery for the purpose, and availing himself with much ingenuity of the discoveries then being made in the science of chemistry.

He was also an inventor, having been the first to employ (in 1788) inclined planes, consisting of parallel railways, to connect and work canals of different levels, an invention erroneously attributed to Fulton, but which the latter himself acknowledged to belong to William Reynolds. In the first chapter of his 'Treatise on Canal Navigation,' published in 1796, Fulton says: "As local prejudices opposed the Duke of Bridgewater's canal in the first instance, prejudices equally strong as firmly adhered to the principle on which it was constructed; and it was thought impossible to lead one through a country, or to work it to any advantage, unless by locks and boats of at least twenty-five tons, till the genius of Mr. William Reynolds, of Ketley, in Shropshire, stepped from the accustomed path, constructed the first inclined plane, and introduced boats of five tons. This, like the Duke's canal, was deemed a visionary project, and particularly by his Grace, who was partial to locks; yet this is also introduced into practice, and will in many instances supersede lock canals." Telford, the engineer, also gracefully acknowledged the valuable assistance he received from William Reynolds in planning the iron aqueduct by means of which the Ellesmere Canal was carried over the Pont Cysylltau, and in executing the necessary castings for the purpose at the Ketley foundry.

The future management of his extensive ironworks being thus placed in able hands, Richard Reynolds finally left Coalbrookdale in 1804, for Bristol, his native town, where he spent the remainder of his life in works of charity and mercy. Here we might leave the subject, but cannot refrain from adding a few concluding words as to the moral characteristics of this truly good man. Though habitually religious, he was neither demure nor morose, but cheerful, gay, and humorous. He took great interest in the pleasures of the young people about him, and exerted himself in all ways to promote their happiness. He was fond of books, pictures, poetry, and music, though the indulgence of artistic tastes is not thought becoming in the Society to which he belonged. His love for the beauties of nature amounted almost to a passion, and when living at The Bank, near Ketley, it was his great delight in the summer evenings to retire with his pipe to a rural seat commanding a full view of the Wrekin, the Ercall Woods, with Cader Idris and the Montgomeryshire hills in the distance, and watch the sun go down in the west in his glory.

Once in every year he assembled a large party to spend a day with him on the Wrekin, and amongst those invited were the principal clerks in the company's employment, together with their families. At Madeley, near Coalbrookdale, where he bought a property, he laid out, for the express use of the workmen, extensive walks through the woods on Lincoln Hill, commanding beautiful views. They were called "The Workmen's Walks," and were a source of great enjoyment to them and their families, especially on Sunday afternoons.

When Mr. Reynolds went to London on business, he was accustomed to make a round of visits, on his way home, to places remarkable for their picturesque beauty, such as Stowe, Hagley Park, and the Leasowes. After a visit to the latter place in 1767, he thus, in a letter to his friend John Maccappen, vindicated his love for the beautiful in nature: -- "I think it not only lawful but expedient to cultivate a disposition to be pleased with the beauties of nature, by frequent indulgences for that purpose. The mind, by being continually applied to the consideration of ways and means to gain money, contracts an indifferency if not an insensibility to the profusion of beauties which the benevolent Creator has impressed upon every part of the material creation. A sordid love of gold, the possession of what gold can purchase, and the reputation of being rich, have so depraved the finer feelings of some men, that they pass through the most delightful grove, filled with the melody of nature, or listen to the murmurings of the brook in the valley, with as little pleasure and with no more of the vernal delight which Milton describes, than they feel in passing through some obscure alley in a town."

When in the prime of life, Mr. Reynolds was an excellent rider, performing all his journeys on horseback. He used to give a ludicrous account of a race he once ran with another youth, each having a lady seated on a pillion behind him; Mr. Reynolds reached the goal first, but when he looked round he found that he had lost his fair companion, who had fallen off in the race! On another occasion he had a hard run with Lord Thurlow during a visit paid by the latter to the Ketley Iron Works. Lord Thurlow pulled up his horse first, and observed, laughing, "I think, Mr. Reynolds, this is probably the first time that ever a Lord Chancellor rode a race with a Quaker!" But a stranger rencontre was one which befel Mr. Reynolds on Blackheath. Though he declined Government orders for cannon, he seems to have had a secret hankering after the "pomp and circumstance" of military life. At all event's he was present on Blackheath one day when George III was reviewing some troops. Mr. Reynold's horse, an old trooper, no sooner heard the sound of the trumpet than he started off at full speed, and made directly for the group of officers before whom the troops were defiling. Great was the surprise of the King when he saw the Quaker draw up alongside of him, but still greater, perhaps, was the confusion of the Quaker at finding himself in such company.

During the later years of his life, while living at Bristol, his hand was in every good work; and it was often felt where it was not seen. For he carefully avoided ostentation, and preferred doing his good in secret. He strongly disapproved of making charitable bequests by will, which he observed in many cases to have been the foundation of enormous abuses, but held it to be the duty of each man to do all the possible good that he could during his lifetime. Many were the instances of his princely, though at the time unknown, munificence. Unwilling to be recognised as the giver of large sums, he employed agents to dispense his anonymous benefactions. He thus sent 20,000L to London to be distributed during the distress of 1795. He had four almoners constantly employed in Bristol, finding out cases of distress, relieving them, and presenting their accounts to him weekly, with details of the cases relieved. He searched the debtors' prisons, and where, as often happened, deserving but unfortunate men were found confined for debt, he paid the claims against them and procured their release. Such a man could not fail to be followed with blessings and gratitude; but these he sought to direct to the Giver of all Good. "My talent," said he to a friend, "is the meanest of all talents - a little sordid dust; but as the man in the parable who had but one talent was held accountable, I also am accountable for the talent that I possess, humble as it is, to the great Lord of all."

On one occasion the case of a poor orphan boy was submitted to him, whose parents, both dying young, had left him destitute, on which Mr. Reynolds generously offered to place a sum in the names of trustees for his education and maintenance until he could be apprenticed to a business. The lady who represented the case was so overpowered by the munificence of the act that she burst into tears, and, struggling to express her gratitude, concluded with--"and when the dear child is old enough, I will teach him to thank his benefactor." "Thou must teach him to look higher," interrupted Reynolds: "Do we thank the clouds for rain? When the child grows up, teach him to thank Him who sendeth both the clouds and the rain." Reynolds himself deplored his infirmity of temper, which was by nature hasty; and, as his benevolence was known, and appeals were made to him at all times, seasonable and unseasonable, he sometimes met them with a sharp word, which, however, he had scarcely uttered before he repented of it: and he is known to have followed a poor woman to her home and ask forgiveness for having spoken hastily in answer to her application for help.

This "great good man" died on the l0th of September, 1816, in the 81st year of his age. At his funeral the poor of Bristol were the chief mourners. The children of the benevolent societies which he had munificently supported during his lifetime, and some of which he had founded, followed his body to the grave. The procession was joined by the clergy and ministers of all denominations, and by men of all classes and persuasions. And thus was Richard Reynolds laid to his rest, leaving behind him a name full of good odour, which will long be held in grateful remembrance by the inhabitants of Bristol.


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