Henry Maudslay (1771–1831)

Henry Maudslay made rhw machine tools that made possible the widespread percolation of engineering skills during the Industrial Revolution, and guided the education of many of the leading British engineers of the mid-19th century.

Maudslay was born at Woolwich, the son of an ex-Royal Artilleryman, employed at the Royal Arsenal, where he himself worked from an early age. His precocious talents attracted the attention of Joseph Bramah (1748-1814), who developed the water closet, the hydraulic press, the beer engine and planing machines. He worked for Bramah from 1789, devised the self-tightening leather collar which made possible the efficient working of Bramah’s hydraulic press, and married Bramah’s housekeeper, Sarah Tindal, in 1790.

In 1798 Maudslay opened his own engineering shop, initially in Wells Road off Oxford Street, and afterwards in Margaret Street where he built 44 block-making machines designed by Sir Marc Brunel (1769-1849) for the Royal Dockyard at Portsmouth. He took out patents for calico printing in 1805 and 1808, for refinements to the lathe in 1806, and for the table engine in 1807. In 1810 he moved to Westminster Bridge Road where he set up Henry Maudslay & Co, which became Maudslay, Field & Co, when he took Joshua Field (1771-1831) as his partner, and subsequently Maudslay, Sons & Field.

He insisted on using the highest quality materials in his machines, standardised screws and other parts, and constantly made use of the micrometer. He supplied to other engineering establishments lathes, planning, slotting and drilling machines of superlative quality, and made important contributions to the development of steam power for ships, but his most significant legacy was his influence on a generation of British mechanical engineers.

Amongst those who gained experience in his workshop were William Muir (1805-88), James Nasmyth (1808-90), Richard Roberts (1789-1864), Samuel Seaward (1786-1858) and Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803-87). Two of his sons, Thomas Henry Maudslay (1792-1864) and Joseph Maudslay (1801-61) became partners in the business, and his great-grandson, Reginald Walter Maudslay (1871-1934), one of the pioneers of the British motor industry, established the Standard Motor Co at Coventry in 1903.