Picture of George Head

George Head

places mentioned

Warrington and St. Helens

Next Selection Previous Selection


THE Warrington Junction is a point in the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, from which a branch road six miles in length departs to Warrington. Thither one, two, or three, or as many carriages as necessary are despatched every day at stated times from the latter place to meet the trains going both ways on the Manchester line. Little delay takes place in the mutual exchanges of passengers by the Warrington engine, they being despatched in the same carriages, without the trouble of getting out, east or west, as it suits them, the engine receiving in tow others to take back, under a similar arrangement, to Warrington.

Having gone from Manchester to Warrington by the above mode of conveyance, I visited a large pin manufactory in the town. I had never an opportunity either before or since of observing this useful art and interesting process, but all the information I was enabled to glean during a hasty walk from chamber to chamber of the premises may be gathered from the following description.

The brass wire is received at the manufactory in hanks or rolls from Staffordshire, and these are, in the first place, drawn to a fine thread in the usual manner.

As the wire still retains a curved form, it is straightened by straining it between alternate rows of pegs inserted on a table; and when perfectly straight, it is cut into lengths of five or six inches; which lengths, however, are determinate, being intended to form the shafts of a certain number of pins. A handful of these is delivered to a workman sitting behind two wheels, like those of a scissors grinder, excepting that, instead of stone, they are made of steel, one being of a surface finer than the other. This man performs the office of pointing with wonderful quickness. He no sooner receives the little bundle of wires, than in an instant they are assorted in his hand like a pack of cards in an even row; one touch on each wheel perfects the points of one end; and then, by a turn of the hand, the points of the other end are made in like manner; and the bundle handed to another operator, who, by the eye alone, snips off a pin's length from each end. The cutting is performed by a large pair of scissors fixed to the table, the blade of which is as big as a shoulder of mutton. The wires are now repointed as before; and so on, recut by one man and repointed by the other, till the whole are subdivided into pins' shafts, and nothing is lost.

To make the heads, two little boys are employed, one of whom especially exercises in his vocation a degree of cunning workmanship hardly to be expected from an artist so young, and at all events exhibiting an interesting display of perfection in the faculties of sight and touch. From a piece of elastic wire, such as forms the covering of a fiddle string, with an ordinary pair of scissors, he snips off, as quick as he can open and shut the scissors, just two threads of the spiral or helix, and no more. Were he to cut one thread or three, the head of the pin, which it is intended to form, being too large or too small, would be consequently rejected as waste metal and recast into wire. The elastic wire is prepared by another little boy in the same apartment, who rolls it round a piece of straight brass wire of the proper dimensions, and about three yards long, by the assistance of a large spinning wheel. As the wheel hums round, the covering creeps along from one end to the other at the rate of two or three inches a second; and when the straight piece of wire is thus entirely covered, it being, I imagine, made purposely a little smaller at one end than the other, it is drawn out without any difficulty.

The pins are headed by little girls, and I was really astonished to perceive the rapidity with which every pin is taken up between the thumb and finger, and, after the head is strung upon the shaft, is placed in a small machine, which rivets it at one blow and disgorges it at another. This machine is of rather a complicated construction, but in general appearance like a small turning lathe; that is to say, it is fixed on a table, and worked in a similar way. At a turn of the wheel two small iron slabs separate with a horizontal motion, and at another close again. The little girl sits behind the machine with a basin of pins' heads in her lap, which in that state resemble poppy seeds, and having threaded two shafts, gives the wheel a turn with her foot, when the aforesaid slabs diverge one from another; she then places the two pins in two small horizontal holes made to receive them, and turning the wheel again, the slabs close violently, and rivet the two heads in a moment. Every time the slabs open, the two new-made pins tumble out and fall into a basin below.

In order to whiten the pins, they are boiled in a caldron, in a composition of which I did not learn the ingredients, but of which the principal appeared to be tin broken into pieces the size of mustard seed.

After the pins are finished, it only remains to fix them upon paper in the usual way, and this is done in a separate apartment, where one woman doubles the paper, and at the same time superintends a number of girls who stick them in. The paper is doubled entirely by hand and by the eye, in parallel ridges, and then delivered to the girls who sit at tables, each with a machine like a vice before her. The creased ridges or tucks of the paper being brought two and two, are introduced below into the machine, which closes and leaves a narrow horizontal strip above. Into this the pins are inserted, and in order to guide them in a straight line, parallel transverse grooves are cut on the surface of the instrument, at equal distances, so that each pin cannot fail to enter exactly into its proper place, it not being possible for it, when pushed forward, to move in any other direction.

St Helens


BEING on my way to St. Helens, I was discharged, together with seven or eight other passengers, from within one of the carriages of the train from Liverpool to Manchester, at the foot of the Sutton inclined plane, on the railroad, and as the train from Manchester had not yet made its appearance, we waited here about half an hour. As soon as both squads of passengers had arrived from either end of the line, we all got into one large covered vehicle, and were dragged at a foot pace by a single horse, along the branch railroad, about a mile in length, that leads to the town. Nothing can afford a more striking contrast, in point of celerity and convenience to passengers, than these newly formed branch railroads with those on a well-established line; neither is this difference a disparagement to the undertaking, but frequently inseparable from an early stage of proceedings. At all events, the present mode of conveyance was as disagreeable and as slow as can well be imagined.

Large quantities of coal are sent from St. Helens to the banks of the Mersey by the Sankey Canal, from whose basin, which is of considerable extent, the vessels enter the river at Runcorn. By the new railroad also numerous coal wagons are continually despatched in a parallel direction, the proprietors having extensive premises and a commodious dock basin adjoining the other, for the convenience of the Liverpool small craft attending to receive cargoes. A great deal of this coal goes to Ireland.

Among numerous works conducted at St. Helens, is an establishment lately set on foot for the smelting of copper. There are manufactories also of crown and of plate glass.

The chief object of my visit to this place was to see the latter, and for this gratification I am indebted to the proprietor, who kindly admitted me on my application. This extensive establishment consists of iron foundries, as well as the manufactory aforesaid, and contains within its walls an area of twenty-two acres of land.

The material being fused—the chief ingredient to aid the liquefaction of the sand being, as I understood, carbonate of soda—it flows by eight conduits from the furnace, on a cast-iron slab fifteen feet long, by eight feet broad, and eight inches deep—the weight nearly seventeen tons. It is then, while soft, rolled by a cast-iron hollow roller of about a foot diameter, and weighing eight hundred weight. The glass, after the roller has passed over it, presents an undulated surface, like that of ice frozen under a rippling breeze, or of the small ridges of sand on the seashore; or it may be compared to the surface of the oilcake compressed from flax seed, for the use of cattle. In this state it is full three quarters of an inch thick, being afterward reduced to its proper dimensions solely by attrition.

The cast-iron slab aforesaid being close to the furnace, the newly made plate is gently removed within the mouth of the latter, where it remains under a temperature gradually diminishing for the entire space of seven days, before it is cool.

The plate being cool, the grinding process is commenced. It is removed into an apartment wherein eighteen wooden frames are propelled with a horizontal circular motion, by means of cranks connected with a main shaft that extends the whole length of the apartment, and is worked by a steam engine. The motion thus given to the frames is precisely such as if one were to place the hand flat on a table and move it round in a circle. In order to check the centrifugal motion given by the cranks, each of the frames is retained in its orbit by two chains which hook on at opposite sides, and are fixed to the ceiling. A plate of glass is fixed at the bottom of each moveable frame, which rubs against another plate of glass firmly cemented by plaster of Paris in a stationary frame beneath. Thus, as the frame revolves horizontally, glass rubs against glass; the polishing material, which is in the first instance plain sand, being applied, wetted with water, between both. A proper degree of pressure is preserved by placing weights, ad libitum, upon the upper frame, within small partitions made on purpose to receive them. During this part of the process, the glass undergoes attrition for the space of two days; first, by the application of sand as a polishing material, and afterward emery, the latter increasing regularly in degrees of fineness.

The glass being at this period reduced in thickness to very nearly its proper dimensions, but quite opaque, is handed over to women, who occupy another apartment, and who rub it by hand with small wooden frames, whose action, though lighter, is nearly the same as that previously imparted by machinery. By this process the plate is perfectly cleaned and freed from the particles of emery, and rendered fit to receive the next stage of polish, from the red oxyde of iron.

The last operation is performed in a third apartment. The plate is now fixed, face uppermost, in a frame, to which a horizontal rectilinear motion, backward and forward, is imparted by machinery. A similar motion, at right angles to the former, is given to the rubber, which is covered at the bottom by a thick layer of felt, the latter being kept continually wet and nourished with the red oxyde of iron. By this last process the plate receives its final polish and transparency.


It behooves not those people to whom time is of value, to travel by the railroad from St. Helens to Runcorn; for it by no means follows, that because arrangements have been made to convey trains of coal wagons from one end of a line to the other, accidental passengers are to be equally favoured in their transit. In fact, the transport of passengers on these branch railroads seems almost altogether a matter of accommodation, which people are willing to receive, under any restrictions, rather than be left behind; at the same time, it is worth considering why any undertaking, be it what it may, if not intended to be done well, is attempted to be done at all.

I started from St. Helens on my way to Runcorn by the railroad, (fortunately one fine afternoon, as the time expended in travelling the eight miles was very nearly three hours,) in the same vehicle, drawn by one horse, in which I had arrived. Having crossed the Liverpool and Manchester line, we had not proceeded more than a mile and a half, when the driver suddenly pulled up and demanded sixpence, the expense of my conveyance for the part of the distance already performed; I therefore ventured to ask by what means I was likely to accomplish the remainder. The man replied that I must wait on the road, where we then were, while he went back to the Liverpool and Manchester line to wait for the trains and bring more passengers; adding, in a consolatory tone, he would not be absent more than an hour. I actually waited an hour, plus one quarter, at the bottom of an inclined plane, which being surmounted, the carriages descend the declivity, on the other side, by their own gravity. At the top is a stationary engine, which draws them up, by help of an endless rope. As the laden carriages are thus raised, an iron skid is attached to the last, to prevent accident, in case the rope should chance to break; and a low small carriage follows the laden ones, in which a man sits, whose sole business is to attend this skid. Arrived at the top of the inclined plane, the man removes the skid into his own vehicle, and taking charge, at the same time, of a set of empty carriages, down they go altogether back again a la montagne Russe. Therefore, having nothing to do, I amused myself, while waiting for my conveyance, by accompanying this man a few trips up and down, though a few experiments were quite sufficient, till I perceived the carriage, on its return from its expedition, crawling slowly along towards the bottom of the inclined plane, where it was taken in charge by the dragsman, and being detached from the horse, was fixed behind a train of laden coal wagons, and drawn to the top. Not a single passenger had arrived from the Liverpool and Manchester trains, so that the delay (of some importance at least as far as regarded numerous coal wagons some time since ready to proceed to Runcorn) was to no purpose.

A heavy-looking old man now took charge, and commenced business by demanding ninepence, the remainder of my fare to Runcorn. Under this person's guardianship, it was necessary to descend the inclined plane, which was not altogether agreeable, as some consequence is to be attached to the management of the brake, the only countervailing power, on the occasion, to the impulse of gravity; and somehow or other, I had an apprehension that this old man would run us down too fast. However, as it happened in the result, though fault there was, it was on the opposite side, for he went down too slow. The engine man, instead of taking the vehicle, as is usual, in tow to follow in the rear, proposed instead to place it in front, and so, as it were, dragging after him a heavy train of laden coal wagons, push it, or rather kick it along; and matters being thus disposed, we began to descend the declivity.

The carriage was a sort of hermaphrodite vehicle, one part open and the other close. I took my station in the open part, which was behind, so that, as I sat with my back to the direction of our motion, I had a full view of everything that followed on the line, particularly of our engine and its train of coal wagons, which had halted at the top, in order to allow the old gentleman in charge sufficient time to get down. In short, as we descended the declivity, my face was in the same direction as that of an outside passenger who sits behind with his back to the stage coach. The engine man having given the other what he imagined all necessary law, and underrating the celerity of his own movement, in the mean time came trundling along down the hill after us at a winning pace. I immediately saw that collision was inevitable, and a tremendous thump we got from the huge body, weighing at least forty tons, that followed in our wake, and impinged upon us with such force that, no matter what became of the old man, I having miscalculated in a hurry the direction of the impulse, though not in the least hurt, was thrown violently out of my seat.

We were now taken in tow, for a short distance, by a second engine, after which it became necessary to walk a mile and a half from the railway station to the Mersey, and, finally, with considerable delay, to cross that river at the established ferry, previous to our arrival at the town of Runcorn.

George Head, A Home Tour through the Manufacturing Districts of England in the Summer of 1835 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1836) Conversion to HTML and placename mark-up by Humphrey Southall, 2009.

Next Selection Previous Selection