Pioneers of preservation including Bennet Woodcroft
Dunstone covers the very early
attempts, including some highly significant successes, at preservation especially
of early locomotives, including the influence of Sir Henry Cole, a Civil
Servant closely involved with the creation and running of the Great Exhibition
and Bennet Woodhouse (1805-79) Superintendent of Specifications at the Patent
Office from 1852 who created Brompton Boilers or Iron Museum. Clearly the
hidden influence of Prince Albert was at work. F.P. Smith,
(actually Sir Francis Petit Smith, inventor of the screw propeller, which
seems to be unknown to Dunstone) Curator
of the Patent Office Museum from 1860 was a major influence as he sought
out early locomotives in the North East of England. In this way both Puffing
Billy and Sans Pareil were secured for prservation.
Bennet Woodcroft was born 29 December 1803 at Heaton Norris, near Stockport. Both parents had come from Sheffield, but by 1800 his father John Woodcroft was established as a merchant and manufacturer of silk and muslin. He accumulated a large fortune which was subsequently dissipated by speculation in railway shares. Bennet Woodcroft was apprenticed to a silk weaver at Failsworth, near Manchester, and subsequently studied chemistry under John Dalton. Woodcroft made his first successful patent application in 1827 for inventing a method of printing yarn before weavinga process of great commercial value. He joined his father in partnership about 1828, but had parted company before 1840. Woodcroft's other patents were one of 1838 for improved tappets for loomshis most successful inventionand a series of increasing pitch screw propellers, patented in 1832, 1844, and 1851. He was one of several inventors working to improve propellers, as marine engines came into use in naval vessels, who were persuaded to pool their claims upon the Admiralty; Woodcroft was a witness at the hearings and shared in the £20,000 parliamentary reward.
Whilst in Manchester Woodcroft joined the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, where he developed friendships with the leading engineers of the town, including Joseph Whitworth, James Nasmyth, Richard Roberts, Eaton Hodgkinson, and Richard Fairbairn. About 1843 he set up as a consulting engineer and patent agent, moving in 1846 to London. In April 1847 he was appointed professor of machinery at University College, London, but found teaching uncongenial and resigned in June 1851.
When the Patent Law Amendment Act was passed in 1852 Woodcroft was appointed assistant to the commissioner of patents, responsible for specifications. This position brought him into close contact with Prince Albert, who, following the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851, was encouraging manufacturers to take advantage of the new patent law to improve their designs and products. As a consulting engineer Woodcroft realized that the major obstacle to a modern patent system was the difficulty of seeing earlier specifications and the lack of indexes. In the space of five years he published 14,359 specifications granted between 1617 and 1852, together with indexes, which the commissioners bought from him for £1000. He also prepared classified abridgements and various ancillary technical documents. Copies were presented to more than a hundred free public libraries as well as to many foreign and colonial libraries, and were freely on sale. Thus it is appropriate that the Great Yarmouth Library holds a copy of Woodcroft's Alphabetical index of patentees of inventions, 1617-1852. Sadly, the collection of patent literature was lost in a bombing raid during WW2 and reparation from Germany was not sought.
To assist in dealing with the patents, Woodcroft amassed, largely at his own expense, numerous technical books, which he handed over to form the nucleus of the Patent Office Library, opened to the public in 1855 and later incorporated in the British Library. He collected portraits of inventors and, perhaps inspired by collections held in the United States patent office, gathered models of inventions from the Society of Arts and elsewhere. He also rescued from oblivion in Edinburgh the first marine engine, that invented by William Symington. These historic items went in 1857 to the new South Kensington Museum and were later transferred to the Science Museum. Woodcroft was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1859. He retired on 31 March 1876 and died at his home in South Kensington on 7 February 1879, and is buried in Brompton cemetery. Based on ODNB entry by Anita McConnell.
Alphabetical index of patentees of inventions, 1617-1852: D entered
[Sir] Francis Petit Smith
Inventor of a screw propeller, was born on 9 February 1808, probably at Copperhurst Farm, about 6 miles from Hythe, Kent. He was educated at a private school in Ashford and began work as a grazing farmer on Romney Marsh, but later moved to Hendon, Middlesex, still as a farmer. As a boy he built many model boats and displayed great ingenuity in developing their propulsion. He continued to devote much time to this subject and by 1835 he had built a model propelled by a screw, driven by a spring, which was so successful that he was convinced that this form of propeller would be superior to the paddle wheel, then universally used by steamships. Over a considerable period Smith was in contact with the Admiralty concerning screw propulsion and this eventually led to the construction of a demonstration vessel the Archimedes which performed well, but the Admiralty refused to recompense Smith. Although screw propulsion may seem far removed from locomotive development it is noteworthy that Smith worked amicably with Ericcson who also contributed to the development of screw propulsion as well as to locomotive development.
The Admiralty's decision not to purchase the Archimedes led to the failure of Smith's company and he was only partially compensated by his share of an ex gratia payment of £20,000 by the Admiralty in 1851, to be shared among all propeller designers. His patent expired in 1856 and he retired to Guernsey as a farmer, but Smith's many friends came to his assistance; he was awarded a civil-list pension of £200 in 1855, and two years later there was a subscription on his behalf as a result of which he received a service of plate and £2678; among the subscribers were Brunel and Lloyd. In 1860 he was offered the post of director of the Patent Office museum (now the Science Museum) and in 1871 he was knighted. He died in South Kensington on 12 February 1874. ODNB entry by David K. Brown who does not mention his great contribution to locomotive preservation which is considered by Dunstone..