Industrial History Online

Industrial History Online

The Round Foundry

One of the worlds first integrated specialist engineering works, Fenton, Murray and Wood, brought together metal casting, component preparation, fitting up and testing, all under the control of one manufacturer, thereby streamlining the whole manufacturing process and enabling greater quality and cost control. Previously this would have been carried out in separate workshops and businesses.
The worlds first commercially successful steam locomotives, Salamanca and Prince Regent, were built here in 1812 for the nearby Middleton Colliery Railway, at a cost of £350 each, using Blenkinsop's rack and pinion system, and the first engines designed with two double-acting cylinders, Stephenson's Rocket with similar cylinders was still 17 years away in the future. They went into regular working on 12th August 1812.
Salamanca was destroyed by a boiler explosion on 28th February 1818 when the driver interfered with the safety valves whilst the engine was stationary.
The complex of buildings described as The Round Foundry consists of; Number 97 Water Lane, Murray House, however this is dated 1857-1877 which is after Fenton, Murray and Jackson closed the business in 1844. It was built for the later business of Smith, Beacock and Tannett who were machinery and tool makers who moved there in 1844 as Victoria Foundry.
Next door to Murray House is Number 99, dated 1797-8 and one of the original buildings, The Green Sand Foundry contained two air furnaces and one Cupola furnace.
Next door Number 101, dated c1800, was a house and store rooms. Further along Number 103, to the left of Foundry Street, was one of the first buildings on site, c1796, The Dry Sand Foundry. It contained two air furnaces and three stoves.
Adjacent to Foundry Street, to the right, is Number 105 and dated 1870, post dating Murray's business.
To the South of the Water Lane buildings was located the Rotunda, a four storied circular building, designed by Murray himself, of about 100' diameter (30.4m), as estimated by James Watt Jnr. in 1802 during his spying mission. It's purpose was a fitting-up shop for assembling locomotives, and not a foundry at all but it earned the entire site the nickname 'The Round Foundry'. Foundry Street extended from the Rotunda to Water Lane originally, it is thought that the street was laid with railway track and used to steam test the locomotives after assembly inside the Rotunda prior to delivery, including Salamanca.
The inventiveness and innovation, coupled with the high quality of the finished products, lead to one of England's leading engineering companies, Boulton and Watt, considering Fenton, Murray and Wood of such a serious threat to their business that they had to resort to industrial espionage.
The firm of Murray and Wood started in 1795 at Mill Green, Holbeck, adjacent to Marshall's mill where they obtained much of their work, and where Murray had first met Wood and agreed to start their own business.
Such was the quality of their work, their business expanded and they rapidly ran out of room. They bought nearby land on Water Lane in February 1796 and started to develop what would become the Round Foundry complex of buildings. They were joined in 1799 by James Fenton and William Lister in 1804, a financier and sleeping partner, providing more working capital.
Matthew Murray (1765-1826), acclaimed by many as the 'Father of Leeds Engineering', was the innovative partner who was responsible mainly for the design of steam engines, textile machinery and obtaining orders.
David Wood (1761-1820) designed textile machinery and was also responsible for the day to day running of the works.
James Fenton (1761-1834) was the financier and accountant.
The firm supplied machinery to the textile industry with Murray making important improvements to the machinery for the heckling and spinning of Flax. He won a gold medal of the Royal Society of Arts in 1809 for his Heckling Machine.
They also supplied stationary engines and pumping engines, usually undercutting Boulton and Watt in cost.
Murray's innovation lead to him inventing the Hypocycloidal Straight Line Motion, which converted reciprocating motion to rotary, as a way of avoiding paying to use James Pickard's 1780 patent using crank and flywheel.
In 1799, perhaps naively, Murray showed a Mr Storey Abraham and Mr William Murdock, from Boulton and Watt's Soho Foundry, Birmingham, around his works, on their tour of Leeds businesses. They paid particular interest to the moulding techniques and made copious notes. They came away full of enthusiasm reporting back about the superior techniques that they'd seen. Murray had taken this to be a friendly visit but on a reciprocal visit to Soho, Murray was refused entry!
Boulton and Watt were so concerned about their rivals Fenton, Murray and Wood that they resorted to extreme measures.
In 1802 (James Watt Snr. retired in1800) James Watt Jnr. took a room in the Cross Keys inn, adjacent to The Round Foundry, for several weeks. He produced plans of the works and listed available land surrounding the works which was available to buy. The land was purchased to prevent Murray from expanding. It's the surviving papers and letters today that provide a useful history of the works.
Watt Jnr. befriended the foundry men who drank in the Cross Keys after work and tried to obtain the foundry's trade secrets from them.
Despite Boulton and Watt's trying to gain as many advantages as possible, Fenton, Murray and Wood continued to export mill engines and locomotives worldwide, still remaining powerful competitors.
Eventually, Boulton and Watt tried another way of disrupting Murray by claiming copyright infringement, which resulted in long drawn out court cases. Murray eventually abandoned the expensive defence and lost a number of his own patents, as well as ones he was accused of copying from Boulton and Watt, because several of Murray's patents were grouped together, loosing one patent resulted in all the patents in that group being lost.
In 1819 Fenton, Murray and Wood designed and erected the first gas street lighting in Leeds.
After David Wood's death in 1820, the company became Fenton, Murray and Jackson in 1826, Richard Jackson was Murray's Son-in Law and had been the manager of the Round Foundry before becoming a partner.
Matthew Murray died 20th February 1826.
In 1831 work began on building engines to George Stephenson's designs, also making twenty of Daniel Gooch's Firefly Class for the GWR.
By 1840 they were making around twenty engines per year, but by 1843 the orders were harder to come by.
1843 Richard Jackson was declared Bankrupt. The Round Foundry was offered for sale and was acquired by Smith, Beacock and Tannett, machine and tool makers, naming it Victoria Foundry.
In 1851 Smith, Beacock and Tannett were awarded a prize for their lathes at the Great Exhibition.
1875 a very destructive fire broke out which destroyed the Rotunda and some of the other original buildings. However some buildings were saved with several historic buildings surviving.
1896 Smith, Beacock and Tannett were bought by Greenwood and Batley.

No previous comments have been made for this entry

Email comments

Key Words :- murray middleton railway textiles machinery foundry engineering
Linked Sites :-
WYK01411,Coal Staithe
Address :- Water Lane, Holbeck, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS11 5WD
Grid Ref :- SE 29504 32909
Co-ordinates :- Lat - 53.791665 , Long - -1.553624
Local Authority :- Leeds Council
Pre 1974 County :- Yorkshire - West Riding
Site Condition :- Site refurbished to industrial / commercial use
Site Status :- Listed - Grade II*
Listing No :- 1255779
Site Dates :- 1796 -
Contributor :- cc-by-nc-sa 4.0 © Andrew Garford - 18 September 2018