Henry Maudslay was born at Woolwich on
August 22nd 1771. His father was a joiner from Bolton, who worked on the wooden
frames for cotton machines. Later his father served as wheelwright in the
Royal Engineers but was wounded in action so became storekeeper in the dockyards
at Woolwich Arsenal, London. . Henry worked as a powder monkey in the
dockyards aged 12 , making and filling cartridges. At 14 he had moved into
the carpenters shop, although he took every opportunity to slip into the
blacksmiths shop where he became familiar with working with iron.
1780's the famous locksmith Joseph Bramah was looking for someone to produce the tools required to make his new
Henry Maudslay had built up a strong reputation as a
smith and tool maker. Although still only in his teens, Henry was
recommended to Bramah who engaged him.
Bramah invented a burglarproof lock, which
remained unpicked for sixty-seven years and is still in use today. The secret of
the lock was the precision to which it was made.
When Henry Maudslay
later went on to establish his own company, his work was influenced by
precision, which was required for the machines, which he had designed and made
for Joseph Bramah.
In the early eighteenth century machines were
primitive and often powered by hand or by foot. There were no standard measures,
parts would have to be individually engineered. These meant that nuts and bolts
would be made to fit as a pair and were not interchangeable. Henry Maudslay was
among one of the first to recognise the importance of standardisation and
interchangeability of machine parts. He was also one of the first to realise the
importance of a true plane surface, for obtaining precision in machine tool
Within a few years, Maudslay had been appointed as head
foreman of Bramah's works.
In 1791 he married Bramah's housemaid Sarah
By 1797, Maudslay asked for a raise of thirty shillings a week
(to support his wife and 3 children) and Bramah refused, so Maudslay walked out
and started his own workshop on Oxford street in London, producing machine tools
made to order.
One of his most
successful tools was the slide rest lathe. This allowed people to turn large
pieces of metal, very quickly and with exact precision. To many people it was
regarded as the most important development in the production of machine tools.
(inventor of the steam hammer) said the
following about the slide rest lathe :- "its influence in improving and
extending the use of machinery has been as great as that produced by the
improvement of the steam engine in respect to perfecting manufactures and
The end result of
Maudslay's lathe was that woodworking, metalworking, manufacture, tool-making,
and factories were all revolutionized.
Maudslay's lathe also changed the
nature of warfare and it made Britain the greatest sea power in the world and It
also made possible the modern orchestra and the modern piano.
In 1810 he
moved his works to Westminster Road (Lambeth) London. He went on to improve the
original slide lathe and invented new machine tools and manufactured flour and
saw mills, mint machinery and steam engines.
One of his most successful
new tools was a machine that could automatically punch holes in boiler plates,
which resulted in him gaining a contract to supply the Royal Navy with iron
plates for ships tanks. His machine replaced the work that had previously been
carried out by hand. Other tools improved the method by which the thread on
screws were cut and he produced attachments for his slide lathe which could
plane and cut slots in metal.