Joseph Whitworh - English engineer and inventorJoseph Whitworth
English engineer and inventor


Joseph Whitworth 1804-1887

Joseph Whitworth, English Engineer and inventor, was born in Stockport near Manchester in 1804.

His first job was as an apprentice mechanic in his uncle's cotton mill at Ambergate, Derbyshire, followed by training in Manchester and London, where he worked hard to improve his knowledge and aquire the skills he would use later.

Despite derision from many manufacturers, he was determined to improve on the shoddy technology of the day. 'You tell me it can't be done' he told them, But i give you these 3 words, 'Let us try', which became his motto.

After years of painstaking work he built his first absolutely flat piece of steel plate which he called a 'surface plate'. From this he built more precision instruments. His first was a lathe with which he could turn out accurate spindles and shafts for the machines. Next he designed delicately measured bearings for the new drive shaft to rest in.

His big breakthrough was the famous Whitworth thread. He invented mass produced taps and dies which were exported over the globe to cut the first ever standardised nuts and bolts. Machinery made in one country could now be repaired in another. This was followed by the micrometer which could measure down to one thousandth part of an inch.

Whitworth's factories expanded producing everything from nuts and bolts to guns. When he died in 1887 at the age of 83 he left a sprawling factory complex in Manchester and an estate worth £150 million by today's standard. His empire was sold to his greatest rival Armstrong and was renamed Armstrong Whitworth.

In his will he bequeathed most of his fortune to provide educational and community facilities. The Whitworth scholarship for mechanical engineers has produced many leading men in the field.

Whitworth was married twice, first to Frances Ankes in 1825, then Lady Mary Louisa, 25 years his younger, who played a central part in the lives of the people of Darley Dale, where in 1855, he bought the 400 acre estate and it's Elizabethan Hall.

Whitworth is buried in the churchyard of St Helen's in Darley Dale.

The Whitworth Institute was built and opened in 1890, 3 years after his death, mainly through the efforts of his wife. It contained Britains's first heated indoor swimming pool, an assembly Hall, library, various reading and committee rooms, a museum of natural history, and a landscaped park complete with recreational areas and a conservatory. It remained in use until the 1930's when it was taken over by the armed forces. It was reopened in the 1950's but the lake had been drained and the building neglected. In 1997 the charitable trust runing the institute recieved an £8million lottery grant to restore the centre and it's grounds.

Lady Louisa, was also the driving force behind the Whitworth Hospital. She died in 1896 and is also buried in St Helen's church, next to her husband.

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Joseph Whitworth
Joseph Whitworth

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