The irregularity and carelessness of the workmen naturally proved very annoying to the employers. But it gave an increased stimulus to the demand for self-acting machine tools by which the untrustworthy efforts of hand labour might be avoided. The machines never got drunk; their hands never shook from excess; they were never absent from work; they did not strike for wages; they were unfailing in their accuracy and regularity, while producing the most delicate or ponderous portions of mechanical structures.
It so happened that the demand for machine tools, consequent upon the increasing difficulties with the workmen, took place at the time that I began business in Manchester, and I had my fair share of the increased demand. Most of my own machine tools were self-acting--planing machines, slide lathes, drilling, boring, slotting machines, and so on. When set up in my workshop they distinguished themselves by their respective merits and efficiency. They were, in fact, their own best advertisements. The consequence was that orders for similar machines poured in upon me, and the floor of my flat became completely loaded with the work in hand.
The tenant below me, it will be remembered, was a glass-cutter. He observed, with alarm, the bits of plaster from the roof coming down among his cut glasses and decanters. He thought that the rafters overhead were giving way, and that the whole of my machinery and engines would come tumbling down upon him some day and involve him in ruin. He probably exaggerated the danger; still there was some cause for fear.
When the massive castings on my floor were moved about from one part to another, the floor quivered and trembled under the pressure. The glass-cutter complained to the landlord, and the landlord expostulated with me. I did all that I could to equalise the pressure, and prevent vibration as much as possible. But at length, in spite of all my care, an accident occurred which compelled me to take measures to remove my machinery to other premises. As this removal was followed by consequences of much importance to myself, I must endeavour to state the circumstances under which it occurred.
My kind friend, John Kennedy, continued to take the greatest interest in my welfare. He called in upon me occasionally. He admired the quality of my work, and the beauty of my self-acting machinery. More than that, he recommended me to his friends. It was through his influence that I obtained an order for a high-pressure steam-engine of twenty horse-power to drive the machinery connected with a distillery at Londonderry, in Ireland. I was afraid at first that I could not undertake the job. The size of the engine was somewhat above the height of my flat, and it would probably occupy too much space in my already overcrowded workshop. At the same time I was most anxious not to let such an order pass me. I wished to please my friend Mr. Kennedy; besides, the execution of the engine might lead to further business.
At length, after consideration, I undertook to execute the order. Instead of constructing the engine perpendicularly, I constructed it lying upon its side. There was a little extra difficulty, but I managed to complete it in the best style. It had next to be taken to pieces for the purpose of being conveyed to Londonderry. It was then that the accident happened. My men had the misfortune to allow the end of the engine beam to crash through the floor! There was a terrible scattering of lath and plaster and dust. The glass-cutter was in a dreadful state. He rushed forthwith to the landlord, and called upon him to come at once and judge for himself!
Mr. Wren did come, and did judge for himself. He looked in at the glass shop, and saw the damage that had been done amongst the tumblers and decanters. There was the hole in the roof, through which the end of the engine beam had come and scattered the lath and plaster. The landlord then came to me. The whole flat was filled with machinery, including the steam-engine on its side, now being taken to pieces for the purpose of shipment to Ireland. Mr. Wren, in the kindest manner, begged me to remove from the premises as soon as I could, otherwise the whole building might be brought to the ground with the weight of my machinery. "Besides," he argued, "you must have more convenient premises for your rapidly extending business." It was quite true. I must leave the place and establish myself elsewhere.
The reader may remember that while on my journey on foot from Liverpool to Manchester in 1830, I had rested myself for a little on the parapet of the bridge overlooking the canal near Patricroft, and gazed longingly upon a plot of land situated along the canal side. On the afternoon of the day on which the engine beam crashed through the glass-cutter's roof, I went out again to look at that favourite piece of land. There it was, unoccupied, just as I had seen it some years before. I went to it and took note of its dimensions. It consisted of about six acres. It was covered with turf, and as flat and neat as a bowling-green. It was bounded on one side by the Bridgewater Canal, edged by a neat stone margin 1050 feet long, on another side by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, while on a third side it was bounded by a good road, accessible from all sides. The plot was splendidly situated. I wondered that it had not been secured before. It was evidently waiting for me!