My business went on prosperously. I had plenty of orders, and did my best to execute them satisfactorily. Shortly after the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway there was a largely increased demand for machine-making tools. The success of that line led to the construction of other lines, concentrating in Manchester; and every branch of manufacture shared in the prosperity of the time.
There was a great demand for skilled, and even for unskilled labour. The demand was greater than the supply. Employers were subjected to exorbitant demands for increased rates of wages. The workmen struck, and their wages were raised. But the results were not always satisfactory. Except in the cases of the old skilled hands, the work was executed more carelessly than before. The workmen attended less regularly; and sometimes, when they ought to have been at work on Monday mornings, they did not appear until Wednesday. Their higher wages had been of no use to them, but the reverse. Their time had been spent for the most part in two days' extra drinking.
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!