Mr. Maudslay having given me a letter of introduction to his old friend William Fawcett, head of the firm of Fawcett, Preston, and Company, engineers, I went over their factory. They were engaged in producing sugar mills for the West Indies, and also in manufacturing the steam-engines for working them. The firm had acquired great reputation for their workmanship; and their shops were crowded with excellent specimens of their skill. Everything was in good order; their assortment of machine tools was admirable. Mr. Fawcett, who accompanied me, was full in his praises of my master, whom he regarded as the greatest pioneer in the substitution of the unerring accuracy of machine tools for the often untrustworthy results of mere manual labour.
I cannot resist referring to the personal appearance and manner of this excellent gentleman, William Fawcett. His peculiar courteous manner, both in speech and action, reminded me of the "grand old Style" Which I had observed in some of my father's oldest noble employers, and the representations given of them by some of our best actors. There was also a dignified kindliness about his manner that was quite peculiar to himself; and when he conducted me through his busy workshops, the courtly yet kindly manner in which he addressed his various foremen and others, was especially cheering. When I first presented my letter of introduction from Henry Maudslay, he was sitting at a beautiful inlaid escritoire table with his letters arrayed before him in the most neat and perfect order. The writing table stood on a small Turkey carpet apart from the clerks' desks in the room, but so near to them that he could readily communicate with them. His neat old-fashioned style of dress quite harmonised with his advanced age, and the kindly yet dignified grace of his manner left a lasting impression on me as a most interesting specimen of "the fine old English gentleman, quite of the olden time."
I spent another day in crossing the Mersey to Birkenhead--then a very small collection of buildings--wandered about the neighbourhood. I had my sketch-book with me, and made a drawing of Liverpool from the other side of the river. Close to Birkenhead were some excellent bits of scenery, old and picturesque farmhouses, overshadowed with venerable oaks, with juttings-out of the New Red Sandstone rocks, covered with heather, furze, and broom, with pools of water edged with all manner of effective water plants. They formed capital subjects for the artistic pencil, especially when distant peeps of the Welsh hills came into the prospect. I made several sketches, and they kept company with my graphic memoranda of architectural and mechanical objects. I may here mention that on my return to London I showed them to my brother Patrick, and some of them so much met his fancy that he borrowed my sketch-book and painted some pictures from them, which at this day are hanging on the walls of some of his admirers.
With the desire of seeing as much as possible of all that was interesting in the mechanical, architectural and picturesque line, on my return journey to London, I determined to walk, halting here and there by the way. The season of the year and the state of the weather were favourable for my purpose. I accordingly commenced my pedestrian tour on Saturday morning, the 17th September. I set out for Manchester. It was a long but pleasant walk. I well remember, when nearing Manchester, that I sat down to rest for a time on Patricroft Bridge. I was attracted by the rural aspect of the country, and the antique cottages of the neighbourhood. The Bridgewater Canal lay before me, and as I was told that it was the first mile of the waterway that the great Duke had made, it became quite classic ground in my eyes. I little thought at the time that I was so close to a piece of ground that should afterwards become my own, and where I should for twenty years carry on the most active and interesting business of my life.
I reached Manchester at seven in the evening, and took up my quarters at the King's Arms Inn, Deansgate. Next day was Sunday. I attended service in the Cathedral, then called the Old Church. I was much interested by the service, as well as by the architecture of the building. Some of the details were well worthy of attention, being very original, and yet the whole was not of the best period of Gothic architecture. Some of the old buildings about the Cathedral were very interesting. They were of a most quaint character, yet bold and effective. Much finely carved oak timber work was introduced into them; and on the whole they gave a very striking illustration of the style of domestic architecture which prevailed in England some three or four centuries ago.
On the following day I called upon Mr. Edward Tootal, of York Street. He was a well-known man in Manchester.
I had the happiness of meeting him in London a few months before. He then kindly invited me to call upon him should I ever visit Manchester, when he would endeavour to obtain for me sight of some of the most remarkable manufacturing establishments. Mr. Tootal was as good as his word. He received me most cordially, and at once proceeded to take me to the extensive machine factory of Messrs. Sharp, Roberts, and Co. I found to my delight that a considerable portion of the establishment was devoted to the production of machine tools, a department of mechanical business then rising into the highest importance. Mr. Roberts, an admirable mechanic as well as inventor, had derived many of his ideas on the subject while working with Mr. Maudslay in London, and he had carried them out with many additions and improvements of his own contrivance. Indeed, Roberts was one of the most capable men of his time, and is entitled to be regarded as one of the true pioneers of modern mechanical mechanism.
Through the kindness of Mr. Tootal I had also the opportunity of visiting and inspecting some of the most extensive cotton mills in Manchester. I was greatly pleased with the beautiful contrivances displayed in the machinery. They were perfect examples of the highest order of ingenuity, combined with that kind of common-sense which casts aside all mere traditional forms and arrangements of parts, such as do not essentially contribute to the efficiency of the machine in the performance of its special and required purpose. I found much to admire in the design as well as in the execution of the details of the machines.