Curiosities of Civilization_
Eighteen and Fifty Eight_
The following Essays have been reprinted from the pages of the Quarterly and Edinburgh Reviews, with the kind permission of their proprietors. It may be necessary, however, to state that, with the exception of the paper on the “Mortality in Trades and Professions,” which was published in the Edinburgh Review of January, 1860, the whole of them have appeared in the Quarterly Review during the last six years. The date of each essay is given in the list of contents; but, where necessary, corrections have been made, so as to bring each article up to the knowledge of the present day.
In the year 1716 the brass guns which Marlborough had taken from the French were being recast in the royal gun foundry in Moorfields, when a young Swiss named Andrew Schalch, who was accidentally present, remarking the dampness of the moulds and foreseeing the inevitable result, warned Colonel Armstrong the then Surveyor-General, against being too close a spectator of the operation. As Schalch foretold, an explosion took place, and many workmen were killed. “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good,” says the old proverb, and the bursting of the gun was the making of the young foreigner’s fortune; for in a few days an advertisement appeared in one of the public papers requesting him to call upon Colonel Andrews, “as the interview may be for his advantage.” Andrew Schalch attended accordingly, and was at once intrusted with the duty of seeking out a better locality for the casting of the royal ordnance. He selected a rabbit-warren at Woolwich, as the best site within twelve miles of the metropolis, for the threefold reason that it was dry, near to the river, and in the immediate neighbourhood of loam for the moulds. Strangely enough, it has since been proved that the great nation of antiquity with whom the British possess so many qualities in common, had been here before. The Romans, whose second station on the Watling Street out of London is supposed to have been at Hanging Wood, close at hand, seem to have appropriated the sloping ground on which the original gun factory stands for the purposes of a cemetery, for on digging the foundations of some new buildings urns of their manufacture were discovered in large quantities, and a very beautiful sepulchral vase, which is now in the museum of the Royal Artillery Institution. Thus, where the conquerors of the old world lay down to their last rest, we, the Romans of the present age, forge the arms which make us masters of an empire beyond the dreams of the imperial Cæsars.
As the visitor enters the great gate of the Arsenal he finds no difficulty in tracing the whereabouts of the labours of Andrew, for straight before him, with a stately solemnity which marked the conceptions of its builder, Vanbrugh, stands the picturesque gun factory, with its high-pitched roof, red brickwork, and carved porch, looking like a fine old gentleman amid the factory ranges which within these few years have sprung up around. It is impossible to contemplate this building without respect, for forth from its portals have issued that victorious ordnance which since the days of George II. has swept the battle grounds of the old and the new world. Up to as late a date as the year 1842 the machinery within these stately old edifices was almost as antiquated in character as themselves. The three great boring-mills, moved by horses, which had been imported in 1780 as astonishing wonders from the Hague, were the only engines used in England in making her Majesty’s ordnance till eighteen years ago. Such was the state of efficiency of the oldest of the three great manufacturing departments of the Arsenal! The more modern departments, known as the Royal Carriage Factory and the Laboratory, have flourished during the present century in an unequal degree. For fifty years the former of these branches of the Arsenal has been more or less in a high state of efficiency, through the introduction of machinery from the workshops of Messrs. Bramah and Maudslay, and of the contrivances of Bentham and Sir I. Brunei. The improvements which were due to their inventive genius rendered this department highly efficient during the French war, on the conclusion of which a long period of inactivity followed; and it was not until 1847 that symptoms were manifested of renewed life under the able superintendence of General Gordon, and still later of Colonel Colquhoun. The Laboratory during the same period appears to have remained entirely stationary, and up to the year 1853 was far inferior to that of any third-rate power. The backward condition of the sole arsenal of England during the long interval of peace seems at first sight remarkable, when we consider the amount of mechanical ingenuity which had penetrated into every factory in the kingdom; but when we remember that the instruments and munitions of war are special articles, wanted only for special periods, occurring at uncertain intervals of time, the wonder ceases. Private manufacturers had no interest in forging instruments of destruction, and the State having conquered “a lasting peace,” Vulcan was allowed to fall into a profound sleep—a sleep so unbroken, that the nation listened for a moment to the voice of those Manchester charmers who would fain have persuaded us the time was come when our swords could with safety be turned into pruning-hooks. In the midst of this amiable delusion the Northern Eagle attempted to seize upon the sick man, and Britain instinctively flew to arms. This sudden spasm of war following upon a forty years’ peace at once disclosed the fact that we were totally unprepared to wage it. There were not shells enough in the Arsenal to furnish forth the first battering-train that went to the East, and the fuses in store were of the date of Waterloo. A fourth part of the money which we joyfully expended when the wolf was at the door would have been thought the demand of a madman, when Europe was supposed to be one big sheepfold. Economy prevented efficient progress; and though the authorities had latterly originated reforms, their exertions were limited by their scanty resources. As the war proceeded, the Ordnance were at their wits’ end for coarse-grained gunpowder, which, as it was not an article of commerce, had to be specially made for them. Small arms were wanted in haste, and could only be constructed at leisure. In these straits the private manufacturers of the country were applied to; but in many cases they had to learn a new art. Do what they would, with the power of charging fabulous prices for shot and shell, ammunition, and small arms, their powers of production were totally inadequate to meet the strain of the great siege, the proportions of which grew larger day by day. All the mills in England could not make powder at the rate at which it was shot away—a rate which consumed 100,000 barrels before Sevastopol was taken; nor could all the armouries of London and Birmingham make rifled muskets and sabres fast enough for our men; consequently we were obliged to go to Liége for 44,000 Minié guns, 3,000 cavalry swords, and 12,000 barrels of powder, and to the United States for 20,000 barrels more.
It may seem passing strange that England, whose manufacturing power is so enormous, should have to resort to foreign manufacturers for the arms wherewith to fight. Money in such a country, it is often said, can procure anything, and money in this case was no object. The want of suitable machinery was the cause of the difficulty. The manufacturers could only make the articles demanded of them by skilled labour, which is a thing that must be acquired before it can be hired. Old machines can be put to extra duty; fresh machines can be readily supplied; but skilled labour is a fixed capital which cannot be suddenly increased. The result was a lamentable slowness of production and an extraordinary dearness of price—the munitions of war in some cases more than doubled in value. It is calculated that the shells for the Baltic fleet alone, which were fabricated entirely by private manufacturers, cost upwards of £100,000 more than they would have done had they been made by the new machinery lately introduced into the Arsenal. A still stronger case, to show the extraordinary prices which the Government had to pay contractors when the demand was imperative and supply confined to two or three houses, was that of the six-pounder diaphragm shells. They were charged by the contractors at 73l. per ton, whilst the very same article is now made in the Royal Laboratory at 14l. 19s. 2d. per ton. These exorbitant demands and the rapid drain of the stores led the War Department to consider whether it would not be better to organize a government establishment on the most extensive scale, and on the most improved system; and it was ultimately determined to adopt a plan by which it would be possible to expand or contract the productive power, according to the exigencies of the service, by means of machines which could be tended by untutored labourers and boys. Accordingly, a very large number of the most ingenious machines were procured from the United States, where the Springfield and Harper Ferry Arsenals have long been famous for their admirable contrivances to save human skill; while others were procured from the Continent and at home by Mr. Anderson, the superintendent of machinery. In a very short time a powerful factory of the munitions of war sprung into life, verifying, for the ten-thousandth time, the truth of the proverb that necessity is the mother of invention, or at least, as in this case, of improvement.
The introduction of machinery on a large scale put to flight the old traditions of the Arsenal, and the manufacturing spirit had to be substituted for the military organization under which the establishment had been conducted before. Such was the energy and rapidity with which the old Arsenal reformed itself, that we question if any private factory in the kingdom is conducted upon a better system than is already at work there. Within these three years factories have sprung up on every side, and the whir of wheels, and the measured stroke of the steam-engine, can now be heard over the whole of its immense area.
The three manufacturing departments into which the Woolwich Arsenal is divided are as follows:—The Royal Gun Factory, the Royal Carriage Department, and the Royal Laboratory Department. Through these factories we will conduct our readers, and endeavour to give them an idea how human ingenuity has perfected the means to destroy human life. The gun factories, by right of age, take precedence, although in point of interest they present the least attractive features to the spectator. The fact which most strikes him as he threads his way amid the Cyclopean machinery is the slow, inevitable manner in which the different processes are carried on. Here you see a large lathe turning the outside of an eighteen-pounder, revolving as noiselessly and as readily as though it were only turning a brass candlestick—a fixed tool cutting off its thin shavings of metal with as much ease as if it were box-wood. In the next machine a gun is being bored, the drill twisting its way down the fixed mass, and a dropping shower of bright chips proving how resistlessly its tooth moves on towards its appointed goal. A third machine cuts off the “dead head” of a cannon. All guns are cast in the pits in a perpendicular position, breech downwards, and are made at least one-third longer than they are intended to be when finished. The reason for this is, that the superincumbent metal forming the “dead head” of the piece may by its weight condense the portion below it which is to form the true gun—the extraordinary pressure of the powder requiring the metal to be extremely close in order to withstand the strain. Besides these lathes, which do the more ordinary work of the factory, there are what are termed exceptional machines, to finish those parts of the gun which the lathe cannot touch, such as the projecting sight, the trunnions, and that portion of the barrel which lies between them. No increase has taken place in the size of the Brass Gun Factory, although, through the energetic action of Colonel Wilmot, its produce has been doubled since the breaking out of the war: fourteen pieces of brass ordnance—six, nine, and eighteen pounders—can be turned out weekly. Brass is used for field-pieces on account of its resisting power being greater than that of iron. Experiments which have lately been made, however, tend to show that steel is a far lighter and better material even than brass for this purpose. A German, named Krupp, has produced some steel pieces which bear an enormous charge; in fact, when well made, it is almost impossible to burst them. The Emperor of the French has already ordered 350 of these guns to be introduced into the service, and probably we shall have to follow suit.
The fine building recently erected in connection with this department is intended for the manufacture of iron ordnance, which has hitherto been produced exclusively by private manufacturers. The experience of the late war, however, determined the Government to furnish at least a portion of these stores themselves. A thoroughly reliable gun must be worth any price that its efficient manufacture demands; for the failing of a single piece may lose a battle, and bring with it consequences which would be cheaply averted by a park of artillery cast in gold. In the late campaign we were prevented from striking a great blow through this very cause alone. At the bombardment of Sweaborg no less than seventeen of the thirteen-inch mortars were destroyed through a want of tenacity in the iron of which they were composed. Many of these ponderous engines split after a few rounds, and may now be seen on the wharf of the Arsenal cleft in twain as clean as Tell’s apple. Yet these mortars were made by the Carron and Low Moor Companies, the most celebrated private manufacturers of such articles in England. Had they stood the strain, we should have utterly destroyed the fortifications of this stronghold, instead of burning a few sheds, which made a great blaze without doing much mischief; and had we possessed a sufficient number of these formidable engines, the destruction of Cronstadt and Sevastopol would only have formed the work of a few days. Though ours is a land both of iron and manufactures, our guns are of inferior quality to those of other nations. The cannon captured at Sevastopol are of better iron than the cannon we brought against them. Several thousand tons weight of the guns dismounted from Cronstadt, in order to make way for pieces of heavier calibre, were bought, we understand, the other day by an English firm with the intention of converting them into cranks and boilers, which require the very best material. The Americans insist upon a tenacity of cast-iron for their ordnance equal to a pressure of 34,000 lbs. on the square inch, and sometimes obtain it equal to 45,000 lbs., whilst we, the greatest manufacturers of iron in the world, have hitherto seldom obtained it of a strength equal to 20,000 lbs. This great difficiency Government hope to remedy by the institution of a series of experiments on all classes of iron both foreign and indigenous. There is a curious machine in the Gun Factory specially invented for the purpose of testing the tenacity of each sample, its capacity of withstanding compression, its transverse strength, and its power of resisting torsion. It is curious to see this iron-limbed Samson wrestling with mighty bars of metal, and twisting and tearing them across the grain like bits of stick. The fractured remnants of the specimens and of the guns rent in the testing process in the Marshes and at Shoeburyness are collected in a museum, the history of each specimen being minutely given. Thus a curious and instructive record is gradually being acquired, which will prove of infinite use in the manufacture of heavy ordnance. It has been already ascertained that guns are universally strengthened by having wrought iron rings put round them—a fact which was discovered during the course of experiments with the heavy cannon bored with an oval rifle to receive the Lancaster shell. Several of them having burst at the muzzle, this simple expedient was tried, and the guns so girded now bear the most extraordinary charges without flinching.
The new building for casting, boring, and finishing iron guns, is both externally and internally the most imposing-looking of all the structures erected to meet the exigencies of the Crimean war. These spacious factories present more the appearance of first-class railway termini than of ordinary workshops. They are lighted with what are termed saw-roof lights, having a northern aspect; for the Vulcans who can work all day in the burning blaze of furnaces do not, it appears, like to be distracted with the confusing rays of the sun! The number of turning, boring, finishing, planing, shaping, drilling, slotting, and punching machines that revolve, thump, and slide here in ponderous grandeur is prodigious, and there can be very little doubt that it will be the most perfect and powerful factory in the world of its kind. Travelling-cranes, which run upon railways poised in air overhead, command every inch of the factories, so that cannon of the heaviest calibre for both land and sea service—98-pounders weighing many tons can be slung from machine to machine with the greatest ease. When the machinery is completed, the foundry will be capable of turning out ten guns of the largest size per week.
The most interesting portion of the gun department is the factory devoted to the construction of Lancaster shells. This odd-looking missile has a form very similar to a champagne bottle, and, unlike the ordinary shell, is made out of a single sheet of wrought iron. The slab of metal having been welded into a cylindrical form, is submitted to an ingenious lathe, which, acting upon it simultaneously with a dozen different tools inside and out, speedily reduces it to a given weight and a perfectly uniform thickness. The cylinder, about eighteen inches in length and ten in diameter, is then made red hot, and whilst in this state is placed in the grip of a powerful machine, which by a series of blows, equally distributed over every part, converts it into the likeness of a French bottle in less than five minutes, without the slightest sign of crumpling in any portion of the surface. The operation can only be compared to the manner in which a potter shapes a vessel upon the wheel. No less than forty machines are employed on this special manufacture, and upwards of a hundred shells can be turned out daily. The expense incurred in producing with extreme accuracy and speed these curious missiles for the first rifled gun adopted by the service, is an earnest of the determination of the authorities to carry the manufacture of artillery to the same perfection of finish as their small arms. Lancaster guns will in all probability play a very important part in the next war, if war there should ever unhappily be, as those in use in the Crimea made most splendid practice, firing with nearly the accuracy of a rifle, and attaining a range of 5,000 yards, or very nearly three miles. As these shells cost about 25s. each, the expense of “passing the bottle” to the enemy is rather a serious affair.
By far the largest department of the Royal Arsenal is devoted to the construction of carriages and packing-cases for moving artillery, baggage, and the various munitions of war. At the present moment the carriage department employs no less than three thousand hands, together with three hundred machines, moved by twenty-three steam-engines, which do the work of an additional twelve thousand men! The bulky nature of the material dealt with, and the store-houses required for stowing it away, together with the numerous workshops called into existence by the Crimean war, have caused this department to burst its old bounds and to invade 250 acres of the adjoining marsh—the area of the workshops alone covering 255,152 superficial feet, and the entire ground occupied being no less than 1,445,440 feet. This immense amount of elbow room has enabled Colonel Tulloch, the superintendent of the department, to systematize the manufacture, and cause the timber to pass along in one unbroken progress from the time when it is landed upon the wharf to the time when the finished articles are delivered over to the storekeeper. If we follow this stream from stage to stage, we shall catch a flying view of the operations of this department, whose province it is to provide package and carriage for the British army at home and abroad.
The timber which forms the principal raw material employed is brought by ships to the mouth of the canal which runs along the eastern side of the Arsenal; here it is transferred to lighters which convey it some distance inland to the quay in the immediate neighbourhood of the timber field. By means of powerful derrick cranes, which can make a long or a short arm at pleasure, it is next unloaded and swung upon the trucks of the railway which ramifies through every portion of the premises, and forms the means of communication between its different points. The trucks, when full, immediately start with their burthen for the contiguous timber field, a square space covering 20 acres. Here the huge logs are deposited in long lines, which extend from one end of the field to the other, having roadways between them laid with rails. Over each line or row of timber strides a powerful travelling crane which, with a slight impulse given by one man, is made to traverse from end to end of the row, depositing or taking up in its way logs of oak or teak of many tons weight as easily as Gulliver could have picked up the Lilliputians he bestrode. Before the introduction of this powerful machinery, from fifty to one hundred pairs of horses were employed in this department alone, all of which are now dispensed with, and a saving effected of 6,000l. a-year.
The usual store in the timber-field amounts to 60,000 loads in various stages of seasoning. The varieties of climate in which the British army has to serve are so many, that foreign woods have been introduced to supply the place of oak, which cannot be found in quantities equal to the demand. Thus we find in the timber-field sabicu, a dense East-Indian wood which is used for the heavy blocks of gun carriages; pedouk, from the same country, which is employed for a similar purpose; and iron bark, an Australian wood. Of English timber, such as ash, elm, and beech, there is a very large store. What is called wheel timber, on the soundness and proper adaptation of which depends the safety of the artillery and transport service, is entirely composed of the most graceful trees of our woodlands; the spokes being made of oak, the naves of elm, the felloes or rims of ash. Beech is also largely used for the fuses of shells and the woodwork of saddles. When any particular logs are required, they are selected by the timber-master, picked up by the travelling crane, hoisted into the railway truck, and conveyed at once to the saw-mills close at hand. On the threshold of the largest mill the logs meet with a grim reception from an immense circular saw 66 inches in diameter, which at once attacks the huge log and separates it as expeditiously as your Eastern soldier divides with his scimitar a floating handkerchief. This formidable instrument traverses a space of 30 feet, and is thus enabled to fix its teeth upon the log at whatever part of the entrance it may chance to lie. This transverse section performed, the divided portions are drawn up by machinery into the saw-frames, the largest of which is capable of receiving a log 4 feet square. Once within the mill’s maw, as many saws are put in as are necessary to divide the wood into slabs of the required thickness, and a few minutes suffice to reduce it to planks. From the mills the timber is removed again upon the railroad to the seasoning shed, which covers 4 acres of ground. Here it is allowed to remain for years, so stacked that the air fairly circulates through every portion of the immense mass. The seasoning shed is to the timber master what his wine-cellar is to a bon vivant. Here he treasures his bins of nine years old oak as though it were wine of a famous vintage. This he keeps as carefully as a young whist-player keeps his best trumps to the end of the game, but with far more judgment, for old oak is precious beyond price, and cannot be got for love or money at a moment’s notice. In the dim shadow of this monster store are also piled the completed articles of land-transport that improve by age. That perpendicular wall of finished woodwork contains the bodies of a thousand carriages which were prepared to remove the British army from the pleateau of Sevastopol in anticipation of an inland campaign; the round towers at the corners are their wheels built up and left to season. Upon the thorough preparation of this part of the carriage its safety depends. The wheels of omnibuses are always allowed to remain two years before they are used, and by permitting them this grace they behave well when at work, generally running over 43,000 miles of ground before they are worn out. The wheels of gun-carriages require to be even better prepared and seasoned, as they have to bear the weight of enormous guns, and have often to run over the roughest ground, without being in any way relieved from sudden shocks by springs.
Upon this store of mellow wood the different factories draw; and the railway which traverses every portion of it speedily conveys the raw material to the benches of the workmen. As the visitor passes up the main avenues of these splendid shops he is bewildered with the activity of the swarms of artizans, the whirling of shafting, and the grating sounds of circular saws. Clouds of sawdust are flying about, and in a moment cover the intruder from head to foot. The immense amount of work sometimes required to be performed at a brief notice has necessitated the introduction of machinery into this branch of handicraft, which heretofore was entirely carried on by manual labour. Let us take the ammunition and powder cases for instance; these have to be provided by the hundred thousand in time of war, and accordingly we find machinery employed in every direction to shorten the work. Circular saws cut the planks into the required size to form the sides and tops and bottoms of the cases; as these issue from the different machines, they are conveyed away upon a circular band of canvas, placed at right angles, to a broader band which runs from one end of the factory to the other: down this band, as on a broad stream, the various pieces sail until they reach the receptacle, from which they are again conveyed to the machinery which is to put them together. Here the drilling, mortising, and dowelling processes are carried on by wholesale with an exactitude and speed which would astonish the joiner of the old school. Upwards of a thousand ammunition boxes formed of cedar, for repelling the wood-eating white ants of the East, are now being prepared daily for the use of the Indian army. The powder-boxes for the navy are made of a hexagonal form, to enable them to fit into the ship’s hold like cells of honeycomb. They are carefully lined either with pewter or copper, and when filled are hermetically sealed with wax. The limber-boxes for the field artillery are also made here in large quantities. These receptacles are of a far more elaborate character than the powder-cases, as they are fitted to take all the stores requisite for immediate action, which are stowed away in their different compartments, as neatly as the articles in a gentleman’s dressing-case. The common cartridge barrels are shaped out of the solid wood almost as fast as you can look. One machine cuts the oak into staves, curved to the right form; another cuts the edges, so that they may fit in a circle; a fourth turns the head; a fifth receives the staves, which are placed by the attendant on end in the form of a barrel, within the grip of a hydraulic press, claps a hoop on the top and bottom, and with one squeeze completes the operation. By such appliances a piece of solid oak plank is converted within five minutes into a finished barrel. The total produce of carefully-prepared powder-cases during the financial year 1856 was 25,331, and of boxes for ammunition, shell, &c., no less than 287,171. How many barrels can be made at a pinch we do not know, for the machinery is only just put up, but the number must be enormous, and when the visitor witnesses the nimble fingers of machinery galloping over the work, he wonders how the business was ever got through in the old time of the chisel, gouge, hammer, and plane.
In the shops devoted to the manufacture of the gun-carriages and trucks for the land and sea service, skilled artisans are employed, except in the wheel department. The vast strength requisite to support and withstand the recoil of 56, 64, and 98-pounders, necessitates the most solid construction and the best workmanship. Some of these platforms for traversing cannon, made of teak, and bolted and finished at the ends with bright copper bands, look like handsome pieces of furniture rather than ship’s gun-carriages. Compared with these ponderous articles, the light constructions fitted for the field-artillery seem like children’s playthings. Here they may be met with in every variety and in every stage of progress, so substantially put together that the marvel is that they ever wear out. The sort of succession of earthquakes, however, to which they are subjected in a campaign tells even upon those solid joints, and but few of the gun-carriages employed in the Crimea, although new when they went out, returned fit for further service.
The wheel department is one of the most interesting sights in the Arsenal. Here the most ingenious machinery has been brought together to insure sound and speedy production. Formerly the wheels were made entirely by hand; now they are turned out without the aid of a single skilled wheelwright. What is called the copying process, produces the nave and spokes of the wheel, three or four of which are seen working side by side, and the whole batch under the care of only one man. The circular rim of the wheel, or felloe, is cut out of the solid block by an ingenious ribbon-saw, imported from France. This saw is merely a narrow band of steel, toothed on one edge and running over a wheel like an ordinary leathern band attached to shafting. The exquisite manner in which it fashions the most intricate patterns from thick slabs of wood is really surprising. The felloes, after being thus roughly formed, are stacked to season in a shed by themselves, where they are piled one upon the other in vast pillars, down vistas of which the visitor passes, full of amazement at their number. There are at present in store some sixty thousand of these felloes and an equal number of naves, with their due complement of spokes.
As wheels are required, their component parts are brought to the shop, finished and mortised by machinery, and then lightly adjusted to each other. They are immediately placed within the grip of six hydraulic presses, which are so arranged as to thrust towards a common centre. Directly the wheel is adjusted within them, you hear the hiss of the resistless engines, whose motive power is only a few pints of water; the solid timbers groan, the joints painfully accommodate themselves to each other, and in less time than the process takes to describe, the wheel is lifted out solidly jointed, and only awaiting the tire to travel at once under its superincumbent gun. The wheels of gun, limber, and ammunition carriages are all made of exactly the same size, in order that they may be interchangeable in case of accident.
The effect of the sudden outbreak of the late war was, perhaps, more beneficially felt upon the laboratory department of the Arsenal than any other. Shells, of all the stores of war, were most deficient when the army left for Varna, and the want increased as soon as actual campaigning commenced. The authorities accordingly permitted Captain Boxer to erect a model manufactory of shells in the autumn of 1855. This he did with surprising rapidity, and proved to their satisfaction that these formidable missiles could be manufactured five pounds a ton cheaper than they could be procured from the contractors—an important saving on an article of which several hundred tons had to be supplied per day. The success of this experiment led to the erection of the splendid shell-foundry which is now attached to the Arsenal, and which is capable of turning out sufficient shells for all the armies of the world. Here may be seen the process by which the old scrap iron of the establishment is transformed into the finished shot and shell, and transferred by its own weight to the transport ready to convey it to the seat of war. The smelting process is carried on in a dozen enormous cupola furnaces, into which the iron and coal are heaped indiscriminately. The fierce heat generated by the blast rapidly melts the iron, which is then allowed to flow into the shell-moulds. From the moment the metal enters these moulds, the shell, in war time, never touches the ground till it is landed at its port of debarkation! The rough shells, after they have cooled a little, are forwarded by railway to the cleaning-room, where they are placed in a revolving iron barrel, seven feet long and seven feet in diameter. This machine circulates with rapidity, and the friction of the contained shells speedily cleanses them of all sand and dirt. From this point they roll through all the succeeding stages of their manufacture. A slightly-inclined plane receives them at the cleaning-drum, and conducts them one by one to the machinery fixed in the great room of the laboratory department. Upwards of ten thousand shells per day passed through this apartment during the late war, and were, on their passage, drilled and “bushed,” or fitted with the socket made to receive the fuse. This simple fact will alone serve to show how energetically the work was carried on to meet the wants of the great siege. The shells, having rolled through the labyrinth of successive machines which operate upon them, now move onward to the painting department, where they receive a coating of black varnish, which prevents oxidation. Hence they continue their journey right across the open ground of the Arsenal to the pier, under the platform of which they keep their course inside an iron tube which leads immediately into the barge alongside the transport in the river. From this barge, into which they sometimes shoot with a considerable impulse, they roll again, through the open port of the ship, to their appointed place in the hold.
The chief factory of the laboratory department is the great sight of the Arsenal, as here the visitor witnesses twenty or thirty most curious operations, the more important only of which he can stop to examine amid the whirlwind of machinery that everywhere meets his sight and vibrates on his ear. The manufacture of elongated bullets for the rifles affords perhaps the most startling novelty of all. The rifle itself is not a greater advance upon old Brown Bess than is the Minié bullet upon the old one-ounce ball. The apparatus now employed to produce it contrasts as forcibly with the simple bullet-mould formerly in use. Instead of heating the lead to a fluid state, it is simply warmed, in which condition it is subjected to hydraulic pressure in a large iron vessel, which has but one small aperture at the top, of the size of the intended elongated bullet. Out of this hole the metal is driven in the form of a continuous rod of lead, which, as it issues forth, rolls itself upon iron reels as though it were so much cotton! The reels are then attached to a machine which draws the metal between its teeth, bites it off to the required size, moulds the cone, depresses the cup, and condenses the mass at the same moment. These wonderful bullet-makers, when in full work, turn out five hundred elongated bullets a minute, or upwards of a quarter of a million daily. To complete the missile, the cup has to be filled with a boxwood plug to ensure its proper expansion whilst in the act of leaving the gun. Here again a partially self-acting apparatus is called into play, one lad being sufficient to feed several machines with square rods of wood, the ends of which are embraced by a circular hollow cutter, which instantly reduces them to the right conical form, and then cuts them off. These little plugs are produced at the same rate as the bullets.
An equally interesting operation is the manufacture of percussion caps. The first process in this light and delicate work is the stamping of sheet-copper into pieces of the required form to make the caps. For this purpose the copper is placed beneath the punch of the machine, and immediately it is put in action, small crosses of metal are seen to fall from it into a box in a continual stream, whilst the sheet itself is transposed by the punching process into a kind of trellis-work. These crosses of equilateral arms are now transferred to another machine, which instantly doubles up the four arms, and at the same time so rounds them, that they form a tube just the size of the gun-nipple, and by a third operation of the same machine a kind of rim is given to the free end, which makes the cap take the form of a hat. This rim marks the difference between the military and the ordinary percussion cap—the soldier, in the hurry and confusion of battle, requiring this guide to enable him to apply the proper end to the nipple. The metal portion of the cap completed, it is transferred to a man who fills it with detonating powder. As this is a very dangerous process, the artisan upon whom the duty devolves sits apart from the boys, who perform all the other work, for fear of an accidental explosion. To fix the fine dust in the cap, a very pretty machine is employed, which gets through its work with extreme rapidity. The caps are placed in regular rows in a frame-work, to which is attached a lever, armed with as many fine points as there are caps in a single row. The motion given by the hand alternately dips these fine points into a tray of varnish, and then into each succeeding line of caps. When the varnish is dry, the powder is fixed and effectually protected from the effects of damp. The caps are now finished, and are ready for the boy who counts and packs them. Machinery is even employed to perform the part of cocker, and with one gentle shake does the brain-work of many minutes. A frame is constructed, into which fit a number of small trays, each tray being pierced with seventy-five holes. Upon this frame the boy heaps up a few handfuls of caps, and then gives the whole machine a few jerks, and when he sees that every hole is filled with a cap, he lifts out each separate tray and empties it into appropriate boxes. In this manner he is enabled, with extreme rapidity, to count out his parcels of seventy-five caps, the regulation number served to each soldier with sixty rounds of ball-cartridge—the excess of fifteen being allowed for loss in the flurry of action. The British soldier’s clumsy fingers are by no means well calculated for handling and adjusting such light articles.
Equally curious with the production of caps is the manufacture of cartridge-bags. The visitor, as he mounts the stairs to the upper floor of a large building close at hand, is made aware by the hum and collision of shrill young voices that he is approaching a hive of children, and as he rears his head above the banisters, he finds that he is in the midst of a little army of urchins, varying from eight to fourteen years of age, seated at long benches rolling up paper cartridge-bags. This process requires some little nicety, as each bag is made up of three distinct papers of different sizes and shapes, which have to be neatly adjusted round a roller one upon another. By long practice some of these little fellows complete the operation in a surprisingly short space of time—rolling, twisting in the end, tying, and drawing it from the rod almost as quickly as you can look at them, the swaying of the body during the operation giving to the entire mass of eight hundred children a most extraordinary aggregate movement as the room is surveyed from one end to the other. Some boys are infinitely more nimble-fingered than others, and the sharpest earn eight or nine shillings a-week at the work.
Nimble as their little fingers ply, however, the hands of machinery laugh them to scorn. In the room below we note as we descend strange wheel-like frames revolving horizontally, and others working up and down into tanks of paper pulp. These are the new machines destined to supplant the little children over-head, and to hush the ceaseless hum of their human labour. Throughout the entire range of the Arsenal there is no sight more interesting than is exhibited by these machines, the modus operandi of which is extremely simple. Circles of brass tubing have short upright tubes inserted into them at regular distances. These upright tubes, or fingers, are pierced with fine holes, and the whole apparatus is attached to an exhausting-pump. Worsted mittens are fitted to the fingers, and when all is ready, the Briarean hand is dipped into the bath of pulp, the air in the tubes is withdrawn, the liquid necessarily rushes towards the fingers, and the water passing through, leaves the pulp adherent to the mitten. The process is instantaneous, hand after hand drops into the trough, gloves its fingers with pulp, and rises with a thousand cartridges in its grasp, quicker than one of the boys up stairs has finished a single bag. The process is not complete, however, until they are dry. Each mitten is removed from its metal finger, and placed on a similar one heated with steam. In ten minutes the desiccating process is finished, and the cartridge-bag is removed, a far more perfect instrument for its deadly purpose than that which is made up stairs by hand. The hint for this beautiful machine was taken from the apparatus employed for making conical seamless sugar-bags without the intervention of the paper maker—so diverse are the developments which may spring from the same idea. Of these small-arm cartridge-bags, 400,000 can be manufactured in a day of ten hours; but as each cartridge is composed of a double envelope, one fitting within the other, in order to separate the conical ball from the powder, the product furnishes 200,000 cartridges—an enormous quantity, but scarcely equal to the demand of such campaigners as Havelock, whose men, day by day, consumed their sixty rounds per head. At first sight it seems strange to find the Government turned paper makers, and the visitor may think that these bags could be obtained, as the sugar-bags are by the grocers, from the private manufacturer, but it is absolutely necessary that they should be produced side by side with their deadly contents. They are far more delicate things to maintain in their integrity than even wafer-biscuits, which they very much resemble, and they are required in such enormous numbers, that any mechanical impediment, such as crushing, interposed to the filling of them with powder and ball, would add immensely to the expense. The pressure in packing necessary to convey them to the Arsenal would flatten, and hence destroy them.
But where, asks the visitor, is the small-arms factory for the construction of those far-famed rifles which prevented a disaster at Inkermann, and at once doubled the effective power of the steadiest infantry of Europe? And well may he ask the question, for what more natural place for this important manufacture than in connexion with kindred Government establishments? When the War Office decided upon erecting a factory to meet the sudden demands of the war, it was proposed by the Inspector of Machinery to plant it within the walls of the Arsenal; but the authorities, for some reason best known to themselves, decided otherwise, and it was accordingly taken to Enfield Lock, which is twelve miles from London on the Eastern Counties Railway, and where they had before a small establishment for the repair and manufacture of a limited number of muskets. The traveller who gets out at the factory station finds himself at once in a road which leads him into a flat country laced with streams, where Paul Potter might have found a study at every turn. Here, amid flocks and herds peacefully grazing, or standing in the shadows of the pollard willows, he espies the tall chimneys of the Enfield factory, looking like a stray fragment of Manchester that had wandered out of its way. In all England a more absurd spot for it could not have been chosen.
The establishment, however, is so worthy of a minute inspection, that we will proceed to give a general view of the whole. The threshold of the manufacturing process is the smithery, where the foreman presides to deliver out the raw material and receive in return the work done. To each smith is issued the particular size of bar iron or steel required for the article he works upon. Opening out of this shop is the smithery itself, with its fifty-five forges, together with steam hammers, hoppers, rider hammers, and other contrivances by which our modern Vulcan economises labour. In this department all the iron and steel work of the lock and stock are moulded, for the ordinary method of forging conveys a very inadequate idea of the manner in which the material is here manipulated. Every sportsman knows that the lock of a gun is made up of many small pieces of irregular form. To forge these with the hammer alone would be far too expensive a process, as it would require highly-skilled labour, nor even then would it be possible to produce the different pieces of exactly the same size, so that any one may fit into any other with perfect accuracy when the gun is ultimately put together. To accomplish this end, the essential principle of the manufacture, each smith with his helper takes in hand a particular piece of work. One man, for instance, makes hammers, or cocks, as sportsmen call them. The irregular form of this part of the lock would seem to preclude the possibility of its being made by the hundred-thousand, each one being the counterpart of its brother to the thousandth of an inch. Yet this is done, and with an ease that appears astonishing to the beholder. Let us watch the brawny smith before us. He draws a rod from the fire at white heat, lays it upon an indented part of his anvil, and, together with his mate, deals alternate blows in half a dozen different directions, and produces in a few seconds an irregular mass, which we see bears a resemblance to the indentation in the anvil, which, on closer inspection, we find to be a rude matrix of a guncock. This is the first process, called swaging. These two men go on from one year’s end to another, giving alternate light and heavy blows and taps on all sides of the metal. These blows, though sometimes delivered through a swinging circle of eight or ten feet, fall upon exactly the same spot, for practice so nicely co-ordinates the muscles as to produce a motion as exact as that which draws from the bow of a Paganini the same delicate note for any number of times in succession. The cock thus swaged, the smith stamps his initials upon it, and transfers it to another smith, who works with a steam-hammer, on which is a steel die of the exact form it is required to take. A single blow of this instrument gives it its final form, leaving the superfluous metal in the shape of a thin film, where it has been squeezed into the opening between the dies, which is cut off by a subsequent stamping process. By this method of swaging and stamping, the lock-plate, bridle, cock, sear, trigger, sightleaf, breech-screw, and swivel are formed so perfectly, that the tool is scarcely required to touch them afterwards.
Those parts of the lock made of steel, such as the mainspring, searspring and tumbler, are simply swaged, the stamping process being omitted on account of the sudden blow tending to break the grain and thus destroy the elasticity of the metal.
A curious operation of the smithery is the bayonet forging. The bars for bayonet-work are never forged of such uniform width as to allow the smith to cut off to a nicety the length he requires. In order to rectify this difficulty, and enable him to tell how much will serve his purpose, he is provided with a water-gauge, or tube filled with a given quantity of water; into this the rod is plunged, and withdrawn when the fluid reaches the top of the gauge. By this expedient the iron, however irregular in form, is measured accurately by the displacement of the water. When the bar is withdrawn, the smith cuts it off at the watermark, and his mate thrusts it into the forge fire. Whilst this is going on, the visitor becomes conscious of a strange machine close at hand, which perpetually gnashes together a mouthful of hardened steel teeth; this is that useful instrument called the rider hammer. These teeth bear upon their upper and under surfaces grooves of the form the iron bar is required to take. The short white-heated bit of bar is thrust in, and by a series of nabs is instantly lengthened a couple of inches; the next tooth still further attenuates it, the third forces it into the triangular form, and a fourth and fifth reduce it to the graduated length required: thus the blade of this terrible weapon is rough-drawn. The ring by which it is attached to the barrel of the musket is forged separately, and welded to the shank at right angles. These are the first of at least seventy-six distinct operations before the weapon is fitted to fulfil its appointed design, that of making the ugliest and most irreparable wound possible in the human corpus. The work done, it is returned to the foreman, whose first duty is to see that the material with which the man has been debited has wrought into the requisite number of pieces; if it falls short the waste is charged to him. The next scrutiny is into the quality of the work, and the last and not the least important inquiry is, does it gauge? Unless the work passes all these ordeals it is rejected, and the person in fault is known by the distinguishing mark of the smith who prepared it. In some cases, as in the making of the bands which bind the barrel to the stock, this mark is ground off in passing through one of the presses; but is immediately restored, that the work may be traced to the artisan who constructed it. The effect of thus fixing the responsibility of every single thing manufactured upon the maker is immense, and induces habits of carefulness such as are seldom seen in ordinary workmen. The foreman now issues the different pieces to the finishers, who convey them to the annealing room, where they are rendered soft for working by heat, and cleaned of their scale or oxide, which would otherwise injure the tool, by means of dilute sulphuric acid.
The barrel is welded and finished in a separate factory. The piece of metal out of which the gradually tapering tube is ultimately fashioned seems to bear no relation to such a form. You see the smith take a small plate of quarter-inch iron, about a foot long by a few inches wide, heat it to a welding heat, and then place it between the lips of a rolling mill, with grooved instead of flat rollers, and in an instant it comes out a tube. It has next to be drawn out to the requisite length and tapered, which is done by passing it through a series of mills, each succeeding one being grooved smaller than the preceding. The bore is kept hollow during the operation by a central iron rod. The breech piece is welded on by a single blow of a steam-hammer, and the process of turning the bore begins. Four barrels are acted upon by one lathe, and the first operation is performed in fifteen minutes. Only a slight cutting is made each time, and the barrel has to be submitted to the action of many different boring instruments until the exact size, ·577 of an inch, is attained. The outside is now turned, the tool taking off the superfluous metal in one continuous ringlet of iron.
It now undergoes the most delicate process of all, that of being “viewed.” The viewer, who is a highly-skilled workman, with an exceedingly accurate eye, puts himself opposite a gas-lamp, about thirty feet distance, and which has a dark shade on its upper side. Towards this object he directs the barrel so as to bring the dark edge half-way across his sight as he looks through the bore. By this device he is enabled to direct a ray of light with a defined edge down the tube, and by turning the barrel round, instantly detects the slightest deviation from the straight line. As the smoothest-looking sea is discovered to be a mass of dimpling ripples—(the Greek poet’s “infinite laughings of the sea”)—when the setting sun throws a golden shaft across its bosom, so the mathematically straight lines of light gauge the inequalities of the rifle bore in a more exact manner than any instrument that has yet been invented. When any irregularities are discovered, the viewer taps the barrel with a fine hammer on a small anvil, and repeats the operation until the tube is perfectly true. Upon this depends the correct shooting of the gun, inasmuch as the least crook near the end of the bore would send a bullet far on one side of the mark long before it had attained the full range of 800 yards, to which the Enfield rifle is sighted. The rifling of the barrel in three groves is performed by fixing it in a lathe, and driving the cutter through it in a spiral direction.
In entering the finishing room, a noble apartment, 200 feet square, the visitor cannot fail to be struck with astonishment at the scene this vast workshop presents. He looks through a mass of wheels, levers, cranks, and shafts, which fill the space from wall to wall, every foot alive with iron and human limbs, and the whole superficies seeming to writhe and wrestle like a cluster of worms. Although confusion looks triumphant to the casual eye, the utmost order prevails. On one side of the room, at regular intervals, small inclosed offices, with glazed fronts, are placed against the wall, a little above the level of the floor. These are devoted to the foremen of the different divisions into which the work is separated. Each of these functionaries from his eyrie rakes the long avenues or streets of machines, with their attendant workmen, which run in parallel lines across the room. The first avenue is devoted to bayonets; then come in the following order the divisions allocated to furniture, screw, sight, lock, and stock. The work is so managed that all the different parts keep pace together, and are finished in the required proportions; or in other words, those pieces which are but slowly produced have allotted to them a greater number of machines. By this arrangement all the requisite items are brought at the same moment to the workmen who put them together in the finished article. The fifty-six pieces of which the rifle is composed work their way up one street of machinery and down another, constantly following on from right to left on their way towards the top of the room. Many of these pieces are passed through upwards of twenty different machines, each one performing some simple and definite action, by which means an accuracy is obtained that the most skilful gunmaker could never equal by hand.
The diversity of cutting-tools in these different machines strikes the observer with astonishment; the oddest shapes, the most unlikely-looking forms, proving admirably adapted for the purposes they are intended to accomplish. Many of these work automatically—that is, they engage and disengage themselves; setting to work only when they are fed with material, and, when their rodent-like teeth have gnawed away as much metal as is requisite, they stop of their own accord. The effect of this is so extraordinary, that it almost seems as if those bright limbs of iron, which stop and move on without human agency, must be directed by some sort of metallic brain. The most common form of tool employed is what is termed the circular cutter or milling-tool, which is constructed to fit every class of work. These cutters will continue serviceable for months without requiring to be sharpened, in consequence of each being restricted to its own limited sphere. The amount of thought employed in the construction of many of these machines must have been immense, and when they were completed, two-thirds of the manufacturing difficulty was overcome, and the musket more than half made. A most ingenious machine, the parent of a numerous progeny, was, many years ago, invented by an Englishman, and applied to copying the fine lines of statuary, and transferring them to ivory and other materials. The applicability of this instrument to the production of the irregular forms in the gun trade was first perceived by our cousins across the Atlantic, and for many years they have employed it for the rapid and true production of many parts of the musket, whilst our own manufacturers in London and Birmingham have been content to execute the same work, laboriously and expensively, by hand labour. The copying machines now at Enfield have been imported direct from America. They are principally employed in fashioning gun-stocks. They convert the rough slabs of walnut-wood, just outlined in the proper form, which come from France, Belgium and Italy, into the finished article, with all its grooves, holes, and beddings for lock and barrel. This extraordinary apparatus may be said to work with two hands: the one feeling the outline of the pattern to be copied, the other directing a tool uniformly with it and cutting the object to the required form. Let us, for example, take the machine that hollows out the lock-bedding in the stock. Not only are the outlines of the most irregular form, but they are sunk to three different levels, and it would almost seem impossible that a machine should excavate so complex a bedding with minute accuracy. Nevertheless, it is done in a few minutes by an apparatus, which revolves and brings, one after the other, some new tool into play according to the work to be done. Whilst the operation is going on, a little blower clears out the chips as cleverly as though the machine had human breath. The different portions of the gun completed, they are, for the last time, gauged, and passed on to the extreme end bench of the factory, near the west door, where the “assembler,” as he is termed, receives them in different bins, from which he takes the part he requires and sets up the gun. As there is no necessity for special fitting, this process is performed with remarkable rapidity, seven minutes being sufficient to combine all the different parts, which have never been near each other before—lock, stock, ramrod, and bayonet—into the complete weapon. They now pass out of the western door, packed in cases, and are taken to the proving-ground, where they are tested with high charges and their range and accuracy duly examined; and so perfect is the finish, that not one in a thousand fails to stand the trying ordeal. They are now transferred by water to the Armoury at the Tower, ready for service in the field.
The Enfield rifle was adopted for the public service in the year 1853, and is at the present moment the best infantry musket in Europe. There is still room, however, as Mr. Whitworth has shown, for improvement in the barrel. His rifle propels a bullet both farther and with greater accuracy, in consequence of the greater care he bestows upon the barrel, which, instead of being welded, is bored, at a great cost, out of the solid metal. Its diameter also being smaller, the bullet encounters a less resistance in the air during its flight. There is no reason why the smaller bore should not be substituted for that of the Enfield rifle, when this arm would be perfect. The difficulty the ablest minds experience in getting out of an old groove was exemplified by the late Duke of Wellington with respect to this question of the size of bore. His Grace was obstinately wedded to Brown Bess, whose crushing fire, so superior to that of the enemy, he had witnessed in his Peninsular campaigns, and which he erroneously ascribed to the excellent quality of the arm instead of to the steadiness of the men—mistaking, in fact, a moral for a physical excellence. The longer the Commander-in-Chief lived, the firmer his faith in the large smooth bore, and the necessity for making a big hole in the enemy. When the rifle-musket of 1851 replaced this old arm, the large bore was still retained, and the consequence was, that the bullet, being elongated, was heavier than when round, and the soldier had to carry a missile of 696 grains weight, instead of 490 grains. The bore of the Enfield rifle pattern of 1853 was very properly reduced, and the Prichett expanding bullet, of 530 grains, now carries its deadly weight in its length. Though the wound it gives is not so large as that inflicted by the old ball, it makes up for deficiency by its power of penetration. An officer who was at the taking of the rifle-pits in the quarry before Sevastopol informs us that a brother-officer was shot through the side by a Russian Minié bullet, which afterwards passed through an ass, and his two panniers of water, and did not stop in its career till it had broken a man’s arm at some distance off! Its deadly aim at vast distances, which made it the dread of the sepoys, who termed it “the gun that kills without making any sound,” contrasts strangely with the performances of Brown Bess of old, which at any range beyond a hundred yards was so uncertain in its aim that it has been calculated that the soldier shot away the weight in lead of every man that he hit.
Before the breaking out of the war, our stores were hampered with small-arms of all sizes and patterns. There were, at home and abroad, no less than 109,725 flint-lock muskets, of fifteen different patterns, and 107,000 smooth-bore, percussion-lock muskets, of eight different patterns. Very many of these were in service a few years ago; and as their bores were all dissimilar, it often happened that the soldiers were provided with cartridges that would not fit their guns. In peace little difficulties of this kind are of no moment, but they are of the utmost importance in the time of war. At the battle of Waterloo, the Brunswickers, who held Hougoumont, were, for a short time, rendered helpless, in consequence of cartridges having been sent to them that did not fit their muskets. A battle, which, according to Professor Creasey, ranks among the six decisive combats of the world, might thus have been lost on account of the misfit of a cartridge. The necessity of preventing the possible recurrence of such mischances induced the authorities, at the breaking out of the Russian war, to make the bore of all muskets used by the different branches of the service uniform with that of the Enfield rifle. A thousand of these weapons can at present be completed in a week—a number which appears large, but which is in reality far beneath the real wants of the army. The private manufacturers of small-arms in Birmingham denounced the establishment of this factory, on the plea that Government were not warranted in fabricating goods which the private trade of the country were capable of producing—an assertion which the Crimean war totally disproved, as the authorities were so pressed for rifles that they had to go to France, Belgium, and the United States for supplies, and at one time contemplated giving an order for 350,000 rifles at Liége. The military rifle, like the shell, being a special article required only by the army, the demand for it in large numbers is not constant, and hence the low condition of the mechanical power brought to bear upon it by the trade. The gunmakers of Birmingham have depended upon skilled labour for the production of the different parts of a musket, and thus labour, in times of pressure, becomes exorbitantly costly, to the embarrassment and loss of the public service. It was this which led the Government to introduce machinery into the manufacture—a thing the trade declared impossible, but which they now see is not only possible but profitable, since the same musket for which they charged 4l. 10s. is now made of a superior quality by the Government for 3l. 15s. The experiment must be of the greatest importance to the Birmingham gun trade, which, through its own inherent vices, was fast yielding to the superior ingenuity of America and Belgium, and which can only regain its old position by taking a lesson from the organized mechanical resources of the Enfield Lock manufactory. The private manufacturers need not fear that Enfield will monopolize even Government work, the demands of the service being far beyond its productive powers. As the Ordnance supplies rifles to our army in India, as well as to the home and colonial force, no less than 400,000 are required for the infantry and marines alone: a number which has to be replaced every twelve years, even in times of peace. In active service the destruction is immense; and now the cycle of war has returned, the annual 50,000 rifles turned out by the royal factory will prove but a small instalment of the vast store of arms that England will require.
At Waltham Abbey, not half an hour’s walk from Enfield Lock, is situated the only establishment for the manufacture of powder which the Government possesses. Here dispersion, instead of concentration, is the order of the day. The necessity for complete isolation causes the factories to be distributed over a very large space of ground, and the visitor has to walk from workshop to workshop through groves and avenues of willow and alder, as though he were visiting dispersed farm-buildings rather than the different departments of the same manufacturing process. There are not perhaps more than a dozen detached buildings in the whole establishment, yet these are scattered over upwards of fifty acres of ground. To such an extent do meadows and woods and meandering canals predominate, that the idea of being in a powder-mill is entirely lost in the impression that you are walking in a Dutch landscape. The visitor who enters the great gates of the mill, impressed with a belief in the dangerous nature of the ground he is treading, is somewhat startled on finding a steam-engine at work on the very threshold of the factory, and a tall chimney smoking its pipe in what he supposed to be the vicinity of hundreds of barrels of gunpowder; but in reality these boilers and furnaces are placed many hundred feet from the mixing-houses. The English Government powder is composed of seventy-five parts of saltpetre, fifteen parts of charcoal, and ten of sulphur. The ingredients, being thoroughly powdered, prepared, and purified, are submitted to the action of a machine, which completely mixes them. The product is then conveyed by a covered boat, very much like an aldermanic gondola in mourning, some hundred yards along the canal to the incorporating houses, where the most important process of the manufacture is carried on, and where the danger of an explosion first commences. The incorporating machine is nothing more than a couple of runners or huge wheels, weighing four and a half tons each, which revolve one after another on their edges in a bed of metal supplied with a deep wooden rim, which gives it much the appearance of a huge kitchen candlestick. Into this dish the black powder is placed, together with a little water, which varies in quantity, from four pints in winter, when the atmosphere is charged with moisture, to ten in the summer, when the desiccating quality of the air is very great. For four hours this pasty mass is crushed, ground, and mixed by the action of the runners. The precautions taken against explosion teach the visitor the dangerous nature of the ground he is treading. Before he puts his feet across the threshold he must encase them in leathern boots huge enough to fit Polyphemus, and guiltless of iron in any form whatever; even his umbrella or stick is snatched from him, lest the ferrule should strike fire, or accidentally drop among any part of the machinery whilst at work. The machinery is even protected against itself. In order to avoid the possibility of the linch-pins which confine the cylinders to their axles falling down, and by the action of “skidding” the runner, producing so much friction as to cause an explosion, receptacles are formed to catch them in their fall. As small pieces of grit, the natural enemy of the powder-maker, might prove dangerous if mixed with any of the “charges,” the axle sockets of nearly all the wheels are constructed to expand, so as to allow any hard foreign body to pass through just in the same manner in which the fine jaws of the larger serpents are loosely hinged, to enable them to get over at one gulp such a bulky morsel as a full-grown rabbit.
Accidents will happen, however, in the best-regulated mills, and provision is made for rendering an explosion when it occurs as innocuous as possible. The new incorporating mills are constructed with three sides of solid brickwork three feet thick, and the fourth side and roof of corrugated iron and glass lightly adjusted. As they are placed in a row contiguous to each other, the alternate ones only face the same way, so that the line of fire, or the direction the explosion would take through the weakest end, would not be likely to involve in destruction the neighbouring mill. It does occasionally happen, however, that the precautions are not sufficient to prevent danger spreading. In the great explosion which took place in 1842 a second house was fired at a couple of hundred yards distance from the spot where the original explosion took place. There is now a further security against the houses going one after another, like houses of cards. Over each mill a copper tank, containing about forty gallons of water, is so suspended that on the lifting of a lever it instantly discharges its contents and floods the mill. This shower or douche bath is made self-acting, inasmuch as the explosion itself pulls the string, the force of the expanding gas lifting up a hinged shutter which acts like a trigger to let down the water. “But,” it may be said, “as the water does not fall until the explosion has taken place, this contrivance is very like locking the stable door when the steed is stolen!” And this is the case with respect to the mill where the original mischief took place; but the lever first acted upon discharges the shower-bath over the heads of all the others also, and by this means the evil is limited to the place where it originated. From the incorporating mills the kneading powder, or “mill cake,” as it is termed, is taken by another funeral-looking gondola to small expense-magazines, where it is allowed to remain for twelve hours before being taken to the breaking-down house. Here the hard lumps of mill cake are ground into fine powder by the action of fine-toothed rollers made of gun-metal, which revolve towards each other and crush the cake which falls between them to dust. The broken-down mill cake once more travels between pleasant meadows fringed with willow until it reaches the press house, where the meal is subjected to hydraulic pressure between plates of gun-metal, and is thereby reduced to dense plates about half an inch thick. These plates are allowed to remain intact for a couple of days, by which time they become as hard as a piece of fine pottery. Very many advantages are gained by this pressure. The density of the powder is increased, which enables it to be conveyed without working into fine dust; its keeping qualities are improved, as it absorbs less moisture than if it were more porous; and lastly, a greater volume of inflammable gas is produced from a given bulk.
The pressed cake is now transferred to the maw of one of the most extraordinary machines we have yet witnessed. The granulating house, where the important process of dividing the powder into fine grains takes place, is removed very far away from the other buildings. The danger of the operation carried on within is implied by the strong traverse fifteen feet thick at the bottom, which is intended to act as a shield to the workmen in case of an accident. It was here an explosion took place in 1843, by which eight workmen lost their lives—in what manner no one knows, as all the evidence was swept away. To render the recurrence of such lamentable accidents as rare as possible, the machine is made self-acting. At certain times of the day it is supplied with food in the shape of fifteen hundredweight of “pressed cake.” This is stuffed into a large hopper or pouch, and the moment the monster is ready, the men retire beyond the strong traverse and allow it slowly to masticate its meal, which it does with a deliberation worthy of its ponderosity and strength, emptying its pouch by degrees, and by a triturating process performed by two or three sets of fine rollers, dividing it into different-sized grains. These grains it passes through a series of wire sieves, separating the larger ones fitted for cannon powder from the finer kind required for rifles, and depositing them in their appropriate boxes, which, when full, it removes from its own dangerous proximity, and takes up empty ones in their place. All the larger undigested pieces it returns again, like a ruminating animal, to its masticating process until its supply is exhausted. Then, and not till then, like Mademoiselle Jack, the famous elephant, it rings a bell for some fresh “cake.” The workmen allow it about five minutes’ grace to thoroughly assimilate the supply already in its maw, when the machine stops, and they enter with another meal. The floors of all the different houses are covered with leather neatly fastened down with copper nails, and the brush is never out of the hands of the workman: even while you are talking to him, he sweeps away in the gravest manner in order to remove any particles of powder or grit that maybe on the floor; this he does mechanically, when not a particle of anything is to be seen, just as a sailor in a crack ship always holystones the deck, clean or dirty, the moment he has any spare time.
The powder thus separated into grains is still damp and full of dust. To get rid of this it is taken by water to the dusting-house, where it is bolted in a reel like so much flour. It has now to be glazed, a very important operation, performed by placing it in large barrels, which revolve with their load thirty-two times a minute for three hours together. By the mere friction of the grains against each other and the sides of the barrel, a fine polish is imparted to the surface of the grain, which enables it to withstand the action of the atmosphere much better than when it is left unglazed. It is now stoved for sixteen hours in a drying-room heated by steam pipes to a heat of 130° Fahrenheit, and is then finally dusted and proved. There are many methods of proving, but the simplest and most efficacious is to fire the powder from the weapon it is intended to serve. Thus cannon powder is proved by firing a 68-pound solid shot with a charge of two ounces of powder—a charge which should give a range of from 270 to 300 feet. If the powder passes the test, which it generally does, it is packed in barrels holding 100 lbs. each, marked L. G. (Large Grain), and F. G. (Fine Grain), as the case may be, and carried to the provisional magazine. When 500 barrels have accumulated they are despatched in a barge to the Government magazine at Purfleet, near the mouth of the Thames, the Lea forming the connecting link of water between the canals of the works and that river.
The produce of this establishment, which had fallen so low as 4,500 barrels per annum in 1843, is now so increased by improved machinery that 20,000 barrels a year can be manufactured, and of the very best quality. Even this supply is far below the consumption during a time of war, and contractors have, and always will have, to furnish a portion of the required supplies; but it seems that a model mill is useful for the double purpose of keeping up a due standard of quality, and of keeping down price. On the uniform strength of the powder depends the accuracy of artillery fire: hence the necessity of having some known standard of quality from which contractors should not be allowed to depart. The improvements which have taken place in the manufacture are very marked. About the year 1790, when powder was supplied to Government wholly by contract, the regulation weight of charge for a cannon was half the weight of the ball; it is now less than one-third: therefore two barrels are now used instead of three, a reduction of bulk which economizes stowage on board ship as well as in the field. Formerly powder had a range of 190 feet only; the range is now increased to 268 feet! This vast improvement is simply the consequence of the care with which the powder is worked, and the attention bestowed on every detail of the mills since their direction fell into the hands of Colonel Tulloh, Colonel Dickson, and Colonel Askwith, the present Superintendent.
There is a department at the Woolwich Arsenal to which we must now return, of which the establishments at Enfield and Waltham Abbey may be considered but outlying offshoots. Beyond the canal, at the extreme end of the ground, lie the establishments devoted to the more dangerous portions of pyrotechnic manufacture, such as the filling of rockets, of friction-tubes, the driving of fuses, &c. These ticklish operations used to be conducted in ill-built sheds in the laboratory square, where a sad explosion took place during the war, and Captain Boxer, determining to reduce the risk of accidents, transferred the whole of them in 1854 to this open space, far away from the neighbourhood of fire. The sixteen houses used for fuse-driving and friction-tube-making are isolated from each other much in the same manner as the incorporating mills at Waltham Abbey: we need not therefore describe them. The rocket manufactory is also so carefully arranged that accidents can rarely happen. The method of driving the composition into these frightfully destructive implements of war was, until lately, not only barbarous but dangerous in the extreme, being forced in by a “monkey,” or small pile-driver, worked by eight men. The pressure of water now does the work silently, effectually, and safely. The rocket is so fixed while it is being filled, that in case of an accident the discharge will fly through the roof; grit and iron are as carefully excluded as in the powder mills; open spaces around the buildings are covered with turf and planted with shrubs, and a raised causeway of wood keeps the communications between the different magazines free from all substances likely to produce friction. The visitor may no more enter one of these carefully-guarded buildings with his shoes on than he could walk into the mosque of St. Sophia, at Constantinople, similarly shod. With equal care the process of greasing the bullet end of the small-arm cartridges is carried on in this portion of the Arsenal. For a long time no lubricating material could be found that remained unaffected in all climates—a very important desideratum, considering the manner in which our stores of war are moved about from the depths of arctic waters to the burning summers of the torrid zone. Captain Boxer, however, in a happy moment, thought of the little busy insect that builds a store-house warranted to keep in all temperatures, and adopted bees’ wax, which, added to a little fat, makes a compound which answers the purpose perfectly. The cartridges are dipped about an inch deep into a receptacle of this liquid kept fluid by the heat of gas. As we watched the process going on, we could not avoid reflecting from what insignificant causes great events arise, and that a rebellion which well-nigh snatched India from our grasp sprung from this very cauldron seething with “hell-broth thick and slab.”
The different departments of the Royal Arsenal are separated by large open spaces, in which the rougher materials of war are deposited. The roadways, laid with iron trams, which greatly facilitate the transfer of heavy guns, are lined here and there with pyramids of shot and shell, lackered and shining in the sun. These missiles are continually circulating along the shoots from one spot in the Arsenal to another, passing at one time underfoot, at another overhead, the action of gravity being pressed into the service with other labour-saving contrivances, to remove 13-inch shells and 98-pounder solid shot, sometimes to very considerable distances. Vast as are the stores of these warlike implements, and far as the vistas of pyramids stretch (and there are no less than 688,000 in the Arsenal at present), they would speedily be drained by a short return of war, in which artillery now plays so prominent a part. At the siege of Sebastopol alone, which scarcely occupied eighteen months, no less than 253,042 shot and shell of all sizes were fired from our batteries, a number which the enemy surpassed, in one attack alone, if we are to believe the evidence afforded by some of the ravines, in which this iron rain descended so thickly that it paved the ground and prevented the grass from springing up. The French were even more prodigal of these projectiles; for, according to the report made to the Emperor, 1,100,000 of them were sent by our allies into the doomed city.
The neighbourhood of each department is generally indicated by the class of war stores to be seen at hand. We may be sure we are near the great-gun foundry, for instance, when we see the long files of iron guns of all sizes and patterns, from the light 32-pounders to the truly formidable 98-pounders of the naval service, flanking the road, compared with which the light brass field-pieces that fringe the wall of the building itself seem the merest toy-guns. Here and there trim grass-plots are seen with a neat edging of three hundred 13-inch mortars, and at the grand entrance of the foundry itself enormous shells, a yard in diameter, prepared for Mallett’s mammoth mortar, are planted, as if to show how daring are the ideas of modern war, which proposes to throw such Titanic missiles at the enemy. Here too may be seen veterans which have seen service—avenues of wounded guns from the Crimea. These are the picked specimens of the eighty-eight pieces of ordnance either disabled by the enemy or worn out by their own fire in that ever-memorable siege. One, a 68-pounder, was shattered by a singular accident; just as it was being discharged a shell fired by the enemy exploded in its mouth, and destroyed it after it had fired no less than 2,000 rounds. Another gun, which is split in the muzzle, was hit thirteen times. There appears to have been luck in this mystic number, however, for by the aid of an iron band the mishap was repaired, and it went on doing duty until one of its trunnions was knocked off, and even then, like the gallant Widderington, at Chevy Chase, it fought upon its stumps; for, on being sunk into the ground, and fired at a high elevation, it was kept at work up to the end of the siege. Some of these guns are pitted with cannon-shot even as far back as the breech, and one or two are hit in their very stern-most parts. These wounds are the result of ricochet firing, a kind of practice which enables a shot to drop in the most unexpected places.
In the mounting yard, as it is termed, which lies between the gun and carriage factories, the field-pieces are mounted upon their carriages and fitted up for service previous to their removal to the depôt of artillery near the Common. Since the war the captured cannon from Sebastopol have been stored here preparatory to their being either broken up or distributed as trophies to the various towns of the United Kingdom. Of these guns 1079 are of iron and 94 of brass. They are of admirable metal, and would have proved very serviceable, except that unfortunately their bore does not suit any of our shot. Gun-carriages rent by the bursting of guns, or so unscientifically constructed as inevitably to destroy themselves, like the iron carriages taken from the enemy at Kertch, are kept as lessons for the Captain Instructor to dwell upon, when he takes round his bevy of young artillery cadets. This official performs the essential duty of giving the future artillery officer a clear insight into the method of constructing and repairing all the more essential engines and tools he will have to work with—such as guns, gun-carriages, &c., and of obtaining a general notion of the relative strength of metals, and of the value of the various materials out of which the munitions of war are formed. The vast workshops of Woolwich afford an admirable field for the acquisition of this kind of knowledge.
The neighbourhood of the Arsenal to the chief Military Academy in the kingdom gives these embryo artillery officers an opportunity of witnessing the experiments which are constantly going on in the Marshes, either for the purpose of testing new guns, or of practically examining the capabilities of new inventions. The extraordinary energy with which projectors of all kinds (clergymen among the number) devoted themselves to the task of inventing new implements of destruction during the Russian war entirely belied that lamb-like spirit attributed by Mr. Cobden to his fellow-countrymen. No less than 1976 new projects were submitted to the Select Committee of Ordnance with respect to artillery alone. Of this number a large proportion were of the most imbecile kind—such as proposals to fill shells with Cayenne pepper, chloroform, and cacodyle, the latter a most virulent material which has the property of poisoning the air around it. The asphyxiating ball of the French was the true parent of the whole brood. Only forty-three of the propositions were favourably reported on, and of this number only thirty have been adopted into the service. First and foremost among these is the plan of filling shells with liquid iron. It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the destructive effect of this new application of an old material. At the second shot fired in the Marshes against a perfectly new butt which cost 200l., it set it on fire and entirely destroyed it. The engines of the Arsenal and the old expedient of heaping earth against the burning wood were of no avail, the molten iron having penetrated in all directions deep into the timber. It is hard to believe that any ship will be able to resist the destructive effect of these shells, or that masses of men will be found courageous enough to withstand their devastating effects; for immediately the percussion shell comes in contact with any object, it explodes and throws the molten metal in all directions—splashing and striking objects that are completely out of the way of the contents of ordinary shells, and proving far more deadly both to animate and inanimate substances than the famous Greek fire of old. This very invention was brought to the notice of the authorities as early as 1803 by a workman in a London iron-foundry; but the suggestion was so contrary to all the current notions of the time, that it was rejected, and not heard of again until a new war brought into play more advanced ideas.
The new guns that were brought forward were innumerable, and many of them, such as the Mersey steel gun, and the great mortar, are still under trial. If this mortar, which is built up of a series of rings 9 inches broad and 3½ inches thick, laid over one another, and fitting tightly, so as to form a barrel, should ultimately prove capable of resisting the full charge of 70 lbs. weight of powder, it will be the most destructive implement yet invented for the purpose of crushing fortified places. In some of the trials which have taken place in the Marshes, it threw its 36-inch shell, weighing 26 cwt., upwards of two miles; and when the missile fell, it buried itself in the ground to so considerable a depth, that after digging down 12 feet, and probing for 15 feet more, it still remained undiscovered. The artillerymen say jestingly that it has dropped down to Australia, No casemate at present in existence could withstand the crushing weight of its fall, and its bursting charge of 200 lbs. of powder.
After contemplating this vast establishment for the manufacture of arms, with its sixty steam-engines, which through the agency of upwards of three miles of running shafting, give motion to upwards of a thousand machines, we must not omit to mention the human labour which directs this enormous manufacturing power. During the height of the Crimean war, upwards of 10,000 men and boys were employed in the Arsenal, an army of workers engaged upon the production of the materials of destruction equal to the entire force encamped at Aldershot, and double the number of men that besieged and took Delhi. When such masses of men as this have to be dealt with daily, it is obvious how necessary it must be to possess an organized system by which the loss of what might otherwise be considered mere fractions of time is noted. Let us suppose, for instance, that every man and boy in the Arsenal lost only five minutes per day, and it would amount in the aggregate to the loss of the labour of one man for twelve weeks to the Government.
The next problem to be solved is how to pay 10,000 men in any reasonable time. It would be clearly impossible to calculate each man’s wages at the time of payment, even if a little army of clerks were employed. It is therefore done beforehand by a staff of men employed for this purpose. The amount due to each person having been ascertained, the money is laid out on boards divided into partitions numbered consecutively. A corresponding number for each man, with the amount to be given to him, is distributed previously to the payment taking place, on what is termed a “pay ticket.” On pay-day the artisans take their places in single file, arranging themselves according to their numbers, and, passing in front of the pay-boards, receive their wages, and surrender their tickets, which are receipts for the money. No money is exchanged if not brought back before the man reaches a certain point, and in this space there are persons stationed to watch that no exchange is made of bad money for good. To search every man as he left would be impossible, yet it is highly necessary to have some means of checking petty depredations of metal, &c. Formerly peculations of this kind were constant, and the aggregate loss must have been immense. When it was first determined to put a stop to it, the men were told only a few minutes before leaving work that they would be searched as they went out. The effect of this announcement was that the whole Arsenal was strewed with small pilfered articles thrown hastily away. Now a couple of policemen at the gate touch indiscriminately a certain per-centage of the men as they are going, and these have to pass through a side lodge to be searched. As no man can tell whether or no he will be touched, the whole mass is kept honest. The mere lodging of such a body of men was at first a difficulty, even in so large a town as Woolwich: the demand, however, soon produced supply, and the means taken to insure the fall of Sebastopol caused the rise of a new town of at least two thousand houses in the immediate neighbourhood of the Arsenal.
Complete as we have shown the organization of the Arsenal to be, both as regards its mechanical resources and its staff, it is generally understood that the Government do not intend to depend upon it wholly for the supply of the munitions of war. In the case of small-arms, its powers, as we have seen, are wholly inadequate to the task. In those branches, however, where the manufacturing power is ample, they will not attempt to push it to the point of excluding the private manufacturer from a share in the business. This is, we think, a wise decision; for, however excellent may be the present arrangements now everything is new and the broom is fresh, it cannot be denied that the tendency of this and all other Government establishments is to go to sleep, since they neither possess the stimulus of private gain to teach them economy, nor that unity of direction which gives such vigour to private enterprises. The principle of competition ought therefore to be kept up, and we should run the private manufacturer against the public one in order to keep down price, and pit the Royal Factory against the trade in order to keep up quality. Another great gain will accrue from the determination of the Government, which is, that the private manufacturers will not lose the art of making certain stores of war—an art which can not be learned in a day. It would be unwise for the authorities to put all their eggs into one basket, and this they would most assuredly do by entirely depending upon their own powers of production, and in disassociating themselves from the great and fertile manufacturing power of England, which generally knows so well how to economize and progress.
If the Government have shown judgment and foresight upon this point, we cannot say as much for their inexcusable neglect to provide for the security of this enormous establishment, which contains within its walls not only the principal depôt of warlike stores in the island, but also the means of producing them. We do not believe that our neighbours are going to sail up the Thames quite as easily as the Dutch did, or that any foreign army marching from Dover could destroy the Arsenal on its way to the capital without our having ample notice of their approach. Nevertheless we cannot think that the sole Arsenal of England, placed as it is in a very accessible part of the island, should be left entirely without the means of defence. The place itself could not be fortified, as it is commanded by the heights of Shooter’s Hill; but the neighbourhood is admirably adapted for the purpose. In the opinion of military engineers, it would not be necessary even to erect the requisite works until the moment their services were required. Half a dozen earth batteries, mounted with heavy guns, would command all the land approaches; and a few flats, posted so as to sweep the reaches of the river, would effectually prevent the approach of any hostile force by water. The scheme of these batteries should, however, be settled beforehand in all their details, so that in the moment of danger they could be completed almost in the presence of the enemy, in case an invader should give the Channel Fleet the slip some misty morning, and succeed in making good his footing upon our shores.
...the constitution itself is not a complete system ... it takes none but the first steps in organization ... it does little more than lay a foundation of principles ... it provides with all possible brevity for the establishment of a government having, in several distinct branches, executive, legislative, and judicial powers ... it vests executive power in a single chief magistrate, for whose election and inauguration it makes carefully definite provision, and whose privileges and prerogatives it defines with succinct clearness...