Matthew Murray : biography
The Collier, [[aquatint by Robert Havell published in 1814, showing a Matthew Murray steam locomotive (Salamanca) on the Middleton Railway ]]
Matthew Murray (1765 – 20 February 1826) was an English steam engine and machine tool manufacturer, who designed and built the first commercially viable steam locomotive, the twin cylinder Salamanca in 1812. He was an innovative designer in many fields, including steam engines, machine tools and machinery for the textile industry.
Murray made important improvements to the machinery for heckling and spinning flax. Heckling was the preparation of flax for spinning by splitting and straightening the flax fibres. Murray's heckling machine gained him the gold medal of the Royal Society of Arts in 1809. At the time when these inventions were made the flax trade was on the point of expiring, the spinners being unable to produce yarn to a profit. The effect of his inventions was to reduce the cost of production, and improve the quality of the manufacture, thus establishing the British linen trade on a solid foundation. The production of flax-machinery became an important branch of manufacture at Leeds, large quantities being made for use at home as well as for exportation, giving employment to an increasing number of highly skilled mechanics.
In 1789, due to a lack of trade in the Darlington flax mills, Murray and his family moved to Leeds to work for John Marshall, who was a prominent flax manufacturer. Murray maintained the machinery for Marshall's mills at Adel, and made improvements that pleased his employer. At this stage it seems that Murray was the chief engineer in the mill, and when Marshall decided to set up a new mill at Holbeck in 1791, Murray was in charge of the installation. The installation included new flax-spinning machines of his own design, which Murray patented in 1790. In 1793 Murray took out a second patent on a design for “Instruments and Machines for Spinning Fibrous Materials”. His patent included a carding engine and a spinning machine that introduced the new technique of “wet spinning” flax, which revolutionised the flax trade.
In 1814 Murray patented a hydraulic press for baling cloth, in which the upper and lower tables approached each other simultaneously. He improved upon the hydraulic presses invented by Joseph Bramah, and in 1825 designed a huge press for testing chain cables. His press, built for the Navy Board, was 34 ft long and could exert a force of 1,000 tons. The press was completed just before Murray’s death.
In 1816 Francis B. Ogden, the United States Consul in Liverpool received two large twin-cylinder marine steam engines from Murray’s firm. Ogden then patented the design as his own in America. It was widely copied there and used to propel the Mississippi paddle steamers.
Hostility of Boulton and Watt
The success that Fenton, Murray and Wood enjoyed because of the high quality of their workmanship attracted the hostility of competitors, Boulton and Watt. The latter firm sent employees William Murdoch and Abraham Storey to visit Murray, ostensibly on a courtesy visit, but in reality to spy on his production methods. Murray, rather foolishly, welcomed them, and showed them everything. On their return they informed their employers that Murray’s casting work and forging work were much superior to their own, and efforts were made to adopt many of Murray’s production methods. There was also an attempt by the firm of Boulton and Watt to obtain information from an employee of Fenton, Murray and Wood by bribery. Finally, James Watt jnr purchased land adjacent to the workshop in an attempt to prevent the firm from expanding.
Boulton and Watt successfully challenged two of Murray's patents. Murray's patent of 1801, for improved air pumps and other innovations, and of 1802, for a self-contained compact engine with a new type of slide valve, were contested and overturned. In both cases, Murray had made the mistake of including too many improvements together in the same patent. This meant that if any one improvement were found to have infringed a copyright, the whole patent would be invalidated.
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