The Man Behind the Machine

One of the joys of this restoration project is finding out more about the wonderful machines. Not just what part they played in the hat making process, but how they work and where they came from.

In the case of one particular machine, I wanted to find out the story of its interesting name and about the company or person who made it. We affectionately refer to it as ‘The Tangye’. An unusual word in itself…I wondered if it was a nickname, a colloquium, slang or maybe even a local reference?

It turns out it’s none of those. It is named after its inventor – Sir Richard Trevithick Tangye (1833-1906). It’s a Cornish name. He grew up in Redruth, Cornwall though he spent much of his working life in Birmingham. Our Tangye even has the word ‘Birmingham’ stamped on it.

Portrait by Frank Hewett. Taken from One and All an Autobiography of Richard Tangye

This pioneering man developed and manufactured the single cylinder horizontal steam engine. A remarkable feat of engineering and ingenuity which would drive power to huge and heavy machinery in factories across the UK, Asia and Africa – quite literally on an industrial scale.

Our Tangye drives the belts and pulleys to William Plant’s block making machinery. As part of this project it needed the appliance of modern engineering. Not because it wasn’t working but because it was working too quickly. The motor was temporarily dismantled and a power inverter installed to slow the Tangye down and allow it to operate at the optimum speed.

As this project nears completion, we are grateful to the skill of our restorers, the generosity of our funders – the Association for Industrial Archaeology – and to Sir Richard Trevithick Tangye for his engineering brain and the determination to realise his ambitions.


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