John Ramsbottom
John Ramsbottom

This month marks the 200 years since the birth of John Ramsbottom, who was president of the Institution 1870-1871, and a prominent mid-Victorian engineer.

John Ramsbottom was born 11th September 1814, in Todmorden, Lancashire. His father owned a cotton spinning mill, with a steam driven engine. He started working in his father’s factory and building models of engines when he was in his late teens. He registered his first patent – aged 19 – with Richard Holt – for a weft fork – which was used as an automatic stopping device on weft looms. Without this invention, high speed accurate loom work would have been impossible.

In 1883 he became consulting engineer to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway for the design and construction of their Horwich Works, and he later became a Director of the Railway. He was also District Superintendent at the North Eastern division of London and North Western Railway, and later locomotive superintendent of the Northern Division (succeeding Francis Trevithick)

A lot of Ramsbottoms inventions revolutionised the speed and safety of locomotives, such as when in 1855, he invented a tamper-proof spring safety valve for locomotive engines. This device unlike previous safety valves, did not ‘go off’ when the locomotive went over bumps on the track – and thus was high successful and adopted on most engines.  It was known as the Ramsbottom safety valve.

Ramsbottom was also responsible for supplying water to locomotive trains whilst running  with water troughs. It was tested during a harsh winter up in Chester, and was so successful it was adopted on all lines. Without this invention, long runs by express train would not have been possible.

After retiring, he still worked as a consultant engineer for some years. As well as this, he was a life governor of Owens College, Manchester where a scholarship was available for students wishing to train to be mechanical engineers. Without a doubt, Ramsbottom’s inventions and innovations on the railways paved the way for modern train travel as we know it today.

Ramsbottom was also an original member of the Institution. He died in 1897 in Alderley Edge, Cheshire.

In the archive at the Institution, we have a collection of Ramsbottom’s papers, including letters and patents. Below are some images from his 1854 patent for “An improved hoist for raising and lowering railway stock and other articles”

Ramsbottom Patent
Ramsbottom Patent

You can read more about John Ramsbottom and some of his papers here, and also in Robin Pennie’s very comprehensive book ‘John Ramsbottom: A Victorian Engineering Giant”, published by The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Society and is also available for members to borrow from our library.

Archive, Institution of Mechanical Engineers


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