- © 2021 – Martin Shepherd Piano Service Using the text, research, or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law in most countries.
STEWART SPIERS MITRE PLANES
“…Piano and Organbuilders, and other hardwood workers, all over the world still pronounce [Spiers planes] the best.” It goes without saying that Spiers was not the inventor of the dovetailed plane. When you make the distinction of an all ‘steel dovetailed plane,’ however, there’s a greater chance that it is true.
Stewart Spiers (1820-1899) made his planes in Ayr, Scotland, on the west coast. Spiers played a major role in developing and popularizing wood infilled metal planes, including panel, smoothing, thumb, shoulder, chariot, and improved mitres. Although, its fair to state that Spiers was not necessarily the original inventor of these forms, with the possible exception of the improved mitre plane. For a thorough examination of Stewart Spiers, his business, life, and family, I recommend “Through Much Tribulation: Stewart Spiers and the Planemakers of Ayr,” by Nigel Lampert.
Section of Ayr, Scotland, from the 1855 Ordnance Survey. Garden St. and River St. are the places where Stewart Spiers spent his working life. Stewart took over his father William’s unnumbered River St. shop in 1844, after he died. Stewart produced some of his early planes at 12 Garden St., c. 1851-58. In 1858, Stewart moved his shop to 11 River St., where he remained until his death in 1899. I’ve included the following Ayrshire P.O. Directory excepts to clarify Stewart Spiers’ early locations.
5 River St was on the corner of River and Garden Streets.
Stewart Spiers visited the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851.
Spiers had London connections, as a number of his planes were rebadged by Buck, Moseley, and Archer, among other tool dealers. Spiers also sent a number of his early planes to the United States.
Stewart Spiers was still in Deptford when his first daughter, Jane Stewart was born in late 1855.
“Tool Merchants supplied on liberal terms. Facilities offered for workmen forming themselves into clubs to be supplied with iron planes. Cards and Price-Lists sent free to all inquirers, with all particulars.” An interesting proposition! This is the first time I’ve seen 74 as a street number for the Spiers workshop on River Street.
Taxation records can often show more information than City Directories regarding the activity of an historical figure, and that is the case with Iron Planemaker, Stewart Spiers. Shown below is an 1885 snapshot in time of Stewart Spiers business during the pinnacle of his business activities. As expected, Spiers’ house and workshop, Firth View and 11 River St. were included, but Spiers was also a landlord of 11 tenants at 176 High St., and a landlord of Joseph Scott at 1 Garden St. Stewart’s brother, William was living at 178 High St., probably the same building, in 1841 (census) through at least 1845 (directory).
Several features indicate that this original pattern mitre was made between the 1850s and 1870. These include a flying saucer-shaped or domed lever cap screw, tapered iron, lack of sole extension at the heel, and side screws to secure the lever cap. Also, the sidewalls at the heel form one large horseshoe bend with two curved dovetails. It does not have the earliest version lever cap, with the long narrow neck; this lever cap was made to be more robust.
The lever cap neck is very long and slender. Spiers later discovered that the lever cap does not need to be so long for sufficient leverage with holding down the iron securely. In fact, later Spiers planes have much shorter lever caps. An example of a very short Spiers lever cap can be seen on an improved pattern Spiers mitre plane further down this page. Body of the plane is fairly similar to the later Spiers mitre shown above.
This Spiers mitre plane is old enough to have the front and rear sole dovetailed together (at the mouth) rather a simpler diagonal butt joint which was employed later. In general, an upside down stamp on the lever cap does not necessarily indicate early manufacture. The pinned infills, snecked iron without dog-eared corners, rear sole extension, and larger diameter of threads on lever cap screw suggest later manufacture. Also, the sidewalls at the heel have two bends, or rounded corners, rather than one large horseshoe bend with curved dovetails, as featured in the earlier full sized mitres. Front infill has a longer top than the earlier style, and a simple concave shape under the lip, at the back, compared to a long exposed ogee on the earlier mitre infills. Later in the 1890s, Spiers changed the lever cap screw to a plain unadorned domed shape.
Spiers small mitre plane with lever cap, from Garden Street price list. Note the double bend and flange at the heel: small early Spiers mitres tended to have that, while early full sized Spiers mitres did not.
In the Spiers catalogues, wedged planes were offered right up to the final publication, but in reality, they were curtailed around World War One. By the 1880s, any wedged Spiers planes were rare (with the exceptions of the shoulder and rebate planes), but in general, Spiers favored the lever cap arrangement from the beginning of his career. Even Spiers chariot planes had lever caps when other makers almost invariably used bridges and wedges. Front and rear sole pieces are dovetailed together at the mouth in this example.
Inverted Cupid’s Bow
Who made the planes with the unique inverted cupid’s bow? Some think the examples marked “SPIER AYR” were made by William, Stewart Spiers’ father, while others believe that they were made by Stewart’s nephew. I am inclined to think that all planes with this bridge design were made by the same person, and that would likely be George Rutherford. In his book Through Much Tribulation: Stewart Spiers and the Planemakers of Ayr, Nigel Lampert discounted the notion of more than one Spiers making planes in Ayr:
It has been suggested elsewhere that the use of alternative spellings might indicate that more than one planemaker was responsible for early planes usually assumed to be by Stewart Spiers’. However, there is absolutely no hint or evidence that another planemaker named Speir ever existed in Ayr (or indeed elsewhere) during this period, and given that some early mitre planes marked ‘Speir’ are also marked ‘Ayr’ as well, and an early block smoothing plane is known stamped with both ‘Speir’ and ‘Spiers Ayr’, it is a reasonable assumption that the Spiers family used and/or responded to a number of spellings of their name.
Multiple spellings of an individual family’s surname was common from the beginning of surnames to the late 19th century. Consistent spelling of names only entered general practice when literacy became relatively universal, and a practical average competency became the norm.
George Rutherford was born in New York around 1824 or 1825, but his family was from Scotland. The Rutherford family returned to Ayr, Scotland sometime before 1845. George’s mother ran a drapery business at 124 High St., Ayr, and his planes were made at that address as well. George Rutherford made planes from approximately 1845 to 1863, at which time he had the opportunity to enter the grocery business, eventually becoming the business owner. Along with Stewart Spiers, George Rutherford was most likely the only other maker of iron planes in Ayr, Scotland. In his book about “Stewart Spiers and the Planemakers of Ayr,” author Nigel Lampert suggested that Rutherford made some of his iron planes for Stewart Spiers. Certainly, some of the mitre planes show great similarity, with the exception of the inverted cupid’s bow bridge. Perhaps the reason for the similarities had to do with Stewart Spiers’ requirement for conformity with his own mitre plane product. A very small amount of Rutherford cast panel planes and smooth planes have also surfaced.. These show little similarity to the building practice of Spiers’ dovetailed planes.
The inverted cupid’s bow bridge on the mitre planes was inscribed at least four ways: SPIERS AYR; SPEIR; SPEIR AYR and G. RUTHERFORD. While some of the mitres are nearly identical with Stewart Spiers planes of the period, with the exception of the bridge, significant differences exist on other mitre plane examples.
After examination, Bill Carter found that this plane differed from standard Spiers mitre planes of the period in the following ways:
“…In my mind this Speir plane has absolutely nothing to do with Spiers, I think it is earlier and it is entirely different to the later made Spiers. The bridge has a beautiful cupid bow which is identical to the Rutherford makers in Nigel’s book. Again, very little is known about Rutherford as a maker.
These are the differences I have found between Speir and Spiers of Ayr:
Speir plane: The brass sides if the plane and bridge are much thicker. 2) The bridge is fixed either side with three pin brass pins, they could be tenons. 3) The cupid’s bow bridge is identical to a G. Rutherford plane and so are the overall dimensions of the plane itself. …6) The joint at the mouth appears to be like a bird’s mouth, not a tongue and groove. 7) The spelling Speir completely different, Speirs if Ayr always appears on his planes, it always has an S on the end (this is a really big difference between the two makers). 8) Brass and steel construction on his first type of dovetailed mitre plane. Spiers of Ayr did no use these materials on his first type of mitre plane. 9) The infill is solid rosewood, not made up of two pieces. 10) The front infill is a different shape.” From http://www.billcarterwoodworkingplanemaker.co.uk/new-infills/
Spiers Improved Mitre Planes
Improved mitre planes were the type that Stewart Spiers was most likely to have invented from scratch. Spiers conceived his plan for the improved mitre in the 1850s–at a time when fine woodworkers were adopting bench planes made of metal rather than wood. Spiers made his changes for the improved mitre plane in an effort to integrate bench plane features into the full size mitre plane.
Overall configuration–20 degree bed angle iron bevel up–was derived from the traditional box mitre plane. For the rest, Spiers borrowed from the new bench planes when coming up with his design: the front bun and general side profile came from his early panel plane, the lever cap came from his early mitre plane (and others), and the rear tote was adapted and modified from his unhandled early improved smooth plane.
Early features include fairly long necked lever cap, flying saucer shaped lever cap screw with small diameter threaded stem, and screwed sides. The preceding early details apply generally to the full range of Spiers planes. Particulars more specific to Spiers’ improved mitre planes include smaller indentations on the sides of the rear infill (they became deeper gradually over time), and the absence of a rebate in front of the tote at the toe. Later Spiers improved mitre planes added a rebate in front of the tote.
Below is another example of an early Spiers Improved Pattern Mitre plane, with typical early features:
Most all metalwork–body and lever cap/screw–resemble Spiers, but rounded infills are unique to Mathiesen. A 2nd version of this plane is cast iron, with a fitted front sole. Both are very rare and sought after planes. This particular mitre has been for sale on Ebay UK for a very long time. The asking price is $18,200.00, which is why it is still up for sale. Nevertheless, it is a valuable, scarce, and historically significant plane.
Earlier photo of the same plane.
The Mathieson rounded infills were overstuffed, so that this model did not need the chamfers along the upper edges of the metal sides.
Here is another example of the dovetailed version of the Mathieson Improved mitre plane.
On the right is the early Mathieson improved mitre plane, with a cast iron body, and fitted front sole piece, circa 1860s. Contrary to some lore, the mouth is not adjustable. The Mathieson improved mitre on the left was most likely bought in from Norris, and dated circa 1908-1914.
One way to gain a sense of the date on these early improved mitre planes is to carefully remove a side screw holding the infill. They are typically handcut and blunt on the end. Machines to produce consistent and pointed screws were developed from 1849 and into the 1850s. By the 1860s, machined screws were essentially universal.
The machine made screw tapers a bit before the gimlet point, while the handmade screw has no taper, and the slot was cut by a hack saw. In some cases, the old timers would file a point on the handmade screws, and it would look filed by hand, with file marks.
Controversy surrounds the subject of using improved mitre planes, with some favoring them as an actual improvement over box mitres, while others refute their usefulness on any count. Joel Moskowitz, owner of the “Tools for Working Wood” store in Brooklyn, NY, has stated that the improved mitre plane was a failed design:
“…Sexy yes–a great looking tool. But poorly designed:
- The finger grips make it easier to pick up, but the balance is still way off compared to a smoother or a short panel plane.
- Also, you end up gripping it from the top, and you can’t get the power in the stroke [that] you can with a coffin shape or a normal handle. And it isn’t very comfortable to hold that way either, as the blade is in the way (you can’t grip it from the back because of the blade over hang).
- The sides are greatly reduced, so it isn’t a great choice for shooting compared to a box mitre, or any parallel sided plane.
- It doesn’t work any better than any of the bevel down smoothers, and it’s a lot harder to make (getting that superfine mouth, tongue and grooving the joint).” –Joel Moskowitz, Woodcentral.com archives, 13 March, 2004
Contested applications would include shooting mitres as well as general smoothing, primarily on various hardwoods. Chris Schwartz, a well known woodworker, writer, publisher, and educator, wrote about the usefulness of the improved mitre plane when trying out an example of the form by Brian Buckner:
This tool is what’s called an “improved miter” pattern of plane. It’s a form that is related to the box-shaped miter shown at right and below. What’s improved about it? Well you can use it like a smoothing plane, which is something I’ve become comfortable doing. Buckner’s tool fit in my hands and was effortless to get set and take beautiful shavings.
—From “Handplane Essentials,” pub. 2017 by Chris Schwartz.
Chris Schwartz has also purchased an improved mitre plane made by Wayne Anderson, in 2004. It was stolen from him, and then he got it back. You can read about it here.
When designing his 98 smoothing plane, Karl Holtey was influenced by the improved mitre plane design. Derek Cohen quoted Holtey regarding this in one of his reviews on handplanes:
Another recent and significant deviation from the bevel down path is the Holtey #98 smoother. Karl Holtey conceived the design for this plane in 1998 (hence its name) by integrating his A11 improved pattern mitre plane[s] with a 20 deg bed and an A2 blade. Karl’s motivation to follow this construction is summed up in his own words:
“By presenting the blade in this format the need for a chipbreaker has been eliminated (I do not believe in the use of chipbreakers anyway). The blade is supported very close to the cutting edge by virtue of its being inverted. Using mitre planes of the same format I found that they worked better as smoothing planes than smoothers and I was therefore determined to design this blade configuration into a smoothing plane.
George Anderson, a well known antique tool collector and a lifelong professional woodworker has used the improved pattern mitre plane quite a lot over his many years of experience. This is what he has stated about it:
The improved mitre is to be used vertically or normally, mainly with the stock held in a vice or mitre chop. The detents at the back give better grip as you put your palm around the heel, and your fingers pinch the grips in the side.
–George Anderson, c. 2015 and 2020.
Selection and use of tools in any trade is ultimately a personal matter for the craft worker, and there is bound to be variations in patterns and frequency of usage with each and every tool. The improved mitre plane is no exception.
There are not many ‘failed designs’ that would have had as long of a run as the improved mitre plane, which was introduced by Spiers in the 1850s (Spiers Improved Mitre Planes: 1855-1914) and still made by Thomas Norris Jr. as late as the 1930s (Norris Improved Mitre Planes: 1908-1935). So the improved mitre plane was neither an overwhelming success nor a complete failure. Most accomplished woodworkers who tried one could not justify the cost, and chose bench planes or shoulder planes (or others), as a better return on investment. A few craftsmen did try the improved mitre plane and decided to purchase one. Granted, this particular demand was specialized and limited, but the improved mitre was made for a good 80 years.
Collectors seek improved mitre planes out because of their rarity and uniqueness. They are by far the most rare type of full sized infill planes. It doesn’t hurt that Norris made a limited few improved mitres and those have become something of a holy grail with aficionados. Norris planes have always held a certain mystique, and that has captured the imagination of some collectors. More on Norris improved mitre planes can be found here.
The vast majority of antique improved mitre planes, however, are the Spiers examples, which were made from the 1850s right up to the onset of World War One. Improved mitres were always a relatively low production/specialist type plane for Spiers, but because they were made for ~60 years, they’re rare, but not the rarest. Spiers’ Thumb planes, or Spiers’ Cooper’s Plucker are examples of types more rare than Spiers’ Improved mitre planes. Offered alongside Spiers’ box mitre planes for their entire production run, Spiers improved mitres were intended to be an alternative rather than a replacement for Spiers’ traditional mitre. Several modern planemakers produce improved mitre planes, and the small market that created this demand consists of current traditional woodworkers as well as collectors. For example, Wayne Anderson and Gerd Fritsche are both planemakers who produce improved mitre planes currently. New improved mitre plane products give today’s woodworkers a chance to experience these low angle bevel up planes for themselves.
Catalogue image shows a very short lever cap and cusp on lever cap screw. I am not sure how current the image was in 1909. Bench planes in this catalogue show flat lever cap screws with no cusps. So strong selling planes were shown with the latest features while slow sellers and special order/out of production models showed older features. Planes that showed 19th century details such as a cusp on the lever cap screw included the Improved mitre, Box mitre, Thumb plane, and Chariot plane. Very few of the latter listed planes were made after 1900.
This Spiers improved mitre plane shows a combination of early and late features. Early features: no rebate in front of tote; cusped lever cap screw; small diameter thread lever cap screw. small upright SPIERS AYR stamp on lever cap. Late features: riveted sides; large indentations (finger holds) on rear infill; shoulders on rear infill at the heel.
The following two photos show a Spiers no. 5 improved mitre plane made in the early 20th century, as late as the onset of WWI. It shows a large SPIERS AYR stamp and a completely flat-topped lever cap screw, typical of c. 1910 or so. Truly the end of an era; there were no Spiers mitre planes manufactured after the Great War. Also discontinued at that time were the chariot and thumb planes. Photos by Aled Dafis (photobucket).
This example differs from the previous short lever cap by having a large thread on the cusped double screw. –And an original iron with straight sides rather than dog-eared.
The plane on the left has a small lever cap similar to what Norris used in their mitre planes later on, and a double lever cap screw somewhat like C. Bayfield, Nottingham, but with an early style Spiers cusp. Mitre in front is slightly larger than the other one, and has thicker gauge steel stock, but the plane in back is by no means of light construction.
“With extra keeper and wedge, 6d extra.” –From the 1909 and 1911 Spiers catalogues. The wedged example of Spiers’ Improved mitre plane shown above shows signs of manufacture around the turn of the 20th century. Infills are held in place with rivets, the recesses on the the rear infill are large, and there is a rebate at the front of the tote. Interestingly, the bridge has a similar, but not identical pattern to that found on early Spiers/Speir/Rutherford mitre planes with the inverted Cupid’s Bow, circa 1845-1863.
This catalogue is dated by the dovetailed “Plane ‘O’ Ayr” as well as the concurrently available malleable iron “Plane ‘O’ Ayr” versions. At 18/6, the improved mitre plane was less expensive than the smoothers. Today, the improved mitre would be among the most expensive of these planes. The embossed lever cap, introduced circa 1914, was not yet pictured.
Cause of death: “Hemiplegia, 8 months; Nervous Exhaustion, 12 days.” Hemiplegia is paralysis of varying degrees, on one side of the body. The most common cause of this is hemmorrhagic stroke.
After Stewart Spiers’ death on 19 July, 1899, his daughters ran the business. Isabella, the youngest, was in control from the 1890s until her premature death in 1901. Then Maria Carstairs took charge of the business.
For the day to day shop operations, William McNaught, who was making Spiers planes in the shop, became superintendent. The budget “Plane ‘O’ Ayr” line was attributed to his innovative work towards increasing production. Business was slow after the Great War, and the daughters began their endeavor to sell the business, which was eventually purchased by John McFayden (1866-1928) in 1922.
McFayden continued the traditional catalogue offerings which had already been pared down to dovetailed bench planes and the cooper’s plucker after World War One. The “Plane ‘O’ Ayr” line was updated, and the Stanley-like “Empire” line was introduced. Despite these efforts, effects of the depression constrained interest in all tool products that lacked economy of scale price advantages.
In around 1933, The Spiers factory was moved to 3 Lonend St., Paisley. Many planes were cranked out from this facility for three years; these were something less than their best work, but circumstances and the market dictated that adjustments be made. By 1937, it was all over.
© 2021 – Martin Shepherd Piano Service Using the text, research, or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law in most countries.
BENJAMIN AND HENRY SLATER
Henry and Benjamin Slater can be considered among the top four or five producers of English infill planes in the late 19th, early 20th century. This output was a direct result of the efficiency of casting as compared with the labor intensive process of dovetailing the plane bodies. Because the Slaters had an in-house iron foundry, they had the rare opportunity of exerting full control over their casting process and the resulting price structure. In 1881, Henry Slater had 3 men and 4 boys working for him–a crew of that size would be capable of creating large quantities of products. Making Slater planes was a team effort, and not just between the employees and apprentices. Among the family, Benjamin Sr., Benjamin Jr., Henry, Henry Ernest, and George Mosley combined their efforts to make metal planes. Another factor was Slater’s long production period, starting after Benjamin Slater took ownership of the Wellington Foundry in the early 1860s, to as late as the 1920s. The last hard evidence of Slater’s plane making that I have found, however, dated from 1911.
Standard Slater design for a mitre plane, with fitted front sole piece, rounded-off front infill, and classic Slater gunmetal lever cap and screw. Many were bought and sold without attribution.
Having earned a good reputation from fine woodworkers, the Slaters were known best in that community for their smoothers, chariots, and shoulder planes. Using the less labor intensive method of casting rather than dovetailing, the Slaters were less expensive than most of the other infill planes. In our current market, Slater smoothers, chariots, and shoulder planes that are up for sale can be found fairly readily. Relatively few Slater mitre planes remain, as not so many were made. Marked Slater mitre planes are even more uncommon. Slater mitre planes were rebadged by dealers such as Tyzack or Moseley, but most of the Slater mitres were unmarked.
As a surprise to some current plane aficionados, Slaters’ main business was manufacturing other cast iron goods, primarily hinges. Benjamin Slater (1823-1875) also invented a gas regulator, and he built a separate factory to make them, which lasted a number of years. Along with patented rising hinges and door ironmongery, the Slater family made the cast infill planes that they are recognized for today.
Shown below is a Samuel Tyzack (Slater) cast iron mitre plane. Second photograph shows the upper and lower sole, done in a way that resembles the New York planemakers, Brandt, Thorested, Erlandsen, and Popping. This Tyzack mitre postdates Brandt and Thorested, and was stamped on the lever cap and front infill with the dual address of “TYZACK RAILWAY ARCH 345 OLD ST.; S. TYZACK 153 SHOREDITCH LONDON.”
153 Shoreditch was right around the corner from 345 Old St. This dual combination of addresses was known to be used circa 1876.
Large Tyzack sign on the right is mounted on the iron railway bridge crossing Old St. Picture was taken circa 1920, just before 345 Old St. was remodeled. Photo from tyzack.net.
Some Slater family history
A baptism for a David Slater at St. Luke’s in Finsbury was recorded on 31 May, 1778 (born 17 May, 1778). That David Slater would only have been 16 in January 1795. Given the proximity, and the fact that the Slater family on Motley St. also used St. Luke’s Church–but mainly attended St.Leonard’s–these two Slater families were almost certainly related. An 1830 burial was entered for David Slater, age 61 (born 1769) at St. Leonard’s church in Shoreditch. The burial record is compatible with both this marriage document and the later David Slater Sr. tax records on Motley St. in Shoreditch.
This Greenwood map excerpt also includes the locations of a number of metal planemakers, including Christopher Gabriel, 100 Old St., and Banner St. (1779-1822); Robert Towell, Edward St., 1840; Samuel Tyzack et al, 345 Old St., (1861-1975).
Jane and David had the following children: Jane, born 26 March, 1798; Sarah, born 7 April, 1800; David Jr, born 10 May, 1802; John, born 21 April, 1804. David Jr. was born on Motley St., but the family was likely there before 1798, as the 3 older children were baptized at nearby St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch. John was baptised at St. Luke’s.
Unfortunately, Jane Slater died at the young age of 38. Christopher Gabriel was also buried at Bunhill Field, in 1809.
1831 was the last year that I could find for David Slater Sr. After 1802, and before 1831, there were a number of similar tax entries for David Slater Sr. on Motley St., enough to establish that he was living there continuously. A Mr. Wilson was his landlord.
David Slater Jr. married Elizabeth Frances Thompson (1794-1878), became an engineer, and engaged in the business of hinge making. It was not that uncommon to marry years after starting a family. In the case of this marriage (1836), 13 years had passed since their firstborn, Benjamin (1823) had arrived.
Elizabeth [Frances] Thompson Slater gave Norfolk as her place of birth in her 1851, 1861, and 1871 U.K. census entries. And 1794 was a close average for her reporting of various birth years.
David and Frances Slater had the following children: Benjamin b.1823, John b. 1826, David, b. 1827, Walter b. 1834, Alfred b. 1836, and Henry b. 1839. While several of these sons became active in the hinge making business, Benjamin (1823-1875) and Henry (1839-1900) were the most instrumental. David Jr. died sometime before 1841.
Apparently, David Redmund Slater was related to inventor David Redmund (1784-1844), of the John Gollop & David Redmund Hingemaking Company, 59 Greek St., Soho, and owners of the Wellington Foundry. I had expected to find that Jane Slater’s maiden name was Redmund and not Kelly, but certainly the Slaters and Redmunds were related, by marriage and blood. In 1891, planemaker Henry Slater identified his father as “David Redmund Slater” in his marriage document.
Francis Slater Jr., 12, was living with David Redmund in 1841. This was another clue around the relatedness of the Redmund and Slater families. David Redmund’s daughter, Emilia Gollop (1814-1893) was living there as well. Emilia married John Gollop on 20 May 1838. John Gollop (1813-1851) was David Redmund’s partner in hinge making. In 1841, Emilia seemed to be taking a break from the marriage.
Twenty years later, Frances (Fanny) Slater was still living with Emilia Gollop, and working for her as a house servant. Benjamin Slater’s 1864 advertisements in “Skyring’s Builders’ Prices” referred to the former Wellington Foundry proprieter as “late E.[Emelia] Gollop.”
In the 18th and 19th centuries, referring to an individual as “late,” did not imply dead, necessarily. In many cases it simply meant “formerly’ or ‘previously.’
A scathing account. What was the other side to this story?
David Redmund was very active as an inventor, with his omnibus, his steam engine boiler, and his hinges. Benjamin Slater must have been working on a Redmund Steam Engine, which he documented in his marriage record with Elizabeth Scotchford in 1843.
This map shows some early locations of the Slater family. Henry Slater’s later location on Wynyatt St. is shown, as well as 13 Nelson Place, and 14 Rawstorne St.. Wellington Foundry was not built when map was surveyed.
Hinges, Gas Meters and Planes, etc., cast at the Wellington Foundry
“Benjamin Slater wishes to direct the attention of Model Makers, Plane Makers, Jewelers, Opticians, and other, to the superior tough quality and softness of the Annealed Castings, the facility of working which effects a saving of 50 to 60 per Cent in Files and Labour. Also the MALLEABLE IRON CASTINGS tough as Wrought Iron, which effects considerable saving in all small work, which otherwise must be forged.” 1864 Skyring’s Builders’ Prices.
David Redmund’s Patent Rising Hinge was very popular and successful. The Slater family dynasty was involved in producing it for 100 years:
- David Redmund Slater c. 1825-1840.
- Francis Slater (David’s widow) 1840-c.1845.
- Benjamin Slater 1845-1875.
- Benjamin Slater Jr. and Henry Slater et al 1875-1920.
- Henry Ernest Slater 1920-1929>.
It did not make them rich.
The Redmunds, Gollops, and Slaters, had most of the requirements for success: good ideas, an in-house facility, and an ample labor pool. But near the end of their full century of trading, no appreciable amount of capitol was attained. Benjamin Slater Jr. died 19 September, 1920 with less than £400 in savings.
Benjamin died relatively young, raised a large family, and assumed ownership of the Wellington Foundry in the early 1860s. This would be around $300,000 in 2020. For owning a medium sized business that dealt in high volume, this was a decent amount of savings, but still relatively modest. Benjamin and Elizabeth gave two of their sons Redmund for their middle name: Henry William Redmund Slater (1857-1935), and Ernest Redmund Slater (1865- 1896 ). Also, Benjamin and Elizabeth named one of their daughters, Elizabeth Frances (1849-1879) which was a tribute to her mother, but also to her grandmother, Elizabeth Frances Thompson, born in Norfolk, circa 1794.
Benjamin Slater Jr.
Benjamin Slater Jr. took over the business of his father, and continued to produce an abundance of products. The 1875, 1880, and 1891 Kelly’s London Trades Directory entries show Benjamin Jr.’s involvement in planemaking. An omission is apparent in these entries, it should read: ” …iron & [gun]metal plane maker & tool warehouse.” Production plane making likely began after Benjamin Slater Sr. assumed ownership of the Wellington Foundry from Emelia Gollop after 1861, but no later than 1864. A small number of planes have been found, stamped “Benj. Slater London.”
Charles Street was change to Moreland Street circa 1885.
Henry Slater, Planemaker
I think this was a misclassification. Henry Slater was an ironfounder, making hinges and planes. Henry did not make iron plates of the rectangular or circular kind, and he did not plate metals either. In another part of the 1870 directory, Slater was listed under “Iron and Tin Plate Workers.” Regardless of the possible oversight, Henry Slater had at least two years to follow up and clarify his moniker. But he did not.
“iron plate worker ; iron plater; cuts iron plates on table of power shears; bends, in bending machine or with hammer on block shape; rivets and fits up iron plates generally in connection with constructional iron work; cf. plater. From A Dictionary of Occupational Terms Based on the Classification of Occupations used in the Census of Population,”1921. Compiled by the Ministry of Labour and published by HMSO, 1927.”
Almost all of the Slater Planes were stamped “H. [Henry] Slater.” Since the planes were signed by Henry, it is a sound assumption that Henry was primarily (but not exclusively) responsible for finishing off the castings from Wellington foundry, fitting the infills, and the irons.
Listings as “Planemaker,” in the 1871, 1881, and 1891, U.K. census entries, underscore Henry’s specialization in this area.
The block of Meredith Street containing no. 34 has since been razed for urban renewal.
For some reason, in the 1881 and 1891 U.K. census entries, Annie Rayfield Slater was reported as “Amy,” but her birth year, 1851, was consistent in all records. Annie was recorded as “Ann Rayfield” in her 1861 and 1871 U.K. census entries. Henry’s father, deceased, was recorded as “David Redmund Slater, Hinge Maker.”
Henry’s mother Frances stated Henry’s birth to be 1839 in the 1841 and 1861 census entries. Henry shaved two years off his age, and gave 1841 in all documents from 1871 onward.
Neither neighbor Elisa Patrick nor registrar John Weigler knew or cared about what Henry Slater did for a living, as he died as a singular “Master Screw Maker.”
After the death of Henry Slater.
Annie Slater continued to live at 34 Meredith St. (maintaining the listing under Henry’s name) until 1908, and presumably continued the business along with Benjamin Slater Jr.
George Mosley (1864-1912) worked with Henry Slater for most of his life. After the death of Henry Slater, and along with Benjamin Slater Jr. (1845-1920) and Henry Ernest Slater (1878-1942), he continued the family planemaking business.
There was no known connection between George Mosley and the Moseley dynasty of tool dealers, though Henry Slater sold a number of his infill planes to the Moseley enterprise for rebadging as Moseley planes.
At the time of the 1871 U.K. census, George, age 6 was being raised at 16 Wynyatt Street, next door to Henry Slater at 17 Wynyatt St. Henry Slater was single in 1871.
Ten years later, George was an iron plane maker, working for Henry Slater, who had moved to 34 Meredith Street to live with Annie Rayfield.
In 1901 George Mosley was working for his “own account,” which could mean that he was producing as a piece worker for Slater. Or it could also indicate that George was participating in profit sharing from the Slater business, in more of a leadership role after Henry Slater’s death in 1900.
In 1908, George Mosley married widow Annie Slater, and in the 1911 U.K. census, was again working as an “Iron Plane Maker,” for his “own account.”
Sadly, after less than 4 years of marriage, George Mosley died. Just three months later (also in 1912) Annie died as well.
Henry and Annie Slater did not have children, so the 1909 and 1910 listings below could be Henry W. R. Slater, (1857-1935), son of Benjamin Slater Sr., or Henry E. Slater (1878-1942), son of Benjamin Slater Jr. Henry William Redmund Slater was a silversmith, engraver, and comb manufacturer. Henry Ernest Slater was an Iron Founder, and the more likely of the two to be a producer of metal planes.
The residential part of 4 Clerkenwell Green housed two families in 1911, the Beachams and the Walkers.
Has anyone seen a plane stamped with “4 Clerkenwell Green?”
Henry Ernest Slater and his family lived in the same house as his father Benjamin Slater Jr., at 163 Essex Road, Islington in 1911. Henry Slater had one son, Henry Reginald, born 9 May, 1901, so the 1909/10 Post Office listings “H. Slater & Son,” was likely a father’s proud nod to his young son.
Posthumous listings for Slater’s Foundry:
1929 was the last London Street Directory listing that I have encountered to date, facility apparently active.
Henry Ernest Slater, “Iron Moulder; Furnace Man; Heavy Worker,” As late as 1939, Henry E. Slater had the ability to produce plane castings. It was doubtful that they were made at this late date, however.
Life around a foundry was and is hazardous to your health. Silicosis and various cancers were common.
Most men in the Slater family business sadly died young: David Redmund Slater, 37; David Redmund, 60; John Gollop, 38; Benjamin Slater Sr., 52; Henry Slater, 61; George Mosley, 47; Henry Ernest Slater, 62.
Henry Reginald Slater (1901-1967), the “& Son” part of the 1909 and 1910 London Street Directory listings, may have actually been in the shop helping his father make planes. In 1939, Henry Reginald was casting iron, probably with his father Henry Ernest.
Eva Constance Beinder (née Slater) was a daughter of Henry R., born 1922.