ELHAS Meeting Report - October 2012

Meeting Report October 2012

At our October meeting, 40 members and guests welcomed fellow member Don Townsley who presented an illustrated talk entitled 'Matthew Murray in context'. Don spent fifty five years working in the engineering industry, the last fifteen as a transport consultant, so his vast knowledge made him an ideal candidate to present such a talk. As well as being vice president of The Friends of Leeds Museums he is also a Leeds Alderman, a member of the Charter Institute of Management and a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.

Don began his talk by explaining he was going to concentrate not so much on what Murray did, although his achievements were considerable, but on what came after as a result of Murray's work.

Matthew Murray was born in Newcastle in 1765 and died in Leeds in 1826. So what led him to move to Leeds. The first thing Don did was to dispel the long held myth that the unemployed Murray walked from Newcastle to Leeds looking for work, and came by chance to the mill in Adel owned by John Marshall. Don put forward the theory that the two had in fact met when Marshall went to Darlington to purchase a flax spinning machine from the company Murray worked for. However it came about, Murray did join Marshall's company and greatly improved the efficiency of the spinning machines at the plant. However, in 1795 Murray left Marshall's employ and set up his own business in Mill Green, Holbeck joined by David Wood.
Within two years they had taken on another partner and were known as Fenton, Murray and Wood. Don explained that the company were prolific in the manufacture of high quality machine tools, lathes, stationary steam engines and high grade iron castings. This attracted the hostility of rival company Boulton and Watt of Soho, Birmingham. So much so that James Watt, bought up the land adjoining Murray's works (the round foundry) in order to spy on him and prevent him from expanding further. However this did not stop Murray from collaborating with John Blenkinsop in the development of the steam locomotive. This kick-started the engineering and locomotive manufacturing industry for which Leeds was known world wide in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Without this where would the Hunslet Engine Company have been, and other engineering companies world wide, had it not been for the building blocks provided by Matthew Murray.

Don also told us of another Murray innovation which sadly has not been preserved. In 1804 Murray built his home, 'Steam Hall', named so because it was the first house in England to be centrally heated by steam. What a pity that our town planners were not far sighted enough to put a preservation order on the building and so save it for posterity. Murray's company went bankrupt in 1843, but as Don was at pains to point out, the huge engineering legacy left by Murray not only benefited Leeds, but had a knock on effect which would touch all corners of the world.

The next meeting on Monday 26th November 2012 will be an illustrated talk by Professor Joyce Hill from Leeds Civic Trust entitled 'Medieval Leeds'.