Edwin Ratcliffe

Edwin Ratcliffe Exhibition Athelstan Museum © David Forward

Edwin Ratcliffe Exhibition Athelstan Museum © David Forward

Engineer, Millwright and Machinist, Westport Iron Works, Malmesbury, Wilts.

Edwin Ratcliffe, son of a blacksmith, began his business in a converted cattle-shed, Foundry Lane, Malmesbury, in 1870. At first he did only minor repairs to agricultural machines. Business grew to include a wide variety of engineering. Not just repairs, the works also designed, produced and installed machinery. Mills, factories, breweries, etc., in the neighbourhood were served by Ratcliffe’s. Mr. Ratcliffe became Engineer to the Malmesbury Waterworks Company and also the Road Engineer. Ratcliffe’s did much work for the Earl of Suffolk at Charlton Park and provided servicing for machines at the Silk Mills in town; constructed iron footbridges, and installed iron stoves in the local school. Ratcliffe’s specialised work was mill machinery.

Mr. Ratcliffe, grandson of the founder, has deposited a collection of engineering drawings and moulder’s patterns in the Athelstan Museum.

Drawings include plans for waterwheels at Lower Mill, Sherston, for Mr. B. Bodman, Little Cote Farm, near Ramsbury, at Easton Grey Mill, Foss Mill, and others. Patterns for a hub plate and circumference plate of a 12′ diameter waterwheel are in the museum. Other drawings include fast and loose pulleys for Mr. Hitchcock, Brinkworth Mill, 1885 parts for Old Engine, Malmesbury Waterworks Co., 1887 pair of angle wheels for Silk Mills, Malmesbury, 1886 Wallow and cone pinions for a mill, 1891 shafts and pinions for Evans Mill, Sherston … hydraulic press and pump besides many miscellaneous jobs large and small.

Wooden Patterns are used to make a sand mould in which to cast iron. In the collection there are patterns for brackets and plummer blocks-bearings, for overhead shafting, shafting was used used to transmit power from a water wheel or horse engine to separate machines before individual electric motors were available. There is a drawing for “shafts and pulleys for driving Chaff Cutter, Root Pulper … connected with Horse Gear” for example. There are patterns for gear wheels for transmitting power. These include the rack rods for operating a sluice gate, on a mill lade for example, and a number of other items. The works in Foundry Lane is still operating, repairing agricultural machinery, lawnmowers, etc.

Pattern Making was a skilled job.

The pattern maker

“must thoroughly understand practical geometry … be familiar with the different wood-working machines in the shop, and be able to run them … know the nature and quality of all different kinds ofwood …”

He must be

“a man who has what may be called forethought, and a practical knowledge with regard to the proper proportions and strength of materials of construction.”

– from a textbook by J.P. Mullin, 1884.

“…the graceful forms of a well—designed machine impress the mind with a sense of beauty, and fitness and of power.”

– from a textbook by E.A. Davidson, late 19th century.

Martin Norgate, 1981.

Wiltshire Library & Museum Service.

All images and written works by David Forward are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License