Sir Frederick Joseph Bramwell
Bramwell was born on 7 March 1818 in the City of London into a banking
family. After attending the Palace School, Enfield, he was apprenticed in
1834 to John Hague, a mechanical engineer, whose
works in Cable Street were later bought by the Blackwall Rope Railway. Hague
invented a system for powering trains by atmospheric pressure, which was
adopted "with some success on a short railway in Devon" [according to ODNB
biographer]. Bramwell, impressed by the concept, joined another of Hague's
pupils, Samuel Collett Homersham, in about 1845, to propose an atmospheric
railway in a low-level tunnel from Bank via Charing Cross to Hyde Park Corner.
The details of the scheme (including hydraulic lifts to raise the passengers)
were worked out, but nothing came of it
(see Bramwell's paper to the
Institution of Mechanical Engineers at Plymouth in 1899). A more
modest proposal to construct an experimental atmospheric railway from Waterloo
Station over Hungerford suspension bridge to Hungerford market also failed
to progress. In Hague's engineering works Bramwell also studied methods of
steam propulsion on roads, and while still an apprentice came to know
Walter Hancock, who had constructed a successful
road locomotive. On completion of his apprenticeship Bramwell became chief
draughtsman and later manager in Hague's office. Under his supervision in
1843 a locomotive of 10 tons in weight was constructed for the Stockton and
On leaving Hague's employ Bramwell became manager of an engineering factory in the Isle of Dogs, and was connected with the Fairfield railway works, Bow, then under the management of William Bridges Adams. According to Ahrons (British steam railway locomotive) Bramwell invented a form of weldless tyre for railway carriages in the 1840s. In 1847 Bramwell married his first cousin, Harriet Leonora (1814/151907), daughter of Joseph Frith.
In 1853 Bramwell set up in business on his own and soon left the manufacturing side of his profession almost exclusively for the legal and consultative side. His gift for describing complicated mechanical details in clear and simple language, intelligence, power of rapidly assimilating information, wit, and presence made him an invaluable witness in scientific and especially patent cases. Yet it was not until he was over forty that he made £400 in any one year. In 1860 he took with reservations an office at 35A Great George Street, Westminster. Thenceforth his practice as a consultant rapidly increased; within ten years his income grew very large. Bramwell was among the first to practise regularly as a scientific witness or technical advocate. His information was always up to date although he acknowledged his bias. He devised ingenious models to illustrate his evidence. In parliamentary committee rooms, where he dealt almost entirely with questions of civil engineering, Bramwell soon gained as great a reputation as in the law courts. An authority on waterworks engineering, he was permanently retained by all eight London water companies. In later life he was chiefly in demand as an arbitrator, where his forensic capacity and judicial acumen found full scope. He was not responsible for any important engineering works, but as chairman of both the East Surrey Water Company from 1882 until his death and of the Kensington and Knightsbridge Electric Lighting Company he supervised the construction of much of the companies' works. He designed and built a sewage disposal scheme for Portsmouth, which had certain original features from the low levels of parts of the district. Bramwell, whose only relaxation was in variety of work, was indefatigable in honorary service to the various societies and institutions of which he was a member. Here he showed to advantage his exceptional gifts of oratory and his powers of historical survey. He joined the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1854, was elected to the council in 1864, and became president in 1874. He was especially devoted to the Institution of Civil Engineers, founded in 1818, to which he was elected in 1856, becoming president in 1884. He was a vice-president of the Institution of Naval Architects, and served many years on its council.
From 1885 to 1900 he was honorary secretary of the Royal Institution. Bramwell was a liveryman of the Goldsmiths' Company, having been apprenticed to his father to learn his art of a banker. He was prime warden of the company in 18778. As representative of the company on the council of the City and Guilds of London Institute for the promotion of technical education (established in 1878) he became the first chairman, and filled the post with energy and efficiency until his death. He was knighted on 18 July 1881. He was also chairman of the second inventions exhibition in 1885. In later life Bramwell was constantly employed by the government on various departmental committees, including the ordnance committee from 1881 to his death. In 1886 he delivered a paper in Birmingham on the metallurgy of gun metals and the problems of construction to withstand large forces. Many honorary distinctions were accorded him. He was elected to the fellowship of the Royal Society in 1873, and in 18778 served on its council. In 1875 he was elected a member of the Société des Ingénieurs Civils de France. He was made DCL of Oxford in 1886 and of Durham in 1889; LLD of McGill University, Montreal, in 1884, and of Cambridge in 1892. He was created a baronet in 1889. Bramwell remained essentially pragmatic and his interests were mainly in applied science, the developments of which he eagerly followed in his own time, and anticipated with something like prophetic insight. As early as 1874 he criticized inefficient uses of energy resources, referring to the use of coal as cruelly wasteful. On the issue of passenger safety his prescience may be noted in his call for improved communication between trains and those in the signal houses. In a speech in 1881 he predicted that fifty years hence the internal combustion engine would have superseded the steam engine. Bramwell died on 30 November 1903 at 1A Hyde Park Gate, London, from cerebral haemorrhage, and was buried at Hever in Kent.
ODNB biography by B.P. Cronin. Not in Marshall
Contributions to other's papers
Siemens, C. William. On Le Chatelier's plan of using counter-pressure steam as a break [sic] in locomotive engines. Proc. Instn Mech Engrs., 1870, 21, 21-36. Disc.: 40-6 + Plates 1-5.
Bramwell organized some experiments on the LSWR with an engine fitted with the counter-pressure apparatus described in Siemens' paper. The trial was made on the Windsor branch, between Staines and Wrasbury stations, where the line was straight and level ; the day was fine, and the rails in first-rate order for brake action; the wind was rather fresh on one side, and slightly in the direction of the running. The engine was a six-wheeled one, with four wheels coupled; it had outside cylinders 17 inches diameter by 22 inches stroke, and the driving wheels were 6 ft. 6 ins. diameter; the slide-valves were balanced valves of very good construction, permitting easy reversal whilst running at full speed with steam full on. The weight of the engine in running order, without the tender, was 31¾ tons, of which 21¼ tons were upon the coupled wheels; and the total weight of the train was about 160 tons, of which 36½ tons had brakes applied, namely the tender, two four-wheel brake vans, and one carriage. Four experiments were made, in each of which the train was accelerated to 40 miles an hour. In the first experiment the steam was shut off, and neither brakes nor counter-pressure were applied: the train stopped in 5376 ft. Next the brakes (tender and train) were applied and the train stopped in 1080 ft (there may have been some skidding on the tender). Thirdly the counter-pressure was used alone, without any other brake and the train halted in 2712 ft. In the final experiment both counter-pressure and traditional brakes were employed simultaneously, but the stopping distance was not recorded. From the data collected Bramwell considered that the locomotive with counter-pressure braking should have been capable of halting a similar weight train on a 1 in 80 downward gradient. Fig. 9 (Plate 4) showed the pressure rise in the cylinders