Sir Richard Arkwright 1732 – 92

Sir Richard Arkwright by Joseph Wright of Derby (1789)

Richard Arkwright was born in Preston, Lancashire, a self-educated man whose career began as a barber and wigmaker, for which he was reputed to use genuine human hair. His industrial knowledge led him to adopt the idea of a water-powered spinning machine that he patented in 1769. Called the water frame, the machine allowed mechanisation of what had previously been a cottage industry and brought spinning into the factory age. By 1782 he employed more than 5,000 workers in his cotton mills.

In 1775 he patented a carding engine, based on a hand-worked machine that had been invented earlier by Lewis Paul. Arkwright’s machine incorporated a crank and comb mechanism that drove the comb up and down and lifted the combed fibres onto a cylinder to create a continuous fleece for spinning.


His first mechanised mill was built at Cromford, south of Matlock in Derbyshire. The site was developed only two years after the patent for the water frame was taken out and was the first water-powered mill in the world. The complex of workshops was powered by wheels driven by the Bonsall Brook, which flows into the River Derwent close to the site.

Arkwright was also generous to his workers, in common with other industrialists of later times, and built a number of houses in the nearby village for his staff. North Street is one of the best-preserved terraces, built in approximately 1777. One of the homes is now preserved as a Landmark Trust property and is available for holiday lets.

1905 – Einstein’s miracle year

Almost everyone has heard of e=mc2 – the formula behind the Theory of Special Relativity – but very few people realise that it was just one of Einstein’s significant scientific breakthroughs of the year. It might also be worth considering that this was just 4 years after the death of Queen Victoria. Few people would think of Einstein as being an eminent Victorian but in fact he was.

The first scientific paper that Einstein published in this year was on the photoelectric effect. It showed that light sometimes behaves like a stream of particles with discrete energies called “quanta” and sometimes behaves like a wave of energy. The paper earned him a Nobel Prize.

The second paper was on Brownian motion – a random motion that can be observed when very light particles (such as Indian ink) are suspended in a liquid (such as water). It is caused when the molecules of the liquid collide with the particles and propel them in different directions. The paper included an experimental test for the theory of heat.

The third paper was the most famous – the Theory of Special Relativity – that included the famous equation quoted above. Behind the equation is the idea that mass and energy are actually two versions of the same thing and the amount of energy contained in mass is related to a constant (c). And the other key idea is that space and time are related.

Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial is one of the best known monuments of the Victorian Age. Architect George Gilbert Scott wanted to set up something similar to a Medieval shrine and is believed to have been influenced by the Eleanor Crosses set up by King Edward I after the death of his Queen. Those crosses were built at all the places her coffin rested on her funeral procession. Few remain but there is a fine example at Geddington in Northamptonshire.

The memorial to Albert, Victoria’s Prince Consort, has 169 carved figures on a frieze as well as sculptural groups at each corner representing Agriculture, Commerce, Engineering and Manufacture. Other groups represent Africa, America, Asia and Europe. The figure of Albert himself, sculpted by John Foley, is seated at the centre and is covered in gold. The enormous edifice is highly ornate and typical of the overblown High Victorian design of its time. The whole thing is more than 170 feet tall.

Materials used in the construction include glass, stone, cast iron, lead and bronze as well as the gilding on Albert himself. The statue was re-gilded as part of a major overhaul of the monument in the 1990s and was officially reopened in October 1998.

Eugenius Birch (1818-84)

Engineer Eugenius Birch is most famous for his seaside pier constructions. During his life he was responsible for no fewer than 14 of them including some of the best known such as Brighton West and Blackpool North. Born in Gloucester Terrace, Shoreditch, Eugenius was the son of a corn dealer, John Birch and his wife Susanne. His older brother, John Brannis Birch, worked closely with Eugenius on his engineering projects.

Pier end
Aberystwyth Pier – Mid Wales. The original pier was designed by Eugenius Birch and built in 1865. In this photo only a very small part of Birch’s original work can be seen. A long section at the seaward end was washed away in a storm less than a year after the pier opened and it was replaced with a narrower part, several years later, by a different engineer. Only the section under the pavilion (the yellow building) is Birch’s work

Birch’s early education took place in Brighton but he developed his taste for engineering while watching the cutting of the Regent’s Canal near his home in London. While he was a young boy he submitted an idea to the Greenwich Railway Company that, at the time, was novel and innovative. He suggested a method to put wheels under a railway carriage, rather than at the sides.

At the age of 16 he was apprenticed to a works in Limehouse, London. Within three years he was achieving success with medals for his drawings of working engines and machinery.As well as piers Birch was responsible for other, more conventional, structures such as bridges and he was involved in building the Calcutta to Delhi railway in India where he learned some of the oriental design that he later incorporated into his seaside structures. His first pier was built at Margate in 1853 but altogether he was responsible for 14 around England and Wales: Aberystwyth, Blackpool North, Bournemouth, Brighton West, Deal, Eastbourne, Hastings, Hornsea, Lytham, Margate, New Brighton, Plymouth, Scarborough and Weston-Super-Mare Birnbeck.

Most were constructed in cast iron because he believed that wrought iron piers would be a hazard if they were hit by boats. He argued that wrought iron would bend and buckle, and would take a great deal of repairing. Cast iron, however, would shatter, reducing the damage area and hence cutting repair costs. Neglect and old age have put paid to most of Birch’s piers, however, and little now remains of his original work.


Timeline 1800-1849

Timeline index

stone wall with arches
Moira limekilns


William Cowper (poet and hymn writer) dies
Alessandro Volta invents the first chemical battery

Fox Talbot born

William Herschel discovers infrared radiation

Union with Ireland – Union Flag adopted

First official British Census (population of England 8.3 million)

Peace with France

Peel introduces first Factory Legislation

Sir Edwin Landseer born

Thomas Girtin (English painter) dies

Madame Tussaud  arrives in UK

West  India Docks completed in London

Erasmus Darwin dies


John Dalton produces atomic theory and tables of atomic weights

Telford builds the road through the Highlands

Napoleonic War

Titus Salt born

Enclosure Act

Joseph Paxton born

Caledonian Canal opens

Robert Stephenson born

George Romney (English painter) dies

Napoleon declared
Emperor of France

Royal Horticultural Society founded

1804 Joseph Priestley dies

The Great Comet

Closure of Moira Furnace

Battle of Trafalgar –
Death of NelsonMary Seacole bornHans Christian Andersen born
Grand Junction Canal completed
George Stubbs (painter – well known for animal pictures) dies
East India Docks completed in London

Trevithick’s railway completed at Coalbrookdale

I K Brunel born

Francis Beaufort devises the wind force scale

Lamb’s “Tales from Shakespeare”
Royal Military Canal opens
Thomas Cook (Travel agent) born
Captain Manby experiments with maritime rescue lines
Edward Fitzgerald born

Preventative Water Guard formed (Early coastguard)

Haydn dies

Matthew Boulton dies

Charles Darwin born

George III becomes
George (PoW) made Prince Regent

Throckmorton Coat made

George Gilbert Scott born

Luddite disturbances in Notts and Yorks
Charles Dickens born

Edward Lear born 

Parthenon Marbles shipped to London

Napoleon marches on Moscow

Brighton Pavilion begun

Augustus Pugin born




Foxton Locks open
Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”

Nash begins work on Regent Street

Wooten Wawen aqueduct opens

Gun Barrel Proof House opens in Birmingham

Street lighting installed in St Margaret’s Parish, Westminster
Battle of Waterloo
Tardebigge Locks open

Blisworth to Northampton branch canal opens

Waterloo Bridge, Betws-y-Coed built

Humphrey Davy invents the miners’ safety lamp

Jane Austen’s “Emma” 1816
“The Scotsman” newspaper founded

William Bligh dies

Henry David Thoreau born


Mary Shelley’s  “Frankenstein”

US-Canada border established at 49th parallel

Institution of Civil Engineers founded with Telford as president

Eugenius Birch born

Vulcan ship built

Cantlop Bridge plans drawn

Queen Victoria born

Albert (later Prince Albert) born

George Eliot born

John Ruskin born

Walt Whitman born

Peterloo Massacre

Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds opens

Picadilly Circus built in London

James Watt dies

Canal system reaches Sheffield

George III dies

Accession George IV

Sir John Tenniel (Alice illustrator) born

Shelley’s “Prometheus Unbound”

John Keats dies

Ford Madox Brown born

Percy Bysshe Shelley dies

Antonio Canova (sculptor) dies

Royal Academy of Music founded

Gregor Mendel born
Oxford Union Society founded

Rugby first played at the public school

Work begins on British Museum extension buildings (current structure)  >> 1847

Pimm’s invented

Brighton Pavilion completed


Edmund Cartwright dies

Edward Jenner dies

Charles Babbage starts work on the first “computer”

Charles Macintosh invents
waterproof fabric

Byron dies

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals founded in UK

First RNLI gold medal
for gallantry issued

Samuel Plimsoll born
Trade Unions
Stockton & Darlington railway completed

Thomas Henry (T.H.) Huxley born

Telford completes Menai Bridge

Joseph Arch born (d.1922)

1st Edition Burke’s Peerage published

Longstone Lighthouse built


Holman Hun(painter) born

William Blake dies

Beethoven dies

Burke and Hare murders begin >> 1829

Scarborough Spa Bridge opens

Joseph Lister (antiseptic pioneer) born

Ohm’s Law established

Dante Gabriel Rossetti born

Jules Verne born

Leo Tolstoy born

Henrik Ibsen born

Zoological Society of London opens zoo in Regent’s Park
Catholic emancipation

Millais born

Metropolitan Police formed

Rotunda Museum opens in Scarborough

Barclay imports first Cavendish banana plant

William Burke hanged

Robert Abbot dies


Galton Bridge opens over Telford’s canal at Smethwick

Humphry Davy dies


George IV dies

Accession William IV

Camille Pissarro (painter) born

1st cholera epidemic » 1832

Faraday begins work on electricity

Darwin’s 1st voyage on Beagle

Isle of Lewis chess set found
London Bridge opens

Sir James Clark Ross discovers position of magnetic North Pole

Henry Maudslay dies

Faraday demonstrates
electromagnetic induction

Edouard Manet (painter) born

End of 1st cholera
epidemic » 1848

G F Muntz patents Muntz’s Metal
Factory Act limits
child labour

Slavery abolished in British Empire

Edward Burne-Jones born

William Wilberforce dies

Birmingham Town Hall completed

Mold cape discovered

Richard Trevithick dies
Coleridge dies

Dickens’s “Sketches by Boz”

Poor Law amendment introduces Union Workhouses

Tolpuddle Martyrs transported

William Morris born

Edgar Degas (painter) born

James McNeill Whistler (painter) born

Telford dies

Chance’s Glassworks  established

Charles Babbage develops the analytic engine

Mark Twain born (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

Hans Christian Andersen publishes his first children’s story

John Nash dies

First civil marriages allowed in Britain

Sheffield’s botanical gardens open

William IV dies

Accession of Queen Victoria

John Constable dies

Isabella Beeton born


Brunel’s Great Western launched
Public Record Office
establishedGrace and William Darling rescue survivors from the Forfarshire

National Gallery opens in London

Robert Stephenson’s London & Birmingham Railway opens

First public demonstration of the electric telegraph by Samuel Morse

1st Opium War

Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin begin work on the new Houses of
Parliament in London

Pugin’s St Mary’s Church completed in Derby

NSPCC founder Rev Benjamin Waugh born

Paul Cezanne born

Fox Talbot‘s first photographs

Derby gets a railway line

Sheffield gets a railway line

Penny post introduced by Sir Rowland Hill

Charles Dickens publishes The Old Curiosity Shop

New Zealand proclaimed a British colony

Beau Brummel dies penniless in France

Victoria marries Albert

Saxophone invented

Kew Gardens opens

The Rebecca Riots

Derby gets a new town hall

John Sell Cotman dies

George Bassett sets up his confectionery business in Sheffield >> 1899

Wordsworth becomes Poet Laureate

Edvard Grieg (composer) born

United Free Church of Scotland formed

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
first published in December

Nelson’s Column erected in Trafalgar Square

Brunel’s SS Great Britain launched

“The Great Comet”

Chatsworth’s Emperor Fountain


YMCA founded

8th Marquess Queensbury (boxing rules) born

Work begins on Kew Palm House>> 1848

Morse sends first telegraphJohn Dalton dies 
Irish Famine »
Dr Thomas John Barnardo born

Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”

First submarine cable under the English Channel

Northampton gets its first railway line

Irish Famine »
Neptune discovered
Dickens’s “Dombey & Son”

Charlotte Bronte‘s “Jane Eyre”

Wm Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair”

Marx & Engels’s “Communist Manifesto”

British Museum completed

Joseph Pulitzer (journalist and publisher) born

Institution of Mechanical
Engineers founded with George Stephenson as presidentDee Bridge disasterThomas Edison bornAlexander Graham Bell born

Chloroform first used as an

Pre-Raphaelites formed

Paul Gaugin born

2nd cholera epidemic

Irish Famine

Hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful” written in Dunster, Somerset

Kew’s Palm House completed

Matthew Webb born


Robert Stephenson’s Conway Bridge opens
of the Corn Laws

Beau Brummel dies

William Etty dies

Joseph Fry makes the first chocolate bar

Dickens’s “David Copperfield”


Burke and Hare 

Edinburgh’s notorious serial killers

The Players

William Burke
Burke was born in County Cork in 1792. His parents, though poor, struggled to give their children a good education. After schooling he joined the local militia but his regiment was disbanded after seven years and so he returned home to work as a servant for a local landowner in his home town. It is not known why he decided to leave home to work on the Union Canal construction in Edinburgh.

William Hare
Very little is known about Hare’s life before he moved to Edinburgh. It is known that he was born in Ireland, although the exact location is uncertain. He was poorly educated and reputedly a vicious man. One theory says that he was a farm labourer and another than he was a soldier. It is known that he worked as a navvy on the canal but did not know Burke at the time.

Dr Robert Knox
Born in Edinburgh in 1791 Robert Knox was destined to become an important man from his early years. He studied at a local high school before enrolling in medical classes at the University in 1810, aged just 19. On his graduation four years later he became an assistant surgeon in a military hospital in Brussels and worked on casualties from the Battle of Waterloo. By the time he returned to Scotland he was a renowned surgeon and soon had many students of his work.

The Law

In the 1820s, when Burke and Hare first made acquaintance, the laws concerning human dissection were extremely strict. Only executed murderers could be used for medical research because it was believed that a dissected person could not go to heaven. Hospitals and researchers were limited over how many bodies they could dissect each year so doctors were willing to pay for cadavers and not ask too many questions. While dissection was illegal, corpse stealing was not against the law because they were not deemed to be owned by anyone. As a result a new trade of graverobber grew up in many cities and it could be a lucrative business. The robbers – or resurrectionists as they were called because of their ability to “raise the dead” – were paid as much as £10 a corpse, at a time when most people were lucky to earn a few shillings.

The trade became so popular that the newly bereaved were forced to introduce new security measures in order to protect their relatives. Graveyards in cities raised their boundary walls, some built watch towers, others employed night watchmen. Some relatives paid guards to watch over their own dearly departed, put locks on coffins and even built cages over graves. Graverobbing became a less popular pastime as it became more difficult.

The Deadly Duo

It was in to this atmosphere that the deadly duo Burke and Hare introduced their own brand of resurrection. They decided that, rather than go to the trouble of digging up the deceased, they would kill victims themselves and save the hassle.

After moving to Scotland Burke had taken rooms with his mistress, Helen McDougal, at a lodging house once owned by a Mr and Mrs Log. When Mr Log died his grieving widow Margaret found she was turning to one of her tenants, William Hare, for comfort and soon they were married. It was shortly after, in1827, that Burke and his lady moved in.

Later that year another lodger, an old man known only as Donald, died owing £4 in back rent to the Hares. William Hare decided to make up the deficit by selling Donald’s body to the medics. He persuaded Burke to help and, on the day of the funeral, they replaced the body with a sack of wood and took the corpse to anatomist Robert Knox. Who paid them seven pounds ten shillings for it.

The apparent ease with which their plan worked made them greedy and soon after, when another lodger fell ill, they decided to hurry his demise. While one held him down the other put his hand over the victim’s nose and mouth, effectively smothering him and creating their own method of murder.

In all the pair put paid to 16 people in slightly less than a year, beginning with ill lodgers then turning to street beggars and prostitutes. Their greed, however got the better of them and they started taking more risks when choosing their victims. In April 1828 they made the mistake of murdering prostitute Mary Paterson who worked closely with another street girl Janet Brown. When Mary failed to come home after an evening visit to Burke and Hare’s lodging house Janet was suspicious and spoke to her landlady, who raised questions about the disappearance.

They chose other well-known street characters including “Daft” Jamie Wilson. The man had a deformed foot and earned his living as a street entertainer so he was easily recognised by some of the audience when he turned up on Dr Knox’s table. Questions were again asked but Knox denied that it was the same man.

Other easily recognised characters were also dissected and the police became suspicious about the number of mysterious disappearances around the West Port area of the city.

About the same time the pair began to disagree over their actions and Burke accused Hare of working on his own and pocketing all the money. So when both men and their partners were arrested Burke accused Hare of everything and claimed he was not involved. In retaliation Hare agreed to testify against Burke if he was granted immunity.

The trial opened on the morning of Christmas Eve 1828 and the following morning it took the jury just 50 minutes to find Burke guilty. He was sentenced to hang. Before the execution was carried out, on January 29 1829, he made a full confession of all the 16 crimes but denied that the pair ever robbed a grave.

Up the close and down the stair,
In the house with Burke and Hare.
Burke’s the butcher, Hare’s the thief,
Knox, the man who buys the beef.
– Scottish children’s rhyme

Three years later the Anatomy Act legalised the use of human corpses for dissection if the body was unclaimed and the demand for illegally obtained bodies decreased. Graverobbing was no longer a lucrative business and it all but died out from Victorian society.

One of the last hanged murderers to be donated for dissection was Burke himself. His skeleton is still on display at Edinburgh University Medical School. A pocket book was made from his skin and that is on display at the city’s Police Museum.