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RICHARD ROBERTS 1789 - 1864

Contrary to what most articles have said about him, Richard Roberts was not born in Wales but, as the Parish Register entry shows, he was born in the Llwyntidman township which is in Shropshire. Evidence points to his place of birth being a property situated between the canal-side stables and the main road. It is said that he was taken under the wing of Robert Baugh, the erudite but self taught Parish Clerk. Baugh's son, born only two months before Richard, lived for only 10 days, which may have stimulated the Baugh' s interest in Richard.

Richard was taught to use a lathe by the Curate, the Rev. Howell, who was a hobbyist woodworker, which stood him in good stead when he eventually took employment as a pattern maker in the Birmingham area. There were at last two blacksmiths working in the parish, with another in Llandrinio and a forge at Pool quay that makes it incredible, that an inquisitive lad such as Richard did not pick up some knowledge of iron working as well. This must have helped him when he ventured down to London. He had arrived in London in 1810 having spent a short time in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Salford and then after a short time in the Capital he returned to Manchester in 1816, where he set himself up as a mechanic.

After making a successful gas meter for Manchester, where others had failed, he went on to other inventions. He set himself up with only a lathe and a drilling machine but by 1817 he had built one of the earliest machines for planing metal, now in the South Kensington Science Museum.

In 1817 he also designed a metal turning lathe with innovative features and shortly afterwards, in 1820, a screw cutting lathe. These lathes continued in use in the Beyer-Peacock factory into the 20th century and are now in the London Science Museum. In 1821 he was advertising himself as a maker of gear wheels. His main claim to fame was in the automation of the spinning jenny, which though not a great financial success for the firm, Sharp Roberts and Company, in which he was a partner, became to be supplied to many of the spinning companies at home and abroad. He also made improvements to looms and other textile machinery. He took out a comprehensive patent for turret clocks, chronometers and machines for drilling watch plates and also a patent for piercing steel plates with regular rivet holes to enable them to match with each other. This was used on the Conway and Britannia Bridges and elsewhere.

Over a period of two years he made several visits to France to set up a factory in Alsace for a firm if textile manufacturers who changed to manufacturing machinery.

He returned to England and then embarked on proposing designs for ships and men of war to improve their functioning and internal servicing and to make them less vulnerable to enemy fire. In all he had about 30 patents to his name all taken out in a space of 28 years. He married twice, his first wife dying shortly after his return to Manchester. He married again and produced three children, two boys and a girl. One son died in India and the other fades out of the story. About 1861/2 his daughter, Eliza, accompanied him, now widowed the second time, to London where he established himself as an engineering consultant. He shared an office with a ship’s architect, Capt. Symonds, and possibly designed engines for him. 

He rebuilt his grandparents' house Garthwydd, which had been burnt down, for his father, calling it Prospect House, (now Greystones). It eventually came into the ownership of the Gaggs family, one of whom had married a Roberts, (who may or may not be related) and it stayed with them for two decades of the 20th century.

His daughter looked after him until his death in 1864. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in N. London. Eliza later married a Paul Luboldt and she died within three years and was buried with her father. Paul married again but when he died in 1897 he was buried in the Roberts' grave.

The only memorial to him in his native village is the clock in the Church Tower which he made and presented to the parish when the Church was rebuilt in the 1840s

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The above article was written by Stan Brown wrote the book "The Real Richard Roberts". 

 

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