Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Charles Hanson - Part 2

During the 1830s Charles also worked alongside his brother, John.  Both are cited in The London Journal of Arts and Sciences, and Repertory of Patents, Vol II in respect of a patent sealed 31 August 1837, ‘for their invention of certain improvements in machinery or apparatus for making or manufacturing pipes, tubes, and various other articles, from metallic and other substances.' For whatever it was that John utilised pipework, Charles will have been interested in its role as the fundamental component (barrel) of a gun.

For Charles Hanson had already been recorded as an Air Gun Maker at 1 King Street, Huddersfield in 1829.  Here we come to the beginning of my uncertainty about Charles’s possible dual career as both a gunmaker and a watchmaker.  From this point I am basing this narrative on the premise that various references to the two crafts relate to the same person.  Perhaps the strongest indication is the following 1843 newspaper report in which Hanson’s trade is referred to as a horological one, but records a gun incident, all the more notable since it implies that the gun involved was of his own design/manufacture:

Wednesday last Mr Charles Hanson, watch & clock maker, Buxton Road, trying a newly invented air pistol, the air pump burst and shattered his right hand -2 fingers amputated. A most ingenious mechanic, lately obtained with another a patent for important improvements in guns and other fire arms.

I believe that as a result of the accident and loss of fingers, Hanson’s facility for working with smaller mechanisms was greatly reduced.  He therefore reordered his craft and business activities, devoting more time and attention to gun making.  But in the immediate aftermath of the maiming of his hand, there was the first (1845) horological patent to be registered.  Ten years on and his innovative nature and increasing involvement in gun making led to his application for another patent, this time to protect his invention of improvements to the revolving mechanism of firearms.  The patent is numbered 2497, dated 7 November 1855.  It is outlined in this description of one of his guns recently offered for sale:

A rare 28 bore Charles Hanson Patent ten shot revolving percussion rifle, serial no. 2120, with 23 in. octagonal re-browned sighted barrel rifled with three grooves (rear-sight missing), large border engraved cylinder, scroll engraved action with indistinct signature on the top-strap and marked 'C. HANSON'S PATENT NO. 100' on the right side, patent rammer, the lower tang with safety-catch locking the trigger-mechanism, walnut butt with chequered grip, and scroll engraved butt-plate (heavily pitted and cleaned throughout), London proof marks to the cylinder. Other Notes: This revolving rifle is made using Charles Hanson's patent No. 2497 of 7th November 1855 for an improved revolving firearm. The firing mechanism requires a lever to be raised and the trigger pulled at the same time. The patent also incorporated the reciprocating rammer present on this piece.

During the period of Hanson’s presence in London, he formed a brief partnership with Theophilus Murcott, a well-established gunmaker with premises at 68 Haymarket in central London.  Murcott became famous for his ‘Mousetrap’ sidelock gun.  This was highly innovative, being hammerless, a unique feature, protected by patent #1003, April 1871.  But ten years previously Hanson and Murcott had jointly taken out a patent for a novel hinged chamber and, Hanson alone, a patent for improvements to firearms ignition processes.  In 1862 Murcott and Hanson participated in the International Exhibition in London.  The catalogue indicates that the Partnership exhibited samples related to four patents for breech-loaders and the firing of explosive compounds.  It would appear that at this time Murcott provided considerable stimulus to Hanson’s creativity in gunmaking.  However, the partnership seems to have lapsed by 1866.

After the Murcott partnership, Hanson apparently ‘rediscovered’ his interest in horological innovation and, recognising the United States as both a now-significant maker/exporter of watches and a rapidly expanding consumer market, sought patent protection there for his simplified version of the English-traditional fusee.  In outline it was summarised:

United States Patent Office.  Charles Hanson, of Huddersfield, England. 
Specification forming part of Letters Patent No. 161,957, dated April 13, 1875; application filed February 24, 1875.  To all whom it may concern, be it known that I, CHARLES HANSON, of Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England, have invented an Improvement in Watch Spring Equalizing Mechanism, of which the following is a specification:

When a watch-spring is wound up its power is the greatest, and as the same runs down its power lessens.  Efforts have been made to equalize the action of the spring, and for this purpose a chain and conical fusee have been employed.

My invention is made for equalizing the action of the spring without the use of a chain; and consists in a detaining-lever acting against the spring-barrel to lessen the effective force thereof, said detaining-lever being operated by the force of the spring itself, acting through the arbor of the spring-barrel and the ratchet wheel and pawl upon a spring arm that yields more or less according to the force exerted by the mainspring, and in so doing causes the detaining-lever to press upon the spring barrel and neutralize the excess of the power thereof, so as to render the action of the spring barrel as nearly uniform as possible.

I claim as my invention- The detaining-lever, acting against the spring barrel, in combination with the spring arm, pawl, and stud, substantially as set forth.

Signed by me this 28th day of January, A. D. 1875.

There is no evidence of the commercial success of this invention.  Its prospects would always have been limited since the mass market, as satisfied so successfully by the Swiss and American makers, readily accepted watches equipped with the simple going-barrel, and the incorporation of a fusee progressively declined.

The last ten years of Hanson’s life, during which he fell back on his watchmaking business, were challenging.  There was plenty of competition in a town of Huddersfield’s modest size, for example:

J N E Hardy             8 King Street.  Watch and Clock Manufacturer, Goldsmith and Jeweller

A J Hoyle                 10 Kirkgate.  Watchmaker, Silversmith and working Jeweller

Alfred Smith            Kirkgate.  Gold and Silver watches, guards, Alberts

James Sykes           50 New Street.  Practical Watchmaker.  Gold and Silver watches made on the most improved principles at the lowest possible prices

George Russell         Watchmaker, Jeweller etc.  Corner of Cross Church Street and King Street.

No records have been found relating to Alfred (son) after the death of Charles and it is likely that he never carried on a watchmaking business in his own name as had his father.  With no legacy in terms of business continuance and a relative lack of information available currently, Charles Hanson’s considerable inventiveness across two technological crafts is today little recognised.

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