For the past year or so I've been helping Stephen Roberts to publish his work on Victorian Birmingham. This includes biographical studies of A. J. Langford and Sir Benjamin Stone, MP and pioneering photographer, as well a Mocking Men of Power, a highly illustrated study of comic art in Birmingham between 1861 and 1911 written with Roger Ward. Today, the fourth book on Sir Richard Tangye is published.
'We launched the Great Eastern and she launched us' – Sir Richard Tangye.
In January 1858 Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Eastern, at that point the largest ship ever built, was, after several failed attempts, finally launched into the Thames. The powerful hydraulic jacks that enabled the ship to get afloat were manufactured by Tangye Brothers of Birmingham. For this firm of Cornish-born engineers the launch of this great ship was the breakthrough they had been waiting for. By the end of the nineteenth century the Tangye Brothers' business employed 2000 workers and had come a long way from a packing room divided into two by brown paper stretched over a wooden frame. The life-story of Richard Tangye was held up in Victorian Britain as an outstanding example of what a man could achieve by determination, single-mindedness and sheer hard work. Born in a cottage in a small village near Redruth, he died in a mansion near the Thames. Tangye was undoubtedly a brilliant entrepreneur, but, as he acknowledged, his brothers were also brilliant engineers. Bound together by family ties, the talented Tangye Brothers created one of the most famous industrial success stories of the nineteenth century. Using autobiographies, periodicals and letters from the time, this book tells the story of how five brothers, with Richard leading the way, left Cornwall to establish a great engineering company, how they became generous benefactors in their adopted town, establishing the Art Gallery and School of Art, and how, in search of profits and adventure, they travelled across the globe. The reader will be left in no doubt as to why Richard Tangye was known as 'the foremost Cornish man of his day'.