Curr, John

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b. 1756 Kyo, near Lanchester, or in Greenside, near Ryton-on-Tyne, Durham, England
d. 27 January 1823 Sheffield, England
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English coal-mine manager and engineer, inventor of flanged, cast-iron plate rails.
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The son of a "coal viewer", Curr was brought up in the West Durham colliery district. In 1777 he went to the Duke of Norfolk's collieries at Sheffield, where in 1880 he was appointed Superintendent. There coal was conveyed underground in baskets on sledges: Curr replaced the wicker sledges with wheeled corves, i.e. small four-wheeled wooden wagons, running on "rail-roads" with cast-iron rails and hauled from the coal-face to the shaft bottom by horses. The rails employed hitherto had usually consisted of plates of iron, the flange being on the wheels of the wagon. Curr's new design involved flanges on the rails which guided the vehicles, the wheels of which were unflanged and could run on any hard surface. He appears to have left no precise record of the date that he did this, and surviving records have been interpreted as implying various dates between 1776 and 1787. In 1787 John Buddle paid tribute to the efficiency of the rails of Curr's type, which were first used for surface transport by Joseph Butler in 1788 at his iron furnace at Wingerworth near Chesterfield: their use was then promoted widely by Benjamin Outram, and they were adopted in many other English mines. They proved serviceable until the advent of locomotives demanded different rails.
In 1788 Curr also developed a system for drawing a full corve up a mine shaft while lowering an empty one, with guides to separate them. At the surface the corves were automatically emptied by tipplers. Four years later he was awarded a patent for using double ropes for lifting heavier loads. As the weight of the rope itself became a considerable problem with the increasing depth of the shafts, Curr invented the flat hemp rope, patented in 1798, which consisted of several small round ropes stitched together and lapped upon itself in winding. It acted as a counterbalance and led to a reduction in the time and cost of hoisting: at the beginning of a run the loaded rope began to coil upon a small diameter, gradually increasing, while the unloaded rope began to coil off a large diameter, gradually decreasing.
Curr's book The Coal Viewer (1797) is the earliest-known engineering work on railway track and it also contains the most elaborate description of a Newcomen pumping engine, at the highest state of its development. He became an acknowledged expert on construction of Newcomen-type atmospheric engines, and in 1792 he established a foundry to make parts for railways and engines.
Because of the poor financial results of the Duke of Norfolk's collieries at the end of the century, Curr was dismissed in 1801 despite numerous inventions and improvements which he had introduced. After his dismissal, six more of his patents were concerned with rope-making: the one he gained in 1813 referred to the application of flat ropes to horse-gins and perpendicular drum-shafts of steam engines. Curr also introduced the use of inclined planes, where a descending train of full corves pulled up an empty one, and he was one of the pioneers employing fixed steam engines for hauling. He may have resided in France for some time before his death.
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Bibliography
1788. British patent no. 1,660 (guides in mine shafts).
1789. An Account of tin Improved Method of Drawing Coals and Extracting Ores, etc., from Mines, Newcastle upon Tyne.
1797. The Coal Viewer and Engine Builder's Practical Companion; reprinted with five plates and an introduction by Charles E.Lee, 1970, London: Frank Cass, and New York: Augustus M.Kelley.
1798. British patent no. 2,270 (flat hemp ropes).
Further Reading
F.Bland, 1930–1, "John Curr, originator of iron tram roads", Transactions of the Newcomen Society 11:121–30.
R.A.Mott, 1969, Tramroads of the eighteenth century and their originator: John Curr', Transactions of the Newcomen Society 42:1–23 (includes corrections to Fred Bland's earlier paper).
Charles E.Lee, 1970, introduction to John Curr, The Coal Viewer and Engine Builder's Practical Companion, London: Frank Cass, pp. 1–4; orig. pub. 1797, Sheffield (contains the most comprehensive biographical information).
R.Galloway, 1898, Annals of Coalmining, Vol. I, London; reprinted 1971, London (provides a detailed account of Curr's technological alterations).
WK / PJGR

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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