Lewis, John

SUBJECT AREA: Textiles
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fl. c. 1815 England
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English developer of a machine for shearing woollen cloth with rotary cutters.
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To give a smooth surface to cloth such as the old English broadcloth, the nap was raised and then sheared off. Hand-operated shears of enormous size were used to cut the fibres that stuck up when the cloth was laid over a curved table top. Great skill was required to achieve a smooth finish. Various attempts, such as that in 1784 by James Harmer, a clergyman of Sheffield, were made to mechanize the process by placing several pairs of shears in a frame and operating them by cranks, but success was not achieved. Samuel G. Dow of Albany, New York, patented a rotary shearer in England in 1794, and there was Samuel Dore in the same year too. John Lewis never claimed that he invented the rotary cutter, and it is possible that he made have seen drawings or actual examples of these earlier machines. His claim in his patent of 1815 was that, for the first time, he brought together a number of desirable features in one machine for shearing cloth to achieve the first really successful example. The local story in the Stroudwater district in Gloucestershire is that Lewis obtained this idea from Budding, who as a lad worked for the Lewis family, clothiers at Brinscombe Mills; Budding invented a lawn mower with rotary barrel blades that works on the same principle, patenting it in 1830. In the shearing machine, the cloth was moved underneath the blades, which could be of the same width so that only one operation was needed for each side. Other inventors had similar ideas, and a Stroud engineer, Stephen Price, took out a patent a month after Lewis did. These machines spread quickly in the Gloucestershire textile industry, and by 1830 hand-shearing was extinct. John Lewis was the son of Joseph, who had inherited the Brinscombe Mills in 1790 but must have died before 1815, when his children mortgaged the property for £12,000. Joseph's three sons, George, William and John, worked the mill for a time, but in 1840 William was there alone.
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Bibliography
1815, British patent no. 3,945 (rotary shearing machine).
Further Reading
J. de L.Mann, 1971, The Cloth Industry in the West of England from 1660 to 1880, Oxford (the best account of the introduction of the shearing machines).
J.Tann, 1967, Gloucestershire Woollen Mills, Newton Abbot (includes notes about the Brinscombe Mills).
K.G.Ponting, 1971, The Woollen Industry of South-West England, Bath; and H.A.Randall, 1965–6, "Some mid-Gloucestershire engineers and inventors", Transactions of the Newcomen Society 38 (both mention Lewis's machine).
RLH

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

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