Poland Street, London, W1. Photo ©RogerDean 2014
The Morning Chronicle: Labour and the Poor – Henry Mayhew, 1849-50:
Thursday, July 4th, 1850.
In the course of my inquiries I visited a steam saw-mill. It is situated close upon the river, being, indeed, a wharf as well as a mill. Overhead is a lofty roof of thin light-coloured timber, through which the light came with a pleasant yellow hue. A timber frontage, in some parts of the nature of a casement, looks on the river. When the machinery was not at work all was pleasant and quiet, but when eighteen saws were in full operation – that number being employed on my visit – there was anything but quiet. The usual noise of a steam-engine had the addition of the grinding sound of the saws, jumping, as it would seem to any one ignorant of the agency employed, up and down most rapidly – while at intervals, through all this combination of sounds, was heard the ripple of the Thames dashing close up to the river front of the mill, for it was then high water, and a strong breeze was blowing. The steam-engine occupies one corner of the premises, and is partly detached. The wheels and machinery by which the mill is worked are beneath the timber flooring of the yard, the main shaft occupying the centre. The frame is simply nine upright, saws, each four feet in length, moving up and down as the timber is sawn, and at a distance from each other, according to the substance the plank is to be sawn. When the machinery is set a-going, the plank, by means familiar to engineers, is made to adjust itself to the action of the saws, being gradually advanced as each cut has been executed. A frame-worker attends to the due adjustment of the timber, however, as well as to the renewal of the saws when the teeth have become blunted by the rapid and severe friction. The machinery, when viewed at work under the flooring through the trap-doors, presents a very curious appearance. The imperfect light throws many of the wheels into the gloom, the brighter parts flashing to the eye, while the reverberation conveys the notion of extended space and far multiplied machinery.
Two engines, each of 10-horse power – and fewer are never fixed in any mill – cost from £650 to £800; about £700 being perhaps the most usual expense. These engines consume a ton of coals in a day of twelve hours, and a quart of machine oil.