Leeds Engine:Histories: Fisken

A Brief History of Fisken and Company Limited

David, William and Thomas Fisken were originally from Gelleyburn Farm near Crieff in Perthshire and in 1852 they demonstrated their system of steam ploughing. On 19th July 1855 David and Thomas, by this time based in Sunderland, took out a patent for "Improvements in transmiting steam or other power for the tillage of land by ploughs or other implements as well as for other purposes and machinery for applying the power so transmitted"[1]
John Fowler who was also working on the development of steam ploughing around this time arranged to use some of Fiskens' ideas. From 1859 Fowler paid the Fisken brothers £5 for each Fowler balance plough produced and attached a plate inscribed "Fiskens Patent" though this agreement only lasted until 1862 when it was reduced to £1 for each balance plough and £1 for each self moving anchor carriage supplied by Fowler or his agents up to July 1869.[2] By 1870 adverts for Fisken Steam Ploughing Tackle carried the note "Sole Manufactory Ravensthorpe Engineering Company's Works, Mirfield[3]
With financial backing of John Henry Dixon and his father Benjamin Dixon the Fisken brothers established a works in Leeds in 1868[1]
In 1869 David Fisken of the Fisken Company, Balm Road, Leeds, exhibited his patent steam ploughing tackle at the Royal Agricultural Show in Manchester.[4] Henry McLaren, father of John and Henry McLaren of Leeds traction engine making fame, purchased one such set of tackle. This association led to John McLaren becoming employed by Raventhorpe Engineering who later took over the manufacture of Fisken's tackle.[1]
Better at designing ploughs than running a business the Fiskens kept returning to the Dixons for capital. Another firm with similar problems was the Union Foundry in Ravensthorpe, John Henry Dixon figured a solution for both problems could be to bring the two firms together and have the Ravensthorpe works produce Fiskens' ploughs. This partnership didn't work well and Thomas Fiskin suggested bringing in John McLaren as a partner[1] Though it was still an on and off partnership that often saw the Fiskens and Ravensthorpe Engineering with seperate stands at agricultural shows[4]
In 1873 David Fisken applied for a Patent in the improvements in rope porters for steam ploughing machinery
On 12th February 1874 a Chancery case taken out by Dixon to prevent Thomas Fisken abandoning the partnership saw Thomas Fisken granted the independance he was after.[1] Companies House indicates that Company No: 9596; Fisken and Company Ltd. was incorporated in 1875 with registered offices at The Seven Arch Works, Balm Road, Hunslet.
The Engineer December 15th 1876 records; The Fisken system of steam ploughing is now taken up by Messrs. Fisken and Co., Limited, Leeds. This system, it will be remembered, dispences with the windlass and the double snatch-block, the power for hauling the implement being taken by two moving anchors from a light quick-running hemp rope, running over single sheave blocks, two of which are fixed at the extreme corners of the field to be ploughed, and the other two and the engine being at any convenient places. Mr Fisken has long been connected with steam cultivation, and his system seems now to be finding much favour.[5]
The Engineer on Dec 6 1878 detatils an interesting venture in to traction engine production by Fiskens, previously these were often bought in from Clayton & Shuttleworth.
This somewhat novel form of traction engine was invented and patented by Mr Willsher of London and manufactured by Messrs Fisken and Co of Leeds. It will be seen that the engine has a single cylinder placed below the boiler. The driving wheels are carried on studs or "cannons" secured to the frame just in front of the firebox. These cannons filled with brasses arranged somewhat as in the eye of a millstone, and in these brasses the crank shaft revolves. A fly wheel is fitted on one end of the shaft, which wheel is enclosed within the driving wheel; to it can be secured a wrought iron pulley, which can be used for driving a threshing machine etc. The arrangement of the second motion shaft and internal spur gear is shown by dotted lines. The second motion shaft carries a winding drum, which can be utilised in various ways. The leading end of the engine is carried on springs. The engine was exhibited at the Smithfield Club Show. [6]

The drawing below shows the longitudinal arrangement for this 8 horse power traction engine.

Fisken drawing from The Engineer Dec 6 1878

An interesting discussion arose at a Middleton Railway Social evening held by Derek Rayner (Leeds & District Traction Engine Club) about how this worked. The answer is in this drawing of the gearing and fly wheel location. He has an interesting photograph of an engine known to survive until WWI. The crankshaft runs through the centre of the axle.

Fisken drawing from The Engineer Dec 6 1878 of the gearing

Within six months the official notification of the winding up order for the company was published indicating they were unsuccessful in securing sufficient orders to continue in business. One assumes the other nearby works were dominating the market with the more conventional designs for the steam traction engines.
The London Gazette of July 29 1879 records; "Notice is herby given that an Extraordinary General Meeting of the shareholders of the said company, duly convened and held at the works of the said company, Balm Road Hunslet Leeds, in the county of York, on Saturday the 19th day of July 1879, the subjoined resolution was pasted as an Extraordinary Resolution, pursuant to sub-section 8 of Section 129 of the Companies Act 1862:-
"That is has been proved to the satisfaction of the company that the company cannot, by reason of its liabilities, continue its business, and that it is advisable to wind up the same, and accordingly, that the company be wound up voluntarily."
"That Thomas Robert Hay Fisken, of Leeds in the county of York, Engineer, and Edwin Verity of Leeds, in the said county, Wholesale Ironmonger, be and are appointed Joint Liquidators for the purpose of such winding up and distributing the property."
"That the Liquidators be renumerated as follows:- Mr Fisken to have £2 per week, Mr Verity's renumeration to be left for further consideration."
"That a meeting of the Shaerholders be called within six months from this date."
Edwin Verity, Chairman.
When the Ravensthorpe Engineering Company lost the Fisken business Dixon sought a buyer for the works and in 1876 John McLaren terminated his partnership with Dixon and established a works with his younger brother Henry, forming the well known Leeds firm of J&H McLaren[1]

Bibliography Pease, J. (2003). The History of J&H McLaren of Leeds. Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, UK. ISBN 1-84306-105-8.[1]Look for this book in Amazon.co.uk
The Steam Plough Works, Michael Lane[2]
Jackson's Oxford Journal, July 19th 1870 [3]
Various R.A.S.E. show reports[4]
The Engineer, Dec 15th 1876[5]
The Engineer, Dec 6th 1878[6]
The London Gazette of July 29 1879 [7]

This article was produced by Andrew Johnson and Kris Ward, any feedback or contributions about the Leeds engine making industry would be greatly appreciated.