Blockmaking

    Many discussions have taken place over who was the inventor of the machinery used to make pulley blocks at Portsmouth dockyard. Tributes for this high accolade have been given to three men. Sir Samuel Bentham, by his wife, Marc Brunel through the articles in Rees’s Cyclopedia, and Henry Maudslay through his assistant James Nasmyth.

    All these claims have some truth as each man helped in some way to produce the famous plant at Portsmouth. However, it is unlikely that Samuel Bentham contributed to any major element of the design of the machinery, and arguments tend to rest between Brunel and Maudslay.

    Brunel, who is considered the inventor by many historians, certainly went to Maudslay with the idea of creating a suite of machinery to produce blocks. However, how detailed those plans were is unknown and it is here where the disputes lie. Was it in fact Maudslay who filled in the detail on the designs and made the machines a viable entity?

    Brunel did make drawings of the mechanics in a notebook, but it is not clear whether these were design records or records of what was finally made.

    Because there has been no conclusive proof on the level of refinement completed by Maudslay, arguments still persist, making the identity of the inventor a grey area.