Joseph Bramah was born on 13 April 1748, to Joseph & Mary Bramma, in the Village of Stainborough near Barnsley. Bramah was the second son in the family of three sons and two daughters of Joseph Bramma (note the different spelling of the surname), a farmer, and his wife, Mary Denton. His father owned a small, local farm and Joseph, the eldest of 5 children, was destined to join his Father, working on a small farm, rented from Lord Strafford. His name was originally “Bramma”. He changed his name whilst in London mixing with the upper classes of society, making cabinets for “Water Closets” (Toilets) in the homes of the wealthy.
His schooling was at the Town School in Silkstone from the age of 6 years to 12 years when he left to help his Father on the farm on Stainborough Lane. When he was 16 years old, he injured his right ankle, while competing in a Jumping Competition at Bolton-on-Dearne. This left him lame and made it impossible for him to continue farming. While he was confined at home he spent his time doing woodwork, making musical instruments and made some creditable pieces of work with very imperfect tools and it occurred to him that as he was now of no use on the Farm, he might become a mechanic.
He was fortunate in making a friend of the Village Blacksmith, where he spent much time at the Smithy. The smith was an ingenious workman, and, having taken a liking for the boy, he made sundry tools for him out of old files and razor blades; and with these his fiddle and other pieces of work were mainly executed. When sufficiently recovered, he became an apprentice to a Mr Allott, the Village Carpenter in Stainborough, under whom he soon became an expert workman. He could make ploughs, window-frames, or fiddles, with equal dexterity. He also made violoncellos (the full name for cello), and was so fortunate as to sell one of his making for three guineas, which is still reckoned a good instrument. When his apprenticeship ended, after six years, he found the economic situation in the North of England was very poor, he walked to London—despite his lame leg—to find employment.
He found employment with a Mr Allen installing Water Closets designed to a patent obtained by Alexander Cumming in 1775. While working fitting these Water Closets, he found that they had a tendency to freeze in cold weather. Although it was Allen who improved the design by replacing the usual slide valve with a hinged flap that sealed the bottom of the bowl, Bramah obtained the patent for the flap valve in 1778 and began to manufacture it. This was the very first Patent that he took out.
After some time, he set up in business, in a very small way, on his own, and began making water closets at a workshop in Denmark Street, St Giles and while there, he made a further improvement in his invention by the addition of a water cock, which he patented in 1783. The design was a success and production continued well into the 19th Century. His original Water Closets are still working in Osbourne House, Queen Victoria’s home on the Isle of Wight.
But this was only the start of Bramah’s inventions and patents. He became a prolific inventor with over 18 patents to his name. He was most famous for his invention of “The Bramah Lock” – a lock far in advance of its time, but also was very involved in Hydraulics, the Hydraulic Press and Canal Building.
For some time prior to his death Bramah had been employed in the building of several large machines for sawing stones and timber to which he had applied his knowledge of hydraulic power with great success. He was occupied with superintending one of his presses at Holt Forest, in Hampshire where some 300 trees were to be torn up by the roots when he caught a severe cold. This turned to and he died suddenly on December 9th 1814.
A new information panel and display have been produced in 2014 (see the links below)
The above photograph of his lock is shown on the back cover of the guide book written in 2014.