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Sir Richard Trevithick Tangye (24 November 1833 - 14 October 1906) was a British entrepreneur who founded Tangye & Co. in Birmingham as manufacturers of Stationary engines and other heavy equipment. The companies Cornwall Works was one of the biggest factories in Birmingham in the late 1800s.


He was born at Illogan, near Redruth, Cornwall, the son of a small farmer. As a young boy he worked in the fields, but when he was eight years old he was incapacitated from further manual labour by a fracture of the right arm. His father then determined to give him the best education he could afford, and young Tangye was sent to the Quaker Sidcot School at Sidcot, Somerset, where he progressed rapidly and became a pupil-teacher.

Tangye was not long contented with this position, and through an advertisement in The Friend obtained a clerkship in a small engineering firm in Birmingham, where two of his brothers, skilled mechanics, subsequently joined him. Here Richard Tangye remained four years, obtaining a complete mastery of the details of an engineering business, and introducing the system of a Saturday half-holiday which was subsequently adopted in all English industrial works.

In 1856 he started business in a small way in Birmingham as a hardware factor and commission agent. His first customers were the Cornish mine-owners in the Redruth district, and, the business prospering, he was able before long to start manufacturing hardware goods on his own account, his two brothers joining him in the enterprise. The speciality of the brothers Tangye was the manufacture of machinery, and their hydraulic lifting jacks were successfully employed in the launching of the steamship Great Eastern.

Tangye hoist exhibit, Gold Reef City tourist goldmine attraction, Johannesburg, South Africa (David Tangye - 1997)

In 1858 the firm, who now confined themselves to making machinery, built their own works, and shortly afterwards secured the sole right of manufacturing the newly invented differential pulley-block, thereby materially adding to their business, which came to include every kind of power-machine - hydraulic, steam, gas, oil and electricity. The business was subsequently turned into a limited company, and in 1894 Richard Tangye was knighted. He died in October 1906.

He was the grandfather of the authors Derek Tangye and Nigel Tangye. Through his niece Helena Tangye Lean, he was a great-uncle of film maker David Lean.

The Tangye Company continued building engines (first steam engines, then hot bulb engines, then finally a range of large industrial diesel engines), pumps and hydraulic equipment. Engine production was stopped after the Second World War and the company concentrated on hydraulic pumps, valves and related systems.

References / sources

Further reading

  • Waterhouse, Rachel (1957). A Hundred Years of Engineering Craftmanship. Birmingham, London: Tangyes Limited. 
  • ODNB article by W. B. Owen, ‘Tangye, Sir Richard (1833–1906)’, rev. H. C. G. Matthew, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 8 June 2008

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