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Differential pulley block, large and small sheaves, 2 ton (2.032 tonnes) capacity, invented by T A Weston / made by Tangyes Ltd, Birmingham, England, 1860 - 1890

Made in Birmingham, West Midlands, England, United Kingdom, Europe, 1860-1890.

T.A. Weston’s differential pulley has significance in regard to the development of ideas on the nature of lifting devices, collaborative practices between Weston the innovator and Richard, George, and James Tangye (who were brothers in a leading family of nineteenth-century English industrialists), and the display of the product at the 1862 International Exhibition in London. The product was also the subject of a controversial patent infringement claim, which involved disputes about priority and...


Object No.


Object Statement

Differential pulley block, large and small sheaves, 2 ton (2.032 tonnes) capacity, invented by T A Weston / made by Tangyes Ltd, Birmingham, England, 1860 - 1890

Physical Description

A differential pulley consisting of two pulleys/sheaves (large and small radii) with hooks affixed to both sheaves. The looped chains are missing.

On the circumference of the larger sheave there can be found "Westons Block. Tested to 2 tons". On the circumference of the smaller sheave can be found "Tangye Sole Maker, Birmingham. Patented, August, 1878".

The large pulley has its circumference grooved and spiked so that a chain will run in it without slipping. Over the pulleys an endless chain is run, forming two hanging loops. In one loop there is placed a movable block (usually the smaller pulley), whose pulley is shaped to take the chain. The load is attached to the movable block and is raised by pulling on the other loop of the chain.



Joseph Tangye [Sr] (1798-1854) and his wife Anne (1800-1851) were Quakers, whose five surviving sons left Cornwall for Birmingham to establish (1857) an engineering firm, and which by 1872, had achieved international recognition for a range of products. The five brothers were James (1825-1913), Joseph (1826-1902), Edward (1832-1909), Richard (1833-1906), and George (1835-1920). Of most relevance to the development of the Weston differential pulley, and the legal case of patent infringement was the work of Richard and George.

Richard Tangye

Richard began his professional career as a secondary school teacher, when at the young age of sixteen, he signed on as a trainee teacher at the Friends' School, Sidcot, Somerset. He did not enjoy the experience, and so after a mere three years, he requested the School Committee for release from his indentures, to which they agreed, although after some resistance.

He moved to Birmingham (1852) and obtained employment as a clerk with Thomas William Worsdell (1838-1916),locomotive engineer, however, he left the job in 1855.

Richard then established himself in business as a general merchant, but this venture was also unsuccessful and it eventually closed. Shortly thereafter, he joined his brothers Joseph and James as business partner in their fledgling engineering business, where his task was to canvass and obtain orders for the firm. The business grew quickly and was soon taking many orders for the development of stationary engines, which allowed for the employment of additional staff.

Work hours were long, stretching to over seventy hours per week for each of the brothers. Sunday was always their day of rest. One of the principal items of production in 1857 was the manufacture of 12 inch cylinder jacks that were used for launching the Great Eastern, then the largest ship in the world. In his autobiography, Richard quipped that "we [Tangyes] launched her [The Great Eastern] and she launches us [into a prosperous business]" (Tangye, 1889, 1X).

George Tangye

George also attended the Friends' School at Sidcot. After leaving school, he found employment at William Brunton's safety fuse works, where he remained for two years.

In 1855, George joined J. Eliot Hodgkin, engineer and ironfounder, Birmingham, where he was Clerk of the Works. He was offered and accepted the management of Worsdells after his three elder brothers had left the firm. However, he eventually resigned from that position and joined the family firm at the Cornwall Works, Birmingham.

In 1872,Tangye Brothers came to an end when the five brothers went their separate ways, thus bringing to a close the original engineering firm.


Parker, J. F. (1972-1973). 'Some Notes on the Tangye Family', The Transactions of the Newcomen Society, Vol. 45, 191-205.

Tangye, R. (1889). One and All: An Autobiography of Sir Richard Tangye of the Cornwall, Works, Birmingham. S. W. Partridge and Company, London.

Note that the original Tangye Brothers had disbanded by this date.



Firm provenance cannot be established, but the item was most likely used (or collected [but never formally acquired]) in the old Harris Street building. The artefact was stored at Castle Hill for many years, and brought to the Harwood Building workshop in July. E-Museum stock.

Cite this Object


Differential pulley block, large and small sheaves, 2 ton (2.032 tonnes) capacity, invented by T A Weston / made by Tangyes Ltd, Birmingham, England, 1860 - 1890 2017, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 25 April 2019, <>


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