Thursday 16 February 2017

Burley's Blocks and Boneshakers

Another simple gravestone in Greenock Cemetery marks the graves of remarkable people.  Robert Burley was the brother of Ann Burley (or Burleigh), who married Richard Muir.

Robert Burley was born in Bo'ness in 1806 but the family moved to Greenock - his father was a seafarer.  Robert was educated in Greenock and then served an apprenticeship to block-makers in a Greenock shipyard.  He married Christian Seath, daughter of James Seath a shipmaster on 28 October 1839 in Greenock. 

The couple moved to Glasgow where Burley set up a successful business as a joiner and block-maker.   Robert Burley was also a bit of an inventor.  He devised a "submarine gun" - according to the Glasgow Herald of 11 December 1939,
"by means of which warships might be able to discharge under-water projectiles against the enemy".. 
The author Jules Verne wrote about Burley's gun in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea - Chapter 15 -
"There are certain Fulton-style guns perfected by the Englishmen Philippe-Coles and Burley, the Frenchman Furcy, and the Italian Landi; they're equipped with a special system of airtight fastenings and can fire in underwater conditions. But I repeat: having no gunpowder, I've replaced it with air at high pressure, which is abundantly supplied me by the Nautilus's pumps."

Robert Burley also devised and produced a steel-cored handle and, perhaps not so successful his company manufactured "boneshakers", bicycles with wooden frames and wheels!

However it was as handle-makers that the company became successful.  From Dale Street they moved to Great Wellington Street and finally to larger premises in  Fairley Street, Govan.

Former Burley works Fairley Street, Govan

Robert and Christian Burley had five children, two daughters and three sons.  In the 1860s they lived at Walmer Crescent in Glasgow, then later at Bellahouston Terrace.  Christina Seath  died in 1868.  Robert lived to the grand old age of 96, dying in 1902.  His sons James and Robert continued the family business and Robert Burley & Sons celebrated its centenary in 1939.  However, it is the eldest son who is probably best remembered.  Read about him in the Greenockian's next post!

The grave stone reads:-
Erected by Robert Burley in memory of his wife Christian Seath who died 21st April 1868 aged 55 years.
Elizabeth, their daughter died 30th June 1855 aged 9 years
Robert Burley died 21st February 1902 aged 95 years
James Seath their son died 18th Nov 1916 aged 62 years and
James his son died 7th Aug 1911 aged 15 months
P/O Robert James R.A.F. his son killed 7th June 1941 aged 28 years interred Boulogne East Cem

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