John Wilkinson's cannon boring bar

Contributed by Bersham Heritage Centre

This wrought iron bar was used to bore out cannon at Wilkinson's Bersham Ironworks, Wrexham.© Wrexham Heritage Service

John Wilkinson's boring bar is probably the largest drill bit in Wales.John Wilkinson was the most important inventor and ironmaster in the history of Wales. Born in Cumbria, he moved to Wales in 1753 and took control of Bersham Ironworks in 1763. In 1771 the British Board of Ordnance had a major problem - British cannon were not safe to use. Wilkinson invented a 'boring engine' that could bore out cannon from solid iron, a time consuming task, but one which ensured there were no dangerous faults in the iron. His cannon passed the tests at Woolwich Arsenal and Wilkinson patented his new invention. None of his boring engines survive intact. All we have is this bar, in effect a large drill bit, which was found during the excavations at John Wilkinson's Bersham Ironworks, near Wrexham. The boring bar may live up to its name in appearance, but it changed history and ensured that when the sailors of the Royal Navy fired their cannon, they knew the shot would fire straight and the cannon would not explode.

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1774 Wilkinson patents his boring engine


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