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October 2016

London's Engines

By Paul Harvey

This past August, Tom Rapp and I returned to England to view some very fascinating historical engine sites.  We spent nearly one week in London and found it to be an extremely enjoyable old city.  So different from our cities; it has many narrow, crooked streets and no square blocks as we know them.  Our hotel was on the south bank of the Thames River, and just a short stroll across Windsor Bridge brought us to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and many thousand-year-old buildings.  It was quite safe to walk in and we saw many of the sites on foot.  Public transportation was plentiful and reasonably priced.

However, our motivation was to visit three preserved steam sites:  the Tower Bridge, the Science Museum, and the Kew Bridge Pumping Station.  The English are excellent in preserving their industrial archeology, as the following photo essay shows.

Photo 1 shows the magnificent Tower Bridge.  Opened in 1894, it was the largest bascule (drawbridge) in the world. It provided a much-needed river crossing to join south London to the main city, as well as providing the capability to allow the tall ships access to the upper Thames.  The towers were all steel and wrought iron, and the stonework was added as a decoration to make it look impressive.  The lift works were steam-hydraulic and functioned until 1972, when they were replaced by electric motors.

The huge suspension beams arching up to each tower are actually riveted wrought iron.  Photo 2 shows a huge and highly decorated link in this design.  The bridge is crossed by 40,000 pedestrians and 20,000 vehicles a day, as well as making about three openings a day for ships to pass.

The old engine room is open to the public, and Photo 3 shows one of the beautifully restored steam engines.  One of the two was slowly rotating on compressed air, and was a delight to see.  The engines were tandem, cross-compound, and operated a hydraulic pump in front of each high pressure cylinder.  Photo 4 shows one of the high pressure hydraulic pumps.  Deemed the most advanced and largest hydraulic system of its time, the pumps delivered river water to one of two huge accumulators, as noted in Photo 5.

The accumulators then delivered high pressure water to hydraulic engines in the base of each tower.  These three-cylinder hydraulic engines, one set up on display, opened the bascules through a set of  massive gears that finally meshed with a gear sector on the bascule.   Photo 6  shows the display hydraulic, or water-powered, engine, which included a huge hydraulic brake and clutch.  Opening time for the bridge was 90 seconds! The original engine house and boiler stack is shown in Photo 7.  A day can be easily spent there, and it is a "must see" for any engine enthusiast.

Our next adventure was at the Science Museum, as noted in Photo 8.  Although the museum does not operate its engines, viewing the massive display is an enjoyable way to spend a day.  Upon entering, one finds a great hall containing two rows of ancient beam engines.   Photo 9 illustrates the 1838 beam engine of Boulton and Watt.  Note that the engine already has a high and low pressure cylinder - quite advanced for the time.  The steam age had reached England, and Boulton's Manufactory in the Soho district of London turned out scores of successful engines.  Walking across the wide isle took us to this Newcomen atmospheric beam engine, seen in Photo 10.  The boiler that powered it, the oldest in England and producing about two psi, is shown in Photo 11.  It was built in 1796.

Photo 12 shows a Maudslay engine built in 1840.  Henry Maudslay was a meticulous engineer and trained many of his employees to become competent steam engineers.  The latest engine in the great hall was this Burnley Iron Works cross-compound steam engine of 1903, as shown in Photo 13.  It worked until 1970.  Note all the rope drive grooves in the flywheel. It would be great to continue, but there were just too many more exhibits to be able to describe them in this article.

The next room contained a huge display of railroad engines, trucks, engines, and machine tools.  Photo 14 is the oldest steam locomotive in the world.  "Puffing Billy" was built in 1814 and transported coal to the canal five miles away.  It was finally retired in 1862.  Among all the steam engines, I found this 1865 Lenoir gas engine so beautifully intact.  See Photo 15.  Across the room was  this 1931 Fodon Diesel Lorry, "lorry" being the English term for truck.  It was one of the first Diesel-operated trucks in England, and closely paralleled Cummins development in the USA.  Note Photo 16.

Photo 17 shows a model machine shop built between 1850 and 1880; little information is available about its history.  It is fascinating with all the diminutive tools working and operated by line shafts powered by tiny leather belts.  It is now operated by an electric motor and watching it provided a great end to a perfect day.

Our last - and best - tour was at the London Museum of Water and Steam, formerly the Kew Bridge Pumping Station Museum.  This is an 1838 pumping station that supplied water from the Thames to London.  The two original buildings, as well as a display building, were under steam and operating when we visited.  With the aroma of oil and hot steam, it was a tremendous sight. The entrance is shown in Photo 18.  Before entering the engine displays, we passed by this excellent model of the station as depicted in Photo 19.  The tower is actually a 200-foot-tall standpipe that supplied a constant pressure of water to the city.  Any excess could flow back to the river.

We first went to the "original" building which is seen just behind the standpipe.  Containing the two largest beam engines in the world that are still in their original location, they are impressive beyond imagination.  There are stairways going to the second and top level, over three stories up!  Originally used by the engineers for lubricating and servicing the engines, they are now open to the visitors.  The 90-inch engine was installed in 1840 and the 100-inch in 1869.  These measurements are the diameters of the steam cylinders!  Interestingly, the engines do not have flywheels.

Photo 20 shows a portion of the top of the 90-inch engine, and Photo 21 illustrates Tom standing by its beam.  The steam enters the top of the massive cylinder under low pressure and forces that piston down, which raises the pump cylinder and weight chamber.  The pumping is actually done when the steam condenses, forming a vacuum bringing its piston back up.  This is helped by the weight of the pump plunger and its 50-ton weight chamber.  The stroke of the pump is eleven feet, and the engine operates at four cycles per minutes, pumping six million gallons per day.

Photo 22 shows the engineer starting the 90-inch engine.  He does an intricate "dance" operating three long levers, gradually increasing the engine's movement.  Finally, when it reaches full stroke, he latches the levers out and it continues to cycle itself so quietly and gracefully.  In Photo 23, one sees the pump plunger and the 50-ton weight box on top.   It actually pumps water in recirculation.  Photo 24 shows me sitting by the beam of the 100-inch engine - note the name on the beam!  This engine was obsolete in 1869 when installed, but the water authority wanted a matching engine.  Both were retired in 1944 when the Allen diesel engines were installed.

These two engines are called "Cornish" beam engines.  Interestingly, the people from Cornwall were very adept engineers, designers, and manufacturers.  Cornwall, located on the southwest peninsula of England, is identified as one of the Celtic Nations with a different cultural identity than the rest of Great Britain.  The Cornish built the great machines, transported them, and engineered their erection.  Many stayed with their machines to operate them, and the sons followed the fathers as operating engineers.  Their great beam engines easily pumped water from the deep coal mines, opening that industry to England.

Photo 25 shows a 20-foot waterwheel, powering a  three-cylinder water pump.  Placed in service in 1902,  it pumped water for the Duke of Somerset's estate as well as for the nearby village's drinking fountain.  Continuing to view the outside exhibits, we found  this 1862 Trench fire pump operating under steam; see Photo 26.  The water works acquired it from the city in 1876, and its main use was pumping water from burst water mains.  It was impressive to hear it working hard under the load of a high pressure hose.

The Allen Diesels were installed in 1934 to help with the increasing demand for water in London.  Note Photo 27.  After the steam plant retired in 1944, the Allens were the main pumping power until 1985.  This one still runs.

In the new exhibition building are more operating steam engines.  The Dancer's End is seen in Photo 28.  This twin beam engine does seem to dance when in operation, Built in 1867, it got its name from pumping water for Lord Rothschild's estate at Dancer's End.  Photo 29 illustrates the Easton and Amos, built in 1863.  Running so effortlessly, it originally powered a small waterworks.  Note the iron plate embedded into the wall with barring holes to place the engine into starting position.  The Triple, Photo 30, depicts a small, triple-expanding, vertical pumping engine built in 1910.  This design soon became the standard for all pumping engines.  Watching its silent operation made the perfect end to the day.

No visit to London would be complete without seeing Big Ben, illustrated in Photo 31.  Big Ben, installed in 1859, is the nickname for the 16-ton bell that strikes the hours.  It, and the huge pendulum clock, are at the top of the 250-foot-tall Elizabeth tower of Parliament.  We could easily hear the bell from our hotel room across the Thames.  It was a welcome sight and sound every day!

Next month we will take a tour of the Coolspring Power Museum's new pavilion and all the engines that have been installed.  It is a great display, but we also have exciting plans for its further expansion.

London's Tower Bridge 

Photo 1: The Tower Bridge in London

Link on the Tower Bridge 

Photo 2: Bridge Link

Steam Engine 

Photo 3: Tower Bridge steam engine

Hydraulic Pump 

Photo 4: High pressure hydraulic pump

Hydraulic Accumulator 

Photo 5: Hydraulic accumulator

Hydraulic Motor 

Photo 6: Hydraulic engine

Boiler House 

Photo 7: Engine house and boiler stack

Science Museum 

Photo 8: The Science Museum

Boulton & Watt Engine 

Photo 9: 1838 beam engine of Boulton and Watt

Newcomen Engine 

Photo 10: Newcomen engine

1796 Boiler 

Photo 11: 1796 Boiler for the Newcomen engine

Maudslay Engine 

Photo 12: Maudslay engine

Burnley Iron Works Engine 

Photo 13: Burnley Iron Works engine

Puffing Billy 

Photo 14: Puffing Billy locomotive

Lenoir Gas Engine 

Photo 15: Lenoir gas engine

Fodon Diesel Lorry 

Photo 16: Fodon Diesel Lorry

Model Machine Shop 

Photo 17: Model machine shop

London Museum of Water & Steam 

Photo 18: London Museum of Water and Steam, formerly the Kew Bridge Pumping Station Museum

Model of Station 

Photo 19: Model of the station

Top of 90-Inch Engine 

Photo 20: Top of the 90-inch engine

Tom and Beam 

Photo 21: Tom and the beam of the 90-inch engine

Starting 90-Inch Engine 

Photo 22: Engineer starting the 90-inch engine

Pump Plunger 

Photo 23: Pump plunger and 50-ton weight box

Paul and Beam of 100-Inch Engine 

Photo 24: Paul and the beam of the 100-inch engine

Water Wheel Pump 

Photo 25: Waterwheel-powered pump

Steam Fire Pump 

Photo 26: 1862 Trench fire pump

Allen Diesel 

Photo 27: Allen Diesel engine

Dancer's End Engine 

Photo 28: Dancer's End engine

Easton & Amos Engine 

Photo 29: Easton and Amos engine

The Triple 

Photo 30: The triple engine

Big Ben 

Photo 31: Elizabeth Tower which houses Big Ben


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