James Watt did not event the steam engine!


My preps for next Saturday’s Book Launch has moved on to the wander around the museum part, the part where I wave my arms at relevant objects. One exhibit receiving my arm waving treatment will be the Phoenix 100 time line. We produced this time line to place the Prince of Wales Shaft Engine in perspective, but it will also be an excellent aid to explain where William West’s achievements in engine design fit into the grand scheme of steam power.

Why Watt did not invent the steam engine

UK pulp history, supported by the national curriculum states that Watt invented the steam engine, Stevenson the Railway engine, and Brunel everything else. Luckily, real history is far more complex, and richer than that.

Watt did indeed make huge advances in steam engine design, but there are many others who played their part, including William West.

Here is a summary of some key dates to put West’s achievements into the correct time slot.

1712 Thomas Newcomen’s atmospheric engine
1769 James Watt introduced the external condenser-The Bolton and Watt engine.
1800 Richard Trevithick produces the first high pressure engines.
1801 Richard Trevithick produces the first steam powered road vehicle in Britain.
1804 Trevithick builds the first ever railway locomotive.
1808 Trevithick builds the first fare paying passenger railway, and William West helped design the engine (in a very small way).
1825 The Stockton and Darlington Railway opens
1829 Stevenson’s Rocket is built.
1835 William West’s Austen’s engine becomes the highest ever performing steam engine.

The Last Great Cornish Engineer: William West of Tredenham


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