1870-Phoenix United Mine, William West, and a grand day

wpid-wp-1440535698288.jpeg
July 9th, 1870
It was setting day, and the miners gathered in noisy expectation in front of Phoenix United’s grand count-house. Every two months this important event occurred;  an action of the work to be conducted at the mine. But this setting day was going to be different, for the mine’s majority shareholder was going to be there, and grand speeches were expected.

Each of the miners stood beneath the bay Windows of the count-house had main a donation towards the event that they were about to enjoy.   William West was about to be presented with ‘very hand-some timepiece’ , and on that time piece was inscribed a silver plaque that read:

“Presented by upwards of 500 miners and others employed at Phoenix mine, to William West, Esq., C. E. In testimony of his great zeal in being mainly instrumental in keeping this mine at work through great difficulties, until brought to a successful issue. A.D. 1870.”

PhoenixCounthouse

The fact that this setting day was occurring was down to West, for without his bold intervention the mine would now be silent, and those miners scattered around the World hunting for work wherever minerals lay.  That intervention resulted in  transformation of Phoenix United from a copper to a tin mine.

 

It was a Mr. J. Williams that stood in front of the crowd to make the formal speech to West:

“Sir –in accordance with a strongly expressed wish of the miners and others employed in expressed wish of the miners and others employed in the above mines, it is determined to present to you with a testimonial, as a mark of the respect in which you are held by the employed of these mines; to show our appreciation of the manly courage you have shown in undertaking a management of such a vast extent and importance not only to us, but to all classes in the neighbourhood and to the development of mining in this district, and in this mine in particular, in the success of which you, as well ourselves, are so deeply interested…….”

As grand words continued many of the miners may have recalled those bleak years in the early 1860s. The Copper was beginning to fail, and William West was Phoenix’s engineer. West been the engineer at  mine throughout its successful years as a copper producer, but was unwilling to accept that its productive life was over.

He believed that a untapped wealth of tin lay alongside the mined out lodes of copper. The mine’s owners refused to share this belief, or to invest in equipment needed to process the tin. West persevered in his attempt change the Mine’s direction by installing tin stamps at his own expense . Still the owners refused to follow his advise, and still the mine was heading towards closure.  Finally West stopped fighting, and events at the mine started to disappear from the mining  press.

Behind the scenes West, his family, and associates started buying up shares whenever they could. By stealth West gained control of the mine. Once achieved his grand scheme for transforming the mine swung into action.

The miners had much to be thankful for, West’s faith in the mine had given then many extra years of wealth.

Mr. Williams last words finished..

“……May Divine Providence watch over you many days . – From the miners and other employed in Phoenix Mine, Linkinhorne, Cornwall’

PhoenixCounthouseWindow

Mr. West then approach the bay window to make his speech. As he looked  over the heads of the miners he saw the smoke rising from the many engines he had installed. Some of these powered the big banks of noisy stamps that crushed the tin stuff fine enough to feed the large expanse of tin floors that cascaded down the hill slopes. West’s investment in the mine had created those engines and dressing floors. It was a creation he was proud of.  And so he made his speech.

“I  could hardly express my  feeling in receiving such a testimonial from such a fine-looking, steady body of men and women. I was sorry, in one sense, to take anything from them, for they worked hard enough for their money, and had plenty of uses for it, and I would rather give than take; but still I  accept their handsome present with a very deep and real pleasure.”

Applause from the miners  carried on the breeze across the Bodmin Moor. Once it died down the famous engineer continued:

“I  hope that they had in Phoenix a mine that would provide for them and theirs all their lives. I had many difficulties in bringing it out, but you had stuck by me  like men. Most of you, I know,  were originally western men, and I hope that you and your families would find themselves thoroughly comfortable in the east.”

That you are careful, steady men, was proved in the very few accidents that occurred. Still I exhort you never to neglect taking proper precautions. He knew that mining was practical by experience.”

Again the miners applauded, this time it was in recognition that the man before them had once laboured as a miner, if only for a short time when young, and even if he had never been successful. West continued with his speech and once he had given his final thanks there was three hearty cheers and setting the work for the next two months work started.

When West left that bay window, he left a mine had a few  good years remaining. He remained in control of the mine  until his death in 1879, but then,  Phoenix’s fortunes declined and it finally lost its struggle to survive in 1897.

wpid-th-5.jpeg

That count-house where the miners gathered in 1870 still stands. No longer does steam engines, headframes and dressing floors fill the view from the bay window. Instead it is a scene of rubble, denuded waste tips,  and encroaching cotaniaster and bracken. If you do visit the mine, then pause as you pass the courthouse for a few moments to imagine West stood in that window, on that day in 1870.


NavsBooksStoreFor book ideas on William West visit the new Amazon  Navsbooks store.

 

 

BookshopLiskeardOr, if you are passing through Liskeard pop into the Bookshop on the Parade- they have a great local history section.

Advertisements

The Man Engine- who invented it?

The Levant Man engine disaster will be forever linked with the word ‘Man Engine’.

Iron straps holding the man engine rod to the beam separated the miners  from a successful journey and death. On that day the 20 October 1919, the tired overworked metal straps gave way and 31  miners fell to their deaths. It shattered a community, and it shattered the reputation of the man engine.

But it is not that day that this post will recall, nor a day many earlier in 1842 when Michael’s Loam‘s invention first started transporting miners at Trasavean mine. It will instead recall a day in 1851, an event at Fowey Consols, and an engineer called William West.

On that day, the 28th July 1851, an assorted crowd of mine owners, politicians, mineral lords, local gentry and even the Prussian foreign minister gathered at Fowey Consols. They were there to witness the starting of a new man engine, and of course the expectation of a grand count house dinner afterwards.

OS1881FoweyConsols

Once Lord Vivian had made the formal announcements to start the man engine, the 30 foot diameter water wheel started to turn. About every 10 seconds it completed a revolution, each of these revolutions turned through gears a flywheel that spun at three times of the speed of the waterwheel. It would be in obvious to the guests how this power was transferred to the shaft. A crank changed the wheel’s turning into horizontal motion to transfer the power to the shaft, where a large balance bob, resembling a beam of a beam engine, rotated the motion 90 degrees to an 8″ wooden rod that descended into the depths of the shaft.

To many in the crowd this was nothing new, it looked just like the system used at shaft mouths all over Cornwall to power pumps. It was down the shaft where West and his co-designer John Puckey had worked their magic. Looking down the shaft they would have seen the long rod rising and falling twelve feet. At every 12 feet on the rod was fixed a one foot square platform, and corresponding to these were platforms on the shaft wall. At this stage,  many of the guests would not have been able to comprehend how men could descend to the great depths of the mine on such an arrangement. But once the miners started to stand on the platforms, once the mesmerizing dance of the man engine started, the simplistic beauty of the man engine became clear.

W50
The dance went like this:
As the rod reaches the top of its stroke step onto the platform on the rod, and hold on tight to the handle in front of you.  The rod descends 12 feet, and then step off sideways to a fixed platform on the shaft wall. Wait as the rod rises to bring the next platform up to meet you, step on and repeat. Repeat, and repeat, 12 feet at a time until you descend into the dark levels and stopes of the mine where your work lay. To ascend the shaft, just reverse the dance.

Once those important guests had witnessed the miners one after another descend out of their view it would have made sense how important West and Puckey’s new machine was.

Some would have seen the potential to save many lives. Falling off wet slippery ladders on those long climbs could be a thing of the past. More significantly huge numbers lives could be saved from removing the physical onslaught caused by climbing the equivalent of a mountain every working day of their lives.  This onslaught on the body that had to be undertaken after a long, hard shift of hard labour, and one that took the miner from the stifling heat of the depths to often the bitter cold of the surface. The result was predictable, heart and lungs took the brunt of the strain, and early death would follow.  So, some who watched on that day saw the machine through the eyes of the social good it would bring, but others saw it differently.

They saw the increase in  speed of miners disappearing beneath their feet as a increase in their private wealth. Every minute saved from climbing ladders was a minute usedman%20engine for productive work. The more imaginative saw beyond that to more profits.  Less tired miners reaching their workplace would be more productive, more profits. Less tired miners live longer, keeping their valuable experience, more profits. Older miners could now continue to work the deeper levels, more experience where it was needed, more profits.

This man engine of West’s was good for miners, and good for profits.

To those that had seen one of the  Loam’s man engines at work this one before them a Fowey Consols was visibly superior. Loam had staked the claim as the man engine inventor, and as a reward had received a hard fought for prize from the Cornwall Pyrotechnic Society.

On a Loam engine there was two rods, two oscillating rods with platforms, and the dance was different. Miners had to step from moving rod to moving rod. There was no room for error, and their was no fixed platform on which to pause.  More importantly for the shareholders in the crowd, those who were watching their profits rise, the twin rods could only carry half as many miners for the same number of strokes. A counter-intuitive result, but one that arises from West’s engine being able to move miners up and down at the same time.

WestManEngines
William West built man engines

Once that meal in the counthouse was consumed, the port drunk, and the speeches made, the guests dispersed with memories of that miner’s dance. West and Puckey had proudly demonstrated their new engine, an from then on only their design would be installed. Every man engine built after that date would have a single rod, including the one that so tragically failed in 1919.

West installed the last man engine at Jopes Shaft, South Caradon in 1872. The engine was later moved to Kitto’s shaft.

 

KittoPanN
Kitto’s Shaft at South Caradon Mine

Popular history is often deceptive. Its simplification creates wonderful story, but the deeper truth is always more interesting. This is such a case, for neither did Michael Loam invent this man engine, or the man engine was a machine that killed miners, it saved thousands and the one that was used all over Cornwall was invented by West and Puckey.


Click here for ‘The Last Great Cornish Engineer’- William West

Click here for the Navsbooks store William West book shelf.

Steam Capstans- William West’s hidden invention

Next Saturday 30th April 2016 – 7.00 pm  I am giving a presentation at the Par Old Cornwall Society, and as that date approaches this blog will continue to wander around the key events in the life of the subject of the talk, William West, the last Great Cornish Engineer.

Whilst the public’s eye was focused on the magnificent Austen’s engine in 1835,  and its controversial headlining performance, there was a smaller West engine making its quiet debut across the border in Devon.

This small horizontal cylinder engine was installed above big loop the river Tamar makes as it sweeps around the site of South Hooe Mine. Its was destined to undertake a mundane, but crucial task, capstaning.

OS1885SHooe
OS 1885

Pumping shafts were crammed with heavy equipment and fittings. This equipment needed maintenance, it needed extending, it needed repairing, and that is where capstan was required. Timber, pumps, pump rods and balance bobs all needed to be lowered and raised in the shaft.  It was an important task required to sink the shafts and keep the pumps running.

CapstanBostolPL

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. Click here

Before West introduced his engine at South Hooe, these capstans were manual powered winches, resembling the anchor capstans of sailing ships. Men would gather around the capstan, pushing on large capstan bars to wind the rope in our out. All these men were miners and other workers taken off other work. Every minute spent pushing on a capstan bar was a minute not spent breaking down the ore, it was hated non-productive time.

Picture1
Steam Capstan at Robinson’s Shaft.

West’s concept was simple; install a small horizontal engine near the shaft, attach to to gearing to allow slow control, and use the steam supply from the nearby pumping engine. A simple, obvious use of the steam engine in a new role. Simple maybe, but he was the first to use it. The innovation was liked by the miners, and liked by the shareholder, so unsurprisingly was  widely adopted throughout Devon and Cornwall.

DSCF1585CapstanDrum
Capstan winding drum at Robinson’s shaft

The steam capstan’s role in the Cornish mining industry is overshadowed by the history of the large pumping engines. Likewise the remains of these small engines are often overlooked,  their cylinder beds laying forgotten besides the massive pumping engine houses. But they are there to be discovered,  descendants of that small West’s engine that clattered into life on the banks of the Tamar in 1835.

 

1838-William West’s Double beat valve and the scourge of cholera

Cholera was a dark shadow over Victorian British cities. Its cause was not grasped fully until after John Snow’s famous piece of cartography.  A cause that demanded the twin solutions of providing clean fresh water, and removing the sewage that contaminated it. William West, by accident, would play his part in removing the deadly disease from our streets.  This post is the story of that accident.

It was in December 1838 that the former East Cornwall Silver mine engine made her first strokes in London. This was an important event as it marked the first time a Cornish engine had been seen working in London. Boulton and Watt’s engines dominated the grand halls of the water work companies, and now this machine from the mines of Cornwall was to attempt to break into their domain.

The East Cornwall Mine Engine house

W7

It had not been an easy journey to get to this day. The East London Waterworks engineer, the young and gifted Thomas Wicksteed, had worked long and hard to convince his board that the high pressure Cornish Engine concept was the way forward. He had learnt much about the Cornish Engines from his friend John Taylor, and gathered the evidence needed to sway his board by touring Cornwall visiting the mines, many of which had West’s engines.  So on that winter’s day much was at stake.

W12

The impressive hall of the Old Ford engine house was packed with the Company Directors and their grand friends to witness their new purchase glide into life.  They stood in great expectation of that massive beam starting its first graceful strokes as it pumped their fresh Lea River water from the cistern up to a stand pipe, and from their out to their many customers. Under the watching eyes of William West and the foundry Nicholas Harvey, the engine driver started his mesmerising dance with his hands of manually operating the valves to bring life to the engine.

But as the engine gathered speed and the gallons of water stated to flow through the pipes it started to go wrong, horribly wrong. The engine started to shudder, the whole engine house started to shake, and soon, with top hats flying, the grand directors and their guests fled the building. Whist the guests stood outside relieved to have escaped with their lives, West and Holman remained inside in a desperate attempt to save their engine and reputations.

w13

With great speed West’s men set to work with urgent modifications. Soon the guests were ushered in to the now near silent hall to see their new engine effortlessly working away. As they out  headed towards their sumptuous celebratory dinner, none appeared to have noticed that new engine was just a sham. Not a single gallon of water was being moved.

West and Holman had recognised that it the pump, not the engine, that was fault. Despite of the advanced technology of the engine the pump was reliant on old fashioned, simple clack valves. Down a bottom of a mine they worked well, but here so close to the engine, and with so much water being moved they could not cope. On every closure they sent shock waves throughout the system threatening to destroy the engine and all around it. Their solution was simple, disconnect the valves and the vibrations stopped. But so did the pumping of water.

As the guests ate and drank, West and Harvey worked desperately to find an answer to the problem. Harvey rushed back to his foundry in Hayle with their hastily produced drawings, and by March their new invention was successfully running in Old Ford. It was an invention that did not stop their, soon it was installed in waterworks and canals all over Britain. West’s engines now became sought after far from his original market of Cornish Mining. That day in December, the day that almost ruined his engineering reputation, brought both him and Harvey great wealth. It would also play its part in  eradicating the feared cholera epidemics by giving the rapidly expanding cities the pumping power they demanded to bring fresh water to everyone.W4

Their invention was simple, and not really a new invention. It went under the title of a ‘ double beat self acting valve’. ‘Double beat’ refers to it having two faces, and  ‘self acting’ to the lack of valve gear. The trick of its operation lay within its shape, a shape which balanced the pressures on opening and closing.

 

Like many technical advances this was a result of evolution rather than revolution. West had taken the concept of double beat steam valves developed by earlier Cornish Engineers and made it larger, and self acting.

The steam engine went on to play another important role in engineering history. Now a Cornish engine was working in London, easy to visit by the great minds of the scientific establishment. No longer could the impressive performance being claimed by Cornish engines be dismissed as exaggeration, or that they broke the laws of nature. West’s engine became a showcase for Wicksteed to prove to those outside of the Cornish dominated metal mining industry that the high pressure single cylinder non- condensing engine ( the Cornish engine) was superior to Watt’s.

The old Ford engine would play one last part in the Cholera story, and that was a dark and fatal one.  Whilst all those engines pumped their clean healthy water to the urban populations, their impact on Cholera cases was in most cases incidental, because the link between cholera and waterborne infection had not been widely accepted. That link was finally, fatally  confirmed in 1866. In that year, Cholera’s final onslaught came through water provided by the East London waterworks, from water in their Old Ford Reservoir, which was fed by the River Lea, which an infected water closet in nearby Bromley on Bow drained  its waste.  Although many died from the outbreak, the lesson was finally learnt, and no longer would British graveyards become overloaded with bodies of the disease’s victims.



The Last Great Cornish Engineer (paperback)wpid-westcover.jpg

Sketch of the life of William West of Tredenham (Kindle)

 

William West at Great Towan Mine-“a new era in duty of the steam engine”

TowanHeather
Porthtowan is one of those locations that can only be in Cornwall. The idyllic blue mix of Atlantic surf, golden beaches and heather topped cliffs are punctuated by the scree of mine waste tips pouring down from long disused mine shafts. Where there are now holiday makers and second homes, there was once miners and engine houses; where now is heard the sound is now of playing children the hammering of the Cornish stamps once dominated.

On a day, sometime in 1828 a young William West was working on one of the engines that stood on here at Great Towan mine. It was no ordinary engine, for this was one of  Samuel Groses’s 80″record breaking steam engines at Druce’s and Wilson’s shafts. Groses’s understanding of thermal efficiency had been pushing the performance of his engines up and up. He was the star of the Cornish engineers of the time, his engines were dominating the performance league tables, and now he was determined to increase his lead further.

William West on that fateful day was also determined, he had an idea that, if successful,  would move steam engine efficiency along in another leap. If successful, it would also  move his own career in another leap.  And so, when Captain Grose away, the young west, the un-schooled  farmer’s son born on Dolcoath mine, made a bold request of Captain Vivian,  could he experiment with Grose’s  precious engine? Captain Vivian in what must have been a great act of faith, agreed.

OS1888Towan
Towan mines in 1888 

OS 1884 (survey 1881) Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.
Website

His plan was simple, and one that was an extension of the concepts proven so successful by Grose.  Captain Samuel Grose and made huge advances by insulating the huge cylinder of the steam engine. This insulation kept the precious heat energy where it was needed, in the cylinder. West took the idea further, right back to the Cornish Boiler where the high pressure steam was produced.

Os2016Towan
The Site of Great Towan in 2016

Ordnance Survey 2016 Contains OS data © Crown copyright  published under OGL

On that day the boiler and pipework had been lagged with sawdust. On that day, on the hill slopes above Porthtowan  another advance in steam engine technology was made. More water was raised for every bushel of coal fed into the boiler because less heat was wasted heating the air above Cornwall, and more heat went into producing the high pressure steam demanded by the engine.

WhymBoiler

West’s idea worked, and Grose on his return was impressed. He adopted West’s improvement, and was rewarded with the engine achieving a new record of 87 million duty. A result that Thomas Lean described as,

“Began, as it were, a new era in duty of the steam engine.”

But there was a flaw in West’s plan. A simple basic flaw, with disastrous consequences. Of all materials to encase a hot, fire filled, boiler with sawdust should not have been a first choice. The result was predictable, the sawdust caught fire, along with the roof and woodwork of the engine house.  But once the smoldering wood and been put out, the boiler was re-lagged, the lesson had been learnt, this time ash or burnt earth was used.

Grose gained the accolade of his achievements at Porthtowan, and West went on to make his own name.


 

For my Amazon Author Page, Click here>
authorspage

 

 

William West- The boy who held a candle for Trevithick

 

I thought long and hard on which event to start the story of William West with. After some deliberation it boiled down to one of two good tales; the bottle of gin, teacher, and roaring open fire, or the Candle story.  It was the candle story that won, so if you desire to know more about the fate of the gin soaked teacher of West’s very brief education, then skip to the bottom of this page.

Trevithick’s cottage now lies , white washed and pristine, in the care of the National Trust in the village of Penpond, south  west of Camborne.

In that cottagimage003e during the evenings of 1808 an eight year old boy would stand holding a candle. Each evening he had walked across the fields from his Father’s farm on Dolcoath mine to hold that candle. Each evening he stood beside the great stature of  Richard Trevithick as the light he held flickered over his drawings.

Those drawings would be transformed by a Bridgenorth Foundry into a machine that Trevithick knew would change the world.  Under the light of West’s candle he was evolving his compact high pressure steam engine into what seemed to him a obvious concept. Add wheels beneath one of his high pressure engines, add rails beneath the wheels, add carriages behind the engine, and then  sit passengers in carriages. So obvious, so simple, and yet it would have the power to change society for ever. All Richard Trevithick needed to do was  show the world the world’s first  passenger train and then the world’s first passenger railway would soon follow.  In those evenings at Penponds he was designing the Catch-Me-Who-Can locomotive, the engine that was destined to pull that first passenger train.

And so the young West played his very small part in the birth of passenger railways. Holding that candle, whist listing to Trevithick, and soaking up his enthusiasm. How he was given that amazing opportunity  history does not tell us, what the link was between the greatest of all Cornish engineers and a farmer on Dolcoath mine history also fails to tell. History has left many gaps in the tale of West and Trevithick’s candle, but we do know where the story went.

The Catch-Me-Who-Can fulfilled its task of pulling a passenger train. A train that went  around and  around a circular track at Euston , pulling those first fare paw6ying
passengers at shilling a ride. Although the engine was a  success, the track proved a failure, brittle and not fit for the task, it caused  frequent, and sometimes dramatic derailments. The general public understandably were not impressed, Trevithick’s technology demonstrator  did not achieve the engineer’s vision, and he walked away from railway development for ever.
The world had missed its chance, it would now have to wait until on  1830 before the first passenger railway was open, George Stephenson’s Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
That eight year old boy would through a mixture of chance, skills, and perseverance wpid-p8191096.jpgbecome an engineer. Just like Trevethick he would design steam engines, and just like Trevithick he would add his innovations to the engineering world, but unlike Trevithick he would build and run his own successful railway.  William West was the boy that held the candle for Richard Trevithick.
To learn about that Gin fueled incident then have a read of  one of these:

William West and St. Blazey-Some maps

The opportunity to give a talk at the Old Cornwall Society at Par has been an excuse to go exploring maps. An excuse to poke around the wonderful resources of the Scottish Library and Ordnance Survey websites to find traces of William West in and around Saint Blazey, 

Ordnance Survey 2016
Contains OS data © Crown copyright  published under OGL

OS 1884 (survey 1881)

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.
Website

DSCF3996
The Foundry from Tredenham House

Tredenham House, West’s gas works, West’s Foundry, West’s Hammer Mills  and Elmsleigh House

Map1881Tredenham
1881

This small section of map contain’s the center of West’s business empire, and his own private properties. The foundry is today a builder’s merchant.

Map2016OSTredenham
2016

Fowey Consols

OS1881FoweyConsols
1881

 

Fowey Consols was the site of West’s most famous steam engine engine, Austin’s. It was here that he first installed his new design of man engine,

OS2016FoweyConsols
2016

Par Consols

OS1881ParConsols
1881

Par Consol’s was where West erected Cornwall’s first steam capstan.

OS2016ParConsols
2016

Over the next set of posts this blog will be telling some of the tales behind these maps,the and wandering further afield  exploring some events in William West’s life. So if you wish to learn more about the Last Great Cornish engineer, follow the blog.


wpid-westcover.jpg

Click here for ‘The Last Great Engineer’