South Caradon Mine- history

I have decided to commence the views of South Caradon mine Website resurrection with a few posts on its history. So to here is a few words extracted from the old website to get started. 

A Victorian enterprise

South Caradon Mine was born in the early Victorian period, during the decades of social

A view of Holman's and Rule's shaft

Holman’s Shaft

unrest and change caused by the Industrial revolution. The mine started production in 1838 at the beginning of the Victorian era and raised its last ton of ore towards the end of the Queen’s reign in 1890.

Its peak production coincided with the “high” Victorian years, represented by the Great Exhibition of 1851, a time when Britain became the workshop of the world. Its final struggles for survival occurred in the late Victorian years, a period when the whole country was feeling the impact of industrialization abroad. This was a true Victorian enterprise.

Early history

Tin extraction in the area has a long history, but much of the evidence of earlier streaming in the Seaton Valley has been lost beneath the upheaval caused by South Caradon Mine. A small section of tin streaming remains exist in the upper part of the sett, and nearby. the huge open scar of Gonamena openworks dominates the landscape.

Milestones in Cornish history

South Caradon’s History is also set against a backdrop of great changes within Cornwall. Its founding was towards the end of the great copper boom initiated by the advances made in steam engine technology in the Duchy. Its growth in the 1840’s occurred when the Western mines were closing due to the exhaustion of their reserves.wpid-wp-1427407113584.jpeg

The 1860s were to mark the collapse of the industry and lead to poverty and a emigration on a massive scale. Cornwall’s population has never recovered to its 1860’s levels, and today descendants of the Cornish miners can be found all over the world.
Another great change occurred in 1859 when Brunel’s railway bridge was opened at nearby Saltash. The river Tamar was finally no longer the physical border it had represented since the Dark ages, splitting British from invaders, Celt from Anglo Saxon, Cornish from English. The Railway age removed Cornwall’s traditional isolation from the rest of Britain.

Geography influences History

A major factor in South Caradon’s history was its location in the eastern part of

Liskeard mining map 1863

Brenton Symon’s Map of the Liskeard and Ludcott Mining District

Cornwall. The large granite mass of Caradon Hill overlooks an area that is many miles from the rich mineral deposits of West Cornwall. A separation that  influenced the late development of copper mining in the district. This late start placed the mine in a position of having large copper reserves available when mines in the West started to fail. Unfortunately, this also left the mine struggling in its later years against the rapidly falling price of copper.

These factors led to the migration of miners across Cornwall into the Caradon region, and caused huge social changes in the area. When South Caradon finally closed, it left miners with no prospects of work anywhere else in Cornwall. Many went to England to find work in factories of coal mines, but large numbers emigrated to work hard rock mines all around the world.

The Hypocrisy of the finance market

Many speculators believed that little copper lay east of Truro and it was left to practical miners to disprove this theory. The Clymo brothers and Thomas Kittow worked on a previous abandoned trial adit and struck copper. Even after the discovery of the lodes, the money markets of London refused to risk money on the mine.

View of Graylands

Graylands House in Liskeard This large house was built on the wealth from the mine. Constructed for Peter Clymo in 1855 it was originally named Dean House.

The miners therefore funded the mine’s development themselves, and became extremely wealthy in the process. Once copper mining had become established however, speculators jumped on the bandwagon forming a multitude of mines with the word “Caradon” in their title hoping to attract unwary investors. Most of these ventures proved unsuccessful and helped give Cornish mining a poor reputation for investment.

A Mine Operated by Miners

Being left in the hands of skilled miners gave South Caradon mine several advantages financially over those owned by “up country” investors. For most of its life the mine operated under the Cost book system as regulated by Cornish Stannary law. This system was extremely simple and success often depended on balancing investment in new exploration with the profitable extraction of ore. The practical skills of the Clymo brothers allowed them to get the most out this large mine for many years without resorting to forming a public company.

A wealth still underground?

A downside of the late timing of the venture was that it was hit by the fall in the price of copper. It was the low price of copper that closed the mine, not the lack of available ore. For example in 1864 the mine made over £57,000 from the sale of about 5,700 tons of ore. In 1880 however, over 6,800 was sold to give only £30,000. This halving of the ore price was to cause costs to outstrip revenue and lead to the mines closure when workable reserves where still available underground.

Next is this series will be a timeline of the mine’s history.


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The Liskeard Mining District in 1863

Brenton Symon’s map of the Liskeard mining district is available in Kindle format.

Click here to view on Amazon>

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The View of South Caradon Mine resurrected

It is over a decade now since I last updated my views of South Caradon Mine website. That expansive and rambling website was the result of many years of exploring the amazing landscape of Caradon Hill, near Liskeard. In 2016 all that work disappeared whilst I was away at sea, when Geocities closed up shop and took their websites with them.

But then, a rather clever company called Oocities stripped down the webpages and published them under their own banner. Seemed like good news, but unfortunately, despite all my attempts I have been unable to gain access to those files to correct, edit or develop what was once my own website. 

So it is now time though to rebuild the South Caradon Mine pages through the words of this blog. So if you are interested in the mines of Liskeard, please follow along. JM

The Views of South Caradon Website

The purpose of the original website was to record and  add to the knowledge of this very important industrial heritage site, and to illustrate Cornish mining terms and technology.

To avoid legal problems arising from right of way issues it was based on the view from the Crow’s Nest to Minions footpath. Since 2016 however, the rights of way act has been passed, and the area is now part of open access land. This change has removed the self imposed original restrictions on the website, but for the time being I will focus on bringing back on line the original material, tweak it a bit, and then look at additional topics

South Caradon Mine

An annotated view of South Caradon Mine

South Caradon Mine was one of the largest copper mines in Cornwall, and one with a fascinating history. It is an enterprise with a rags to riches story and one that had a huge impact on the social, financial and transport history of South East Cornwall. The emigration that resulted from its final closure spread this impact around the world to wherever metal was mined.

It has left an amazing landscape, a landscape rich in tales of Victorian industry. A richness is acknowledged thtough its inclusion within the of the Cornish Mining World Heritage site.

Changes in time

Over the last 20 years there has been some important
developments that have changed the information contained on the original website.

As mentioned  above, the area is now part of a World Heritage site and the moorland is now officially classed as open access land. The Caradon Hill project is no longer with us, but  their good work has left many of the buildings in a far more stable condition then recorded in 2016.

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On closure of the website, I transferred my research into three related publications- The Liskeard Mining Area in 1863, a reprint of Webb and Geach’s account of the Liskeard Mining district, and a biography of the mine’s engineer, William West. Unashamedly, I will plug these publications throughout the posts. If you are tempted to buy one of the paperbacks, pop into Liskeard’s excellent book shop and support their local history section…it is a real gem of a bookshop.

And Next-

I am not sure where to start this challenge, or in which direction to explore the old web pages, but that will be part of the fun; let the exploration commence!

 

An important Note from the original website

On many mine sites in Cornwall dangers may still exist, many hidden.  This web site is published as a resource to those using public rights of way.

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South Caradon Mine by Wilkie Collins

Another piece of writing from a Victorian author, this time from Wilkie Collins.

Ramble Beyond Railways

1851

“soon the scene presented another abrupt and extraordinary change. We had been walking hitherto amid almost invariable silence and solitude; but now with each succeeding minute, strange mingled, unintermitting noises began to grow louder and louder around us. We followed a sharp curve in the tramway, and immediately found  ourselves saluted by an entirely new prospect, and surrounded by an utterly bewildering noise. All around us monstrous wheels turned slowly; machinery was clanking and groaning in the hoarsest discords; invisible waters were pouring onwards with a rushing sound; high above our heads , on skeleton platforms, iron chains clattered fast and fiercely over iron pulleys, and huge steam pumps puffed and gasped, and slowly raised their heavy black beams of wood. Far beneath the embankment on which we stood, men women and children were breaking and washing ore in a perfect marsh of copper coloured mud and copper coloured water. We had penetrated to the very centre of the noise, the bustle and the population on the surface of a great mine”

Wilkie Collins

A portrait of Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins was a best selling  Victorian novelist, and therefore understandably, this account is more descriptive than factual. It forms an evocative image of the mine in its heyday, an image far more atmospheric then any photograph could. 

Ramble beyond Railways contains some other fascinating snapshots of Victorian Cornwall, including a non-too flattering account of a pub in Liskeard. It is a rich travelogue that is well worth a read.

‘The Moonstone ‘ by the author is regarded as the first detective novel, and created the format followed by Conan Doyel in his Sherlock Holmes books. Despite of this accolade, I consider that Rambles is a fare better book, but  being non-fiction it did not gain the recognition it deserved.

Click here for a Wilkie Collins biography website>
Wilkie Collins on Amazon

South Caradon Mine in 1851

In 1851 the mine produced 2,818 tons of ore along with 296 tons of metallic copper. This was a production which earned the mine an income of £20,208. 

South Caradon was still growing; the amount of ore raised and income would triple in the years that followed.  

Pearce's engine house at South Caradon Mine

The View of South Caradon is to return

Writing this post has stirred me into finally getting around to resurrecting some of the material lost when Geocities closed many years ago. This blog will now spend some time bringing that website back to life, and up to date.

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Dame Schools- William West and Charles Dickens

Before this blog moves on to the next industrial heritage theme there will be brief excursion into Victorian literature 

Great Expectations and Mr. Wopsle’s Great Aunt

I have just finished my first reading of Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’; a novel that is often considered to be the best of the Victorian writer’s work. It is the tragic character of Miss Havisham that many remember best from the book, but for me is is unnamed character hidden away in chapter 7 that grabbed my attention.

William West’s success as an engineer was founded on a sparse, almost non-existent childhood education. His only eduction was for a brief period at  ‘Dame school’ ; a period shortened by an incident involving gin, a drunk school mistress and a fire place. His  school mistress he called ‘Old Betty Hip’, and  he is reported to have said that:

” she thought much more of sending him to the drams of gin in which she delighted than of imparting the small amount of knowledge she possessed” Sketch of the life of William West of Tredenham

Charles Dickens in Great Expectations also describes a ‘Dame school’. His descriptionDSC00398 describes so much about these Victorian institutions in very few words.

“Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt kept an evening school in the village; that is to say, she was a ridiculous old woman of limited means and unlimited infirmity, who used to go to sleep from six to seven every evening, in the society of youth who paid two pence per week each, for the improving opportunity of seeing her do it”  Charles Dickens Great Expectations.

Such a brilliant sentence, and one must use in my future talks.

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The President Steam Engine- an index of posts so far

screenshot_2017-06-13-12-11-12_kindlephoto-18516640.jpgA Cornish Engine in the USA

“The only two non-William West lattice beams I know of is the Harleem Meer Engines in the Netherlands and the President Engine in the USA. The former was influenced by his Austen’s engine, and the latter designed by his nephew, John West”  From a talk given to the Friends of Luxuylan  Valley

This was my sole knowledge of the President Engine before I started this short series of posts; some throw away lines that I soon discovered greatly undersold this very important piece of Industrial heritage.  Before this blog moves on to new topics, I will gather together the posts in an index. 


The President Engine

The President Engine was claimed to be the largest stationary engine in the world, and is

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The engine house in 2017

the it is the only remaining Cornish Engine house still standing in the USA. It was built by John West from Cornwall, forming an important example of how the Cornish engine concept being developed to meet the needs of North American mining industry.

This is an engine that deserves more recognition; a site that forms not only an important part of the USA’s industrial heritage, but also that of Cornwall’s rich engineering history.

The President Engine posts

Related Posts

External links

 

PresidentPostcardDuring the writing of these posts I discovered that there was a large amount of activity underway in the USA to preserve the President Engine house. I will update this blog with progress of that work, and hopefully will sometime in the future have the pleasure of hosting a post starting with the title “Reasons to visit the President engine house”. Meanwhile, if any readers know of websites or publications relating to the engine please drop me a message and I will gladly pass on the information here.

And finally, many thanks to  Mark Connar for providing much of the information within these recent posts. Good luck over there across the pond in preserving this wonderful piece of mining heritage.


 

To learn more about John West’s famous Uncle

Here are two publications on William West of Tredenham, the last Great Cornish Engineer; one a paperback, one a Kindle publication.

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The Cornish Engine House in Virgin Gorda

EhPan1A little snippet of Cornwall in the British Virgin Islands

My last post on the President Steam Engine in the USA mentioned another remnant of Cornish mining across the Atlantic; the Virgin Gorda engine house. By pure chance that was and engine house that I have had the chance to visit, and so it seemed like a good excuse to locate the files on the laptop, and give them a public airing. 

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My visit to this fascinating site in 2009 was a result of one of those rare occasions where my leisure (Cornish mining History) and professional  (Navigation) interests crossed paths. In this case the ship I was navigating anchored off Tortola, and I managed to grab a few hours off in the afternoon to explore.

Whilst my fellow shipmates headed rapidly off in one direction to explore the delights of the Pussers Rum distillery, I headed off in another direction to locate a copper mine.

Copper point- a Surreal Juxtaposition

The scenery that greeted me at Copper Point proved to be ample reward for the

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hike across the Island for forsaking the chance to devour ‘Painkiller; cocktails all afternoon. It seemed so surreal, drystone Cornish walls and Caribbean scenery.  Vegetation from one Continent growing around the iconic architecture of another.

The engine house was partially standing with its bedstone still in place inside.

 

 

Remnants of past industry

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This site has remains that are rare in Cornwall; ironwork.  Sat among the piles of masonry I found the rusting remains of a boiler.  Its survival in this salt laden atmosphere without preservation was remarkable.

The real gem of this site I found after some scrabbling down to the waterline. For there laying partly submerged in the sea lay the engine’s bob.

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Partially encrusted in barnacles, and draped in fishing gear the two halves of a Cornish Engine Beam lay on the sand acting as a reminder on how far the Cornish and their technology traveled around the world, chasing the copper, chasing the tin.DSCF2429.JPG

The nearest source of refreshments to the site was a bar aptly named The Mine Shaft, and there hung from the ceiling I discovered one final  reminder of Cornwall, A St.Piran’s flag. The white on black hung in a wooden shack, in a far off Caribbean Island; a perfect excuse to toast Cousin Jack if there ever was one!

 


The next post in this blog is planned to finish the series on the President Engine. Meanwhile, if you are a professional navigator, then pop across to  have a look at my other blog at Navsregs.

 

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Reasons to preserve the President Steam Engine

I started these posts to discover more about the links between this engine house in Allentown USA and William West. In the process of exploring this distant influence of the last great engineer I learnt that this was no ordinary steam engine, this was a very significant piece of 19th Century engineering that deserves more recognition and preservation.

Why should the President Engine be preserved?

On one basic fact the President Engine in Pennsylvania cries out to be preserved-  it is the only example of a Cornish Engine house still standing in the Americas outside of Mexico. As shown in my last post, Cornwall is rich in engine house remains but in the USA there stands just this one, hidden away from public view.

Mark Connar gives five reasons to preserve the engine house, five reasons that justify keeping this structure for future generations.  I have dipped in to his paper and pulled out these extracts to summarise those reasons.

Reason 1 -It is a National Landmark of Mining History

“The Friedensville pumping engine house held the largest Cornish derivative single-cylinder beam pump ever built for use in a mining application and its’ engine house is the only known existing and extant example of such a structure in the Americas (apart from a few examples in Mexico near El Real and Pachuca).There is a partially

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The Virgin Gorda Engine housed

restored, but fragmented, engine house example in Nova Scotia and one very ruined Cornish engine house structure on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.”

“As we consider the evolution of technology, the Friedensville engine house is an archaic form compared to how the Cornish pumping engine was being adapted in North America and, therefore, represents a unique fulcrum point in the technological acculturation of this equipment in the Americas. In the California gold fields, Cornish engineers passed the baton to American designers who adapted this critical equipment to the North American environment.”

“Given the unique architectural character and its interconnected relationship to the pump design, it is the writer’s opinion that the Friedensville engine house structure is worthy of nomination by the US Department of Interior for a listing in the National Register of Historic Places as a mining property of significance in America’s development. ”

“The Friedensville engine house is a pure example of a Cornish engine house whose use as such is well documented. In this respect it is unique in the United States. Architecturally, the Friedensville engine house could be transposed on to the Devon or Cornwall landscape and fit perfectly into this renowned UNESCO World Heritage location that includes approximately 200 preserved engine houses that form an iconic part of the cultural heritage.”

Reason 2- It is a historical landmark of mechanical engineering

“The President was not first the Cornish Pump located at the Ueberroth Mine in Friedensville. Prior to the construction of the President, Lehigh Zinc’s engineer, John West from Cornwall, designed and installed a pumping engine that was capable of pumping 5700 gallons of water per minute from a depth of 132 feet. He also brought to the Ueberroth Mine a pumping engine he built before 1853 that some consider the first engine built on Cornish principles in America (this Pump most likely came from the Perkiomen copper mines). Some early mining equipment originated from Cornwall, but clearly John West’s work at Perkiomen and Ueberroth collectively are among the earliest representations of American design and manufacture of Cornish Pumps.”

“The President pump was clearly the largest steam driven stationary single-cylinder pumping engine ever used in any application in the Western Hemisphere and the largest Cornish derivative beam pump ever used in a mining application on a global basis.”

“The President pump was not simply a very large “throw back” to the past. In screenshot_2017-06-13-12-07-40_kindlephoto-18444209.jpgaddition to incorporating a latticework beam design, which is attributed to the West family, the President included an innovative float device that “automatically” adjusted the speed of the engine based on the water level at the bottom of the mine.”

“It has been  argued that without the Cornish Pump, the development of the deep, hard-rock gold mines in California would have been delayed for nearly half a century (until the introduction of electric motor-driven pumps).”
“Given the importance of the Friedensville site in the development of the steam engine technology and the fact that it once was home for the largest stationary single-cylinder pumping engine in the Western Hemisphere and largest Cornish derivative single-cylinder beam pumping engine in the world in a mining application, the pumping engine site deserves consideration as a Mechanical Engineering Heritage Site as part of the American Association of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Landmarks program. Also, as noted above, its design was not a technological “dead end”, but rather an important linchpin in the adoption of this technology in the United States. Further, as discussed above, the physical remains of the engine house are more than just stonewalls; as a “house-built” engine much can be learned of the engine’s design, layout and operation from the engine house, even though the engine itself is long gone. The Landmarks program has recognized about 250 landmarks since its inception in 1971.  Such designation would foster the preservation of the physical remains, encourage engineers to become aware of their technological heritage and further inform the public of the heritage site’s contribution.”

Reason 3-It is a heritage site of importance to Cornish American Studies

“While Friedensville was largely a village peopled by those of German descent, the Cornish presence would have been in much  evidence during the zinc mine’s operations. Technicians, engineers and  some of the skilled labor force were Cornishmen.”

“The Cornish are understandably  proud of their contribution to the mining industryDSCN0137 and related technologies, not only as practiced in Great Britain, but also globally given the significant export and migration history emanating from this  small county. The President pump and its engine house are known to The Trevithick Society thanks to the efforts of Professor Nance. The  writer believes that other organizations dedicated to Cornish studies and the history of Cornish contributions to mining and steam  technology would likewise find the site to be of great interest.”.

Reason 4-It is a heritage site of regional importance

“The Ueberroth Zinc Mine Historic District has suffered a large  number of losses in recent years. The extension of Interstate 78  through Saucon Valley, the routing of

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Ueberroth mine map from
Kent Littlefield’s 2014 presentation

Saucon Valley Parkway and the  development of the Stabler Land properties has all served to comprise  this historic area. Among the structures, which have been lost, include  the Correll miner cottages (between Oakhurst Drive and Route 78), the  Methodist Church (on Old Bethlehem Pike) and the secondary  structures around the President pumping engine house. The Mine  Master’s House (1868) on Friedensville Road will soon be lost to the  wreaker’s ball to make room for office suites. With this last loss, the  only significant above ground, visible remnant of 19th century mining  activity will be the water filled quarry pits and the Cornish engine house  that contained the President pump.”

Reason 5- It is in a location of scenic Beauty

“With clearance,  preservation, historic interpretation and development, it is very

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The engine house in 2017 Mark Connar

easy to picture the location as being a highly scenic and valued destination. It  would attract historically minded tourists as well as the general public who would find the view “romantic”. The ruined pumping engine house,  even after preservation, overlooking a lake with beautifully colored water, would attract photography buffs and possibly even filmmakers. The location would be perfect for wedding photos and other special occasions. With the medieval character of the pumping house in the  background, the site would be hard to duplicate in the region.”

I will keep this blog updated with news of progress towards preservation of the engine house. Meanwhile Mark’s first reason for preservation has offered me a great excuse to take a quick detour to explore my photograph’s for images of the Virgin Gorda engine house, the topic for my next post.


wpid-image.jpgTo learn more about John West’s Cornish Uncle, visit on this blog’s William West Page.

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A melody of Cornish Engine Houses

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This series of posts on the President Steam Engine in Philadelphia USA now takes a brief DSCF2663diversion that takes it back to Cornwall.  When I started to build this post my idea was a simple one of hunting around the corners of my laptop to discover some photographs of Cornish Engine houses that could be used as a comparison with the images of the President.  However, as I started to copy the images onto this page it dawned on me that here was an opportunity to reflect on the role of the engine houses in our landscape, a reflection that may form an introduction to the final part of the President series.

Cornish Engine Houses a reflection

Cornwall’s landscape is adorned with the iconic shape of disused mine engine houses, DSCF2658and their images are scattered throughout its culture. Book covers, websites, gifts,  postcards, calendars, business logos, and road signs all pull on the strong identity it portrays. Some of its importance in the Cornish physical and cultural landscapes arises from the sheer physical bulk of the structures; apart from castles there are no other historic remains that demand such attention as the empty shells that once housed the large Cornish Steam engines. However, there is more to their importance than just physical size, and this post will reflect on some of those other factors.

Aesthetic value

A combination of dramatic landscapes and dramatic buildings often combined to DSCF4135produce some amazing scenery. Sometimes it is the setting of the engine house, sometimes it is the architecture of the building, sometimes it is nature’s encroachment and occasionally it is a combination of all of these that provides such rich landscape value.

There is a great irony is this, for many of these views started as scenes of industrial chaos. Every square foot of ground around the engine houses would have been taken up with a haphazard mess of tips, buildings, shafts, tramways and debris. The air would have been thick with smoke and fumes, the streams running with toxic waste and the defining sounds of stamps would have drowned out nature.DSCF9727

But time and nature have now softened these grand industrial landscapes, a process that has left just the engine houses standing as isolated remains of the once huge industrial complexes.

Not all engine houses have such value, some are unfortunate to be in locations that hold no visual pleasure, and others are of designs or proportions that simply do not please the eye. But there are a few engine houses whose presence creates some of the most memorable scenery in the world, Wheal Coates and Bottallack fall firmly into that category.

Political value

whimsillThis may a appear an unusual value to place on industrial heritage, however the visual reminder of the engine houses keep within the public consciousness that this once a land alive with industry, a land of mass employment.

The UK has transformed itself into a service industry based society, and Cornwall is perceived from the outside as a holiday destination or bolt hole for second home owners or those seeking lifestyle changes. And yet Cornwall was once one of the biggest industrialised regions in the world. Mining and its associated industries employed tens of thousands or workers, whilst Cornish Technology and engineering lead the world.

PumpviewupWhilst the engine houses still stand, they act as a reminder that this was once a working landscape, that there is more to the economy that property prices, holiday lets and Poldark souvenirs. Such a reminder has a value for the future, especially for future generations wishing to find work west of the Tamar.

Historic Value

Many engine houses remain standing whilst the scenes of industry that once surrounded dscf9312them have long disappeared. In doing so they act as pegs onto which to hang tales of history. Without them there would be little left to mark the existence of the thousands of Huels, Wheals, and Consols that once crammed every corner of Cornwall.

Each mine had a stories worth discovering; sometimes wealth, sometimes losses and sometimes fraud. There are tales of death, tales of innovation and countless tales of hope.  In some cases it is the engine house itself thatW7 provides a stepping stone into history, marking technological advances or famous engineers.

Such an example is Austen’s engine house at Fowey Consols, at which so many threads of history can be followed back and forward in time. Those threads lead to many other engine houses, many of which have fascinating stories to tell.

Amenity Value

We are in an era dominated by the virtual world, a world where the physical holds less and less

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importance. In such a world some of the  Cornish Engine houses have found a small, but important role of providing purpose  to a location.  Such a purpose can attract us into the location to photograph, paint, record, explore, or just look at the building. They can become the reason for a journey, or a ‘croust’ stop along the way. Often such stops may stir up some curiosity to discover more, to ask questions that may lead to more journeys.

I find a walk in Cornwall is rarely historically sterile, every bump, dip, building relic or lump of fallen masonry seems to have the potential for significance. This richness

wpid-wp-1422994037468.jpegof landscape only became truly apparent tome on walks in many other parts of Britain where a footpath was just a footpath; nothing to find, nothing to explore.

A reflection taken forward

After that brief detour into Cornish engine house I will return in the next post to the USA  with some more words about the President Engine.  In doing so I should;  now be able to grasp the significance of its engine house more clearly after reflecting some of our own heritage here in Kernow.

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The only Cornish Engine House in the USA

PresidentPostcardThe President Engine House

This series of posts on the President Steam engine in Philadelphia has led me far further then I expected. It started off with a desire to expand my knowledge of  an engine with William West links; to gain some knowledge that I could use in future talks about the Last Great Engineer.  And now I find myself writing about probably one of the most significant Industrial Heritage sites in the USA.   In this post I bridge the gap between the past and now with a description of the engine house, the structure that links today’s modern landscape with its history.

The remains of the  President’s engine house stands in Allentown Philadelphia, a very long way from where I write this blog in Cornwall. Therefore I will  use the words and images from Mark Connar’s excellent paper on the Ueberroth Zinc Mine to describe the structure.

The Engine House described

“The square shaped pumping engine house is built of Potsdam Sandstone and is three stories high with the first floor at the elevation of the air pumps and condenser, the second floor near the top of the cylinder, and the third at the level of

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The engine house in 2017

the beams. Overall the structure is 40 feet high. The north wall (called the “bob” wall in Cornish pump house design parlance), which supported the beams, is 9 feet thick with slots for the two flywheels, the south wall contains the cylinder opening, above which is the steam inlet and recesses for the two spring beams. This wall is also 9 feet thick and the other two walls (east and west) are 4.5 feet thick. Two square stacks that served the engine’s 16 boilers occupy the rear corners (face Old Bethlehem Pike). The boilers were housed in an adjoining building. The house plan is dominated by a central masonry platform, to which the engine was anchored, with large pits on either side for the flywheels and cranks.”

President2017_2An indication of the sturdiness of this structure is that it sits on a rock formation 114 feet below ground surface and the foundation for the engine is thirty-two feet below the rock face. Another Cornishman named Simeon Noell was charged with the responsibility to oversee the engine house erection that commenced in 1868. Overall, the structure is very typical of engine houses that populate the Cornish and West Devon landscape in the United Kingdom.

The basic structural design is highly functional and little changed from the enginePresidentWingwall houses first built in the early decades of the 18th century. The President was a “house-built” engine in that the engine house was an integral part of the engine, supporting it rather than simply providing weather protection for equipment and staff. The foundation is sturdy; it had to be capable of withstanding the stresses the engine could produce. The “bob-wall” carried the main weight and thrust of the engine. The interior layout of the pumping engine house was a basic Cornish pattern. The first floor, or bottom chamber, was known as the “driving floor” because it accommodated the throttle and other controls. Here the engineers had access to the lower portion of the key equipment. The second floor or middle chamber allowed access to the cylinder head and upper valve chest. The third floor was called the “bobloft” was this level allowed access to the beam for servicing and also held tackling gear used to lift heavy parts of the pump when repairs were necessary.”

The Engine house today

“The current condition of the engine house is derelict. It is enclosed by a security President2017Bobfence and is overgrown with vegetation. The brick chimney stacks are no longer standing (I have observed this structure for over 50 years and do not recall ever seeing the brick stacks, however, they are visible in photographs from the 1930s and early 1940s). The structure is best viewed in the fall and winter when less obscured by vegetation. The pumping house is the only visible remains when viewed from outside the gated area, however, a report by Professor Miller of Lehigh University prepared in 1923 indicated that an office structure was also remaining on the site.” Mark Connar

This now seems to be an appropriate place to take a quick detour from the President Engine, and look at some Cornish engine houses over here in Cornwall for a comparison. So its time to start digging into some of the hidden depths of my laptop filing system and see what suitable images I have hidden away.  So if you are reading this blog from across the pond please keep following, as I hope some of the photos may hint at the potential of this amazing building hidden away in Philadelphia. 


51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_ The engine house featuring on the cover of the Kindle Edition of William West of Tredenham is that of the famous Austen’s Engine at Fowey Consols, in mid-Cornwall. This 80″ engine was fitted with a lattice beam similar to the one used by the President,

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 The President Steam Engine described

 A Cornish engine in the USA

Now this series of posts on John West’s massive steam engine arrives at the point where it digs into the technical details. I have extracted various facts from the Damian Nance’s article, sifted, sorted and summarised to give a summary of the engine.

What was the President Engine?

The President was a rotative double acting engine with a 110″ cylinder, a 10 foot stroke screenshot_2017-06-13-12-07-40_kindlephoto-18444209.jpgand weight of 675 tons Although described as a Cornish engine, but had many features not common to pumping engines in Cornwall, i.e. it was rotative had flywheels, and was  double acting.

The engine was named after president Ulysses S. Grant, who had been invited to its dedication but  then failed to arrive.

Who built the engine?

The Cornish Engineer John West built the engine (the nephew  of William West, the Last Great Cornish Engineer), and its components were built by various companies in Eastern USA. Merrick and sons built the engine at their Southwark factory Philadelphia, but  much of the casting was  done at Lazell Perkins and co Bridgewater Massachusetts. The Pumps, boilers and  mountings were produced by  LP  Morris and co, Philadelphia.

Click here for information on Merrick and sons on the Philadelphia encyclopedia>

What did the engine do?

The engine was built to pump large quantities of water from a relatively shallow  mine shaft. Accounts of the engine differ in the number of pumps installed. Some state two pair, some three. Each pair of pumps consisted of a  lifting pump at the bottom of the shaft, and a 30″ plunger pump part way up. The lifting pumps were only  at a depth of 127 feet, very shallow compared to the Cornish mines of the time which were down to thousands of feet deep. The engine pumped at  15000 gallons per minute at 12 strokes per minute, and discharged into an adit and into a tank for use as boiler and condenser feed-water.

 

How was the steam provided?

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The three roofs of the boiler house.

An engine of this size demanded large quantities of steam, and so it had an impressive array of boilers. The President was served  by 16 boilers in a boiler house to the rear of the engine house, each boiler was 50 feet long with a 36 inch diameter.

The engine was designed to run at 60 psi at which pressure it produced 3000  horsepower, although in use it was normally run at a lower pressure.

What was the key features of the President Engine?

Apart from its sheer size the President had several interesting features that set it apart from the standard arrangement of a pumping engine back in Cornwall. These differences arose from the shallow depth of the mine. Engines running expensively on the Cornish cycle are more effective if they have a load of the heavy pump rods in the shaft. To replace this John West designed the engine with large 92 ton flywheels of over 30 foot diameter. For smoother operation of the flywheel West made the engine double acting (powered on both up and down strokes).

Note: The weight and diameter of the flywheel has been shown differently on some engine descriptions.  These figures have been confirmed as the most likely to be correct by Mark Connar, who I thank for the additional information.

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Although he installed Cornish style steam valves, the operating method was unusual. Valve operation was through cams fitted on the flywheel shaft, three cams for three different values of cut-off. The  throttle valve was fitted with an automatic control using a block of wood in the sump of the shaft connected by wire to the valve. An ingenious arrangement that allowed more steam to enter the engine as the water level rose.

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The lattice beams

These are the features that attracted me to the engine. Although Open-work beams are graceful and light, they did not become widely adopted. Their main user was John West’s Uncle, William West of Tredenham. All of his most important engines used this design, and it is no doubt the family influence that resulted in their distinctive form being adopted for the President.

Reference

Damian Nance, The International Steam Engine Society Bulletin volume 34 no 4

 


wpid-westcover.jpg The story of William West is told in the Trevthick Society papaerback ‘The Last Great Cornish Engineer‘.

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