Tag Archives: Cornish engine

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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Where is the President Steam Engine?

Sat here in Cornwall its very hard to imagine the location of the President Cornish Engine house, many miles away across the other side of the Atlantic.  In this blog I will therefore delve into the wonders of the internet to  pin down this important reminder of Cornish engineering in the USA.  Have a go at armchair mine exploration.

Damian Nance in his article in the International Steam engine Society Bulletin describes the engine’s location as:

“On the south-eastern outskirts of Allentown, Pennsylvania, just over half a kilometer south of interstate 78”

Where is Allentown?

My first stop, was  to use google Earth to find Allentown-

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Click here for map>

Where is the engine house?

Mark Connor describes the engine house’s location as

“The remains of the massive pump which provided water control for the mine consist of the stone walls of the engine house structure and they are located on the south west corner of Old Bethlehem Pike and Center Valley Parkway in Friedensville, Upper Saucon”

Using this information, and some wandering around google maps, I managed to find its location, and here it is on Google earth:

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This view looked promising,  a large flooded working with some obvious mine waste surrounding it, but no obvious engine house. But, When I clicked on the  google earth 3D button, and wandered around...and there it was!

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Stood on the edge of the flooded workings, surrounded by trees was the massive walls of the house. I next tried street view, but no how many times I wandered the roads around the location using googles little yellow man, I could not grasp a glimpse of the engine house remains. There is just far too much vegetation obscuring the view.

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Now that I have tracked down where the mine is, my next task in this series will be to explore when the engine operated, to link its time line with that of William West. However, after that little journey into the world of Google Earth I am tempted to have a few more hunts around the world for Cornish Engine Houses.

 

 


 

wpid-wp-1435842521499.jpeg For an exploration of a Victorian Cornish Mining Map download a sample of my Kindle edition of The Liskeard Mining District in 1863.

Prime members can borrow the book for free.

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Cornish Engines, Consolidated, Taylor and Woolf

In the history of technological advances there are many players. Some who invent, some who develop and those who exploit. John Taylor’s importance is beyond all of these, and this post will explore his role.

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Alongside the huge financial success of Consolidated mine was some amazing engineering achievements. Here would be erected some of the most impressive machines of the  industrial revolution.

When John Taylor re-opened Consolidated in 1818 he appointed Arthur Woolf has his engineer.  This alliance of Woolf’s and Taylor resulted in Consolidated becoming  central to high pressure steam engine development.

Woolf introduced many important developments to steam engine design at Consolidated, whilst Taylor used the engines to gather data on Cornish engine performance. One of the most significant developments was the introduction of a design of steam valve to work with high pressure steam. This ‘double beat’ valve was an adaption of a valve invented by another Cornish engineer, Joe Hornblower. Woolf’s new valve played a major role in rapid rise in Cornish engine performance. It also provided the concept for West’s and Harvey’s self acting double beat valve, a valve that would transform the water supply industry.

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Woolf’s valve enabled him to build some some impressive engines at Consols, engineering marvels of their day. Two of them at  90″ diameter were the largest, and most powerful steam engines in the world at that time.

Despite of his success with single cylinder Cornish engines Woolf still believed that his twin cylinder compound  design was superior.

In 1824 Taylor settled the dispute about which design was more efficient by ordering two engines from Woolf, one of each design. These he installed at Wheal Alfred , and then conducted extended trials on the two engines. The single cylinder 90″ (Taylor’s) proved superior, a result that would secure the dominance of the Cornish Engine concept.

In 1827 Taylor’s engine was moved to Consolidated where it was renamed Woolf’s, in honour of the engineer.

When Woolf retired on 1833 his work was taken up by two engineers that he had trained at TaylorsEngineConsols, John Hocking and Michael Loam. This partnership would go on to build for Taylor and Sons, one of Cornwall’s most famous engines, Taylor’s 85″ at United Mines.

There are many giants of steam engineering:  Newcombe, Watt, Trevithick, Hornblower, Woolf, Grose, West, Sims, Hocking  and Loam. Taylor is not amongst those names, but he was closely associated with many of the most important advances. His role was what Roger Burt called a ‘polinator’, or in more modern terminology an ‘enabler.’

Taylor’s influence went beyond his own engineers however, and later posts will explore those influences.

Some additional notes on the engines
One of the 90″ engines at Consolidated was at Bawden’s Shaft on the Wheal Fortune section. Unfortunately, little remains to be seen.Woolf’s shaft is beside the Redruth to Chacewater railway track-bed.  Only scanty remains exist of the 1826 engine house.
Davey’s 80″ engine was one of the best engines on Consolidated, and a high performer. It was designed by Hocking. Remains of two walls still stand.
The ruins of Consolidated Taylor’ s 85″ engine house are still impressive, but this is not the site of the famous Hocking and Loam Taylor’s engine. That lies to the south on the Ale and Cake section of United mines.
United Mines Taylor’s 85″- This engine was renowned for high performance. In its first few years of operation it was the highest performer of Duty in Cornwall, and its entries are the highest in Leans reporter.



 

If the terms Duty and Leans mean nothing, follow this blog as we head towards the Taylor v West Duty battle. Before that however, its a detour down the railway tracks.

Click here for a new Kindle book about Cornish mining based on a John Taylor’s publication.

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