Tag Archives: Cornwall

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


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.

wpid-westcover.jpg 51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_

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Happy St. Piran’s one and all

A brief pause in the preps for the fast approaching talk to wish all this blog’s followers a Happy St. Piran’s, wherever you are.

As St. P’s flag is flown all over Cornwall today, so is poking around beneath its surface underway. Perhaps this time mining may return to the home of hard rock mining, perhaps this time a real industry may be re-born. And maybe, just maybe, real hope of work for the next generation.  We should not be just a land for property developers, empty holiday homes and boarded up seasonal cafes.

Not sure how long that flag will last on An Scaff in this wind though! 


Click for the Cornish History Kindle Book Shelf

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A new Cornish Children’s book – The Legend of Tamara


A quick detour away from the word  of serious history, to the magic of Cornwall.

Here’s a book with a Cornish-Devon ( or should it be Cornish English theme) from Cheryl Manley. It tells the magical story of how the Rivers Tamar, Taw and Tavy came to be. A traditional tale told in a wonderful way that young children will love.

A Kindle version is on its way.

Click here for more information about the book  on Cheryl’s blog>


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Webb and Geach explored- The miscellaneous mines

A wander through the ‘History and Progress of Mining in the Liskeard and Caradon District’


That is the final post covering the mines within the miscellaneous section of Webb and Geach’s book  completed. So before this blog leaves the topic for some William West related topics here is an index of the posts.

These posts explores some of the smaller mines described within Webb and Geach’s  book of the Liskeard mining district in east Cornwall. This 1863 publication is currently available in paperback from the Trevthick Society, ISBN 978 0904040 88 3.wpid-wp-1441052784407.png

Each of the posts explores the mine sites through maps available on the internet, so by following the links a virtual exploration of the locations can be undertaken. The mines covered are all listed in the section titled ‘Miscellaneous’ within the book ( pages 98-102). In describing these mines Webb and Geach state-

“Several lodes in various parts of this district have been formerly worked, mostly for tin, but are now abandoned, many of them for long periods.”

Predictably, many of this mines have little or no evidence on maps, even by the 1880’s little remained on the Ordnance Survey maps. Tantalising traces do remain however, of some of these unsuccessful attempts to mine in the area around Caradon Hill.

Brwestcraddockmoorsymonsenton Symons’ map of 1863 contains evidence of many of these mines, and a copy of that amazing Victorian Cartography forms part of ‘The Liskeard Mining District in 1863‘ publication.

Its been great fun exploring these little known Cornish mines through the screen of my Kindle Fire. But William West of Tredenham, The Last Great Cornish Engineer is again requiring some fresh research. So this blog will be leaving Webb and Geach for a while, but will return in the future to look at some of the more successful mines of the Liskeard District.

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William West of Tredenham-Index of posts


wpid-screenshot_2015-08-21-17-43-45.pngNow that the series of posts on William West is over, it seems a good opportunity to index all the posts on this blog covering William West, the last great Cornish engineer. So if you wish to learn more about his life and works, have a wander around the posts.

William West- The boy who held a candle for Trevithick

West’s Double beat valve and the scourge of cholera

West and Darlington’s Hydraulic machinery

West’s Hydraulic accumulator

George Stevenson did not invent the railway

Phoenix United map

William West’s Caradon mines

William West The Last Great Cornish Engineer

William West-A Rapid Fire BiographyW50

West’s Lattice Beams-Aesthetic engineering

Liskeard’s Lloyds Bank and William West

Richard Nicholls Worth and ‘A Sketch of the life of William West of Tredenham’

Luxullianite -West and Wellington

Luxullianite-A close up

w1310 Facts about William West, The Last Great Cornish Engineer

Phoenix United-William West’s Speech

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

The Man Engine- who invented it?

Steam Capstans- William West’s hidden invention

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

William West and St. Blazey-Some mapsaustinpan

The Austen’s Engine trial

Austen’s engine trial, a letter from James Sims

Some threads in the history of the Last Great Cornish Engineer

The William West book  reading list.


The last Great engineer bookwpid-wp-1415226867597.jpeg



Sketch of the life of William West C.E. of Tredenh51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_am-The last of the great Cornish Engineers


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

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.


Towan mines in 1888 

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

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.


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.


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>



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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:
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John Taylor’s St. Austell Mines-And a constructive rivalry

As this series of posts approaches its closure I finally get to bring William West into the story. He has had some brief appearances, but now the two paths start to intertwine.

Among the many Cornish mine’s that came under the Taylor’s control there was a group that merged to form a Taylor dominated district; that was those around St. Austell.  These coastal mines had been worked for many years, but from 1810 onwards they enjoyed a huge copper boom that made this district one of the most important in Cornwall.

John Taylor was behind this success, the  mines of Poolgooth, Pembroke Crinnis and Charlestown becoming very rich after he commenced working them.



OS 1884 Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. Website

This was a mine with an ancient history, its workings being active hundreds of years before John Taylor’s arrival. By the 18th century the mine was one of the richest in Britain and its wealth justified the installation of an early 50-inch Newcomen steam engine erected in 1727 by Joseph Hornblower.  As technology moved on the engine was replaced in  1784 by a 58-inch Boulton & Watt engine. Taylor again updated the steam power in 1823 when he installed an n 80-inch William Sims engine.

From 1846 William West built several engines at the mine, some of which were built at his foundry in St. Austell.




OS 1884 Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. Website

 Pembroke Mine was started before 1815 by John Taylor and worked until 1877. For a while he was very successful, becoming the second largest mine in the county.

For a while west’s long stroke 80″ engine was installed here. This remarkable 12 foot long stroke engine was built by Harvey’s of Hayle for Fowey Consols. From there it was moved to Par Consols, before being installed at New Pembroke in 1869.  That was not its final resting place for in 1879:

The very last, though not the least, mining work on which he was engaged was the taking down of an 80″ engine at New Pembroke, making good all the repairs, and refixing, with other additional machinery, at the Great Holiday(sic) Mines Flintshire”.

Sketch of the life of William West of Tredenham



OS 1884 Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. Website

This mine was originally known as Crinnins Cliff Mine which dated from 1811. It rapidly became a large producer of copper, 10,000 in 1812 and 40,000 by 1816, and all at shallow depths. This spectacular performance encouraged an influx of investment into the area, its copper reserves proved that significant amounts of ore could be found in the eastern half of Cornwall.

 Unfortunately it quickly exhausted its reserves , its mining boom was short lived. It  closed temporarily in about 1833, and reopened again in 1854 as Great Crinnis. After another closure it ended its life in the late 1870s as Great Crinnis and Carlyon Consols.

To the East

This John Taylor controlled mining district had a rival to the east. As the coastline turned towards Par Harbour it entered was Jospeh Austen’s ( latet Treffry) domain. Austen was an industrialist whose business empire in many way’s resembled Taylor’s. He also had canals and railway’s built, he also owned many mines, and he also used heavy investment in technology.

wpid-westcover.jpgAusten and Taylor’s rivalry found outlet in the arena of the battle of the duties. This was the drive to produce the best performing steam engine, a battle which Taylor was at the fore with his consolidated engines. Austen was determined to own an engine that would 51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_out perform any of Taylor’s. From this desire William West’s famous ‘Austin’s’ engine was born……but that is of course another story.

Click here for details of ‘The last Great Engineer’ William West>

Click here for information of the Sketch of the life of William West>

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John Taylor and the Consolidated mine in Cornwall

If you are attempting patch together this blog into a biography of John Taylor then this post re-joins the time line in 1818, five years after his move into Welsh lead Mining at Halkyn. On the subject of time, its rapidly approaching my talk at Liskeard on Taylor, so I can not guarantee that all my random pre-talk preparation notes will reach this blog in time. So keep following to see how far I get along the journey before Monday. 


‘Consols’ is a name that litters the lists of Devon and Cornish mine names. It was a suffix that promised size, wealth, and  company stability. It was suffix that rarely delivered, its inclusion often being used to enhance the sales of mine  shares.


OS Map 1888 

OS 1884 Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. Website

One mine created this fashion in mine names, a mine whose size and output dwarfed all others in Cornwall, and whose success can be credited to John Taylor.

In 1818 Taylor launched a company to work several large mines near Gwennap in Cornwall under the name of Consolidated Mine. It was an ambitious project, and one that had already defeated the well established mining family of Williams of Scorrier.

The mine had sat in a near idle state since 1811, but Taylor rapidly changed its fortunes around. The scale of his success was massive, and can be best grasped through some of the headline facts:

  • Formed of 100 shares and £65,000 capital.
  • it was the largest copper producer in Cornwall for 20 years.
  • It had a peak workforce of about 3000.
  • It contained 63 miles of levels and shafts.
  • In 1836 it had 8 large pumping engines.
  • Between 1819 and 1858 it produced 442,493 tons of ore, the largest quantity from any single mine in Cornwall.

With success like this, it was no wonder that Taylor became known as the country’s leading mining expert. It was a success based on a combination of heavy investment in technology and astute financial management. A fundamental part of this management was making material contracts subject to open competition, a big advance that ensured investors had direct interest in dividends, not their own self interests in providing supplies.

The success of Consolidated was brought to an end by a toxic  combination of greed  and spite by the Williams family.  In 1836 they forced Taylor off of the sett by ensuring a massive increase in mineral owners dues were imposed during renewal of the lease. Taylor pulled out of Consolidated, but only after also pulling out all his massive amount of stock of ore held underground.

Taylor moved out, the Williams family moved in, and so shortly after did failure. Consolidated never again achieved a fraction of success it did under John Taylor’s management. To add salt into the wounds Taylor went on to obtain huge profits from Consolidated’s neighbor, United Mines, but that is another story.

Consolidated was a very wet mine, a mine demanding much from its engineers to keep dry, and that will be the topic of the next post.


Some assorted notes:
The sett had been extensively mined for a long time prior to Taylor’s arrival.
Consolidated was formed in 1780 by the amalgamation of seven mines.
In 1805 the competition of cheap copper caused the mine to close.
In 1839 Taylor obtained United mines
By 1843 United’s production was larger then consolidated’s.
In 1857 United and Consolidated were amalgamated as Clifford Amalgamated.
It closed in 1869.


Click here for John Manley’s Amazon Author page

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The Cornish system beyond the Tamar


In the 21st century the word ‘Cornish’ is a strong brand in the food industry. Pasties, cheeses, cream, ice cream, biscuits, cakes, fish, tea, coffee, cauliflower, wine, beer, gin and cider are the many products benefiting from the prefix.

In the 19th century however, it was the hard rock mining industry that had fallen in love with the prefix; Cornish stamps, Cornish engine, Cornish stamps, Cornish Rolls, the list is long.  Alongside this technology though was a term with a more vague meaning, the  ‘Cornish System’.

This ‘Cornish System’ formed a major part of John Taylor’s success. It was the implementation of this system to mines outside of Devon and Cornwall that gave him a critical financial advantage over his competitors.John_Taylor_(civil_engineer)

Taylor did not transplant all of the system to his mines, he only used the parts that suited him best. The two key elements he used were the cost book company structure, and the workforce payment system.


Cost book companies
When Taylor reached the financial position to be enable him to enter the realm of mine ownership, cost book companies became his preferred method of company structure.

Cost book companies were a historic and simple form of financial institution that had developed from the needs of the early medieval tin streamers. In theory, they could only legally be used within the Cornish and Devon Stannaries’ jurisdictions, but this legal detail did not prevent Taylor from setting them up in many other parts of Britain.

The key features of cost book companies were:

  • The names of the investors (adventurers) and the mines financial transactions are entered in a cost book.
  • At the end of each accounting period all profits are divided between the adventurers according to their shareholding.
  • All money required to develop the mine and continue operating is to be obtained from the sales of ore.
  • If sales do not meet these costs a ‘call is to be made on the adventurers, who will then be required to make a payment to the mine according to their shareholding.
  • The mine cannot hold a cash reserve, or borrow from external sources.

Investors in cost book companies could not just sit back and allow the money to role in. Mines often spent many years demanding money from their adventurers before the reward of profits occurred, and the majority of the adventures would never reach profitability.wpid-wp-1438633784339.jpeg

Despite of its apparent short-comings when applied to large industrial scale operations, the cost book system suited Taylor very well. By restricting the number of shares it enabled him to maintain a tight control of the companies and allowed for quick changes in strategy. The lack of capital reserve and external borrowing was not a restriction to Taylor, who was extremely skilled at managing the balance between ore being sold, broken ore underground awaiting hauling to the surface and the development of new potential ore reserves. He treated the broken ore laying in the stopes as his bank, solid capital to be called on when required.

The payment and management of the workforce
This was a system based on a method of self-employment, with two classes of miners, those paid on work completed (tut workers), and those paid as a share of the value of the ore raised (tribute).

The process rwpid-th-5.jpegevolved around the act of setting, when the work was auctioned to the miners. On the large rich mines this must have been an impressive spectacle, with the miners gathered around the grand frontage of a count house waiting to determine their future chances of fortune or poverty.

Taylor considered that the system was an effective in maximising profits and enabling efficient management. Once the work had been set, large parts of the mines operations became self-managing. Miners and the mine owners shared the common aims of producing saleable ore at low cost, and this alignment of aims resulted in a system that was stated by Charles Babbage as :

“no other mode of payment affords to the workmen a measure of success so directly proportioned to the industry, the integrity, and the talent, which they exert”.

It was not a system without its weaknesses. One important one was its influence of the infrastructure on the mine.  The efficiency of ground working it stimulated often left a complex of shafts, winzes and tunnels not suited to modern methods being demanded in the latter half of the 19th century. Critics also accused the system of encouraging unsafe practices, with the miners willing to take more risks when driven by the desire for higher payments.

To sum up in a few easy words...
A genius from Norwich used traditional Cornish methods he first learnt in Devon to modernise mines in the rest of Britain. History is never simple.

I can still find no trace of recognition of his achievements in his town of birth. Various libraries, tourist information offices, record libraries and museums have helped in the hunt, but it appears he his the genius the town chooses to ignore.

The nextwpid-screenshot_2015-08-21-17-43-45.png post will send the blog back west to Cornwall, and will reverse the grammatical emphasis.

If you wish to explore the life of another character in the Cornish mining industry then read The Last Great Cornish Engineer.

Or download a copy of  Sketch of the life of William West C.E. of Tredenham-The last of the great Cornish Engineers

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