Tag Archives: famous engineers

John West- A Cornish Engineer in the USA

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An Obituary of John West (Jnr)

The connection between the great Cornish Beam engines in Cornwall and the greatest of the Cornish engines in the USA is a family one.  It is a link that will be explored in this post through a transcript kindly provided by Mark Connar.

John and William West

John G. West was one of the many Cornish miners and engineers who emigrated to the USA. An emigration that included not only the men and their families, but also the skills, knowledge and systems developed in the centuries of hard rock mining in their home country.

John West was the son of another well respected engineer, who was also  called John. His father’s brother was the famous engineer, William West of Tredenham, the ‘Last Great Cornish Engineer’. William became famous for building the most efficient Cornish Engine ever built, and John G. West was famous for building the largest Cornish Engine in the USA.

This engine is the subject of this series of posts; it is normally refereed to as the ‘President’ but interestingly in newspaper extract below it is called the ‘General Grant’.


From Reading Times (Reading. Pa), Wednesday, May 10, 1893

Death of John G. West

Sketch of the Well-Known Mechanical Engineer and Inventor – Other Deaths
John Gartrell West, mechanical engineer, passed to his rest Tuesday forenoon. He was born in the village of Crowan, in the Parish of Crowan, Cornwall, England, on the 28th day of May 1822, thus making his length of life 70 years, 11 months and 14 days. He came to the United States forty-four years ago and for a time was engineer on one of the Ohio River steamboats. Afterwards, through his intimate knowledge of the construction, and erection of the Cornish pumping engine, he was engaged to erect one purchased in England for the Perkiomen Cooper Ore Company, at Shannonville, Montgomery county. When his contract expired with the aboveJohnWestOBT named company, he entered into partnership with the Messrs. Richard Corson and Samuel Thomas, the firm name being that of Thomas, Corson & West, mechanical engineers of the Norris Works, Norristown, Pa.
He designed and superintended the construction of the pumping engine for the Lehigh Zinc Company, of Bethlehem, Pa, known as the General Grant engine, which is the largest stationary engine ever made in the United States, before or since. This is a high-pressure condensing engine; the diameter of the cylinder is 110 1/4 inches, length of stroke 10 feet and weight of the engine is 1096 tons. Mr. West was engineer and superintendent of the Providence R.I. water works for a year and a half.
He was afterwards engaged in the construction and erection of pumping and mining engines for the Yellow Jacket and other gold mines in Virginia City, Nevada and elsewhere. He came to Reading in January 1878, as the superintendent and manger of the Scott foundry, which position he held until about three years ago, since which time he was employed in the capacity of mechanical engineer of the Reading Iron Company.
 
He was the son of John G. West, also a famous mechanical engineer. He was married fifty years ago to Miss Jane Henwood, who survives, but has been an invalid for years. Deceased was in good health up to two weeks ago, when he was prostated with an abscess which developed into blood poisoning, causing great agony and unconsciousness for several days. Mr. West was a man of sterling integrity, unusual amount of caution, and absolutely honest, scorning deceit and littleness wherever found. He was a member of Christ Cathedral, a prominent mason, and leaves the follow – children and sisters: Mrs. Sophia Von Hummell, of Indianapolis, Ind.; Barnet H. West, late manager of the Reading Iron Works, but now with the Messrs. Cramp Ship Building Company; Mrs. Henrietta Stephens, of this city; Miss Viola West, also of this city; Wye H. West, with the Phoenix Iron Company, Phoenixville. The sisters are: Mrs. Dr. Rowana, of Philadelphia; Mrs. Lovinia Dalty, of Philadelphia; Mrs. Bethia Chant, of Ridley Park and Mrs. Frances G. Jones, of this city, wife of G.W. Jones, superintendent of the McIlvain & Sons’ rolling mills. Transcript by Mark Connar

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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.

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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”

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.

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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.

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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.


 

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William West of Tredenham- A gallop through his life

As I leave John Taylor behind and prepare for my talk at the Par old Cornwall Society this blog will become home for my random musings on William West, the last Great Cornish Engineer.  To set the scene for the next set of posts here is a gallop through  the famous engineer’s life:

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William West was born on  Dolcoath mine as the son of a farmer, had a poor start and poor education, but held a candle for Trevithick. He became an engineer through a mixture of skills, luck and contacts. He learnt shed loads from the best Cornish Engineer of the time, was head hunted to build a very famous steam engine, invented several things, became rich. Built lots of engines, became even richer. Bought a big mine, and yet again became richer. West was born poor, died rich, and was known on his death as the last great Cornish Engineer.

Oh yes…this is William West of Tredenham, not the other William West of Trevithick fame, be careful of confusion,their paths did cross several times, and some writers have merged their lives. This one was not related to Trevithick, whatever else you may read.

To learn a bit more, start following this blog. To learn even more read one of  these books.

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The Last Great Cornish Engineer (paperback)

Sketch of the life of William West of Tredenham

 

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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.

Beam

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.

DoubleBeat

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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