Tag Archives: Mining heritage

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 President Steam Engine- Key dates

A Cornish Engine in the USA

These dates have been derived from a quick dip into Damian Nance’s article on the engine, and correspondence from Mark Connar; I dived in, grabbed a few dates and sorted them out into an order. Then to add some context I have added a few dates from the life of William West, John West’s famous uncle.

Events leading up to the engine’s creation

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1801 William West is born at Dolcoath

1835 Austen Engine’s Trial

1838 East London Waterworks engine started

1845 A rich zinc ore deposit in the dolomite limestone of Saucon Valley was discovered

1853 A  predecessor company to the Lehigh Zinc Company was formed to extract and smelt this primary material.

1854 Ueberotth mine was opencast operation

1860 Lehigh Zinc Company formed

1866 John West erected a 32″ double acting engine

1868  the Company’s engineer, John West from Cornwall as commissioned to design an engine capable of pumping 12,000 gallons/minute from a depth of 300 feet.

By 1869 three different engines were being used to clear the mines of water

The Engine’s operating years

1872 The President  was erected

1874 the engine’s crank broke and it took a number of days for it to be repaired and there was concern that the mines would fill with water.

1876 Operations were suspended

1879 William West dies

The President’s later life

1881 One of the owners of the Correll Mine in Friedensville purchased the mining assets of Lehigh Zinc and unified them under the name “Friedensville Zinc Company”

1883 New shafts were being dug and that the plan was to move the President to the new shaft location. This equipment move never transpired.

1884, Water was controlled in the mines by using two new steam pumps with the President was being kept in operational condition as a backup pump. Later that year, in May, the President was restarted.

By 1890 The Ueberroth mine was no longer being worked and the President was being used to lower the water in the other, still active, mine works.

1891 The last reported time that the President Pump operated

Events after the engine’s final steaming

1898 Unsuccessful efforts were made to raise capital in Europe to restart the Friedensville mine.

1893 All mining activities in the Friedensville area ceased

1899 The President was for sale

1900 The President was sold to Philadelphia based scrap dealers for $10,000

1901 The sixteen boilers were removed from the site to South Bethlehem by the New Jersey Zinc Company. The plan was to reuse these equipment pieces at other New Jersey Zinc mines.

1940s A new Friedensville mine was opened by the New Jersey Zinc Company which operated until 1983

Other Time Lines on this blog


51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_Sketch of the life of William West of Tredenham

This publication describes the life and work of John West’s uncle through the eyes of a Victorian biographer.

Available on kindle>

The paperback “Last Great Cornish Engineer” explores the Engineer’s life beyond the words of the sketch.

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The Largest stationary Engine in the World-1872

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The President steam engine described in in the Australian Advertiser

Whilst pondering on how to start this dive into the history of the President steam I stumbled across this real gem of an article, and also an amazing website for historical research. Although written in 1872 the article was perfect to introduce this series of posts- a gift-thanks the National Library of Australia.

On the Trove website of the National  Library of Australia is a newspaper article from the South Australian Advertiser, published May 13th, 1872 that describes the President Engine, and also refers to John West and several other Cornish Engineers. The Trove site is a fascinatingTroveIcon resource, and whilst there, I was quickly sidetracked into doing my bit by correcting the transcript of the article. I highly recommend a visit to Trove, and having a session at correcting some text for them.

 Here is the text of the article-

THE LARGEST STATIONARY ENGINE IN THE WORLD


A recent number of the Mining Journal gives an interesting account of the starting of the Lehigh Zinc Company’s mammoth engine, in America. After describing the progress of fine ore mining generally, the following brief description of the great pumping engine is added:—
The engine was three years building, and was designed by Mr. John West, engineer of thePresidentNewspaper Lehigh Zinc Company, who personally superintended its erection in all its parts, down to the minutest particular. The engine was built by Merries: & Sons, Philadelphia, and the
pumps and boilers by I. P. Morris & Co., Philadelphia. The object for which the engine was built was to concentrate the greatest amount of power on one particular spot in the mines in the most economical manner. These new pumps drain the whole property of the Company, and are erected on the particular spot on which they stand on account of the presence of a firm rock to plant upon. Following is a description of the mammoth engine, as we gathered it from a conversation with Mr.West, which will be found to contain technical facts which Mr. Webster did not give in his remarks.
The engine has a pumping capacity of 15,000 gallons per minute, and may be run to 17,000 in case of emergency, raising water from a depth of 300 feet The engine alone weighs 650 tons, and including the pumps and boilers the total weight of the machinery is 1,000 tons. Size of cylinder, 110 inches in diameter; length of stroke, 10 feet. The heaviest pieces of iron in the engine are the sections of beams, and weigh 24 tons. There are two pieces of wrought-iron -weighing 16 tons each. The fly-wheels weigh 75 tons each; crank pins 1 ton each. The piston rod is 14 inches in diameter. The cross head weighs 8 tons. The connecting rods have 9-inch necks, and are 15 inches in the middle, 41 feet 2 1/2  inches long, and weigh 11 tons each.
There are two air pumps, 50 inches in diameter each.
PresidentNewspaper2This is, so far as known, the most powerful stationary engine in the world. Next to it in point of size and capacity is the engine at the Cincinnati Waterworks, cylinder 109 inches in diameter. Next is the engine at the Brooklyn Works, cylinder 90 inches; and next the engines used to drain the Meer at Haarlem, in Holland, There are three of these cylinders, 84 inches steam, with 12 feet Sims’compound, 600 -horse-power each. Next are the large Cornish engines used in the Cornish mines in England, and in the London Waterworks.
The work of the “President” will be to drive four plunger pumps, each 30 inches in diameter by 10-feet stroke ; four lifting pumps, each 31 1/2 inches in diameter by 10-feet stroke—the plunger pumps being uppermost and stationary. The lifting pumps will be used in the bottom of the shaft, and are movable, so as to go down as the shaft is sunk;and the lifting pumps, on account of veins of ore running through the
 shaft, are and will continue to be suspended, or the weight of the pumps would force them down into the ore to an indefinite depth. To handle these lifting pumps, hoisting or PresidentNewspaper3lowering them at pleasure, a steam capstan, capable of lifting 50 tons vertically, is used. By a series of strong gearing, a drum and a steel wire rope, with this capstan, if anything goes wrong with the pumps they can be taken hold of by the top and pulled out of water, repaired, and put back in a very short time. Everything that past experience could dictate is here applied, or at least, as Mr. West said, so it is thought, so far as known.
Mr. John West, who has brought this massive engine to its present state of perfect working, has been employed by the Lehigh Zinc Company for about five years, and designed and superintended the construction of all the machinery in and about these mines. This engine is certainly a triumph of skill, pluck, and per severance, of which the Company, who backed
up the President, Mr. Webster, who backed up
and sustained Mr. West, the engineer, who conceived
and carried out the only feasible plan for relief from the difficulties under which the
Company labored—too much water—may all feel very proud.
The erector of this mammoth engine, under Mr. West’s supervision, is Simeon Noell, a Cornishman, who has had 21 years’ experience in this kind of work in Cornwall, England.. The engineers who will run the “President” hereafter are William Harry, a Cornishman, age 35 years, with 17 years’ experience; and John Beddington, also a Comishman, age 37 years, 21 years’ experience as engineer. Bothsaw the engine go up from its foundation, and know every piece of it, and will keep a watchful and intelligent eye on the mammoth engine.
The John West refereed to in the article was the son of another Cornish engineer, who was also called John West, and that John West was the brother of William West, the subject of my two publications and many of the post in this blog.

And now I will read through the article again and pick up some threads to explore.


Books about William West

wpid-westcover.jpgOne paperback, one Kindle  51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_

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Austen’s Engine Trial

austens2010The focal point of my talk at Luxulyan has to be the Austen engine at Fowey Consols. This post explains why.

An historic event at Fowey Consols

Overlooking St. Blazey Gate in Cornwall on October 22nd 1835 a crowd of the respectable, skilled and knowledgeable gathered to witness an event that would be a landmark in steam engineering history. It would be an event that  would change the life forever of its engineer, enshrine  the name of a landowner in history, bring wealth to a famous foundry  and have have impact  wherever water needed to be pumped in Britain.

Austen’s 80″ Cornish steam engine at Fowey Consols was at the center of the event.  Expert witnesses watched as coal stores were measures, stores locked, meters read, machinery inspections conducted and measurements taken. The objective of the day was simple to measure the efficiency of the engine in its ability to pump water out from the depths of the mine hundreds of  feet below its foundations.dscf9312

As an activity this was not unique, for since 1811 all over Cornwall engines’ efficiency had been measured, recorded and published. ‘Duty’ was the unit of measurement used, and a publication now refereed to as  ‘Leans Engine Reporter’ publicly shared the results; results that had driven a technology race in Cornish Mines.

What made the measurement of duty at Austen’s engine in 1835  was that this was a trial to prove or disprove the claims of duty being made for this engine. This was an engine whose arrival within the tables of Leans was with figures that outperformed all the existing  famous engines in Cornwall.  In addition its joint engineers, William West and William Petherick were relatively unknown in the public arena. The pair did not have a record of high performing engines, and their arrival straight to the top of the league tables sparked disbelief and accusations of foul play. And so the trial was organised, to prove in controlled conditions that Austen’s engine actually performing as the engineers claimed.

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Austen’s Engine site 2017 Copyright OS Click here for map>

The mechanics of the trial required all the factors that made up the measurement of duty to be recorded. That is the amount of water lifted, by what distance with how much coal.

And so the coal was measured, the length of pump stroke measured and number of strokes taken by the large beam engine recorded. The resulting figure was a measurement of how much coal was needed to raise water from the depths of a Cornish mine. A figure of great importance to Cornwall, where its mine’s where deep, water was in abundance and coal expensive.

On the 23rd of October 1835 the trial finished. Measurements were taken and calculations complete; the resulting figure was spectacular. Austen’s engine had achieved 125 million duty, a performance that broke the existing records, and a performance that would never be overtaken by any other engine.

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Austen’s Engine on Google Maps 2017 Click here for map>

That day on Fowey Consols Cornish Steam engine technology appears to have reached its zenith. I say appears, because history is never as simple as that, disputes, accusations and controversy followed in the wake of the trial, and the duty recording system collapsed soon afterwards.

125 million did have its impact on history, despite of
the controversy. William West became very rich on its reputation, Harvey’s of Hayle would gain large amounts of extra work, and its influence would eventually result in improvements in clean water supply in the rapidly expanding British cities.

For another post about duty from this blog, ‘ Lean’s reporter, John Taylor and some layers of historyClick here>


51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_ If you enjoy reading on Kindle you can read more about William West of Tredenham>

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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’

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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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The Man Engine- who invented it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WestManEngines

William West built man engines

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

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

 

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Kitto’s Shaft at South Caradon Mine

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


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

Click here for the Navsbooks store William West book shelf.

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