Tag Archives: steam engine

The James Sims Compound Engine- What did it look like?


James Sim’s had several connections with William West, and their relationship was a mixed one. As seen in an earlier post, he was one of the most vocal of the Austen’s Engine trial critics.   He would became related to West through marriage, when he William married his sister, Grace Sims.

The West-Sims business relationship would in time evolve from  bitter rivalry into a working partnership.  In 1843 the Sims family granted West the licence to build the Sims compound engine, and West installed several large engines of this design in Devon and Cornwall.

Jame’s engine was developed in the late 1830s. It used two cylinders one above the other; the smaller higher pressure cylinder sat on top of the larger lower pressure cylinder. The design was attempt to reduce the ‘kick’ being induced by using higher pressure steam. Unfortunately it required a taller, and therefore more expensive engine house, in addition to being difficult to maintain as a result of steam packing gland located deep within the engine, between the two cylinders. It was not a design that was widely adopted, although it did form the basis of the huge dutch engines at Cruiquis.

I have been hunting the web for a good picture of the design, as SimsCoverCloseso far this is the best I can discover. A cover of a book for sale at Plough books.  Feel free to comment if you have stumbled across others. The Cruquis museum on their excellent website has a diagram and description of its operation.

This is the best I have managed with the book cover, not a good image  I admit. It does show well the overall layout however, and more importantly, the impact its design had on the engine house. Having the high pressure cylinder stacked on top would have demanded a significantly taller building.

If you do know of some better images of this type of compound engines please post a message, I am sure there must be some better ones out there. Meanwhile the preparation for the Luxulyan valley talk continues….jm




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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.


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Lean’ s Reporter, John Taylor and some layers of history

History is never simple….the story of John Taylor’s involvement  in the ‘Cornish Duty Race’ is an example of the truth of this statement. I will resist the onion skin comparison, instead I will resort to the pile of stones image; lift up a stone of historical fact only to discover another one beneath. Keep lifting, keep digging and more facinating stories emerge. Here’s the first stone.


Steam engine development was accelerated by the duty race in Cornwall.
A simple statement is based on the fact that Cornish engineer’s competed to produce the most efficient engine.  It was the combination of the use of ‘duty’ as a unit of measurement and the public arena of Lean’s engine reporters that drove this desire to compete.

Duty was a measurement of performance against fuel used, its units were a strange mix:Pounds of water  lifted one foot by burning one bushel of coal. Lean’s Reporters were a regular produced publication produced by the Lean family that contained tables of mine engine performance.

In their heyday their was much publicity to be gained from being at the top of Lean’s table, and even more from breaking new records of performance. Taylor played a major part in this duty race;  a race that lifted Cornish engineering from stagnation to world prominence. Here are some significant stages in the battle.

1811 The reporter is started by Joel Lean, and the battle to be top of the tables commences.
The highest duty recorded was 22.3m at Wheal Alfred

1815 Woolf’s compound engine at Wheal Vor is the first engine to achieve 50m.

1827 Grose’s 80″ at Wheal Towan is recorded at 67m.

1827 Taylor’s 90″ was moved from Wheal Alfred to Consol’s, and renamed Woolf’s, where it returned a duty of 67m, a trial is demanded, one is run.

1828 Grose achieved 87m with his Towan engine, trial is demanded, a trial is run.

1832 Eustace’s 80″ at Wheal Darlington achieves 91m. Many of the other top slots in the table is filled with Hocking and Loam engines built for John Taylor.

1835 West’s Austen’s engine s recorded at 90m, a trial is demanded.

1835 in October William West’s Austen’s engine achieves 125m on a 24 hour trial, a record never broken.

1840 Hocking and Loam’s 85″ engine at Taylor’s United mine achieves 107m, the largest figure recorded in Lean’s

1850s onwards-duties decline the battle is over.

1905 last surviving issue is published.

Who won the duty race? This depends on interpretation, Taylor’s Hocking and Loam 85″ was the head of the table for sustainable duty, Austen’s William West’s engine for short term working. History remembers both.

Time to overturn the next stone.-


The Reporter’s were not Lean’s, and Duty was not Duty.

The two foundations of this race are shakey, Duty is far from scientifically sound as a measurement, and the Lean’s did not create the Reporter that bears their name.

Duty had a fundamental flaw, bushels was a far from certain measurement. Its size could vary, and many reports did not define the bushel in use. Even when defined, accurate measurement would be a challenge in many circumstances, let alone the discrepancies introduced by wet coal.

In addition to this flaw their existed many over opportunities for difference between records. Detailed specifications of recording methods, and assumptions made, were not readily available, resulting in a lack of transparency on the derivation of the results. The basics were straight forward, measure the coal, record the stroke length and use a counter to keep tally of the number strokes made. But outside of this existed many variables that could change the final figure.

Even worse was the opportunity for fraud, engine men could perform all sorts of tricks to tweak the duty upwards, such as deliberately short stroking their engines.

These flaws became aired in public disputes, arguments and accusations that eroded the faith in the Reporter’s accuracy. When John Taylor’s engineer, Arthur Woolf, moved his 90″ from Wheal Alfred to Consolidated is increase in duty aroused suspicion. When Hocking and Loam’s engines at Consols did not degrade in performance in time, that aroused suspicions. When West Achieved 125 m that triggered heated arguments. When West withdrew all his engines from Lean’s after being accused of mis-reporting his whim engines’ performance, that definitely dented the confidence in the system.

Whatever the flaws inherent in the derivation of the figures, the concept of Duty created an spectacular improvement in steam engine technology.

Likewise the history of the Reporters is not as simple as their title appears. Although Joel Lean published the first one in 1811, it was Captain William Davey and Captain John Davey who instigated the concept. Joel was chosen to arrange the compiling of the publication, and to put his name to the brand.

On its own,  this fact is not overly significant to the story, but turn over another stone and it becomes murkier.


The vested interests.

I must thank Bridget Howard for shining a light under this stone, her book is an excellent read, and the Trevithick Society sell it.

Behind the Leans was hidden the Davey’s, but behind their involvement was another influence, Arthur Woolf, John Taylor’s engineer. Bridget Howard suggests that Woolf set up the reporter to promote his own engines, using Leans as a cover for hidden propaganda. After Joel Lean dies the corruption gets worse, with Woolf exerting pressure on his sons to distort the figures. Eventually the dishonesty causes a split between the two brothers, with John accusing his brother of being intimidated by :

” The menaces of self made men.”

John to formed his own reporter in 1827, and none of its mines had Woolf as an engineer.

So throughout his period as engineer for John Taylor Woolf was distorting the system that was supposed to be scientifically driving steam engine development. John’s Lean’s revelations left John Taylor in a precarious position. His reputation for honest openness was at threat, to many it appeared that he had colluded in a Woolf’s underhanded activities.

Is response was a campaign of justifying the accuracy of the reporting system, and proving the efficiency of Cornish engines. It was a campaign that resulted in many papers and talks. Its culmination was a book called ‘Historical statement of the Improvements made in the Duty performed by the steam engines in Cornwall.’ This book was published by the Lean’s, but it was Taylor’s concept, Taylor’s money was behind it, and Taylor arranged for the society to endorse it.


And so the stones of history have overturned, there is much more  to explore. But for now this blog has to move on again, after this wander around John Taylor’s life it will return back for a new look at William Wwp-1460413814023.pngest.

Click here for a Kindle edition of one of John Taylor’s papers.


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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.


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.


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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What Steam Engines were at Phoenix United Mine?


Here is a list of steam engines installed at Phoenix United Mine, Compiled from Kenneth Brown/Bob Acton’s Exploring Cornish Mine’s book, and The CAU study on the Minions area. Many of these engines were made at William West’s St. Blazey foundry.

Hamiltons Pumping Engine
A 36″ engine erected 1869-1870.
Some overgrown remains exist.

West’s Whim
A horizontal engine used in the last part of the mine’s life. A good set of remains exist.

West Phoenix Stamps
A 24″ engine driving  64 head of stamps.
A poor set of remains.

Crushing Engine
A 15″ or 20″, the use and size of this engine is not well known.
A poor set of remains.

Wheal Phoenix Stamps
Originally a pair of William West 26″ engines that was replaced with a 32″. It Drove a 96 head of stamps.
A poor set of remains.

Seccombe’s Whim
A 28″ engine
Only the bedstone remains.

Seccombes Pumping Engine
This 60″ engine was main pumping engine on the mine.
Very poor set of remains.

Water Wheel
A 60 ft wheel in the valley bottom.
A splendid set of remains!
Reference: Minions, An archaeological survey of the Caradon Mining Dsitrict, By Adam Sharp, Published by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit, 1993.

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For those passing through Cornwall then pop into the Liskeard Bookshop, to buy books about the Caradon Mining area. To buy the books on line, or download the kindle publications then visit my Amazon store.

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West’s Caradon Mines-Caradon Vale.

I have had a bit of pause in the preparation for the Pensilva talk, whilst putting together the latest East Cornwall Trevithick Society program.  Quite a mix of talks and walks..pop across to my Trevithick Society blog for the latest version of the program.
Now back to the William West Caradon Mines research.  

By the 1860s  West’s name had become associated with high quality machinery, and was often used in mine agent’s reports attempting to ‘fluff up’ the prospects of their mines. Here is an such an example of a purser’s report.

Caradon Vale Consols
1st December 1862

I beg to inform you that the new 45 in. Cylinder pumping-engine was put to work at Caradon Vale Mine on Tuesday last.

The engine, by West and Sons, is a very superior piece of machinery, and has given great satisfaction.

The flat-rod to be attached to the engine will also be set to work in about a fortnight; and as soon as the water is pumped from the shafts, the underground works will be carried on with vigour,-and from which the most favourable results may be expected.
Fred R.A Fricker,Purser.

Webb and Geach page 121


Caradon Vale was formed in 1862 out of Wheal Sedley, Cargibbett and Ashlake Mines. Caradon Vale’s location placed it on possible an extension of the rich East Caradon lodes. The mine was short lived, becoming idle by 1864 and put up for sale in 1865.

Webb and Geach’s book is called ‘History and Progress of Mining in the Liskeard and Caradon District’. Published in 1863, it describes the mines in the Caradon, Meneheniot, St. Neot and Herodsfoot areas. The Trevithick Society have republished Webb and Geach in paperback and it is avaiable from Amazon on the link below, or from the Liskeard Bookshop.

I am currently re formatting and editing my CD-ROM version of Symons’s excellent map in an ebook (initially Kindle) format. Watch this blog for progress on that project.

Click here to see a list of my books available on Amazon.

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South Caradon Mine picture notes

The ‘Last Great Cornish Engineer’ book launch is to start off (after tea and cake) with an exploration of two amazing photos of mines closely associated with William West. Both photos are well known, but I find them fascinating to explore, detail packed in to every part of the black and white images.

The first of the two photographs is from page 76 and 77 of the ”Last Great Cornish Engineer’, and shows South Caradon Mine in the 1880s. Here is an extract from the OS map of the same period and a few notes about the engines shown in the photograph.


Sump shaft Pumping Engine
This building housed the first engine to be installed at the mine, probably by William West. It was built in 1837 and different sources place its size at 30″, 35″ or 45″. Prior to its construction the pump was powered by flat-rods driven by a water wheel down in the valley. As the workings expanded underground a larger 50″ engine was installed (possibly in the late 1840’s) and this was still in place when the mine was finally closed


Sump Shaft Whim
The winding engine lies upslope of the shaft and in addition to winding at Sumps this engine provided power by flat rods to Pearce’s shaft higher up the hill. A 22 inch horizontal engine was housed in this building (some sources state a 16/30″). The was engine designed by William West. and was probably installed in 1844 (ref CAU) .
Horizontal engines did not require a substantial bob wall and the structure was therefore lighter than a traditional Cornish Engine house.


Stamp and Crusher Engine

The engine was of 28 inch diameter and powered a 24 head of stamps.  No  boiler house can be seen in this photograph immediately behind the Engine house where the CAU study suggests it should be.It was common for stamp engines to have its boiler houses in this position in order to release the room in front and to the sides for heads of stamps.


Pearce’s Shaft

The Pumping from this shaft was originally powered by flat-rods running uphill from the winding engine at Sump Shaft.
The 50″ engine was installed at Pearce’s in 1870, relatively late in the mines life.

Reasons suggested for the buttressed including unstable ground and the angle of the shaft. Brown & Acton supports the angle of shaft theory.


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