Tag Archives: william west

 The President Steam Engine described

 A Cornish engine in the USA

Now this series of posts on John West’s massive steam engine arrives at the point where it digs into the technical details. I have extracted various facts from the Damian Nance’s article, sifted, sorted and summarised to give a summary of the engine.

What was the President Engine?

The President was a rotative double acting engine with a 110″ cylinder, a 10 foot stroke screenshot_2017-06-13-12-07-40_kindlephoto-18444209.jpgand weight of 675 tons Although described as a Cornish engine, but had many features not common to pumping engines in Cornwall, i.e. it was rotative had flywheels, and was  double acting.

The engine was named after president Ulysses S. Grant, who had been invited to its dedication but  then failed to arrive.

Who built the engine?

The Cornish Engineer John West built the engine (the nephew  of William West, the Last Great Cornish Engineer), and its components were built by various companies in Eastern USA. Merrick and sons built the engine at their Southwark factory Philadelphia, but  much of the casting was  done at Lazell Perkins and co Bridgewater Massachusetts. The Pumps, boilers and  mountings were produced by  LP  Morris and co, Philadelphia.

Click here for information on Merrick and sons on the Philadelphia encyclopedia>

What did the engine do?

The engine was built to pump large quantities of water from a relatively shallow  mine shaft. Accounts of the engine differ in the number of pumps installed. Some state two pair, some three. Each pair of pumps consisted of a  lifting pump at the bottom of the shaft, and a 30″ plunger pump part way up. The lifting pumps were only  at a depth of 127 feet, very shallow compared to the Cornish mines of the time which were down to thousands of feet deep. The engine pumped at  15000 gallons per minute at 12 strokes per minute, and discharged into an adit and into a tank for use as boiler and condenser feed-water.

 

How was the steam provided?

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The three roofs of the boiler house.

An engine of this size demanded large quantities of steam, and so it had an impressive array of boilers. The President was served  by 16 boilers in a boiler house to the rear of the engine house, each boiler was 50 feet long with a 36 inch diameter.

The engine was designed to run at 60 psi at which pressure it produced 3000  horsepower, although in use it was normally run at a lower pressure.

What was the key features of the President Engine?

Apart from its sheer size the President had several interesting features that set it apart from the standard arrangement of a pumping engine back in Cornwall. These differences arose from the shallow depth of the mine. Engines running expensively on the Cornish cycle are more effective if they have a load of the heavy pump rods in the shaft. To replace this John West designed the engine with large 92 ton flywheels of over 30 foot diameter. For smoother operation of the flywheel West made the engine double acting (powered on both up and down strokes).

Note: The weight and diameter of the flywheel has been shown differently on some engine descriptions.  These figures have been confirmed as the most likely to be correct by Mark Connar, who I thank for the additional information.

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Although he installed Cornish style steam valves, the operating method was unusual. Valve operation was through cams fitted on the flywheel shaft, three cams for three different values of cut-off. The  throttle valve was fitted with an automatic control using a block of wood in the sump of the shaft connected by wire to the valve. An ingenious arrangement that allowed more steam to enter the engine as the water level rose.

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The lattice beams

These are the features that attracted me to the engine. Although Open-work beams are graceful and light, they did not become widely adopted. Their main user was John West’s Uncle, William West of Tredenham. All of his most important engines used this design, and it is no doubt the family influence that resulted in their distinctive form being adopted for the President.

Reference

Damian Nance, The International Steam Engine Society Bulletin volume 34 no 4

 


wpid-westcover.jpg The story of William West is told in the Trevthick Society papaerback ‘The Last Great Cornish Engineer‘.

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William West of Tredenham – A new page is launched

wpid-backimagewest.jpg

The Last Great Cornish Engineer now has a web page

The completion of my talk at the Friends of  Luxyluyan Valley was a good reason to dig back through all the assorted posts on William West and place then in some sort of logical order. The result of this piece of web house keeping is a page dedicated to William West of Tredenham, with links across to the various rabbit holes that my research has tempted me to dive into.

I have no doubt that this will be a page that will get added to as time goes by, there are plenty of ideas bubbling away, demanding to be explored. So if Victorian Engineers are an interest of yours, especially those with a Cornish connection, pop back to this website once in a while to have a browse.

And now that bit of tidying up the site is completed, time to go exploring history again…. 

 

 

 

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Some threads in history and the last Great Cornish Engineer

Notes and musings for the Friends of Luxulyan Valley William West talk.

This is post is a resource for all those who attended my talk in March 2017 in the Luxulyan Valley, an area rich in William West’s History.  The post follows the order of the presentation, contains links to references within the Navbooks blog, along with a few facts, figures and dates.  

If you did not attend the presentation, then feel free to wander among the links on this page, and perhaps enjoy forming your own conclusions about the significance of the Austen’s engine trial.

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-21-17-43-45.pngThread one-The Steam engine Duty race

Steam engine development in Cornwall

  • Newcomen engine first used at Wheal Vor in 1715
  • The first James Watt engines in Cornwall  1777

The Cornish engine

  • 1812 the first high pressure condensing engine

Duty

Number of pounds of water raised one foot by an engine using one bushel of coal.

The Duty race

  • 1811 Lean’s Engine reporter started publication, Maximum duty recorded  22.3 Million
  • 1815 Woolf’s compound 50 Million duty

Click here for a post on Lean’s Reporter and some layers of history>

Samuel Grose

Click here for  more information about Samuel Grose>

  • 1825 Grose erected his engine at the Wheal Hope Mine .  This engine first introducedTowanHeather the concept of insulating the  the cylinders, nozzles, and steam pipes, an introduction that greatly improved the efficiency of the engine.
  • 1827 Grose’s 80″ at Wheal Towan is recorded at 67m.

Thread two- J.T Austen

Click here for some key dates in Austen’s life>

Austen before the engineaustin

  • 1782 Austen is born
  • 1778 His Mother inherited estate from her brother
  • 1803 He came of age, and was managing the family estate, which was not in a good condition
  • 1814 Early evidence of Austen investing in mining ventures.

Fowey Consols is formed

Click here for information about Fowey Consols>

  • 1816 Austen buys shares in Wheal Treasure, this would later develop into Fowey Consols.
  • 1822 Wheal Treasure, Wheal Fortune and Wheal Chance combined as Fowey Consols

Fowey  Consols success

  • The total production of copper from the mines between 1815 and 1836 was 383,359 tons which brought in sales of £2,247,478.

A new engine is required

Thread three- William West

The engineer is born

Click here for some key dates in William West’s life>

  • 1801 William West is born at Dolcoath

Influences

Click here for the story of West and Trevithick>

  • 1808 West holds a candle for Trevithickw6

Dolcoath and engineering

  • 1817 to 1819 West works at Dolcoath fitting shop

West becomes and engineer

  • 1822 West is chief working engineer at South Roskear and other mines

Wheal Towan

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

Click here for information about West and the engine at Wheal Towan>

  • 1831 West was Engaged by  J. T. Austen at Fowey Consols and Austens Engine was austinpanfirst proposed
  • 1833 The contract for Austen’s engine signed

The threads converge at Austen’s engine

Click here for information on Austen’s engine trial>

Fame and controversy

Click here for a letter from James Sims>Click here for a letter from James Sims>

“I have no doubt that at least all practical engineers will agree with me, that it is perfectly absurd to think of making a fair trial of the duty of a steam engine (working under similar circumstances as the engine in question), in the short time of 24 hours” James Sims

A diverging thread, wealth

West is sought after

Click here for information of William West’s Caradon mines>

Properties

Click here for some maps showing some of William West’s properties near St. Blazey>

  • 1848 St. Blazey foundry built by West
  • 1852 Tredenham House is built

 

Beyond engineering

  • 1864 Liskeard Bank is founded

Click here for information about Liskeard Bank>

Phoenix Unitedwpid-th-5.jpeg

  • 1868 West gains majority shares in Phoenix United Mine

Click here for information about William West and Phoenix United Mine>

Click here for information about Phoenix United Mine>

  • 1898 Phoenix United closes.

A diverging thread-innovation

Steam Capstan

Click here for information about the steam Capstan>

  • 1835 Installed at South Hooe mine

Horizontal whim

  • 1843 Installed at Par Consols

Sims compound

Click here for some information about the Sims compound engine>SimsCoverClose2

  • 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.

Open work beams

Click here for some information about William West’s open work beams>

Click here for information about the President engine ( external link)>

  • 1846-1849 Cruquius engine 144″

 

“In 1869, the company’s engineer, Cornishman John West, was asked to design an engine capable of pumping 12,000 gals/min from a depth of 300 ft. His engine, a condensing, double-acting rotative beam engine weighing 675 tons, was unique, but proved to be as successful as it was gargantuan. With a 110-inch cylinder and two latticework beams, the engine worked pump rods in the shaft and a pair of huge flywheels inside the engine house.”NANCE, R. Damian,

The man engine

Click here for information about the Man engine>

Click here for information about the Loams>

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28th July 1851 William West engine at Fowey Consol’s started

  • Powered by a  30 foot diameter water wheel, 12 foot strokes
  • Co-designer John Puckey
  • 1872  South Caradon engine installed
  • 20 October 1919 Levant man engine disaster

 

A final diverging thread- the engine

Austen’s engine performance

  • 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 The last issue of Lean’s is published.

Click here for some information about the engine reporters>

 

The old Ford engine startsw13

Click here for information about the double beat valve>

 

The double beat valve

Cholera

1866. Cholera’s final onslaught came through water provided by the East London waterworks


Reading list for William West of Tredenham

Click here for some recommended books on Amazon>

wpid-50150fcb361d2756f4bd40336f24004a.jpgIf you are passing through Liskeard then pop into The Book Shop to buy a copy of  The Last Great Engineer in their excellent local history section.

 

NavsBooksStore

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

Sims

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- Some key dates

wpid-screenshot_2015-08-21-17-43-45.pngDates in the life of William West of Tredenham

The Last Great Cornish Engineer

As a foundation to build my next talk around I have thrown together a few dates in William West’s life. Yes there are many gaps, and yes it is all a bit random in topics, but it does create a quick orientation time.  As this series of posts progress, so will this post be updated.  For a very quick biography of  William West Click here

1801

William West is born at Dolcoath

1808image003

West held a candle for Trevithick has he designed his ‘Catch-Me-Who-Can’ locomotive

1817 to 1819

West works at Dolcoath fitting shop

1822

West is chief working engineer at South Roskear and other mines

1828

Grose’s engine at Great Towan achieves an impressive 87 million duty with Wilson’s engine, a result TowanHeatherpartially the result of West’s improvement in insulation

1831

  •  Engaged by  J. T. Austin at Fowey Consols
  • Austins Engine was first proposed

1833

Contract for Austen’s engine signed51tRtgzctrL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU02_AA160_

1834

Austen’s Engine is started


1835


1837

  • West became the Fowey Consols sole engineer
  • The East Cornwall The engine was put up for sale by Harvey’s

The Victorian period starts

1838

The East London Engine was startedw13

1839

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1840

West started working for South Caradon mine

1843

  • West installed the first horizontal whim at Par Consols
  • West obtained a licence to build Sims compound engines

1845

  • West installed his first large Sims engine at Great Wheal Martha
  • Was contractor  on  Brunel’s atmospheric railway

1847-1858

Brownes engine reporter is printed

1848Map1881Tredenham

St. Blazey foundry is established by West

1850

William West commenced wpid-th-5.jpeghis association with Phoenix United Mine

1852

Tredhenam  house is built

1852

1856

St. Austell Lower foundry purchased by Westwpid-41f3tbq-cnl._sl500_1-2.jpg.jpeg

1863

Brenton Symons publishes his map of the Caradon mining District and Webb and Geach produce their book.

1864

1867

  • Fowey Consols failed
  • South Fowey Consols founded

1869

Newquay and Junction Railway completed to Drinnick Mill

1868

  • Penquite house purchaced
  • West obtains majority shares in Phoenix United

1870

Presentation to West of a time piece by the Phoenix United minersPhoenixCounthouse

1872

The South Caradon man engine is installed

1873

Cornwall Minerals Railway’s Act of Parliament was laid

1874

Cornwall Minerals Railway opened

1879

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1891

St. Blazey Foundry closed

1897

Phoenix United closed


wpid-westcover.jpgThe Last Great Cornish Engineer

William West of Tredenham

A paperback from the Trevitihick Society

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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.

NavsBooksStore

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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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.

OS1881FoweyConsols

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.

 

KittoPanN

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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Steam Capstans- William West’s hidden invention

Next Saturday 30th April 2016 – 7.00 pm  I am giving a presentation at the Par Old Cornwall Society, and as that date approaches this blog will continue to wander around the key events in the life of the subject of the talk, William West, the last Great Cornish Engineer.

Whilst the public’s eye was focused on the magnificent Austen’s engine in 1835,  and its controversial headlining performance, there was a smaller West engine making its quiet debut across the border in Devon.

This small horizontal cylinder engine was installed above big loop the river Tamar makes as it sweeps around the site of South Hooe Mine. Its was destined to undertake a mundane, but crucial task, capstaning.

OS1885SHooe

OS 1885

Pumping shafts were crammed with heavy equipment and fittings. This equipment needed maintenance, it needed extending, it needed repairing, and that is where capstan was required. Timber, pumps, pump rods and balance bobs all needed to be lowered and raised in the shaft.  It was an important task required to sink the shafts and keep the pumps running.

CapstanBostolPL

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. Click here

Before West introduced his engine at South Hooe, these capstans were manual powered winches, resembling the anchor capstans of sailing ships. Men would gather around the capstan, pushing on large capstan bars to wind the rope in our out. All these men were miners and other workers taken off other work. Every minute spent pushing on a capstan bar was a minute not spent breaking down the ore, it was hated non-productive time.

Picture1

Steam Capstan at Robinson’s Shaft.

West’s concept was simple; install a small horizontal engine near the shaft, attach to to gearing to allow slow control, and use the steam supply from the nearby pumping engine. A simple, obvious use of the steam engine in a new role. Simple maybe, but he was the first to use it. The innovation was liked by the miners, and liked by the shareholder, so unsurprisingly was  widely adopted throughout Devon and Cornwall.

DSCF1585CapstanDrum

Capstan winding drum at Robinson’s shaft

The steam capstan’s role in the Cornish mining industry is overshadowed by the history of the large pumping engines. Likewise the remains of these small engines are often overlooked,  their cylinder beds laying forgotten besides the massive pumping engine houses. But they are there to be discovered,  descendants of that small West’s engine that clattered into life on the banks of the Tamar in 1835.

 

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1838-William West’s Double beat valve and the scourge of cholera

Cholera was a dark shadow over Victorian British cities. Its cause was not grasped fully until after John Snow’s famous piece of cartography.  A cause that demanded the twin solutions of providing clean fresh water, and removing the sewage that contaminated it. William West, by accident, would play his part in removing the deadly disease from our streets.  This post is the story of that accident.

It was in December 1838 that the former East Cornwall Silver mine engine made her first strokes in London. This was an important event as it marked the first time a Cornish engine had been seen working in London. Boulton and Watt’s engines dominated the grand halls of the water work companies, and now this machine from the mines of Cornwall was to attempt to break into their domain.

The East Cornwall Mine Engine house

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It had not been an easy journey to get to this day. The East London Waterworks engineer, the young and gifted Thomas Wicksteed, had worked long and hard to convince his board that the high pressure Cornish Engine concept was the way forward. He had learnt much about the Cornish Engines from his friend John Taylor, and gathered the evidence needed to sway his board by touring Cornwall visiting the mines, many of which had West’s engines.  So on that winter’s day much was at stake.

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The impressive hall of the Old Ford engine house was packed with the Company Directors and their grand friends to witness their new purchase glide into life.  They stood in great expectation of that massive beam starting its first graceful strokes as it pumped their fresh Lea River water from the cistern up to a stand pipe, and from their out to their many customers. Under the watching eyes of William West and the foundry Nicholas Harvey, the engine driver started his mesmerising dance with his hands of manually operating the valves to bring life to the engine.

But as the engine gathered speed and the gallons of water stated to flow through the pipes it started to go wrong, horribly wrong. The engine started to shudder, the whole engine house started to shake, and soon, with top hats flying, the grand directors and their guests fled the building. Whist the guests stood outside relieved to have escaped with their lives, West and Holman remained inside in a desperate attempt to save their engine and reputations.

w13

With great speed West’s men set to work with urgent modifications. Soon the guests were ushered in to the now near silent hall to see their new engine effortlessly working away. As they out  headed towards their sumptuous celebratory dinner, none appeared to have noticed that new engine was just a sham. Not a single gallon of water was being moved.

West and Holman had recognised that it the pump, not the engine, that was fault. Despite of the advanced technology of the engine the pump was reliant on old fashioned, simple clack valves. Down a bottom of a mine they worked well, but here so close to the engine, and with so much water being moved they could not cope. On every closure they sent shock waves throughout the system threatening to destroy the engine and all around it. Their solution was simple, disconnect the valves and the vibrations stopped. But so did the pumping of water.

As the guests ate and drank, West and Harvey worked desperately to find an answer to the problem. Harvey rushed back to his foundry in Hayle with their hastily produced drawings, and by March their new invention was successfully running in Old Ford. It was an invention that did not stop their, soon it was installed in waterworks and canals all over Britain. West’s engines now became sought after far from his original market of Cornish Mining. That day in December, the day that almost ruined his engineering reputation, brought both him and Harvey great wealth. It would also play its part in  eradicating the feared cholera epidemics by giving the rapidly expanding cities the pumping power they demanded to bring fresh water to everyone.W4

Their invention was simple, and not really a new invention. It went under the title of a ‘ double beat self acting valve’. ‘Double beat’ refers to it having two faces, and  ‘self acting’ to the lack of valve gear. The trick of its operation lay within its shape, a shape which balanced the pressures on opening and closing.

 

Like many technical advances this was a result of evolution rather than revolution. West had taken the concept of double beat steam valves developed by earlier Cornish Engineers and made it larger, and self acting.

The steam engine went on to play another important role in engineering history. Now a Cornish engine was working in London, easy to visit by the great minds of the scientific establishment. No longer could the impressive performance being claimed by Cornish engines be dismissed as exaggeration, or that they broke the laws of nature. West’s engine became a showcase for Wicksteed to prove to those outside of the Cornish dominated metal mining industry that the high pressure single cylinder non- condensing engine ( the Cornish engine) was superior to Watt’s.

The old Ford engine would play one last part in the Cholera story, and that was a dark and fatal one.  Whilst all those engines pumped their clean healthy water to the urban populations, their impact on Cholera cases was in most cases incidental, because the link between cholera and waterborne infection had not been widely accepted. That link was finally, fatally  confirmed in 1866. In that year, Cholera’s final onslaught came through water provided by the East London waterworks, from water in their Old Ford Reservoir, which was fed by the River Lea, which an infected water closet in nearby Bromley on Bow drained  its waste.  Although many died from the outbreak, the lesson was finally learnt, and no longer would British graveyards become overloaded with bodies of the disease’s victims.



The Last Great Cornish Engineer (paperback)wpid-westcover.jpg

Sketch of the life of William West of Tredenham (Kindle)

 

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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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