View Full Version : Early Steam Engines?

tony draper
31st Jan 2013, 12:30
Watched a thing about the development of the steam engine last night,how James Watt by long study and a lot of thought improved the Newcomen Engine by condensing the steam away from the cylinder thus making it more efficient by retaining the heat in the cylinder,the thought struck,how didn't they see that the obvious improvement would have been to introduce the steam by a arrangement of valves alternatively at either sides of the piston,thus having two power stokes?
Or am I missing summat?

31st Jan 2013, 12:41
Good write up on James Watt here (http://inventors.about.com/od/wstartinventors/a/james_watt.htm)

simon brown
31st Jan 2013, 12:45
Couldnt do any of that without the shell in tube compound boiler. They did eventually in the 20s see the advantage of this valve method. An Italian called Caprotti came up with this principle which was improved by British in the late 40s when BR was started up.Steam engines became pretty (relatively speaking) efficient with up to 20% reduction in coal usage and more power also.

31st Jan 2013, 12:50
Because the thing worked by condensing the steam and thus getting a partial vacuum, so it was really an air pressure engine. The separate condenser reduced the tendency for the steam to condense on admission.

The oldest steam engine still working i.e. doing its original job instead of just going up and down, is the 1812 engine at Crofton pumping station (near Great Bedwyn) on the Kennet and Avon canal. It gets steamed several times a year, although the other year, when the electric pumps failed and the canal levels from Crofton to Devizes were falling, BWB as it then was paid the K&A Canal Trust to keep Crofton pumping!

The other engine there is an 1846 built engine by Harvey's of Hayle.

B Fraser
31st Jan 2013, 12:56
Agreed Admiral Drapes, if only Watt had teamed up with another Scot, William Murdoch. This chap invented the slide valve and a number of other clever items such as sun and planet gearing. Slide valves would have been very useful in building a double action steam engine.

tony draper
31st Jan 2013, 12:58
I used to install those pneumatic tube systems that took the cash from the checkouts to the cash office in the Sainsburys stores,they were very efficient using just a small air pump at the receiver end to reduce the pressure in the system and atmospheric pressure did the rest,the carriers zipped along those pipes at a hell of a lick.:)

31st Jan 2013, 13:00
The problem was not so much in inventing the valve method, but that it was impossible to manufacture good valves. "You can't get the staff!". This problem was essentially solved by John Wilkinson in 1774 with a new method of boring cylinders.

B Fraser
31st Jan 2013, 13:01
yep, that was one of his too :ok:

Was it not a Scot who invented the 50p piece so you could get it out of a customer's hand using a spanner :E

tony draper
31st Jan 2013, 13:04
I just remember as a ragged trousered school urchin being very impressed by a drawing the teacher made on the black board of the cylinder and valve arrangement of a steam locomotive and he explaining how the various rods and pivots moved the valves allowed the steam in one end and out tother then in that end ect ect,most simple and elegant it were.

B Fraser
31st Jan 2013, 13:05
Dunno Mr Fox, the problem had been cylinder manufacture which was solved thanks to advances in making cannons.

Yeah, the bloke that solved it ended up getting fired, I know, I know.... :O

31st Jan 2013, 14:02
On a (sorry) thread drift, I was reading about the Victorians building the the UK railways. They put together miles of steel, bridges and tunnels in a record time. They were people of vision. The new HS2 line is planned to take, how long, 20 years?

31st Jan 2013, 14:09
Prof. Jim Gordon, who wrote a couple of very good popular books on Materials and Structures, started one of his undergrad lectures thus:

(Reading from a manual on constructing early steam engines) "The piston must fit so tightly in the cylinder that a little finger cannot be inserted anywhere around the circumference". After laughter had subsided, he pointed this out as an excellent example of matching the tolerance to the application, the steam pressures being so low that this was quite adequate.

Also that this was the earliest known example of a digital measurement system.....

31st Jan 2013, 15:12
To anyone interested in such things, I would recommend a visit to the Crofton pumping station on the Kennet and Avon canal. Crofton Beam Engines - Home (http://www.croftonbeamengines.org/)

One of the engines dates from 1812, and the other 1846.....interesting to see the differences, an idea of how fast the tech was moving at the time can be obtained.

31st Jan 2013, 15:17
Tony Draper

When I was a lad at Heathrow, we used to use those tubes a lot for firing stuff between Queen's Building and the Control Tower....our system was very high tech, the tubes were addressable by means of a rotatable magnetic collar at one end....however, it was prone to failing a lot; the "points" in the tubes often getting stuck. As a consequence the airport employed a couple of handymaen full time to maintain the system.

tony draper
31st Jan 2013, 15:57
Diverters they were called,so carriers inserted at one point could be sent to up to eight different destinations,I enjoyed working on that stuff,we did 110mm and 80 mm systems,I think the modern stuff belonged to a Dutch company originally,Rediffusion bought them out hence we installed it all.
The carrier traveled so fast we had a knife valve that shut the tube just above the station operated by a micro switch about five meter from the end so the incoming carrier compressed the air in front of it slowing it down so it just dropped gently into the basket at the receiving end.

31st Jan 2013, 16:03
Coal pits abounded, miners were glad to get a job and were paid 2d a week, coal was dirt cheap and abundant. Elf n'safety hadn't been invented and people were used to breathing cinders and smoke.

So, tell me again, why the push for thermic efficiency?

tony draper
31st Jan 2013, 16:10
Actually the program stated that James Watt had the patents for his improvements tied up so tight it actually halted any real development of the steam engine apart from his own for years.
Agree dont think we or any other nation will ever come close to our Victorian forefathers for genius and the ability to get seemingly impossible engineering projects done,we shall never see their like again.

31st Jan 2013, 16:52
If you want a high efficiency engine, see the Stirling Engine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stirling_engine). And, yes, he was another Scotsman.

Invented in 1816, so right up there with the other early designs.

Strangely, though little used at the time, it's the one with perhaps the greatest number of modern applications (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Applications_of_the_Stirling_engine).

31st Jan 2013, 16:56

My wedding reception was at Crofton Beam Engines. In those days, (1983)we were volunteers there, and the other volunteers organised the whole reception. When a number of us from those years had a get together and a visit, we weren't impressed by the way it has gone.

The honeymoon was the Severn Valley Railway, the Tal-y-llyn and the Ffestiniog......you might guess we like steam trains.

31st Jan 2013, 17:01
Drapes - the pneumatic system you referred to was developed into a city-wide system in Paris, and sending a "pneumatique" was an efficient way of getting a letter to another part of the city when ordinary post would have been too slow. When looking for a link I was surprised that the system is still going, although on a smaller scale than previously.

The Pneumatic Post of Paris - Part 1 of 3 (http://www.cix.co.uk/~mhayhurst/jdhayhurst/pneumatic/book1.html)

SOPS - you are quite right - it took longer to add a fourth lane to the Avon bridge on the M5 motorway than the Victorians took to build the Forth Bridge from scratch, and the conversion of the Great Western Railway from broad to standard gauge c 1890 took place over a weekend!

tony draper
31st Jan 2013, 17:50
Some of the very early cash systems seemed work on gravity, round wooden carriers ran on a couple of brass rails,just short runs of course, think they have one working in the co-op store at the Beamish Museum.
Some of the big department stores in the Toon during my sproghood had pneumatic systems running in copper tubes,the cashier put you cash in the carrier and back came your change and recipt.

31st Jan 2013, 18:16
We had a store with a catapult overhead-wire transmission system for sending containers of cash to a central cash-desk (and return of change and receipt).

A A Gruntpuddock
31st Jan 2013, 19:03
"Was it not a Scot who invented the 50p piece so you could get it out of a customer's hand using a spanner" - brilliant!

31st Jan 2013, 19:25
Lamson Tubes (the pneumatic delivery system are still used in the ATC tower at East Midlands Airport.
I remember seeing them in the Blood Clinic of a hospital somewhere as well.
A brilliant elegant bit of engineering.

31st Jan 2013, 19:29
They had a large Lampson system in the MOD Main Building 1964/65. It covered all the floors and had a distribution office on each floor.

31st Jan 2013, 21:12
Drapes - the pneumatic system you referred to was developed into a city-wide system in Paris InLondon they implemented hydraulic power. (http://www.subbrit.org.uk/sb-sites/sites/h/hydraulic_power_in_london/index.shtml)

tony draper
31st Jan 2013, 21:20
I remember seeing a prog about the hydraulic power distribution system in London,they piped it round like gas or water,amazing.

31st Jan 2013, 21:57
Amazing stuff! I had no idea - who are the arses that cancelled these great schemes?

ORAC - I love the Stirling engine - it is brilliant in concept, design and execution; thank you for reminding me of its existence. Our log burner has one with a fan attached to distribute the hot surrounding air. I gaze at it lovingly daily.

31st Jan 2013, 22:09
From the interweb:-
Several systems have been invented for conveying cash mechanically from the counter to the cash office. Amongst the first of these was the gravity cash carrying system, by which the cash was placed in hollow balls which were placed on tracks along which they rolled to the cash office. They were returned by the same means, the return tracks being arranged with the gradient falling in the opposite direction. Owing to the cumbersomeness and unattractive appearance of the tracks this system soon gave way to the 'cash railway', which was later improved upon by the introduction of the 'pneumatic tube' system and these two systems are in common use nowadays. The cash railway, or rapid wire system as it is often called, in which small carriers are forced along wires to the cash desk, being similarly returned to the salesman, is the one most generally adopted for branch purposes. Any number of cash stations may be connected to the cash office by this system, providing these are on the same level, but it is not easily adapted for centralising the cash of an establishment making use of several floors situated at different levels, a cash desk on each floor usually being required.
Under the pneumatic tube system the carriers used for cash conveyance are placed in a tube and are drawn by suction to the cash office, being returned to the salesman by a separate tube... This system requires the use of a power plant, and may be worked with gas or electricity. Because it is possible to connect all departments with the cash desk, which may be situated in any desired position, the system is a great asset to large establishments and departmental stores... The fact that the cash office can be placed in such a position as to reduce the possibility of a robbery to a minimum is also an important consideration...
From (and more at):- Cash carriers - references E-L (http://www.ids.u-net.com/cash/refs_el.htm)

1st Feb 2013, 10:09
My local Tesco has a pneumatic system from teh tills: every so often the cashier will stuff money and applicable paper into a plastic container and off it goes.

tony draper
1st Feb 2013, 10:26
It's fun when a carrier gets lost in the system though,spent all day at one place blowing and sucking at each station with no joy went into the managers office to report failure and there was the missing carrier sitting on his bloody desk,red faces abounded.
Place where they print all the money up here De la Rue lost a bottle of very special ink reported missing in the system our chaps spent two days there checked the whole system with no joy one of the employees finally admitted he had dropped and broke the bottle and had been afraid to own up to it.

1st Feb 2013, 10:34
I remember seeing a prog about the hydraulic power distribution system in London,they piped it round like gas or water,amazing.
... and it really was hydraulic, using water. As a London-based sprog, one recalls the most famous use of the power of the hydraulic main was to raise the bascules (?) of Tower Bridge, and the last (or one of the last) major uses was moving the stage curtains at the Palladium!

The pipes are mostly still there, but I understand are used as conduits for fibre-optic cables ......:(

tony draper
1st Feb 2013, 10:41
I bet a burst pipe would have been a interesting thing to see.:uhoh:

1st Feb 2013, 10:43
London Hydraulic Power (http://engwonders.byethost9.com/e047.html)

Manchester Hydraulic Power (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_Hydraulic_Power)

tony draper
1st Feb 2013, 10:46
Of course the bloke who invented Hydraulic Power was a canny Geordie Lad.

B Fraser
1st Feb 2013, 11:13
The pipes are mostly still there, but I understand are used as conduits for fibre-optic cables ......http://images.ibsrv.net/ibsrv/res/src:www.pprune.org/get/images/smilies/sowee.gif

Yep, I worked for the company that bought them. The network was also used to power lifts (elevators to our transatlantic chums) and escalators. The disused pipes were rusting in the ground so buying the infrastructure was an absolutely brilliant move that delivered network access around some valuable real estate without so much as having to pick up a shovel.

Gruntpuddock, I sometimes have a laugh at "oorsel's" so I retain my license to take the p*ss out of everyone else.

Captain Drapes, I didn't know that. William George Armstrong was a very impressive chap !

tony draper
1st Feb 2013, 11:51
Even more impressive,he started life as a lawyer,happily he decided to get a honest proper job.
Sadly we shall probably never see the likes of those Victorian chaps of his ilk again.

Preston Brockhurst
1st Feb 2013, 12:23
with reference to the original thread theme:

Steam Engines of the 18th Century (http://www.davidhulse.co.uk/)

1st Feb 2013, 13:34
Reverting to the original topic, this year has been deemed to be the 200th anniversary of William Hedley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Hedley)'s Puffing Billy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puffing_Billy_%28locomotive%29) used to transport coal from Wylam Colliery to Lemington Staithes on the River Tyne.

https://a248.e.akamai.net/camo.github.com/aa508b2b42e89a5c93d7cd90959f16d3af39ea0f/687474703a2f2f75706c6f61642e77696b696d656469612e6f72672f7769 6b6970656469612f636f6d6d6f6e732f302f30312f50756666696e675f42 696c6c795f313836322e6a7067

Hedley was assisted by Timothy Hackworth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Hackworth), who went on to develop further locomotives whilst working for Robert Stephenson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Stephenson), and, later in his own right.

The original Puffing Billy is in the London Science Museum, and a sister locomotive is in the Royal Museum in Edinburgh.

A replica of Puffing Billy which was built, and since 2006 has been running at Beamish Museum,


is expected to appear at celebrations to be held in Wylam (George Stephenson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Stephenson)'s birthplace) in September this year.

1st Feb 2013, 13:47
Agree dont think we or any other nation will ever come close to our Victorian forefathers for genius and the ability to get seemingly impossible engineering projects done,we shall never see their like again.

Have a look at a smartphone, Mr D!

You might guess we like steam trains

We might guess you do, Radeng... ;)

Wasn't there an early railway (Stockport?) that worked via a 'pig' in a long vacuum tube with a leather seal closing the slot in the tube before and after the pig 'strut'? It failed due to leakage at the seal, I think.

1st Feb 2013, 13:49
For me the ultimate engine is the triple expansion marine engine .
Complex and I havent got my model of one to work yet!

1st Feb 2013, 13:54
For me, it's the Deltic, followed by the Sabre sleeve valve, then the BRM H 15...14...13...16!

Is it scratch built, H'n'F?

1st Feb 2013, 14:07

I believe the fault with the pneumatic system you described wasn't so much the seal, but the material it was made from. IIRC it was leather, and suffered from the attentions of rats, which insisted on nibbling at it. I have it as the South Devon railway between Exeter and Plymouth....a Brunel (who else) project.

1st Feb 2013, 14:18
My hero as a lad - I had on my bedroom wall the picture of him in front of the chains of the Great Eastern, as well as one of the bridge with I.K.Brunel - Engineer bolted in giant letters on the arch. I ended up only being an architect... :(

1st Feb 2013, 14:24
Dublin and Kingstown railway was the first place it was tried and then the London and Croydon before the GWR.

I. K. Brunel was a great civil engineer, but his mechanics were poor, and in many ways, he was nowhere near the engineer his father, Sir Marc Brunel was.

RJM, it's not just me. Mrs radeng must be the only person in the world to have driven both of the Crofton beam engines and also Lion (of Titfield Thunderbolt fame) from the Liverpool and Manchester railway when that was being steamed.....

1st Feb 2013, 15:32
I have it as the South Devon railway between Exeter and Plymouth....a Brunel (who else) project.

Quite right - the large brick building beside the main line on the landward side at Starcross is one of the old pumping stations. The system relied on maintaining a vacuum in the tube by means of leather tubes. These quickly perished and greasing them made them attractive to rats which chewed them, as Loki said,so the problem of maintaining the vacuum was never solved.

I guess with modern materials a working system could be developed, but as with maglev, monorails, etc, the idea is fine for A - B journeys, but is too inflexible for complex systems.

1st Feb 2013, 18:43
And there was:
The Crystal Palace atmospheric or pneumatic railway was built in 1864 at the lower end of the Crystal Palace Park, and was working for a matter of months. It ran for about 600 yards in a 10-ft diameter brick tunnel between the Sydenham and Penge gates to the Park. The tunnel had a gradient of one in 15 and the railway went round in a sharp curve. It had a coach which could seat 35, and a sliding door at each end. There was a remote steam engine coupled to a fan. The railway had a collar of bristles which made it airtight and enabled the coach to be sucked along - at a speed of probably 25 mph. The trip apparently cost sixpence. The engineer was Thomas Webster Rammell, a man behind other pneumatic railway experiments in London. In fact his serious purpose was to design a pneumatic railway to go from Waterloo to Whitehall under the Thames.


1st Feb 2013, 20:34
Funnily enough one of the endless repeats of Michael Portillo's Great British Railway Journeys was on the tv earlier, and Portillo was visiting the museum at Newton Abbott where they have a display about the atmospheric railway. Only ran for eight months, apparently.