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Series One: The Boulton & Watt Archive and the Matthew Boulton Papers
from Birmingham Central Library

Part 5: Engineering Drawings - Crank, Canal, Dock & Harbour, 
Mint, Blowing, Pumping and other engines, c1775-1800
5 reels of 35mm silver-halide positive microfilm with guide to Parts 4 & 5

Whilst Part 3 covered drawings of the Sun and Planet Type, Part 5 addresses the wide range of other engines of different types conceived, planned and in the most part, erected during the period of Boulton’s partnership with Watt, 1775-1800. Part 5 features over 3300 drawings.

Crank Type Engines
There was some controversy over the use and application of the crank-type model, especially with regard to Pickard’s Patent. Watt devised methods to get around these difficulties and the drawings reproduced here enable researchers to examine this process in detail. Of particular note are the drawings of engines for Sarah Dunkerley for a Cotton Mill at Oldham, the Colliery Winding Engine for Saltcoates, engines for Werneth Colliery, Cockshead Colliery, and Tredegar Iron Works.

Engines were designed for Cotton Mills, Collieries, Iron Foundries and Iron Works, Silk Mills, Lead Mills, Ropemakers, Dyers, Breweries, Corn and Oil Mills, Portsmouth Dockyard, and a Distillery in Holland.

Of the crank arrangements, according to Dickinson & Jenkins in James Watt and the Steam Engine (Clarendon Press, 1927), the one that is of real importance is the arrangement of two cranks set at an angle of 120 degrees on the same shaft and worked by two cylinders. In July 1781 John Wilkinson was anxious to have a forge worked by a steam engine and Boulton wanted to supply him with a two-cylinder engine with cranks so arranged. He tells Watt:

"I have got a very pretty modell which is either 2 forges, or, when I please is 1 rolling mill and I am persuaded it will answer in great … Wilkinson has seen it and nobody else, not even the workman who made it. It is ye double crank worked with 2 engines. I think 2 thirty inch cylinders will work 2 such forges. You have so much more important and full employ abt. ye mines that I don’t think you shall be troubled with projects but if you will consent for me and Wilkinson to hammer out a pair of forges you shall have non of the dishonor, plague, trouble, dispute, or expense and you shall have all the profit. I think if we make expts. upon anybody should they be made upon Wilkinson, as he is doubly interested in the expts. perhaps the first forge may not be the best possible, but I am sure of making a good one. Nothing shall be done without previously acquainting you, nor then, if you object. You can neither loose reputation nor money and you are sure to gain by Wilkinson’s experience. He is so very hot upon it that I don’t think it possible to appease him without erecting ye forge. It must be done or quarrell."
Boulton and Watt Collection. Boulton to Watt, July 10, 1781.

A letter a week later gives a sketch of the arrangement of engines and hammers and states that it is proposed to erect for Wilkinson at Willey  - 'two engines with cylinders 27 in diam, with 7ft strokes, to work a 6 cwt hammer and a 2 cwt hammer 120 blows per minute, the whole framing of the forge to be of cast iron and the anvil block to be 10 tons weight'. Wilkinson, it appears, preferred the tilting to the lifting hammer (see Boulton and Watt Collection. Boulton to Watt, July 17, 1781).

The term of Pickard’s patent expired in 1794, but Boulton and Watt seem to have been applying the crank to a limited extent a few years before that date. The drawings, dated September 1791, of an engine for Wright and Jesson show a cast-iron crank; the drawings of the years 1792 and 1793 include but two crank engines, 1794 has none, but the years 1795-1796 have two each. The sun-and-planet gear continued to be made as late as 1802.

One of the early crank engines was a winding-engine for John Sparrow, and the drawing is headed ‘Cockshead No 2 Aug 10, 1793’. The framing is entirely of wood, and the beam and connecting-rod are likewise of wood. The cylinder, 14 in diameter, is carried on a wood frame, the vertical members of which pass down one on each side of the condensing cistern. The beam-gudgeon bearings are supported under the bearings by posts; diagonal struts extend from the tops of the posts to a trestle frame carrying the crank-shaft bearing. The plug-rod is of wood with an iron link connexion to the beam, and the air-pump rod is jointed to its lower end.

On a drawing for a very similar engine for Hawks & Co dated December 7, 1795, we find on the boiler steam-pipe the notes ‘to be very well wrapped’ - an early instance of clothing pipes.

Canal Engines
There is material relating to Birmingham, Thames & Severn, Dublin, Lancaster, Gloucester & Berkly, Crinan, Warwick & Birmingham, Kennet & Avon, and Oxford Canals.

An engine for pumping back water at the Smethwick locks on the Birmingham Canal was ordered at the beginning of 1777. It was at work in March 1778, and was said to go ‘exceedingly well’. In April it was tested by John Smeaton for the Canal Committee, ‘much to his satisfaction’, indeed Smeaton was so impressed by the performance that he relinquished, in favour of Boulton and Watt, a contract that he had entered into for the construction of a steam engine for the Hull Waterworks. The following account of the trial appears in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette for April 20, 1778.

The following Letter received last Week by the Committee of the Birmingham Canal Navigation, from their Superintendant of the Locks, affords an irrefragable Proof of the great Utility of a new-invented Steam Engine, lately erected on the said Canal, under the immediate Direction of Messrs. Boulton and Watt, the Patentees.

To the Committee of the Birmingham Canal.
Smethwick Locks, April 17.

"Gentlemen, - On Wednesday last Mr Smeaton made an accurate Trial of the Steam Engine erected lately on the Canal at this place, and it appeared that it did not consume more than 64lb of Coal an Hour when working at the rate of 11 Strokes a Minute (each Stroke being Five Feet Ten Inches). The Diameter of the working barrel of the Pump is 20 Inches; and the perpendicular Height of the Column of Water is 26 Feet 10 Inches and a Half, equal to 11-lb. 3-qrs. upon every square Inch of the Piston: The Quantity of Water raised at each Stroke is equal to 12 3 qrs. cubic Feet."

"Mr Smeaton declared, that the best new common Engine, with all his late Improvements (which are very considerable) would have required 194 lb of Coal to raise an equal Quantity of Water to the same height; and that a common Engine without those Improvements would consume a still greater Quantity."

"When that Asperities on the different working parts of this Engine are worn off, and the Cylinder is eased and finished, as is intended, I have not a doubt but it will be an Advantage to the Proprietors of 20 per cent more."

"I am, Gentlemen, your most humble Servant, S BULL."’

At the end of the year 1778 the Canal authorities ordered another engine for Spon Lane Locks; this was at work in June 1779. It had a 32-inch cylinder, and save in respect of cylinder diameter was a duplicate of 30-inch engine for Donnington Wood that was being made at the same time. Before the end of 1783 a third engine had been ordered, for Ocker Hill Locks.

Both Boulton and Watt had a strong interest in Canals and, of course, the waterways were vital at the time for the transport of goods. Over 200 drawings on the subject are made available in this section.

Dock and Harbour Engines
There are drawings for the West India Dock Company, the London Dock Company and Leith Harbour.

Water Works
Between August 1778 and May 1779 three pumping-engines were set up for waterworks in the London District, ie Richmond, Shadwell, and Chelsea. For the Richmond and Shadwell engines there is nothing of exceptional interest recorded. According to Dickinson and Jenkins in James Watt and the Steam Engine, the Chelsea engine was inspected and studied by John Farey in his younger days, and in his Treatise on the Steam Engine he gives a sketch, that he had made in the year 1804, of the cylinder and the arrangement of the valves.

The engine is interesting in that it was one of those in which the piston rose in vacuum. The lower end of the cylinder was in permanent connection with the condenser, and the steam was exhausted from the top of the cylinder direct to the condenser, instead of first passing to the lower end of the cylinder, as in the normal type of single-acting engines. The equilibrium valve in this arrangement became the exhaust valve, and it was placed near the top of the cylinder just below the steam valve. A valve, adjusted by hand, was sometimes placed in the education pipe to regulate the flow of steam to the condenser. Farey discusses the pros and cons of the arrangement.

The intended advantage of this construction is, he says, that the whole time of the ascent of the piston is allowed for the condensation of the steam, and therefore it might be expected to produce a better vacuum, and a more immediate stroke, than in other constructions, in which the condensation of all the steam in the cylinder must be made after the piston arrived at the top of its stroke and before it can begin to return. He goes on to say that in practice this advantage was not found to be of great importance, and the scheme had the disadvantage that leakage at the stuffing-box and at the joint of the cylinder-cover was greatly increased, and the leakage was now leakage of air into vacuum, instead of being confined to leakage of steam into the atmosphere. Then again, in order that the piston might rise at the same speed as in the ordinary engine, a heavier counterweight was required at the outer end of the beam. The last objection that Farey brings forward is quite interesting; it is that the heat losses in the cylinder are necessarily greater than with the usual way of working, since the steam-jacket was pouring in heat for a greater proportion of the cycle. At the date of Farey’s writing (say 1826) the plan had long been disused. The conversion to the ordinary working cycle having been effected by putting in at the top of the education pipe a valve operated by the working-gear.

The working-gear of this engine seems to have had some special feature; Boulton on one of his visits to the engine remarked that it answered very well, and wished to have the gear of the Shadwell engine altered to the same arrangement.

Drawings for Engines at the various London Waterworks are made available alongside those for Hull and Paris.

Mint Engines
Drawings for 3 Engines are included.

Vacuum and Blowing Engines
Drawings for engines for Clyde Iron Works; Holmes Iron Works, Blaenavon Iron Works; Donnington Furnace; Shelve Field Gravel Pits; 10 separate engines for John Wilkinson including one at Bradley, two at Ketley, one at New Willey, and one at Snedshill; and two engines for Cadiz in Spain are featured here providing important evidence on the role of this type of engine, particularly in the emergent iron industry.

Pumping Engines
Included are the drawings of the first engine at Soho, dating from 1774; a pumping engine for Bloomfield Colliery, near Tipton; the Bedworth Engine; and Coleville’s Engine at Torryburn in Fifeshire, near Dunfermline. (see Portfolios 624 and 625). These provide good examples of early engines.

The first engine to be set up in the year 1777 was at Hawkesbury Colliery, Bedworth, near Coventry. This was the largest engine that the firm had yet been engaged upon; it had a 58-inch cylinder and a stroke of 8 ft and was fitted with a steam jacket. The pump had a working barrel 14 ½ inches diameter, and the lift was 130 yds. Watt went over to supervise the erection at various times in January, February, and March, and the engine was started on March 10th. Three weeks later it was reported to be going well although not so fast as wished for. It was, however, an unfortunate engine in more respects than one. There were many defects to cure, and when the engine had been brought to a fairly satisfactory working condition there was considerable difficulty in getting the owners of the mine to sign an agreement to pay the premium demand. At last, after having thoroughly overhauled their old engine and fitted it with Watt’s drop valves, a comparative trial was made in March 1779 in the presence of an arbitrator, who awarded Boulton and Watt a premium of £217 per annum, and a few months later a deed was completed for the payment of this sum. The colliery owners had thought £30 a sufficient payment. The trial had shown that the new engine was better than the old in the proportion of 411 to 96. These details are again related on pages 117 et set in James Watt and the Steam Engine, Dickinson & Jenkins, (Clarendon Press, 1927).

As to the misfortunes of the engine itself, an account in April 1777 is quite a chapter of incidents. First we are told that the packing in the condenser joints gave way; this was put right, and then ‘the martingale of the lower regulator broke’. After this was mended the engine was found to be ‘in better order than ever, the vacuum at 27 inches and stood almost an hour at 22 after the engine stopt’. Next, ‘the pump rod of the lower lift broke off by the top of the pump, and the rods below it fell down the pumps where they have fixed themselves in such a manner that the capstane rope was broke in attempting to draw them up and there they must in all probability stay untill the old engine gets down the water’.

Various parts of the engine were renewed soon after, and the beam was strengthened by ties and struts; in July 1778 new valves, nozzles, and working-gear were supplied, and then in 1789, when it was moved to Exhall Colliery, it underwent extensive repairs, and seems to have had a parallel motion applied to it.

This engine had the outer cylinder made in two lengths and the cylinder cover in halves flanged and bolted together. It had two air-pumps.

On his visits to Scotland in 1776 Watt arranged to put up an engine with a 44-inch cylinder for Peter Colevile at Torryburn, Fifeshire (three miles from Dunfermline). Although this engine was not set to work before January 1778, the drawings, or some of them, had been prepared before the end of 1776, so that in respect of design it takes precedence over any engine erected in Cornwall.

Cornish Mines
The Cornish mine adventurers were badly in want of more powerful and more efficient machines for raising the water from their mines, and from the time when they first heard of the new engine they had taken a keen interest in what was being done at Soho. About the middle of 1776 a deputation from Cornwall made its appearance in Birmingham for the purpose of inspecting the Soho and the Bloomfield engines; it was under the leadership of Thomas Ennis of Redruth, or at least he seems to have been the most influential man involved. The Cornishmen came determined to find out all they could, and after the visitors had departed it was found that a drawing of the engine was missing. Boulton wrote to Ennis in a very outspoken fashion - ‘we do not keep a school to teach fire-engine making, but profess the making of them ourselves’. The missing drawing was returned very soon, it had been taken by Trevithick (the father of Richard Trevithick), as he said, under a misapprehension. The year 1777 saw the first Watt engine in Cornwall at work; this was at Wheal Busy, otherwise known as Wheal Spirit, Chacewater. The engine for Tingtang mine, near Redruth, had been ordered first, but there was delay in getting the parts to Cornwall and it was not at work until the following year; Boulton and Watt then had ten engines in hand. Several of these engines were for the Cornish mines, and it seems that by the summer of 1780 forty pumping-engines had been set up, twenty of which were at work in Cornwall.

The first order received from Cornwall was for a 52-inch cylinder engine for Tingtang mine, of which Jonathan Hornblower the elder was the engineer, but, as mentioned above, the first Watt engine actually erected in that county was the Wheal Busy engine, a 30-inch cylinder. Except in respect of dimensions the construction of Tingtang engine followed the designs of Colevile’s, an engine which had been ordered earlier but was not set to work until January 1778; but the Wheal Busy engine embodied additional improvements, described by Watt: ‘Chacewater nozzle is the most complete thing of that kind we have hitherto made and I expect will answer very well.’

The cylinders and other castings for both these engines were ready at Bersham early in May 1777, but when it came to shipping them it was found that the hatches of the vessel were too small to pass the Tingtang cylinder. Thus the Wheal Busy goods were dispatched first, much to the annoyance of Watt. The erection of the Wheal Busy engine was confided to Thomas Dudley, a man who had been sent from Cornwall to Birmingham and Bersham to press forward the delivery of the materials, and to receive a course of instruction, but Watt went down to supervise the completion of the erection of the engine. Upon his arrival in Cornwall in August 1777 he found ‘Wheal Busy in considerable forwardness’, and that ‘what ironwork had been made there is little inferior to our own, if any’. In the same letter he presses for the dispatch of the Tingtang materials, and says that all the world is agape to see the performance of Wheal Busy.

The engine was soon set going, and the reports on the performance are very good. ‘WL spirit goes on very well. It has forked the water in the engine shaft’. ‘The Spirit goes better and better, working well with ½ inch of steam.’ Like Tingtang this engine had an inner and an outer cylinder, with valves at the bottom, and the education pipe was enclosed in a long cylindrical casing.

Over 500 Drawings are reproduced here reflecting the importance of Boulton and Watt’s activity in Cornwall. These drawings relate to 57 different engines.

This project provides an opportunity for a fresh look at the substance and impact of the Industrial Revolution and suggests the potential of much fruitful interdisciplinary work between economic historians, mechanical engineers and historians of science. Each part of this project has a clear theme and unity. Libraries can acquire the project part by part confident that each area has clear research and teaching potential.

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