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Post by Stanley » 15 May 2012, 05:17


I’ve decided that the only way I shall make any sense out of Ellenroad, and keep this narrative to a reasonable length, is to describe what we did there into broad themes and allow the chronology to overlap. I’ll try to keep this section to the mechanical elements of the puzzle I was faced with. Other matters will creep in of course and I might even dredge up the odd story or two!

If you were to ask most enthusiasts what the most important element of Ellenroad was I suppose they would say the engine. This is as good a place as any to nail my colours to the mast. I am not a steam enthusiast and if you want to insult me, keep calling me one, I guarantee you will get a reaction. This is not to say that I hate them, this would be equally unacceptable to me. I suppose the best way to describe my feelings about engines is that I respect them as machines and understand what their significance is. When I look at Ellenroad engine I don’t just see 300 tons of iron skilfully shaped into a functioning machine, I look down a vista in time, opened up by the engine and populated by all the people who used its power to build their world. In this view, the little spinner on the top floor working to build up her bottom drawer before marriage is just as important as Emanuel Clegg, one of the original investors in the mill. My reason for saving Ellenroad was that we needed to make sure that the opportunity to understand that vista was preserved for those who could see it. Having made that decision, the only way to use the engine is to blow people’s minds and in order to do that it needs to be running in steam. I made this very clear to the Directors as soon as the Trust was formed. I told them that my mission was to do just that and anything else I did at Ellenroad was a bonus.

The basic elements of the mechanicals at Ellenroad were the boiler, the engine and the ancillary plant.

The boiler was basically in as good condition as when it was installed in 1919 when the engine was upgraded to a double tandem and the power raised from 1800hp to 2,500hp. The boiler had to be stripped to its shell and all the fittings refurbished. The settings were in poor condition so we had to jack the boiler up and support it and then remove all the brickwork from around and underneath it and replace the lot. Just at this time MacAlpines, the big road contractors had a contract to install a fourth lane on the M62 up to Rockingstones. They needed a base camp for the works and I persuaded Coates to let me allow them to use the field in between the engine house and the motorway. In payment, they supplied all the refractory brick we needed and allowed us to clear the site after they had finished. I got enough reinforcing bar to do all the foundations for the new back wall of the engine house when we came to do it and literally tons of assorted timber, site huts, bricks and mesh reinforcement. There were enough refractory bricks to repair the main flue as well. The MSC team did all the work except for the refurb of the boiler fittings, I did those myself in my workshop in the garage at Addingham.

When we took over the boiler was fitted with Bennis shovel stokers which were obsolete both in terms of spares and combustion efficiency. Funnily enough this gave us a useful lever with Bennis Combustion because there was still one set of these stokers running in Ireland. They had destroyed all the patterns and when the Irish company wanted spares, Bennis sent a fitter over to Ellenroad who removed the part they needed to supply and took it back so that they could make a pattern off it. When they had done they returned our part. This meant that when we needed to install new stokers, Bennis did it for nothing and saved us thousands of pounds.

The only way we could get away with the smoke regulations and fire economically was to fit underfired stokers. This was a problem until I heard that Oldham Royal Hospital was to be demolished. I had a word with the area engineer and in return for some help with labour the Health Authority gave us permission to gut the boiler house and take anything we wanted. I put a gang in there and we took everything except the boilers, the building and the asbestos! This provided our stokers and all the pumps and other spares we needed. Installation was no problem as I have said already, Bennis moved in and installed them for nothing.

When we rebuilt the wall which framed the front of the boilers I got Norman Sutcliffe to give us the front five feet of a boiler he was scrapping at Jubilee Mill in Padiham. He transported it across free and we installed it in the new front wall we had built and from the front it looked like another Lancashire boiler. We shifted the old Bennis shovel stokers on to the front of this dummy boiler so that people could see how it looked originally. From the back, visitors could see inside the dummy and appreciate how boilers were constructed.

We installed completely new electric feed pumps backed up by a Weir steam pump, installed a feed water tank and re-piped the whole of the water and steam mains all the way to the engine including new control valves and safety arrangements. The boiler was fitted with full automatic controls which governed feed water, firing, steam pressure and all modern safety measures to shut the plant down in case of any dangerous circumstances. We left the original feedwater arrangements in place in the pump house so that we could use these as a separate exhibit.

The final stage of the work on the boiler was to have it insured. We went back to the original insurers National Vulcan and their surveyor Allan Roberts kept an eye on our progress throughout the re-seating of the boiler. He was an ex-marine engineer and was completely at home with riveted vessels and the plant at Ellenroad. When we eventually finished the work he supervised the hydraulic testing of the boiler during which we filled it completely with water and pressurised it to 150% of its designed working pressure plus ten pounds, a total pressure of 280psi. We then steamed the boiler for him and demonstrated that all the safety measures were in order. We set the safety valve to blow at 60psi as I calculated that was all the pressure we would ever need to run the engine. The boiler and its associated plant passed all the tests and was fully insured for its original working pressure when new.

There was very little needed doing to the engine itself. There were only four bearing brasses missing and Newton made these for us and fitted them. All the brass lubricators were still on the engine apart from the two largest which fed oil to the crank pins. These and the banjo oilers that carried the oil to the cranks while the engine was running were missing. I refurbished all the lubricators, including the Kirkham’s high pressure cylinder lubricators and whilst visiting John Kirkham in Bolton I asked him whether he had any patterns for large lubricators. He had so I asked him to do three sets of castings for us. A few weeks later, when they were ready for collection I asked if he could make them up for us but he said that all his brass-turners who had the necessary skills had retired so Newton and I decided to make one apiece to save time. We each made one and I remember we kept track of the hours we spent, Newton did his in 22 hours and mine took 26. I reckoned up the present day cost of making these and it was in the order of £800 for each lubricator if all the current prices had been paid and a profit put on them. As it was, I paid Newton a nominal sum, I did mine for nothing and John sold us the castings at cost. I suppose the cost of the two was below £150.

The only other items that were missing were the name plates off the engine. There was a mystery about these because there were two conflicting reports of the names. One report said “Victoria” and “Albert”, but the original report of the engine first starting in 1892 said “Victoria “ and “Alexandra”. After a bit of investigation I found where one of the original plates was, it had been stolen and the only way I could get a look at it was to promise I would keep my mouth shut. My main interest was to get the dimensions and design of the plates right, I wasn’t really bothered about recovering one worn plate and anyway, it was in a surprising place and there was the potential for a lot of embarrassment if knowledge of where it was had become public. I took the original to a pattern maker in Keighley and he made two patterns, one for Victoria and the other for Alexandra. I got the plates cast at Naylors in Pitt Street at Keighley who did all my small casting jobs but who have since gone the way of most of these small firms. I finished them at home and fitted them to the engine and everyone agreed that even though it was a small task, it was a giant leap forward in terms of the looks of the engine.

[Added August 7th 2005: The old chestnut about the names of the engines cropped up again. Here’s what I told the Trust.   The engines were christened with the names they have now.  There is a report of the naming ceremony.  Despite this, I still got flak about the names.  I first knew the truth when I heard that an old mate of mine in Rochdale knew where the original plate was .  It had been stolen and he wouldn't tell me where it was but went and borrowed it for me.  Later, when I had more time I researched it properly and found a report in the McNaught archive on job number 873 dated Jan 1st 1891 which was the original specification for the engine.  The description is annotated with the following;  "Engines run on May 9th 1892"  "Name plates Victoria and Alexandra.  Christened May 21st 1892". There were still people who didn't believe it, evidently there are some about now.  They have seen one piece of evidence and ignore everything else.  If they were to use their heads they would realise that Albert was dead in 1892 but Victoria was still alive.  Alexandra was the next queen, so it was named for the present and future queen.


The biggest task was cleaning the engine. We set a gang of lads on to this and for two years we had an average of four men a day working full time on this. They did a wonderful job without using any harsh abrasives and by the time we came to run even the old engineer couldn’t have found much fault. All we did to the pilot engine in the generating house at this point was clean it up.

I was very conscious that the engine was potentially very dangerous even at the reduced pressures we would be using. The attitude of almost all the official bodies was that the way to make the engines safer was to run them at reduced speed but I never agreed to this. Apart from the logic of the matter there is nothing looks worse than an engine labouring at half speed when what you really want to show the clients is it running exactly how it did when it was powering the mill. I have argued this case with every engine I have ever refurbished and have always ended up running at the correct speed. The reason for this is that when the logic is explained properly to the authorities governing the decision like the insurance company and the Health and Safety Executive, they will always agree.

My case was that the original engineers had picked what they regarded as the optimum safe speed for the design of the engine and who were we to argue. It got slightly more technical than that, I had to demonstrate that if you did two curves on a graph, one for the torque going into the crank and one for the centrifugal force in the flywheel the point where they crossed was near enough to the original running speed. In other words, this was the point where the engine was under least stress. It took a bit of salesmanship but the case was good and the authorities agreed. Where I went further than any regulatory requirements at Ellenroad was that I persuaded a firm who specialised in computerised controls to design a system for the Ellenroad Engines that monitored the key parameters constantly while the engine was running and if any slipped outside acceptable values, shut the engine down and broke the vacuum. All this was installed and only needed commissioning but I could never get the funding to complete it. Eight years later as I write this the present management still sits on a state of the art system and hasn’t done anything about it.

Part of the safety installation was a modern stop valve in the new steam main to the engine. I made a temporary stanchion and valve handle in order to get us going but always intended making a proper one as soon as I could get the castings. I looked for these for about three years and was always on the look out for something I could use that would be in keeping with the rest of the engine. I was in Naylor’s yard at Keighley one day when I noticed something in the scrap pile of the engineering shop next door. It was a casting for a valve wheel stanchion that was exactly right for Ellenroad. I got some odd castings made for the small parts and took great pleasure in making a handwheel and valve stanchion that was a perfect match for the engine house.

The only other big problem was the fact that the Health and Safety wanted the engine fencing completely so that the public couldn’t touch it. This looked like a big and expensive problem but in the end the solution was suggested by Peter Dawson and was surprisingly simple and efficient. We bought the same type of railing which is used to stop pedestrians crossing the road, installed it and painted it black and then got Boholt Fine Joinery from Oldham to come in and cap it with a magnificent mahogany banister rail. I was surprised then and still am how unobtrusive this is.

The water resource, the weir and cloughs behind the engine house, was in basically good condition but overgrown. I had a word with the North West Water at Warrington and persuaded them that it would be a good flood prevention measure to clean out the River Beal at this point. They agreed, sent in a dragline and a gang of men and cleaned up the river for us. We put an MSC gang on to revetting the banks around the cloughs and weir and finished up with a very tidy and functional water resource.

Finally, we replaced the alternator in the bottom of what was left of the rope race ready for coupling it up to the engine if this was ever needed.

I suppose heating comes under the mechanicals. There isn’t usually any heating in an engine house because when the engine is in steam it provides all the heat that is needed. What we wanted to do was provide frost protection for the building and plant. I got a heating engineer in and all sorts of expensive solutions were mooted and costed. In the end I realise we had to do something imaginative so I went out and bought a 3KW electric fan heater, mounted it in the cellar, wired it to the mains and we simply switched it on in September and left it running until March! It did all we wanted and frost was never a problem.


The structures associated with the engine were the most expensive items in the whole of the refurbishment. Starting with the roof and working down we re-slated the whole roof, lifted the copings and replaced them on a waterproof membrane. The boiler house roof was more complicated. We dismantled the existing wrought iron and glass skylights and completely rebuilt them, MSC labour did all this. The roof itself was stripped and the asphalt covering completely replaced by a contractor.

The whole of the building was pointed, all new window frames and glass fitted and the structure injected to guard against dry and wet rot. The roof space over the engine house was cleaned out and all timbers affected by rot replaced then the whole was treated chemically against any recurrence.

The back wall of the rope race was completely missing after the demolition and the engine house open to the weather. Initially we installed a temporary closure of plastic corrugated sheeting but eventually bricked the whole of the rear of the engine house to tidy up the demolition scars and render it weatherproof. This wall was sixty feet high and a massive job.

There’s a story connected with the wall. I always tried to use local firms and in this case we set a local builder, Fred Baumer on to do the wall. We left him alone and let him do it at his own pace and eventually we had a good wall. Ten years later, my daughter in Perth, Western Australia was supervising the building of three houses on a piece of land she and her husband had bought in Scarborough Beach. She was talking to her bricklayer one day and he said “Do you come from Barrowford?” Surprised, Janet said “No, but you’re close, it’s Barnoldswick actually.” He said “That’s funny, I used to know a bloke from Barnoldswick, he gave me and my dad the job of building a wall sixty feet high.” Janet said “That would be at Ellenroad.” The brickie was amazed and asked her how she knew, “It was my dad!” The Random Improbability Factor had struck again! The brickie was Fred Baumer’s son Harold who had migrated to Australia.

We replaced all five of the steel roller shutters on the boiler house and installed a new main door into the engine house passage. Inside the boiler house we replaced all the foundations under the cast iron pillars supporting the roof and put three new pillars in to replace some which had been original steel girders but which had corroded. In the engine house cellar we cleared all the rubbish out and replaced any brickwork that had deteriorated. In the course of this we found a void in the foundations that when we cleared it out, made a large and very useful store room.

The site of the old economisers was a mess and it was while I was inspecting this area one day in 1986 I made a very expensive discovery, one of the lads had moved a lot of rubbish in an area under the stone steps up to the engine house and he came to me to ask me to have a look at what he had uncovered. It was solid asbestos and I had no option but to withdraw all the labour, get the Environmental Health in and have tests done. The result was a disaster, they found asbestos in several areas and it became obvious that the original clearance had been botched and we had to do the whole exercise over again. I got some prices and then arranged a meeting with our major funders, English Heritage. I was going to leave funding until later but we should address what happened here because apart from anything else, it’s a good story!

In Summer 1986, Gavin Bone and I went into the meeting with English Heritage with a few problems, the biggest of which was the asbestos. Funding negotiations like this are usually very difficult, there is nothing funders hate more than expensive surprises. We started our list of requirements and after a while I asked if we could adjourn for a smoke for a minute or two. I got Gavin outside and told him that I smelt a rat. The coded signals I was getting from English Heritage were that no reasonable request would be refused. We decided to put it to the test and went back in and asked for a decision to fund in principle on a whole raft of measures. EH agreed to it all and in addition, said they would fund the asbestos removal 85% which was unheard of. Eventually, after the English Heritage people had gone, Gavin and I sat down together and tried to work out what had happened. We failed, all we knew was that we had got everything we asked for and a brown paper bag to take it away in.

Years later I worked out a possible reason for what had happened. Evidently when the old London County Council, presided over by Ken Livingstone, was disbanded, the residual body found when they took over that many of the computer files were corrupted. One of the effects of this was that they weren’t able to proceed with claims for funding against English Heritage for conservation projects under their control in London. This meant that EH had a shortfall in their spending and rather than allow this to revert to the Treasury they decided to make the money available to projects already under way in the country at large. The problem here was that it takes a long time to plan, cost and negotiate funding so EH were looking to bring forward schemes already in place. Gavin and I were in the right place at the right time and got Ellenroad got the benefit of the windfall.


The chimney at Ellenroad was 70 yards high originally. You will find that most stacks built at this time are measured in yards. It was built of brick and had set offs at about every thirty feet. That is, as the stack rose it lost one brick of thickness for every thirty feet but was still three bricks thick at the head. It tapered as it rose, this is called the batter and the rate was three quarters of an inch in one yard of height. The Ellenroad stack was different than most in that the initial set offs at the base where the broad foundation narrowed to the diameter of the main structure were above ground. I think this is because they wanted the base of the foundation to be above the water table and remember, Ellenroad was in a valley bottom next to the River Beal. In some land adjacent to the chimney we dug a hole thirty feet deep during the demolition phase to get rid of some very large pieces of concrete. We were in black loam all the way down and hit water. This was to be significant later in another respect!

At some point in the late 50’s as near as I could make out there had been a problem with the integrity of the chimney head and the steeplejacks had ’cured’ it by removing the drum from above the oversailer, this is the flange shaped rim of stones just below the head. This ‘oversailer’ is common to most brick or stone chimneys and is an effort to reduce down draught at the top of the stack. The stones which form the oversailer are cantilevered out to give the flange and rely on the weight of the drum above to keep them in place. Removal of the drum damages the integrity of this structure and it should never have been done. One of my first jobs was to replace this drum.

Round chimneys are constructed with specially shaped bricks. The stretchers are curved and the headers are wedge shaped. The amount of curve and taper varies with the diameter of the chimney and alter as the chimney rises. At the time we rebuilt the Ellenroad drum these bricks were no longer made so I had to find a source.

At this time a steeplejack called Ronnie Goggins had the contract to dismantle the redundant chimney at Mons Mill in Todmorden. I went there one morning to see whether the bricks they were dropping were of any use to me. Mons Mill chimney interested me because I knew that it had been altered after it was built. The mill was originally to be called Hare Mill and about two thirds of the way up the chimney there had been a glazed brick panel about twelve feet deep which depicted a running hare and the name ‘HARE’. During the construction of the mill the entrepreneurs ran short of money. They had contracted with the firm of Carels Freres from Mons in Belgium to supply the gigantic 3,000hp cross compound engine that was to drive the mill. No doubt in an effort to ensure their contract was paid, Carels invested money in the mill on condition that its name was changed to Mons. This presented a difficulty as the panel depicting the hare had already been incorporated in the structure as it was built. The story I had heard was that the chimney builders were instructed to cut out the redundant panel and replace it with one saying ‘MONS.’ They did this but I reckoned they wouldn’t have been able to replace the header bricks that keyed back into the next course in. I was curious to see if I was right.

When I arrived on site, young Ronnie Goggins and his mate were on the head working on the demolition. I climbed up their ladders which were very badly fixed. They hadn’t cut new dog holes for their dogs and wedges but had followed any unfilled holes they could find on the stack. The consequence was that the ladders meandered all over the place and were a trifle insecure in places! When I got to the top ladder there were three rungs missing out of it and it wasn’t fastened at the top. I halted and addressed young Ronnie. “I know you’ll think I’m a wimp but could you please tie the top of the ladder on before I come up it?” Ronnie laughed and walked round the rim of the chimney. We were at about 180 ft and what made it impressive was the fact that four years earlier, Ronnie had lost a leg in a motorcycling accident! I crawled on to the rim and sat there while I examined the state of the bricks. They were just what we needed and had been made at Newhey Brickworks just behind Ellenroad where all the original brick for the mill had come from. I arranged with them to drop the good bricks separate from the others and I would send a gang across to gather them up. We did this and used this brick on Ellenroad chimney head. We were still some bricks short but Ronnie was dropping Jubilee chimney at Padiham at that time and we made up our numbers with ten tons of bricks from there.

One last thing about Mons chimney. The locals always said it was so high there that you could always see snow from the top! The reason for this becomes clear if you think about what MONS looks like if viewed upside down. I told Ronnie about the change of name and he told me later that when they came to the panel it was as I suspected. There were no key bricks, the whole panel was a single skin construction separate from the body of the chimney. Ronnie said it peeled off in big sections when they came to it.

Back at Ellenroad Peter Tatham and I had to decide how we were going to tackle the job of rebuilding the head. I had already found a big flue door on site which was redundant and we decided we would cut a hole in the square flue box at the base of the chimney to give us access to the base and that when we were finished we would put the large cast iron door in so that we had easy access to the flues for maintenance afterwards, We scaffolded the top of the stack, put a snatch block on the structure and had a rope almost 500 feet long from an electric winch at the bottom into the bottom of the stack round a snatch block anchored in the chimney base and up to the head, over the snatch block mounted there, and down to the bottom where we fitted a large cast iron weight and a hook on the end of the rope. In effect we had converted the stack into a mine shaft and the addition of a five gallon bucket meant we could hoist all our materials up to the top through the flue. This worked well and eased our labours considerably.

The next job was to decide what height the drum should be built to, we had no drawings, only a photograph taken in 1915 when the mill burned down. Peter and I were discussing this on the top of the chimney and he said that when he used to work on the stack with his grandfather he remembered that he couldn’t quite see over the top of the drum when stood on the toeboard of the scaffold. I got him to stand there and marked the scaffold pole at the level of his eyes then I added two inches for shrinkage over the years! We cut a mark on the scaffold pole and that was the height we built it to. When we had finished the eye told us that we had got it as near right as we could have. It looked exactly the same proportion as the original photograph.

The most important part of a chimney head is the finishing courses on the drum. This is what gets all the weather and is attacked by the fumes in the flue gas. When new, various materials were used, solid stone, cast iron or specially cast terracotta segments. Peter cast the concrete rim at Ellenroad in six segments joined together by one inch diameter copper bars, two to each joint. The joints were sealed with bitumen. This made a very strong and durable rim which would last for longer than we cared to think about! He told me he once saw that Firs were demolishing a chimney that he had put a new rim on by this method and he had a word with the jack in charge on the site intending to warn him about this. Professional rivalry arose and it became evident that Firs’ man didn’t want to know anything Peter told him. Peter said that the consequence was that when they dropped the chimney, the rim rolled off down the hill like a big Polo Mint and demolished part of the mill! He added that they weren’t much good as they felled the stack on their air compressor! Their is always an element of rivalry in trades.

There was one funny story about our job at Ellenroad. Peter had a young lad working for him at the time. He was a cheeky little bugger but sharp with it. I arrived one morning just as he was setting up at the chimney base to start hauling bricks up to the top. He was looking puzzled and I asked him what was the matter. “I don’t like this chimney, it’s haunted!” I asked him what brought him to this conclusion and he said he’d show me. He went into the chimney base and held the weighted hook on the fall of the tackle until it was still. Then he stood back and said “In ten minutes that hook will be swinging until it touches the wall!” I took him to the hut and we had a cup of tea. When we went back, sure enough the hook was gently swinging like a pendulum and was almost touching the side. He said “There you are, I told you so. It must be haunted, there’s no wind to move the chimney!”

He was right of course, it wasn’t the wind but it wasn’t haunted either. I told him that what we had was probably the best Foucault Pendulum in the world as its moment was over 200 feet! I explained that what he was looking at was a vibration caused by the earth wobbling on its axis as it turned and that the principle had been understood for hundreds of years. I don’t know whether he believed me but he seemed happier about it afterwards!

Over the eight years I was there we did a lot of work on the chimney. Peter retired before we had finished. He recommended that I get Brooke Edgeley as my jacks, they came from Batley and were excellent. I used them on all my chimney work afterwards. The final job we did was to strip all the bands off the chimney, refurbish them and re-instate them. We pointed the whole of the chimney and coated it with three coats of boiled linseed oil as protection. This was a massive job and I remember Tommy Brookes and Keith Batley telling me that nobody would ever do a stack so well again! Peter died at about this time and was cremated at Rochdale. Daniel Meadows came up for the funeral and as we stood outside the crematorium Dan looked back and said “I suppose it’s the last chimney Peter will ever climb!” The nice thing about it was that when the lads from Brooke Edgeley came to ladder the Ellenroad chimney at the beginning of the final contract, the one who was fixing the ladders asked me who had rebuilt the drum. I told him and he said he wished he could have served his apprenticeship under Peter. I thought that was a great compliment and called in to tell Dot, Peter’s widow, on the way home. She was pleased as well. Jack Brookes told me it was the last chimney they would ever do to that standard as nobody cares about them nowadays. I agreed with him but remembered this conversation much later!

By the time we had finished with the chimney it was like new and a credit to all concerned. I always said it was my memorial, when I die they can cremate me and put my ashes in the chimney base, I reckon it’s as good a memorial as any you could want.


I did a lot of travelling but no, I didn’t go to Siberia! So why the heading? There is a mill at Brierfield Called Finsley Gate and the locals always called it Siberia because they said it was so cold. Newton Pickles had removed the engine for storage by the Science Museum, they intended to re-erect it in the museum at South Kensington in London. They eventually did this but Brown and Pickles wouldn’t have anything to do with it because as Newton said when he heard they were going to run it with an electric motor, “I don’t want anything to do with clockwork engines!” If it wasn’t going to be steamed he wasn’t interested!

Plans changed however and a decision was made to run it in steam. All the work was done and in December 1985, Rod Law who was Keeper of Steam at South Kensington, asked me down to have a look. He wanted to show his new toy off I think on the quiet. I went down and looked at the installation and to put it bluntly, I was horrified by what they’d done.

I know, you can smell another of Stanley’s stories where he knew better than anybody else. That’s about the size of it and I’m not going to apologise, all I can do is tell the truth, not because of the fact I was right, but to illustrate what can happen when ‘experts’ decide they know better than anybody else.

I shan’t go into a long list of technicalities but will briefly list where they went wrong. The interesting bit is what happened later. The engine itself had been properly and competently installed by a firm called Rileys from Heywood near Manchester. The only problems I could see were that the receiver between the cylinders was too small and the wrong sort of drains had been fitted, Where the designers had really slipped up was in the water supply to the air pump. The term ‘air pump’ is a misnomer really, it is more properly an exhauster, its function is to get the condensed steam out of the cylinder and drop it into a drain, it was never intended to lift condensing water a long way or discharge it at any distance. The set-up at South Kensington included a long run of pipework to a remote cooling tower and as soon as I saw it I pointed out that it was wrong. There was very little interest in what I was saying but I told them and sent a letter afterwards to a bloke called Wright who was taking over Rod’s job. As far as I was concerned, that was it. They did ask whether I wanted an invitation to the first steaming and I told them I’d rather not be anywhere near it!

Later in 1986, about the end of June I think, I was with David Sekers from Quarry Bank and after we had finished our business we had lunch together and he told me of an incident at the Science Museum the week before. He had been in Neill Cosson’s office, Neill was in charge at South Kensington, with another High Panjandrum from the heritage industry and they were having a fairly high powered discussion about various matters when a person came into the office and said something to the Director about water on the floor in the museum. Neill left in a hurry saying he would return shortly and left the other two wondering why Neill was so bothered about the cleaning arrangements, they thought he might have delegated this matter! He returned shortly afterwards and they finished the meeting and left. Now as soon as David said this my ears pricked up. I don’t know whether David knew what had happened, he certainly didn’t tell me and personally, I think he just thought it was a quaint occurrence and that was why he told me. I stored the information away and kept quiet.

A few days later the phone rang one evening and I think it was John Robinson who had been delegated to approach me. As soon as he came on the line I told him I knew why he was ringing me. He said I couldn’t possibly know so I told him I thought they had run the Siberia engine and either got a slug in the low pressure and cracked the cover or they’d split the air pump. There was silence for a second and then John asked me how I knew. I told him that I’d heard on the grapevine that there was water on the floor in the East Hall and I’d put two and two together. He told me I was right, they’d split the air pump and would I come down and have a look. I told him I wasn’t interested in being a member of a committee and I’d only come if I was the sole source they were consulting, further, I said I wanted to take Newton as well, the more practical brains we had the better. They sent us two tickets and Newton and I went down.

Newton knew about the cock-up with the installation because I had told him. He agreed with me on the train down that my diagnosis was correct, there was too much head on the air pump and they’d split it. When we got to the museum we were taken straight to the engine which was just as they’d left it after the accident. Newton had a look round while I asked for some spanners and started taking the cover off the inboard end of the pump because that was where I suspected the split would be. I had it off in short time and felt inside. The casting was corroded away until it was like thin cardboard and there was an annular slit three parts of the way round just inside the cover. They asked me what they should do. I said it wasn’t worth getting another one cast, I advised them to take it out and get a replica fabricated in boiler quality steel, it would be quicker, cheaper and stronger. Newton agreed. Further, I told them that they hadn’t cured the problem when they did this. The lay-out was wrong and if they ran it like that, sooner or later they would get a build up of condensate, a slug in the cylinder and they would have an even worse smash-up. In other words they had got away lightly because the air pump had acted as a weak link and given up before anything serious happened to the engine. Once the air pump was strengthened the fault would go to the next weak spot, the low pressure cylinder. I sent them a report when I got home which said the same things and suggested a remedy. I don’t think they even acknowledged the letter. I never heard anything more about it. Apart from the train tickets, all Newton and I got was a meagre lunch. Ah well, at least we had the chance to tell them!

Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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