Blast Furnace Blowing Engine on Road Island
Traffic island, that is, at the centre of a busy roundabout (traffic circle) in Birmingham, England. Specifically, the roundabout known as Dartmouth Circus. Map here:-
Grazebrook beam engine (C) Ashley Dace :: Geograph Britain and Ireland
Engine built in 1817. Oldest surviving steam blowing engine?
Air cylinder ('tub') 7 ft dia. Steam cylinder 4 ft dia, 10 ft stroke.
More to follow.
The engine was rescued from the nearby works of M & W Grazebrook in Netherton. It had worked regularly until 1912, and was then maintained in working order, and used occasionally until 1964, when it was dismantled and rescued by Birmingham Science Museum.
There are some very interesting photographs of the engine in its original habitat and during dismantling, and after installation on the traffic island. 1973 photos show it to be a desert island then, without trees. The whole character of the area has since changed, not necessarily all for the better. Photo album here, thumbnails can be enlarged:-
Black Country History
From the website, a drawing of the engine (this also appears in The Beam Engine by T E Crowley):-
Black Country History
Engine house with tie plate bearing the date 1817:-
Black Country History
The engine house was built over mine shafts:-
Black Country History
Interesting roof construction. Another photo shows one of the iron frames being lifted off, with a number painted on, so perhaps they are preserved somewhere.
Black Country History
The website says that the engine was built by Grazebrook & Whitehouse.
Area of steam cylinder is 12.5 sq. ft. Area of blowing tub is 38.5 sq. ft. Cannot work out a pressure differential because the walking beam seems to have unequal arms. I do not think this is just a matter of perspective, as the photo on the other site also shows unequal arms.
On Edit: BlackCountry website gives steam cylinder as 42 in, which would be 9.6 sq. ft. The roadside marker may be wrong.
Very interesting photo. Thank you for posting.
Last edited by SouthBendModel34; 09-13-2013 at 02:52 PM.
Thank you for sharing. Very interesting, as all your posts are. What are the two cross-wise bars mounted to the beam hovering above each end?
I knew the steam cylinder diameter would come back to haunt me! The 48" figure comes from the T E Crowley book. He also says that the air pressure was 3 - 4 psi. I don't know what the steam pressure was. The beam radii are indeed different. I estimate that the tub end is about 10% longer than the steam end.
The bars are restraints for safety, and were fitted to most British non-rotative beam engines to prevent the piston smashing against the end of the cylinder in the event of loss of load (more likely with a water pump than an air pump, because of the risk of loss of prime). This isn't a problem with rotative engines because the stroke is limited by the crank.
It does beg the question of how the stroke is limited in normal operation. Perhaps it depends on timing of closure of the exhaust valves, which determines the build up of pressure for cushioning.
[On edit: I'm over-complicating things. It's probably simply a matter of adjusting the 'tappets' such that the steam inlet valves are closed at some specified point before the end of the piston stroke. As long as there isn't excessive air loss, the air resistance in on the air piston will cause the steam piston to stop when it's deprived of steam pressure. Subject to inertia effects, of course]
At first sight I thought the engine worked on the Cornish cycle, but then I saw that it had four steam valves, not three, and of course it must be double acting, because the air side is double acting.
I don't think I'll be able to shed light on the internal arrangement of the inlet and exhaust valves, as I only have photos of the outside, which I'll post when I get chance.
You really had me wondering "how in the world did I miss that"... but I live in Rhode Island!
There is also the David & Sampson blowing engine at Blists Hill, although I suspect it's later than 1817.
I sometimes have to try for an intriguing title to lure people in, even if itís only because they think Iíve made a spelling mistake
The David and Sampson Coalbrookdale engine(s) at Blists Hill is/are mere youngsters (1851). A detail:-
The engines are rotative, sharing a flywheel. According to T E Crowleyís The Beam Engine, the engines had separate steam valves, making it 'almost impossible to balance the work evenly between them'. Sampson apparently did more work. Hence the nickname?
Going back to the Grazebrook engine, and other non rotative steam engines, it is interesting to ponder the fact that the steam cylinder can supply its full force to the air piston from the start of the stroke to the end, whereas with a rotative engine, when the piston is at top or bottom dead centre, it cannot supply any torque to the crankshaft. Of course this is only relevant when power is being taken off the crankshaft, as opposed to the situation where a flywheel is used on a direct acting pump or blower to provide a steadying influence.
Other differences on non-rotative engines: no rotating eccentrics available to work the valve gear; no crankshaft which can be turned to give a good position for starting; no rotating speed governor.
On a non-rotative pumping engine, the number of strokes per minute was usually governed by a 'cataract'. I suppose this could be thought of as a sort of water clock. A small weighted piston in the cataract descends at a rate depending on the amount of opening of a bleed valve. Once it reaches a certain point, it releases catches on the engineís valve gear which kick off the next power stroke. I don't know how the work rate was controlled on the Grazebrook engine. I noticed on one of the Black Country archive photos that there was a manually-operated butterfly valve on the steam inlet pipe. Perhaps they just relied on throttling the steam to control the speed?
I aim to return to the Grazebrook engine when Iíve made more headway with the valve gear.
Thanks for another excellent post asquith, you don't need spelling tricks to lure me into your posts. As for this wonderful old engine , its a bit of an undignified end isn't it ? Stuck there for dogs to cock their legs on and spotty oik's to scribble their nom de plume on in the middle of a roundabout. Should be in somewhere getting steamed up occassionally ?
Yes, it would have been better for it to have been housed, and even better if it had been saved in its Georgian house. I'll bet thereís a warehouse or supermarket or some crappy houses on the site now. However, on the principle that 'the best is the enemy of the good', I donít think preservation would have been seriously considered at that time and place, so we are lucky that someone persuaded the authorities to mount it as a piece of sculpture. Bear in mind this was in an era when old and grimy were bad and boxy concrete buildings and new roads were good.
Itís a pity that more big industrial machines werenít saved as monuments rather than being melted down. At least theyíd serve as a reminder of what the place was all about. My old home town lost its iron and steel works, and 30 years later they decided they needed an appropriate memorial to be placed on a new roundabout. They spent £75,000 on a silly sheet steel sculpture of a couple dancing, arguing that people who worked at the steelworks used to go dancing.
Some places have appreciated the monumental appeal of steam hammers. For example, thereís one preserved near Sheffield Forgemasters, another in Blaenavon, another near Telford.
The Grazebrook engine has escaped significant graffiti, perhaps because itís on something of a desert island!
Arguably one benefit of the way itís stuffed and mounted is that you can see the whole thing at once. This is hardly ever the case with big beam engines, due to the intervening floors.
Incidentally, the engine was 'wired up' to work. Note that thereís a steel cable either side of the beam, to make it go up and down. I think this was a failure. In any case, I think it would have been a risky distraction to motorists!
I was in Birmingham twice last year and oddly enough one time was to visit the museum collections center where my colleague and I were shown the material we are interested in by the same Emily Gough. I would have driven but, being intimidated by the B'ham traffic and not realizing that the collections center had adequate parking, I took the train. I'm not certain if all this is a coincidence or just a demonstration of just how few of us there are. (I'm working on my magnum opus - The Ketland Family and the Anglo-American Arms trade, 1790-1830, while my colleague is working on the whole history of the B'ham gun trade from the 17th to the 19th centuries) The Birmingham Science Museum has what was originally the Proof House Collection and most of it is stored at the Collections Center.
When we finished our work, the director gave us a tour of the main storage area and I did see a few of the machine tools, but not the lathe illustrated in your other thread.
By coincidence, I was reunited with your thread about Ketland and Boulton & Watt a few days ago when I was Googling something. As I've recently joined the Newcomen Society, I decided to search in their online Papers for something on Ketland, but nothing came up. Nothing relevant in the British Newspapers online archive either.
I did read an interesting article on gun making and the Birmingham Proof House in the Cyclopedia of Useful Arts (published early 1850s). If you think it might be of interest, I'll copy and email it to you.
My original query about the K's and Boulton & Watt was based on a reference in a fairly early book on the arms trade. I've since learned that almost everything written about the subject to date is either badly misleading or completely wrong. I did find a connection though, in that one of the K's (the only one of the sons to actually become a partner in the original company) married into the Izon family and William Izon, his father-in-law, purchased a Smeaton Engine. The Izon's were brass founders and are known to have supplied Boulton & Watt. I believe the beautiful coloured drawings of their engine still exist and something in the back of my mind says they belong to the Newcomen Society. The Newcomen Society also published a collection of first person accounts of foreigners touring British industrial sites during the Regency that contains a brief description of a steam powered gun barrel mill. (I forget the title but I'll send it along when I get home. You may have it, but if not, its well worth searching out.) Unfortunately it does not say who owned the mill though there is an outside possibility it was one of the K inlaws. The description is quite surprising... he notes how quiet it was in the mill and that most of the work was done by women. It is all very vague as very little was written down and most of that has long since been lost.
I'll be back in B'ham in February to look at the Galton papers, and hopefully, the records of the partnership of Ketland Cottrill & Co which I am told have recently been transferred from the University of Birmingham to the City Library. They are the only business records of an 18th century Birmingham Merchant firm known to have survived.
I've found a few oblique references to the K's in Aris's Gazette and a few other papers. Nothing extremely significant individually but they add up to a fuzzy picture of what was going on.
I'd love a copy of the Cyclopedia article. I have tried to collect literally everything ever published on the subject and I don't have that one. Most people go back to the original book by W. Greener or Timmin's History of the Birmingham Hardware Trade and the section written by JD Goodman as their earliest reference.
I’m very interested in the under-appreciated John Smeaton, and a search brought this (which is possibly the drawing you referred to):-
'SAVERY-TYPE PUMPING ENGINE**SMEATON/VOLUME THREE/Folio 2**[n.d.]
These documents are held at Royal Society
A steam engine erected for Izon & Co., West Bromwich.
Elevation and part section, 1:54. Ink wash. n.d.
[The firm, which still flourishes, moved from Birmingham to West Bromwich in 1783 and the engine shown was probably installed at that date.--Ed.].'
The National Archives | Access to Archives
Out of curiosity I looked up William Izon in the British Newspaper Archive, and there’s quite a lot of stuff. I suspect the name William was used by several generations. This one is probably outside your timeframe, but I’ll post it just in case it’s of any interest:-
NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore subsisting and carried on between us, the undersigned, under the firm of " Izon, Whitehurst, and Izon," as Iron-founders, carried on at Bull Wharf, Thames-street, London, at Birmingham, and Brierlev Hill and West Bromwich, or elsewhere, was this day dissolved by mutual consent; and that all debts due to or owing the said concern are to be paid and received by the undersigned William Izon—Dated this twenty-fourth dav Julv, 1826. WILLIAM IZON, THOMAS WHITEHURST, RICHARD AMPHLETT, Executor of the late John Izon, deceased. Witness to the signing, Thomas Izon.
(Birmingham Gazette - 31 July 1826)
Of interest to me is something of later date. It’s simply a list of the 'Furnaces in and out of blast' in the South Staffordshire District in one week in 1848. There were no less than 105 furnaces in blast, and 32 out. Little wonder it became the 'Black Country'. Included in the list is William Izon's curiously-named Level the Old, with one furnace in, one out of blast. The M & W Grazebrook company is also in the list (just one furnace).
(Worcestershire Chronicle - 25 October 1848)
Last edited by Asquith; 09-17-2013 at 02:04 AM.
Reason: John Smeaton was wrongly named as James
Yep, I thought Asquith had made a spelling mistake in the title.... Should have known better!
Originally Posted by 99Panhard
That is the engine I was referring to and and William Izon was the oldest son... he was the brother-in-law of William Ketland. WK died in 1804 and his firm (which was separate from his father's) continued until 1831. The records of various legal disputes they were involved in have been a major source of information in my study. If you are not familiar with it, look up "Bisset's Magnificent Guide" a quite fabulous directory of Birmingham made up of the copper plate advertising cards the various merchants and tradesmen used. I know its available on CD... I think the only known copy is in the City Library.
I am still trying to find a photo or engraving of Littleton Hall, the Izon home. I believe it was torn down in the 1970s. The local historical society claims to have several photos but wouldn't copy them for "copyright" reasons... which is idiotic but not worth arguing over. My understanding is that there is a trading estate on what was the Izon property in West Bromwich now.
A really decent history of the Birmingham gun trade needs to be written, especially of the middle to late victorian period when the trade was at its most innovative (imho). I sincerely hope your colleague does a good job as i would like to read it. Did you by any chance visit the Birmingham proof house itself ? Its somewhere i hope to visit maybe next summer, along with a few other attractions of the "city of a thousand trades".
Originally Posted by 99Panhard
I have been given the tour. I was lucky enough to go with a friend who is an expert on obscure ammunition and is something of a consultant to them... providing information on cartridges they haven't seen but need to work up proof loads for, so I've seen a bit more than the usual visitor is allowed. I'm not certain what it takes to arrange a visit, probably calling ahead etc... but they do give tours and have an official historian on the staff. As for a history of the trade, the most recent book is David Williams' "The Birmingham Gun Trade" (published in 2004). It concentrates on exactly the period you mention partly because this is the best documented period. Its much harder to find earlier material. This is only the beginning though, as David is working on a much broader study. In fact, it was David who arranged our visit to the Museum Collections Center because we both needed to get a handle on what the original Proof House collection contained.
I’m still trying to figure out the working of the Grazebrook engine’s valve gear, up to the point where I can present pictures of the salient features that I understand, and offer them up to the panel for further exploration.
In the meantime, Peter S has drawn my attention to information in a superb book, A Treatise on the Steam Engine by John Farey, printed 1827.
I’ve only had a quick look so far, but rather than sit on it, I’d like to share some of the information.
I was puzzled about how the blowing pressure was regulated at the near-constant pressure demanded by the blast furnace. John Farey describes the development of various methods. They involve maintaining a reservoir of air at constant pressure, the control of the engine's work rate being a completely separate matter.
One was, in essence, an early gasometer. It was a large capacity cylinder containing a heavy leather-sealed free-floating piston. The bottom of the cylinder was connected to the pipe running from the blowing cylinder to the furnace. The floating piston ensured that the air pressure was constant, and the cylinder provided the capacity to maintain the required steady air flow, bearing in mind that the method was applied to single-acting blowing tubs, so their was no delivery when the tub was inhaling air.
In fact the pressure wasn’t absolutely constant, because of the deadband resulting from inertia and friction at the piston.
A deadweight relief valve was provided on the air regulator. Some examples had a wooden spring which came into action when the piston approached the top of its stroke.
The piston stickage problem was overcome by the much simpler water regulator.
Imagine a very large cistern containing water, with a large inverted iron box lowered into it so that it is partially immersed. The box is open at the bottom, while the top plate is connected to the furnace's air main by a vertical pipe. The box serves the role of the regulating cylinder (gasometer) described above, the water doing the job of the floating piston. No friction or inertia complications. Some risk of water getting into the furnace, though. Potentially disastrous!
Descriptions start here:-
A treatise on the steam engine : historical, practical, and descriptive
It is sobering to consider that these systems were being developed in the late 1700s, an era when men were wearing three-cornered hats, and the fastest way of travelling was by horse.
Looking at the Black Country archive photos, the Grazebrook engine evidently had the floating piston arrangement, complete with a deadweight relief valve. Relatively small (the tub being double acting):-
Black Country History
Valve gear (1)
Iím far from understanding the valve gear in its entirety, but Iíll try to explain what I understand so far.
In this photo of the upper steam chest, we have the steam inlet valve on the left. The LHS vertical pipe goes down to the equivalent inlet valve at the bottom of the cylinder. On the right we have the exhaust valve, and the exhaust pipe going down and joining the bottom exhaust valve, thence to the condenser.
The inlet and exhaust valves appear to be interconnected, but I suspect they are only joined externally, i.e. no internal connection.
The valves are drop valves. Probably of the double beat type, to minimise the force required to open them (the valve has two seats, arranged so that there is very little differential pressure to resist opening). They are either open or closed, nothing fancy.
In the photo above, note the pushrods for the upper valves, with turnbuckles. Levers and pushrods for bottom valves are just visible. I would expect the pushrods to rise to open the valves.
The large vertical rod on the right works the condenser air pump from the beam. A nice piece of blacksmithís work. The rod also operates the steam valves.
More to follow.