Wills Power (shop and machinery photos)
Photos of W & F Wills’ works in Bridgwater, England.
I’ve mentioned Wills before, in the context of one of their steam engines at Westonzoyland Pumping Station Museum. See links below (warning to dial-up users – four photos in the first link):-
Variable Valve Timing - 1886
An engine detail
Wills’ normal business was clay-working machinery and cast iron road signs. Bridgwater was a big producer of bricks and clay tiles, and these were exported all over the place. In fact I came across a big Victorian municipal building 11,000 miles away in New Zealand which had been roofed with Bridgwater tiles (although it had recently been re-roofed with new tiles, from France). It was said that at one time all the clay-working machinery in the Bridgwater area had been made by Wills.
This is a steam engine, with space for something else on the bedplate, I know not what.
I’ve enlarged part of the photo to show the lathe in the background, with its unusually long cross slide (and an unusually low tailstock!?). Behind the lathe is what appears to be a slotting machine, and a flywheel which mysteriously blends with a horizontal structural beam.
Wills also made boat engines, and provided the machinery for two unusual steam vessels which plied the River Parrett in front of Wills’ ‘Perseverance Works’. The vessels had powerful pumps for water jets which blasted away accumulations of silt from the river banks. The next thumbnail shows the main engine, with the condenser behind, and pump unit on the right.
The photo above shows the two stage pump, driven by a de Laval steam turbine, whose gearbox has two output shafts. The pumps were made by Wills, but the turbine and gearbox were made by Greenwood & Batley of Leeds.
Silt from the River Parrett was used to make millions of ‘Bath Bricks’. These were used worldwide for scouring and polishing, either using the ‘brick’ itself or scraping material off to use as scouring powder. I recently came across an unusual use for the material in an old American steam engine book. Purists look away now. ‘When pillow blocks, or main bearings, become troublesome from overheating, the annoyance, in a majority of cases, can be remedied by mixing a quantity of Bath brick-dust with water, and running it through the holes in the caps when the engine is in motion, as it has a tendency to smooth off the surfaces in contact, and bring them to a solid bearing.’ (‘Handbook of Land and Marine Engines’ by Stephen Roper, published in Philadelphia in 1875).
Does anyone agree that the pattern of holes in the large lathe faceplate visible in the first photo matches the one shown in the last photo?
If you agree with that, then, looking at the last photo, the tailstock is not for the big faceplate, it's on a long flat-wayed lathe much smaller than the big faceplate. That is why the tailstock appears "unusually low" !
The big faceplate is on something like a "Tee Lathe" - a large lathe for faceplate work only. This tee lathe is BEHIND the long flat-way lathe in the first picture. I think the tall toolpost belongs to the Tee Lathe.
The steam engine components are not on their final locations on the bedplate even though their cylinder cocks have been piped to a waste line. (Where are the big bolts holding the cylinders to the bed?) The crank is propped up on a separate bedplate. Actually, both bedplates are on cribbing. This is some sort of "trial assembly"
Regarding putting abrasives into bearings: I think that might be a case of somebody writing and publishing something he's never actually tried. How could you KNOW that all the abrasive was out of the bearing afterward unless you dismantled the engine and cleaned everything?
Is a Bath Brick the same as a "Holystone" used to scour the decks of a ship? Are they still sold in Britain?
Thank you, Asquith, for once again posting a curious old picture for us to puzzle over!
I knew I could rely on your eagle eye to find something. You’re right about the cylinders not being bolted down – I hadn’t noticed that. I’m now wondering whether the bedplate belongs to another piece of equipment altogether.
As for it being supported on pieces of timber, with a sheet hanging up in the background, I’ve noticed that sort of thing on quite a few old photos, and I think it was just to make life easier for the person who would subsequently produce engravings of the product (or produce retouched photos, depending on the era).
As for the tailstock, I have the advantage of a somewhat better resolution photo, and I’ve enlarged the tailstock. I agree that there are two lathes. The change gear plate of the long low lathe can just be seen on the right in the thumbnail below. However, the puzzling tailstock looks to be on the same bed as the ‘Tee’ lathe – note the gear for moving it along the bed. Of course the tailstock could easily be raised on packing, but I can’t see why you’d want to change its height.
Another puzzle is the presence of what looks like a gear inboard of the tailstock handwheel.
In passing, note the guard to keep people out of the gear train of the longer lathe.
As for holystones, I believe a sort of sandstone block was normally used, whereas Bath bricks were manufactured by moulding from silt. These were no doubt coarser and more abrasive than Bath brick. I’ll have to ‘scour’ the district to try and find some. Something completely different I recall as a kid was called, I think, a whitestone. The front doorsteps of humble abodes would be whitened by houseproud housewives on their hands and knees, dipping the stone in a bucket of water, and implanting an image of what a housewife should look like in impressionable young minds.
Another marine engine, with an unusual propeller.
Shop view. Small horizontal borer to right of centre. Anyone recognise any of the grinders? Quite likely there would be some US-made ones in that era (pre-WW1?).
I've found a good source of information on Bridgwater's Bath bricks - from an American's blog!
Thanks for another interesting series of photos, good to see an old and probably largely forgotton works and its products being remembered.
I can't figure out the engine yet - it seems so nearly finished, yet the bed plate is curious. I can't think why they would complete an engine, but not postion it correctly on its own bedplate. How can you guys tell the cylinders are not bolted down? It does look strange in the crankshaft area - almost as though the bed plate is seperated between cylinders and crankshaft - surely unlikely.
I wonder if the big flywheel in the background is for the engine? It seems strange to store it upright, but they look tight on space. Is it possible there is a double-ended headstock on the "Tee" lathe (is there such a thing?)
Looking at the turbine photo, there might be two sets of overhead belts coming down between the tailstock we can see and the big faceplate in the background. However it may be an illusion that the second belt back comes down in front of the face plate.
Thank you for the compliment! There are others who enjoy examining these old photos. Perhaps others will make some comments on these. There have certainly been some enlightening exchanges on PM regarding historic photos!
I now think I was confused. The tailstocks in both the first and last picture of the OP both have five spokes, which was one of the things that made me think they were the same Tailstock. But Asquith is correct, the tailstock in the first picture is on a big riser block, not on the long flat-way lathe shown in the last picture.
This still leaves unexplained Asquith's original comment about the tailstock on the riser block being "unusually low". Maybe the riser block has been moved off the ways of the Tee Lathe onto the floor?
The perspective suggests that the tailstock on the riser block is NOT on the axis of the Tee lathe. It's far closer to the camera than the axis of the faceplate, no?
What a novel way to get rid of river scum: bake it into bricks and sell it!
Originally Posted by SouthBendModel34
That was my first thought too, but the close-up seems to show the tailstock (and possibly the toolpost arrangement) bolted to bases of some sort, though it still may be out of position for normal, and may be sub bases of some kind (wild guesses now).
Reflecting on one of Peter’s comments, the reason I thought the cylinders aren’t bolted down is the gap beneath the nearest cylinder. I wondered whether it was sitting on those raised bosses provided for the holding-down bolts.
Regarding the big lathe, I’m now wondering if the tailstock is at its normal height, and the headstock and toolpost have been raised for a specific job, e.g. a large flywheel. There does appear to be a dicontinuity in the toolpost column. It was quite common on very large lathes to provide packers for all relevant items in order to increase centre height when required.
There appear to be various levers installed for engaging the lineshaft pulleys (in the turbine/pump photo it looks as though a blurred man is operating one, and another can be seen in the first photo, just in front of the flywheel rim). How common was this arrangement?
Going back to the big engine, another possible oddity is that the steam pipe going to the LP cylinder seems to be a lot smaller than the corresponding flanged connection on the cylinder!
I recalled that we had a visitor to Westonzoyland Museum recently who was taking a great interest in our Wills engine, and he said he’d done his apprenticeship at Wills. I suppose this would have been in the 1950s. I wish I’d got his address now, but he did mention that when he was there, the steam engine for driving the lineshafts was still there. Looking through an excellent book called ‘Somerset in the Age of Steam’ by Peter Stanier (Published by Somerset Books), there’s a photos of the engine. Very similar to the one in the museum, but with conventional valve gear and a Pickering-type governor.
I should have mentioned that the photos I posted are in the archives of the Blake Museum in Bridgwater (The Museum is in a 16th century house believed to have been the home of Admiral Blake).
Thanks for clearing up the "bath Brick Dust" mystery. The old Stuart Turner model engineering catalogs used to mention the use of "Bath Brick Dust" to grind in plug type cocks. I always figured it was some kind of pumice. This thread clears that up.
As for the use of "bath brick dust" to run in babbitted bearings, this is not so far fetched a notion. Mike Korol, who was an erector and field service engineer for Skinner told me about this compound called "Time saver". He said it was a finely powdered abrasive that was used to speed up the "breaking in" or running in of new steam engines. Skinner apparently made a practice of adding "Time Saver" to the lube oil of the new Unaflow steam engines and ran them for a little while with the "Time Saver" circulating in the lube oil. Supposedly, this polished off any rough spots in the babbitt or journals or other running surfaces. I always was skeptical about this idea, but realized that a fine abrasive of the right composition would do its work and quickly break down. My other thought was the stuff would imbed in the babbitt and have some long-term effects. Mike said they used to run the new Unaflows, or Unaflows fresh off a rebabbiting and overhaul, with the "Time saver"
in the lube oil, then drain the oil. A fresh charge of oil was then run in the engine to flush out any remaining abrasive media, and this was quickly drained. I have never seen "Time Saver", so don;t know what claims the makers made about it. I can say I have used "Bon Ami" (Scouring Powder) and also used toothpaste to lap in fine parts. I never gave any thought to where the abrasive came from, just knew it was fine to start with and broke down in a hurry when used for lapping.
The mention of the two steam powered vessels built for "jetting" and the picture of the steam turbine driven pump brings to mind a steam fireboat I was familiar with. The vessel was the "John B Kendall", built for the City of Detroit in 1927. The "Kendall" had a traditional steam compound main engine of about 1000 IHP. She also had 8000 combined HP of steam turbine driven firepumps. The turbines driving the firepumps were all built by G.E. and the pumps were built by Manistee Iron Works, in Michigan. the pumps were all piped with heavy copper piping, with all kinds of manifolding down in the engine room so the pumps could supply any or all of the monitors or "guns". The "Kendall" was built like some cross between a tug and a destroyer. She was 137 feet long, 354 tons, and had these two lattice-work tower masts with monitors or "guns" up on them. There were deck "guns" as well, all supplied by the steam turbine fire pumps. She had a pressurized fire-room and 2 B & W watertube "Express" boilers. She also had a bow built for icebreaking and ramming, with extra frames and concrete poured between them to give her added mass for ramming. What sticks in my mind was a report of an incident I found when going thru the ship's papers. It seemed the "Kendall" had responded to some call or other. Getting underway to get back to her home dock, an eccentric on the main engine slipped on the crankshaft. This locked up the main engine. Rather than try to make repairs where they were, the "Kendall" got home by "jet propulsion". The report read that the fire nozzles on the after portion of the vessel were aimed aft and depressed as much as possible. The firepumps then were started. The "Kendall" made her way back to her home dock using the jets from the fire nozzles. The last time the Kendall was in steam had to be something like 1976 or 1977. She had been sold to a private owner and was tied up at the old Huron Portland Cement Company dock in Alpena, MI. One of the Huron Portland Cement vessels was coming in for winter layup and got stuck in ice off Alpena. There were no other icebreakers or tugs available, so the "Kendall" was put in steam that one last time to go break out the Hron Portland vessel and get her turned and into her layup berth. After that, I believe the "Kendall" was gutted and dieselized for use as a tug.
My other recollection was of a dredging job I was on in the summer of 1986. Contractors were dredging the bottom of the Hudson River for a submarine cable crossing. The dredged material (spoil) was a clay of varying consistency, depending where on the river it was dredged from. The spoil was loaded in coal scows and brought upriver to a disposal site. There, it was unloaded by pumping. The pump used was a big centrifugal dredge pump. The dredge pump could handle some solids and slurries, but the clay spoil in the barges was not initially pumpable. A set of diesel driven jetting pumps were rigged up to make the spoil in the barges into slurry. These pumps put out 300 or 400 psi, and discharged through a series of nozzles on a manifold that was handled down into the scows by a crane. It was pretty amazing to see 1400 cubic yards of stiff clay heaped in a coal scow wind up as slurry and get pumped out in short order. The slurry was pumpe inland by perhaps 0.3 mile to an old brick pit. A settling action occurred and the water used to make the slurry was decanted off over a weir and re-used for jetting each new load.
It was on that same job that we got friendly with the owner of a local marina. He was a good guy, and in the course of things, he complained that the slips in his marina were silted in. He had an old Unit crane on a small barge, but the environmental agencies would not let him "clam out" the silt from his marina without an endless process of applications and hearings. One of the tug skippers on our job said: "No Problem". The skipper looked at the tide tables for the Hudson River and saw when there would be a good strong ebb tide. He steamed over to the marina with a WWII 110 foot ship-docking tug. The tug had a good sized "wheel" on her and a big EMD 567 series diesel engine in her. The skipper of the tug and his crew ran out a couple of anchors and had the tug on station and anchored just upstream of the slips in the marina. Sure enough, the tide turned and the Skipper of that tug had the engine running ahead. The anchors he had set held good, and the tug's big wheel did the rest. The slips in the marina were all cleared of silt and back to good depth. It was the dredging job that never happened.
Glad I was able to shed some light on the mystery of Bath brick! The ingredients do seem to have been unique to a 2 mile stretch of river in Bridgwater, something to do with a particular combination of mud and algae. The method of producing Bath brick was patented, and involved allowing the silt to ‘season’, and firing the bricks at a relatively low temperature. The River Parrett does have a big silt burden, as well as a big tidal range. Bridgwater was a seaport, even though it was quite a way inland, and a bugger to negotiate in sailing vessels, being narrow and winding.
Very interested to read your account of silt removal by various powerful means. Silting of Bridgwater docks was a big problem, and no less an authority than I K Brunel was involved in the design of dredging and sluicing arrangements, which included a steam dredger, ‘Bertha’ built in 1844. It remained at work there until 1971! The dredger was more of a bulldozer really, propelling itself across the dock to scrape the silt into a position where it could be sluiced away at low tide.
Regarding the use of water jet propulsion, I recently came across an article in an 1866 engineering magazine about an experimental Royal Navy warship called HMS Waterwitch. The 778 ton vessel used waterjet propulsion, having a large centrifugal pump whose vertical shaft was driven by a three cylinder radial steam engine.
Now, going back to the Wills steam engine in the first photo, I wonder whether it was arranged something like the engine in this clickable thumbnail:-
This has a bedplate for the crankshaft and flywheel, but the cylinders presumably sat on concrete or masonry plinths. Incidentally, the illustration was probably a retouched photograph, based on an original with the engine components sitting on blocks. The engine was made about 15 miles from Bridgwater, in the pleasant market town of Taunton, by a firm called Easton & Bessemer.
Really intrigued by this photo of a very traditional shop scene of yesteryear Asquith, Where no doubt frequently, they were " coming in on a wing & a prayer" as regards working space, and fitting large jobs around machines etc, in a most tight area, thus giving us the puzzle of the "space at the back" of the engine bedplate, , I will come to that later.
If one looks at the bedplate, on the back, there is two big holes, likely cast -in, for the holding down bolts, forward of that you will see four smaller bolt holes for the L.P. cylinder, to tie her down to the bedplate, Should this cylinder be finally bolted on that position, the H.P. cylinder will be in her correct place over her bolt holes, This will now allow the outer end of the trunk guide to be over her holding bolt holes, this component, will be at the correct height by being supported on a cast-iron stool, This will take front end of the trunk guide to the end of the bedplate. You may all ask, Why did they not erect the engine in its correct position at this trial assembly first? My thoughts are that, as we cannot see the crank shaft, sticking out to the right, This has no doubt been lined out in a position just missing some of the machine tools, and was the bedplate constrained by other partially assembled work, being finished behind its tail end? and did they possibly use the space behind the cylinders as a temporary erecting table on the bedplate to line up some other small machine on the handy flat area to get a quick fix for a flat surface on a quick rush job? We will never know, but these old shop foremen were experts at getting " A quart out of a pint pot" where old cramped erecting shops were concerned.
Yet another great thread, opening up many potential twists and turns.
My theories about the engine are as follows :
The long bed in the foreground is standard for a small - medium tandem compound engine. I believe the cylinders are in their final position longitudinally. Intriguingly,the high pressure (small) one appears to be bolted down (or at least dowelled). The low pressure cyl. is slightly misleading - it doesn't appear to be tight down to the bed but I believe it actually is so.
The bed beneath the crank bearing is less commonplace - one expects some sort of rigid connection between beds or perhaps a bayonet type frame.
Speciallist machinery builders (eg. clay products - brick, tile and pipe )were often requested by customers to quote for the complete Plant - including power source).
Process steam was used extensively in presses and heating applications and the engine would produce copious quantities thereof.
I believe the engine featured may have been prepared to receive a tail (piston rod) driven airpump/condenser if required at some future date. to complete this conversion the cylinder cover would need to be adapted for rod/ stuffing box.
Slight complication - the steam / feed connections. Traditionally, the stop valve would be sited in the main inlet line, above the HP cyl. with a transfer pipe underneath from HP to LP cyls. The cast pipe seen in your photo would otherwise feed steam from LP cyl to condenser/airpump. Stretching the bounds of possibility, this engine may have been built to accomodate running in either mode with small conversion. (This might explain the flange dia. differences. I think there's a good chance the flywheel in the background was for this engine.
The governor looks of a very modern style compared to the engine's general 1880's/90's appearance. Another interesting fitting is the stiffening strut above and between the cyls - I have only seen this on one other engine - coincidentally used to drive a brick and tile works and built by a maker of machinery therefore - Thos. Metcalfe of Bradford. This engine is featured in George Watkins' vol. 6 of Stationary Engines of GB. No. 1 p.24
An Easton Bessemer steam engine featured on Preston Services' website states SOLD. Could this engine now be at Westonzoyland ?
If you look at the L.P. cylinder, It seems to look as though it is sitting on a scliff of packing above the surface of the bedplate, If one looks at the bedplate, it seems to have a machined flat face where i think the L.P. cylinder would sit, although not very clear or prominent, One must ask, would the builders risk drilling the hole for a condenser gear, before making same, as it would be most difficult to align and match the holes for fitted bolts , I cannot see a design where the outer end of the trunk guide, would be unsupported, as one would get a bending couple with each outward position of the crosshead, hence i feel it would be held steady with a stool on outer position of main bed.
This gets "curiouser and curiouser", to use a funny phrase.....
Mac has introduced us to an as-yet-unheard British engineering term, a "scliff". Probably roughly equivalent to the word "scosch", sometimes heard in the NY CIty area meaning "a bit" (Don't know if that slang word has a correct spelling!)
There's a sort of circular clearance cutout in the separate bed for the crankshaft support. This implies that that bed is the "real" bed of that part.
The machined flat face on the bed to which Cutting Oil Mac refers seems to have a hole pattern in it. Five holes are distinctly seen in the enlargement. My hunch is that this is a six-hole rectangular pattern with image of the other hole lost to local overexposure of the photographic plate.
Whatever we are looking at, it is NOT the final configuration of that engine because of the cribbing down below. I just can't figure out why the cylinder drain cocks are piped up and the HP to LP line is attached. Surely you could not run that huge engine while it sits on cribbing!!!
Hi Southbend, interested to see you refer to packers as Scosch,es, in New York area Some times over here in West of Scotland they also came under that terminology also, although from memory i think they were spelt Scotches, I think it depended on the different shops had different terminology, Some "posher" more refined workers called them packers, although not a very usual way of refering to these items except in the turning department, and for lathe tool height adjustment they were always called packing
In the foundry moulding bays, the moulding boxes (top & bottom halves, or cope & drag) to give them their correct terminology,used to be clamped together with heavy cast iron clamps, shaped like the letter E with the middle out of it, these were placed over the moulding box lugs and the relevant skiffs & opposing wedges driven in tight, In the Glasgow district even in my day these were frequently referred to as Camlachie Clamps, taking their name from the old & long gone Camlachie foundry,where many of the City of Glasgows early engines were born, It is amazing that these things held against the ferrostatic upward pressure of the molten iron, Occasionally one got a run out of metal Ah well cant win them all, stopped us getting too complacent I dont know if these things were invented at Camlachie, maybe only used there could we be going back to the methods used at Coalbrookdale? We will never know, only thing for sure virtually nobody is casting metal in these parts now!
You ask about the lever arrangement for operating the fast &loose pulley systems, Ihave came across this system before not in a great amount, One shop i did find it from memory, was an old brassfounders shop in Greenock, where one of the lathes had a lever "off -on" fitted and it was a good system, Another use was on the Covemac lathe, where a lever at each end of the machine bed, was interconnected with a horizontal wooden bar, which allowed the turner to reach up and push the lever to right or left, and operate his clutch from any point on the bed, where he was, Also Dean Smith & Grace had a similar system on their early geared head lathes to operate the clutch.
The propeller in post #4 is very unusual indeed. Never saw one like it. Steep pitch, split trailing ends, and that odd slot in the blades.
Anyone know what type of vessel might use it?
I'll ask around.
Joe raised an interesting point, when he mentioned Timesaver lapping compound,, I have used this material myself and can vouch for it, It comes in three grades obvious Course ,medium & fine, and in two types yellow label for non ferrous work, bearings in bronze, or babbit, The green label for lapping iron or steel or other very hard ferrous metals, It is most interesting to hear of Skinners lapping in engine bearings, using timesaver,with a great degree of success, About 20 years ago, Mr Watt, our local supplier of Timesaver came into where i was working, and asked me if i used his product, i said yes and no! For a start, the so& so,s i worked for would be too mean spirited and parochial to see the benefit of purchasing the said material, but i used it at home! As i was doing a lot of lapping in of valves for some folk, and to pay me in kind i got some tins of Timesaver, and i was able to tell him it was excellent, Then Mr watt told me a similar story to The Skinner Engine Co, it was this, The late British Polar Engine Co, at Govan in Glasgow,who were renowned for very fine and large Diesel ship propulsion engines, were extremely busy and the fitting of main journals were taking up a lot of man hours on scraping in, so he said "Why not run them in using Timesaver?"-- Shock horror, a week or so later when they thought it over they tried his yellow label timesaver and lapped in the bearings, the result was an engine which gave more than half the time on fitting , gave a better performance on horse power, and better oil pressure, The manager said for heavens sake dont tell anyone, a few weeks later when Mr Watts returned they said you can tell the whole of Scotland if you like!
This material has no Carborundum or other harmfull abrasives, you mix it with oil, and as it operates, the particles diminish & it finally becomes inert, it can be used for cooling a hot bearing as well.
If you want to google Timesaver Lapping Compound, you will get a download booklet & the American agent is --
Newman Tools Inc.
151 New Park Ave.
There is also a Canadian English & Scottish Agent our local Scottish agent is about 3/4 of an hour from me.
I decided to go and see what remained of Wills’ works, and was pleased to see that some buildings were intact. These were presumably the machine shop/erecting shop buildings seen in the old photos.
Some of the old manual overhead cranes are still there – see first thumbnail. An interesting feature is the way the 'belly' of the carriage drops below the top of the girder. A great comfort in the event that the flanges wear off the wheels! The spaces between the columns have been filled in with concrete blocks to divide the buildings into individual units. I’ve included another thumbnail below to show what the columns used to look like. It seems that the integral brackets on the sides of the columns served to attach the lineshaft equipment.
Also in the photo above, there’s a flywheel visible in the adjacent bay. I thought this might be for an engine driving the lineshafts, but the works engine shown in ‘Somerset in the Age of Steam’ was located in its own room.
I also had another look at the original photo of the big engine in the museum, trying to glean more information, deluding myself that looking at the photo from different angles might allow me to see round corners. I didn’t learn much more, except that I think the problem of the unsupported crosshead trunk is resolved. It appears that the trunk is integral with the bearing pedestal. This would explain the horizontal line visible through the opening in the trunk.
Something else I hadn’t noticed is the flywheel on the slotting machine (see thumbnail below). Note, too, the locomotive-type boiler behind.
You mentioned an Easton & Bessemer engine shown as sold on the Preston Steam Services website. We haven’t bought it! That would require money that we don’t have. However, we do have our own engine which we think is from the Taunton works, possibly when it became Easton & Johnson. It had a Brightside Foundry plate, but we think that was the main contractor who installed it in its original home. It’s a high speed enclosed vertical of the Belliss & Morcom type, but with characteristic E&J features including a gear-type lub oil pump and external filter.