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Hertfordshire

Driving - South East Steam Engines


The trail highlights the work of volunteers who have dedicated their lives to restoring and preserving our industrial heritage. In recent year we have begun to realise the importance of preserving a time when Britain was the leading industrial nation in the world. However, when these groups of volunteers started their work support was not so forthcoming. They were ridiculed for their "strange" interest in the past, scorned for not looking to the future and in some instances faced with opposition from local councils and authorities.

In the South East you can see examples of the varied and dramatic effects the introduction of steam power had on the people of Britain. The first steam engines were developed to drain mines but the with the improvements made by Watt, Trevithick and others, there use in other applications became widespread. At Kew Bridge Steam Museum and the British Engineerium, you can see massive beam engines that were used to pump fresh water to towns and cities. At Bluebell Railway you can ride on steam locomotives that revolutionised the transportation of people and goods, while at Hollycombe Steam Collection you can see steam powered farm machinery that increased productivity on farms, as well as riding on a steam powered fun fair that brought lights and excitement to the lives of Victorian Britons.

1. Kew Bridge Steam Museum

Early settlements were built up near a supply of running water. People found that even when a stream dried up they could still obtain water by digging below the surface, which they developed into permanent wells. The Romans designed more advanced water supply systems, constructing aqueducts to carry the water to the public baths and buildings.

During the Middle Ages in Britain, these Roman systems had fallen into disrepair, and as the population grew the water supply became increasingly polluted and built over. In London pipes were laid as early as the 13th century to bring water into the city. The citizens would collect their water from the pipe heads or, increasingly in Tudor times, buy their supplies from water bearers.

The first water company in London was set up in 1581 and pumped water from the Thames using waterwheels. The water was not treated and water-borne diseases like Typhoid and Cholera were rife and Victorian London suffered many epidemics.

It was not until the development of the steam engine that great improvements were brought to the supply of water. Although the beam engine had been developed for draining mines, they were able to carry out the same work supplying the populace with fresh water. In the 1840s, following a number of parliamentary acts, the water companies were made to install filter beds to purify the water and this improvement in the quality of the water supply started to stem the spread of Cholera and Typhoid.

Kew Bridge Steam Museum is a fine example of a steam powered pumping station. The Kew Bridge pumping station was built in 1836 and continued to use steam power up until 1944, although electric and diesel engines continued to be used on site.

The pumping station was built by the Grand Junction Waterways Company, and was the third station they built. The first station was built near the present site of Paddington railway station. The source of water was the Grand Junction Canal, from which the water company took its name, but the unsuitable water caused them to build a new station at Chelsea in 1820. Pollution at Chelsea forced a further move to Kew Bridge in 1837. Pumping commenced in 1838 and the old works was closed down, and the engines transferred to the new site.

At its peak, Kew Bridge Station's eight engines pumped 30 million gallons of water a day to an area which extended from Sunbury to Kensington. The water was pumped to the standpipe tower, which then fed the reservoir by gravity. The tower is still the dominant feature of the area, despite all the modern high rise developments. It stands 197ft high and is occasionally opened to the public, when they can climb the 261 steps to the viewing gallery, which gives a panoramic view across West London.

When the steam engines ceased work in 1944, the Metropolitan Water Board had the foresight to see the historical significance of the station and decided to retain the site as a museum, keeping five of the engines. The oldest of the original beam engines is a Bolton and Watt built in 1820, it originally worked at Chelsea but was moved up to Kew Bridge in 1839-40.

The Grand Junction 90-inch engine was built in 1846 and is a magnificent example of 19th century British engineering expertise. Less than 70 engines were built by Cornish firms with a cylinder size greater than 80 inches. Only four survive and along with the 100 inch engine next to it, Kew Bridge has two of them. The engine could pump 7.5 million gallons of water a day, and the beam alone weighs 52 tonnes. It is the largest working beam engine in the world and, like all the other steam engines on site, is operated using live steam from a 1927 Lancashire boiler.

The 100-inch engine next to it was built in 1869-71 and was still operated until 1958. The beam had to be repaired in 1879 when a crack appeared, and the repair can still be seen. The 90-inch and 100-inch engines used to run side by side and provided the majority of the station's output. The 100-inch is not in working order, but is one of the future restoration projects of the trust.

As well as the original engines from the site, the museum has collected a vast array of waterworks engines. In the original boiler house there is a collection of steam engines including a triple expansion engine from a pumping station in Newmarket. The museum also has a collection of gas, diesel and electric engines as well as a steam railway. Pumping stations would require railways on site to enable the movement of the large amounts of coal needed to feed the boilers. The steam railway is not original to the Kew Bridge site, but comes from another of London's pumping stations. At Kew Bridge, an underground railway was used to move coal from the company's riverside wharf to the boiler houses. The coal carts were hauled via a waterwheel, powered by waste water from the pumping engines.

The museum has a small team of paid staff and has relied considerably on the help of volunteers. Their activities range from looking after visitors, to operating and maintaining the engines and new recruits are always welcome.

Kew Bridge Steam Museum Green Dragon Lane, Brentford, Middlesex TW8 0EN http://www.cre.canon.co.uk/~davide/kbsm/ Tel: 0181 568 4757 Open: All year, daily 11.00 - 5.00. Engines in steam at weekends and Bank Holiday Mondays.

Directions: By car: 100 yards from the north side of Kew Bridge, next to the tall Victorian Tower. By Bus: 65, 237, 267, 391 (7 on Sundays) By Train:Kew Bridge (from Waterloo) By Tube: Gunnersbury or Kew Gardens then by bus.

2. The Bluebell Railway

Railways not only meant raw materials could be transported more rapidly for industry, but also revolutionised passenger transport in the country. There are now hundreds of preserved steam railways around the country, but at one time it was not looked upon with such favour. The Bluebell Railway is a fine example of how, over 40 years ago, the foresight and dedicated work of a group of local residents and railway enthusiasts led to the formation of a preservation society that now has over 8000 members.

The construction of a railway between Lewes and East Grinstead was authorised by an act of Parliament in 1877. The Bluebell Railway is part of the line that ran from South Croydon to Haywoods Heath or Lewes, via Oxted and East Grinstead. In 1935 the line from Haywoods Heath to Horsted Keynes was electrified using Southern Railways 750V DC "third rail" system. It had been planned to electrify the whole route, but World War II halted progress.

When, in 1948, the railways were nationalised, British Railways quickly identified the "Bluebell Line" as a loss making service and attempted to close it in 1955. However, this was found to be illegal because of a clause found in the 1877 Act and British Railways were forced to run a minimal service, which was nicknamed the "Sulky Line", until an Act of Parliament was obtained to close it.

The line from East Grinstead to Lewes was finally closed in 1958, attracting national media coverage. The interest generated amongst local residents and railway enthusiasts, led to the to the formation of the Lewes and East Grinstead Railway Preservation Society in 1959, which later became the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society.

Meanwhile, the electrified line from Haywoods Heath to Horstead Keynes continued to operate. By 1961 the Bluebell Railway could run trains from Sheffield Park into Horstead Keynes to connect with these trains. However, on 27th October 1963, British Railways services were withdrawn and Bluebell Railway was left isolated. The closed lines were lifted and the land sold, apart from Haywoods Heath to Ardingly, which was retained for stone traffic.

The original aim of the Preservation Society was to take over the whole line as a purely commercial venture, but this proved impossible, and the emphasis shifted more towards the "preservation" aspect. The aim of the railway was now to preserve the artifacts and atmosphere of the traditional British branch line, as modernisation and the "Beeching axe" continued to take effect.

The Bluebell Railway and the Middleton Railway were the first two preservation schemes in the country. The idea of an independent railway line run by volunteers was ridiculed by many and it was also unpopular with politicians keen to concentrate on post-war reconstruction and the rise of the consumer society. In Harold Wilson's "white heat of technology", organisations such as the Bluebell Railway were an unwelcome anachronism. Nevertheless, the popularity of the line continued to increase and so did the number of volunteers helping out. In particular, the railway received a lot of support from British Railways staff who could see that their traditional way of life was disappearing.

As the idea of railway preservation became accepted, the race was on to rescue as much material as possible from the cutter's torch. A number of smaller groups, such as the Bulleid Society and the Maunsell Society, came to the line and added their own equipment, volunteers and know-how. From shaky beginnings in the 1960s, the railway was able to consolidate its position and then gradually expand through the 1970s and 1980s. Facilities for both customers and staff were improved and the collection continued to grow. The railway began to run more trains and 'fine tune' the timetable to suit demand and the workshops took on ever more complicated restoration tasks.

The next step for the Bluebell Railway came in 1986 with a share issue to fund expansion northwards over the old trackbed from Horsted Keynes towards East Grinstead. This proved successful and work began to buy back the land, clear it of vegetation, repair fences and ditches, prepare the ground and eventually re-lay the track. The extension of the Bluebell Railway was, and still is, a major project that has been carefully managed to avoid overstretching the available resources. The reconstruction of the line has opened in stages and so far has reached Kingscote Station, 1 ½ miles south of East Grinstead. At the moment a bus service fills the gap, but work continues to rebuild the railway back to the Easy Grinstead Station, where it will connect with the national rail network.

The Bluebell Railway Preservation Society is the major shareholder in the public limited company formed by the share issue, and has over 8000 members. Of these, roughly 800 are active working members, and therefore these volunteers are shareholders in the company for which they work. People come from all walks of life to volunteer for work on the railway, some use their professional skills, whilst for others it's a change from their daily work. The Bluebell Railway continues to preserve not only the stations and locomotives but also a way of life - the camaraderie and teamwork of a previous age.

Bluebell Railway Sheffield Park Station, East Sussex TN22 3QL. http://www.rhbnc.ac.uk/~zhaa009/bb/bluebell.html Tel: 01825 723777 Open: Telephone for timetable details.

Directions: By car: Sheffield Park Station is n the A275, 4½ miles east of Haywoods Heath of A272. By Train: You can book direct to the Bluebell Railway from most national railway stations. From East Grinstead Station a bus service runs to the Bluebell Railway. By Bus: East Sussex County Bus Line 01273 474747.

3. British Engineerium

If you want to learn more about steam engines, then one of the best places to go is the British Engineerium in Hove. As well as being a working museum, they run a variety of courses in mechanical engineering, with practical workshops using the their superb collection of engines.

The Engineeriem is based in the old Goldstone Pumping Station, which was built in 1886 to provide fresh water for the expanding population of the area. The station was opened with the "No. 1" beam engine, an Easton and Amos 120hp engine, capable of pumping 130, 000 gallons of water per hour. In 1876 a second beam engine "No. 2", was added by Easton and Anderson which was capable of pumping 150, 000 gallons an hour.

By the late 1940s the change to electric pumping was well underway and the No. 1 beam engine had been partially dismantled. However, the No.2 engine continued operating until 1952. In 1971 it was proposed that the station should be pulled down, but a preservation order was put on it a year later. In 1974 a lease was given to Jonathon Minns to enable him to found the Engineerium with the cooperation of the Southern Water Authority.

In 1975 work began on restoring the No.2 beam engine house and engine, along with the boiler house and Lancashire boilers. The roof leaked, most of the glass was missing in both the houses, and the engine and boiler were covered in rust. But by spring 1976, with the help of the friends and members of the Engineerium, all had been returned to their former glory. The No. 2 beam engine was put in steam at midnight on 14th March 1976 and opened to the public on Good Friday that year.

The Engineerium's work did not stop there, and over the years they have built up an impressive and varied collection of engines. In 1975 a Corliss Engine was saved from a hospital in France, taken to pieces, transported to England and is now a working exhibit at the Engineerium. The engine was designed by the Corliss Company and has a rare example of an early form of Corliss's trip gear. It was built by Crepelle and Garand of Lille in France and was shown at the Paris International Exhibition of 1889, where it won first prize. When the exhibition closed, the engine was erected at a hospital in Brevanne, south of Paris, where it was used to generate electricity until around 1940.

The Engineerium also has a collection of road locomotives and fire engines. Up until the development of the steam engine, manual water pumps had been used to try to help put out fires but not surprisingly they were often insufficient. The advent of the steam engine meant it was possible to construct engines, to be pulled by horses, to pump water onto fires much more effectively. The growing population and an increase in fire hazards, such as gas lamps, meant that the "steamers", as they were known, were a common sight on the street of Victorian Britain. The Engineerium's collection includes a hand-operated pump of 1750 and a horse drawn twin-cylinder vertical steam fire engine of 1892.

The exhibition hall at the Engineerium also contains an extensive collection of miniaturised replicas of steam engines, which show the development of power from the windmill up to the internal combustion engine.

British Engineerium Off Nevill Road, Hove, East Sussex BN3 7QA. www. www.pavilion.co.uk/engineerium/ Tel: 01273 559583 Open: All year, daily 10.00 - 5.00.

Directions: By car: From A27 take A2038 and follow brown signs By Train: Hove BR

4. Hollycombe Steam Collection

The Hollycombe Steam Collection is the vision of one steam enthusiast Mr J Baldock. It was started over 40 years ago and has grown into an extensive collection including railways, farm machinery and a funfair, all of which are steam powered.

It actually began as a private collection, but Mr Baldock was persuaded to open it up to the public. In the early years he faced much local opposition and problems with the planning department, which meant the collection could only be opened for a restricted number of days each year. Combined with a poor spate of weather and high running costs he was forced to sell the funfair side to Madame Tussards, under the previso that the collection would never be sold abroad.

Unfortunately, Tussards was taken over and the new owners sold on the collection with two rides ending up in Switzerland. However, these fairground machines were considered such important examples of British craftsmanship that the Committee on the Export of Works of Art decided that they should be kept in Britain. The story has a happy ending, as the rides are once again part of the Hollycombe Collection.

Even in the period after the fairground rides had been sold, the running costs of opening to the public was still high and much outweighed the takings, so in 1984 Mr Baldock decided he would have to close the collection. However, a small-dedicated band of enthusiasts persuaded him that if they worked on a volunteer basis the collection could still be kept open. Since then Hollycombe Steam Collection has gone from strength to strength with more engines, more rides, more open days and more visitors.

The aim of the collection has always been to provide a place where the craftsmanship and beauty of steam engines could be admired, and the great impact they had on the development of this country could be witnessed.

The collection includes three different gauges of railway, as well as a miniature railway. There is an industrial 2ft gauge that was saved from the Dinorwic Quarry in North Wales when it was closed. There is a standard gauge that runs a number of locomotives, as well as 3ft gauge that runs a rather unusual locomotive, the Aveling & Porter tramway locomotive that was built in 1880. It was used in a Lancashire quarry, but it is more like a tractor fitted with railway wheels than a railway loco!

Steam power not only brought massive changes to the way people worked, but also to their leisure time, and the mechanical funfairs of the Victorian era were particularly popular. In a time when the working class had few holidays and rarely travelled outside their local area, the funfair brought their first experience of electric lights, moving pictures and exciting rides.

Hollycombe steam powered funfair is chance to experience that sort of excitement, especially on the "Funfair at Night" events when the scene is aglow with lights and images. The collection includes the Razzle Dazzle roundabout and the steam yacht Neptune, which were both returned from Switzerland, as well as steam swings, chair-o-planes and a big wheel.

Steam power did not only have a dramatic effect on Britain's manufacturing industry but also increased the productivity and efficiency of farming. The work of many animals and men could now be done by one steam engine. The only problem with the early steam engine for farm use, was the sheer weight of the engine. One method adopted by farmers was to attach the cultivating machinery to a cable between two steam engines so that it could be pulled across the land. Demonstrations of this method of steam ploughing and threshing are given at Hollycombe, as well as steam driven saw milling and comprehensive collection of barn machinery driven by a long line of shafting.

Hollycombe Steam Collection Iron Hill, Liphook, Hampshire. GU30 7LP Tel: 01428 724900 Open: April to mid- October, Every Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday. Last week in July and last two weeks in August, daily 1-6.

Directions: By Car: Two miles from the main A3 London to Portsmouth Road. Follow the brown tourist signs. By Train: Liphook BR is one mile away from Hollycombe.

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