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Empire & Industry

The Industrial Revolution

Newcomen Engine

Period:
19th Century
Description:

Newcomen atmospheric steam engine, built by the Carron Company, Falkirk, in 1811 was used for pumping drainage water at Caprington Colliery, Ayrshire, 1811 - 1901.

 

The engine was built to a design created by Thomas Newcomen who devised a method to generate power from atmospheric pressure. His engine utilised a piston working within an open topped cylinder. The piston is connected by chains to a rocking beam. At the other end, the beam is connected to the pumps in the mine by a rod.

 

On the outboard stroke, the cylinder is filled with steam from the boiler and then cold water is injected into the cylinder to change the steam back to water and create a vacuum (when water turns to steam it expands 1500 times, so a contained volume of steam if condensed back to water will create a vacuum). The vacuum then pulls the piston down and, via the rocking beam, raises the plunger in the water pump.

 

The Caprington Colliery opened in the mid-seventeenth century and constantly had problems with drainage as it was located in the low-lying Irvine valley. The Carron Company, Falkirk first supplied parts for a Newcomen Engine to Sir William Cunninghame of Caprington in 1781 but the pumping shaft collapsed in 1828 and that mine was subsequently abandoned. Despite having a poorer fuel efficiency than a Watt Engine, another Newcomen was ordered from the same firm in 1811 at a cost of £352.42. This was perhaps because fuel was in abundance and a one off payment for a Newcomen was easier to manage than an annual license fee to Boulton & Watt. It was erected on a site which still survives today near Earlston. One of its component parts, a knee pipe bearing the inventory number N1708 was recycled from the 1781 engine. This engine drained the Blind Coal seam at a depth of 50 metres and worked continuously for ninety years with a replacement cast iron beam in c.1837 and several new boilers.

 

The engine is complete except for all wooden members which have decayed and been destroyed. In 1901, the engine was replaced by electric pumps and gifted to the Burgh of Kilmarnock by Colonel Cunninghame of Caprington. Andrew Barclay & Sons were commissioned to erect the engine at the Dick Institute where it remained until 1958 when the structure was deemed to be unstable. The engine is now on display in the National Museum of Scotland and is operated by hydraulic power.

Place of Production:
Falkirk, Stirlingshire
Materials/Media:
Cast iron beam, wooden frame
Dimensions:
height 9500 mm, length 9500 mm, width 4500 mm; weight 20.00 tonnes
Source:
National Museums Scotland
Accession number:
T.1958.117
Digital Number:
NMMA001a, b
Creation Date:
1811
Copyright:
Board of Trustees, National Museums Scotland


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