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Newcomen Engine (1712), site of
Burnt Tree, Tipton, Staffordshire, UK
Newcomen Engine (1712), site of
associated engineer
Thomas Newcomen
date  1711 - 1712
era  Stuart  |  category  Steam Engine or Locomotive  |  reference  SO957912
photo  © and licensed for reuse under this
Thomas Newcomen’s first known working steam engine was erected 300 years ago near Dudley Castle, at the Coneygree Coal Works. It represented a huge advance in mechanisation and was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution in Britain. The engine no longer exists, though a full-size replica can be seen at the nearby Black Country Living Museum (pictured).
Newcomen (1663/4-1729) harnessed the pressure of the atmosphere, using it to push down the piston in a vacuum-filled cylinder. The vacuum was created by filling the cylinder with steam from a boiler and then condensing it rapidly with an injection of cold water. If one end of a rocking beam was connected to the piston and the other to pump rods in a shaft, the simple engine could pump water from deep underground — easing the perennial problem of keeping mines dry, and therefore workable.
He worked with a team of men that included his business partner John Calley (1663-1717) and his nephew Elias Newcomen (d.1726) to erect the engine over a shaft at Coneygree on land owned by the Barons of Dudley. They also built an engine house to contain the engine and support the rocking beam.
The power obtained from such an engine is proportional to the area acted on by the atmosphere — i.e., the cross-sectional area of the piston. However, in the 18th century it was difficult to cast large cylinders and pistons, and impossible to make them perfectly cylindrical. They had to be finished to the right size by hand. The achievable tolerance was said to be "the thickness of a man’s little finger".
At first, brass was used because it melts at a much lower temperature than cast iron, and is more malleable. The 1712 engine had a brass cylinder 533mm in diameter and 2.4m long.
The boiler was a cylindrical copper tank with a domed top made of lead. It was 1.68m in diameter and 1.85m high overall, containing about 3,000 litres of water. The engine worked at 12 strokes per minute, lifting 45.5 litres of water from some 46.5m depth with every stroke, pumping 32,700 litres of water per hour. Its power output was about 4kW, but it used a lot of coal to generate that — not a problem at a colliery.
In 1736, the brass cylinder was removed and sold. It was replaced with a cast iron cylinder made at Coalbrookdale, costing Ł41 17s 5.25d (Ł41.87). The engine also had at least one new boiler by 1740, when the engine was moved to the Level Coal Works at Brierley Hill. It was moved again before 1752, to Willingsworth Coal Works, and apparently worked there into the 1780s.
In 1972, proposals were approved to build a full-size working replica of the 1712 engine at the Black Country Living Museum. A site for the engine house (SO949914) was selected near the main colliery exhibit, only 1.5km from the original engine’s former location.
Work began in 1976, felling oak trees to make the rocking beam. Groundworks began on the (shallower) replica mine shaft in August 1982 and the brick engine house with its pitched and tiled roof was completed in 1985.
The engine consists of a boiler, a cylinder, a piston and operating valves just as Newcomen’s one did, and it is operated in the same way. Its 584mm diameter 2.74m long brass cylinder was cast in January 1984, and subsequently machined to the same size as the original. To comply with safety regulations, the replica boiler is made of 12.7mm thick mild steel and was delivered to site in April 1985.
The replica engine was fully working by July 1986, and was unveiled by the Earl of Dudley, William Humble David Ward (born 1920), on 19th November 1988.
Research: ECPK
bibliography
"A Confirmation of the Location of the 1712 'Dudley Castle' Newcomen Engine at Coneygree, Tipton" by J.H. Andrew and J.S. Allen, in International Journal for the History of Engineering & Technology, Vol. 79, No. 2, July 2009
"The 'Dudley Castle', 1712, Newcomen Engine Replica, Black Country Museum, Dudley, West Midlands" by J.S. Allen, in Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 1997
"The Steam Engine of Thomas Newcomen" by L.T.C. Rolt and J.S. Allen, Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, second revised edition 1997
"The 1712 and other Newcomen Engines of the Earls of Dudley" by John S. Allen, in Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 6th January 1965
www.bclm.co.uk
Location

Newcomen Engine (1712), site of