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Newcomen Engines at Griff Colliery, site of
Griff, Nuneaton, Warwickshire, UK
associated engineer
Thomas Newcomen
date  April 1714 - 1725
era  Georgian  |  category  Steam Engine or Locomotive  |  reference  SP349896
Three of the stationery atmospheric steam engines designed by Thomas Newcomen (1663/4-1729) were erected at Griff Colliery near Nuneaton. After Griff’s coal reserves were exhausted the engines were sold. One survives as the Newcomen Memorial Engine, relocated to Newcomen’s home town of Dartmouth in Devon, and brought back to working order.
The colliery occupied part of the Warwickshire Coalfield, and was developed by the landowner Sir Richard Newdigate (1668-1727). He constructed three cuts or waterways between his pits and the Coventry Canal to the east to facilitate coal transportation. He also instigated steam-powered drainage of the deeper shafts.
In 1713, Newdigate leased the colliery for 29 years to a partnership of three men — Stonier Parrot, his father Richard Parrot and George Sparrow. They entered into an arrangement with Newcomen, whose steam engines were subject to a 1698 patent raised by Thomas Savery (c.1650-1715). On 27th April 1714, Newcomen agreed personally to set up "an engine to draw water by the impellant force of fire".
The engine would be capable of pumping 16,700 litres of water per hour from a depth not more than 43m. For this a patent premium of £7 "payable on Saturday of each week" was due.
The engine was working by 1715. It had "a copper boiler, a brass steam barrel and piston, two pit barrels of pott metal [iron] and other pypes cisterns and appurtenances thereto belonging". The brass cylinder was possibly 406mm in diameter and 2.74m long.
Seeing how well the engine performed, the Parrott Sparrow partnership hoped to take over the maintenance of the engine, and its costs, with an option to build other engines under the terms of the patent. This was agreed, and the partners paid £150 for the first six months with further payments of £420 per year for each mine drained.
The partners erected a second engine at Griff in around 1719, though its size is not known. However, the mine was not as profitable as they had believed and they surrendered their Newdigate lease on 12th November 1720, after only seven years.
The third engine at Griff may have been a new one but is more likely to have been a rebuild of one of the earlier two, most probably Newcomen's 1714 original. It was completed in 1725 and had a cast iron cylinder 559mm in diameter.
A new boiler was installed in September 1728 on what was described as the "lower engine", which could have meant either the 1719 or 1725 engine. A brass cylinder, possibly the redundant one from the rebuild, was sold in 1729 to Measham Colliery.
Very little coal was extracted 1728-33, possibly because the mine was uneconomic. Another engine erector, Henry Beighton (1686-1743), commented in 1731 that the coal seams were "so entirely wrought out that there can scarcely be found coals to supply the engines". Using the two remaining Newcomen engines was expensive — the premiums at this time amounted to £300 per year.
The engines were sold — one in 1731-2 to Henry Green for Bedworth Coal Works, south of Griff, and one in 1734 to John Wise. Ultimately one went to Dartmouth in 1963, where it can still be seen. The fate of the other is a mystery.
Research: ECPK
"The Steam Engine of Thomas Newcomen" by L.T.C. Rolt and J.S. Allen, Landmark Publishing, Ashbourne, second revised edition 1997
"Some early Newcomen Engines and the Legal Disputes surrounding them"
by J.S. Allen, in Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 1968

Newcomen Engines at Griff Colliery, site of